AMD’s Puma prepares to pounce

Most of the news pouring forth from Computex thus far has been focused on smaller devices, but AMD has its sights set on a big cat, Puma, the firm’s new platform for mainstream laptop PCs, which it officially announced today. Puma will do battle against Intel’s upcoming Centrino 2 platform later this year. For the most part, Puma represents the “mobilization” of AMD’s current desktop PC technologies, with a necessarily increased focus on dynamic power and performance scaling. Overall, that’s not a bad place to start, and Puma adds some notable innovation on several fronts.

The various components of the Puma platform will be largely familiar to those who know AMD’s desktop products, but the big exception here is the new mobile processor design, code-named “Griffin.” Griffin is a mix of old and new, combining a pair of K8-style execution cores with Phenom-style glue logic and power-saving measures. The chipset itself is manufactured on AMD’s 65nm SOI process, and each core packs 1MB of L2 cache, for a total of 2MB L2 per chip. AMD says this new mobile processor has three independent power planes, one for each CPU core and a third for its integrated north bridge (with a HyperTransport link and memory controller). Griffin can scale voltage up and down as needed, in response to demand, for each of these three power planes. The north bridge supports HyperTransport 3.0, for added bandwidth, and it can drop from 16 lanes to eight, or even disconnect itself temporarily, in order to conserve power.

Source: AMD.

AMD claims Griffin’s memory controller is better optimized for mobile use, as well. This controller supports DDR2 memory at up to 800MHz, and its data prefetch mechanism has been massaged to better take advantage of the additional bandwidth.

The first three Turion X2 Ultra models based on Griffin will be the ZM-86 (running at 2.4GHz with 2MB total L2 cache), the ZM-82 (at 2.2GHz with 1MB total L2), and the ZM-80 (at 2.1GHz with 1MB total L2).

As far as we’ve been able to determine, Griffin will be a mobile-only part with no clear desktop analog. Obviously, in an ideal world, AMD would have been able to include higher-performance, Phenom-style execution cores, but this design does look to improve AMD’s standing in the mobile market with higher power efficiency and, thanks to HyperTransport 3.0 and the improved memory controller, to provide a better conduit to memory for a chipset-integrated graphics processor. AMD expects to offer a full lineup of Griffin-based products, with branding ranging from the mobile versions of Sempron and Athlon through the familiar Turion to the new Turion X2 Ultra. As the branding and models numbers increase, so will performance and the presence of various power-saving measures, with the highest end products purportedly bringing the best mix of power-efficiency and performance.

At the other end of the HyperTransport link will sit AMD’s new RS780M chipset, the mobile variant of the quite solid 780G chipset, including the SB700 south bridge. This chipset has all of the latest capabilities, including PCIe 2.0, but its biggest claim to fame is its relatively decent Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics processor. AMD expects Puma’s IGP to outperform anything Intel has to offer for Centrino 2 easily, a credible claim given the desktop variant’s relatively strong performance. (Sure, it’s integrated graphics and may unavoidably be a turkey, but this is the most muscular, well-formed turkey in the pen.) This IGP includes the UVD logic built into all recent Radeons, so it’s capable of providing extensive decode offloading for the major high-definition video formats, as well.

The chipset’s IGP will be getting assistance from other Radeons in various ways, too. AMD’s Hybrid CrossFireX tech will allow a Radeon HD 3450 discrete GPU to team up with the IGP in order to boost 3D graphics performance, much like CrossFireX does on the desktop. AMD claims this combination can achieve up to 70% higher performance than a single GPU alone. This hybrid scheme only scales well when the two GPUs are relatively closely matched, so AMD’s faster mobile Radeons need not apply.

However, another hybrid graphics capability, marketed under the name PowerXpress, will allow a Puma-based system to switch between an IGP and a discrete GPU in order to optimize performance or battery life. For instance, the firm claims a laptop with a discrete Radeon HD 3650 can deliver over 2.4 times the throughput of the IGP, while popping into IGP mode and disabling the discrete GPU can prolong battery life by over 90 minutes. Users can switch between the two modes with a keystroke—no need for a reboot—or a system can be configured to switch automatically from discrete to integrated graphics when it’s unplugged from a power outlet (and vice-versa). At present, PowerXpress won’t change modes dynamically when it detects the launch of a 3D application like Nvidia’s Hybrid SLI, but mobile users will probably want more control over these things, anyhow.

The Puma family of components. Source: AMD.

The dynamic range possible with PowerXpress is expanded substantially by another of today’s introductions, the mobile version of the Radeon HD 3800 series GPUs. AMD has already introduced mobile variants of the Radeon HD 3400 and 3600 series, so this addition rounds out its lineup. Obviously, this chip will be intended primarily for larger, desktop-replacement-class systems, but it’s about as large and power-hungry as one would really want for a mobile GPU, in my book. And it performs pretty well, too, of course.

As ever, AMD hasn’t attempted to create its own wireless networking solutions for Puma, instead preferring to rely on partners like Atheros, Broadcom, Marvell, and Ralink for 802.11a/b/g/n and 3G connectivity. Also as ever, AMD claims its partners’ solutions perform better than Intel’s, anyhow.

Today’s announcement is just the Puma platform’s formal introduction. Most products based on the platform are likely to be announced in the next six to eight weeks, and AMD expects products to be shipping in time for the back-to-school buying season.

All told, Puma looks like a pretty smart combination of elements, and the two types of hybrid graphics capabilities make the platform proposition actually compelling, unlike most such component bundling attempts. Even the (almost assuredly) lower performance of the Griffin processor compared to Intel’s 45nm Core 2 Duo CPUs may not be a major drawback, if AMD can convince consumers that PC balance—which includes GPU performance—is a desirable goal in a laptop. (See our interview with Pat Moorhead for more on this subject.) Personally, I could probably be persuaded to choose a Puma system with a hybrid PowerXpress config over a Centrino 2 system with an Intel IGP. For a great many “mainstream” laptops, AMD may have the best overall solution.

If there is a downside to Puma, it’s the fact that Centrino can go places it can’t—namely, into ultraportables. Like prior Turion platforms, Puma isn’t engineered to fit well into laptops with screens 12″ or smaller, weighing four pounds or less. For this reason, you probably won’t see a MacBook Air or ThinkPad X300 competitor based on Puma, and that is a crying shame. AMD says it’s “looking into” serving this part of the market with future products, which is wise since this is clearly a hot segment, but it has no ETA for such an offering.

Comments closed
    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    What a lot of people here seem to be overlooking is that the gaming market is more than just the intense action games the require the best GPUs. In fact, that’s actually a small fraction of the market. Most gaming, measured by the number of people actually doing it, is “casual gaming” that involves fairly lightweight graphical ops — WoW or the Sims, for example, or the PopCap kinds of Flash games. A lot of those users are playing on laptops. And while current integrated offerings are generally good enough for those purposes, the developers of those games would always like to see the “floor” raised so they can do new things and sell newer games. See the rumored “graphical upgrade” for WoW, for example. And what will Spore require? There’s a lot of opportunity for a notebook system that is significantly better than current integrated offerings while still not getting close to desktop discrete GPU performance. And if it runs cool and quiet (especially when you’re not gaming) all the better.

    • stmok
    • 11 years ago

    There’s a reason why it has PCI-Express 2.0

    *[http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=11985<]§

    • srg86
    • 11 years ago

    I really do want to be impressed with this, but for my uses, as long as Intel graphics runs Compiz effects okay, I’d go with the faster and more efficient Intel CPU any day. I also just prefer intel chipsets (excluding the IGP portion). It’s definatly a good try by AMD and the decent IGP is great though.

    • flip-mode
    • 11 years ago

    @ #1

    I figure just about all laptop users should be well served by “slow” processors. At this point dual-core is a must, but per-core performance equivalent of even a slower Pentium-D should be just fine.

    There are exceptions of course.

    I’m currently rendering my architecture thesis on a Turion X2 @ 2.0GHz. It’s doing admirably well to be honest. Not nearly as fast as the E8500 at work but it’s doing the job, and for some strange reason the E8500 machine has been canceling out of renders with an “out of memory” error despite the fact that both the machines have the same amount of RAM.

    Other than rendering this machine does every other task with a speed that is completely adequate. I don’t need anything faster.

      • jobodaho
      • 11 years ago

      Yeah, my desktop is running an X2 4200, and my laptop is a Core 2 2.2 ghz right now, and both have been fine for my renderings as well. I would love to have a quad core machine, but that just isn’t in the cards right now.

      • UberGerbil
      • 11 years ago

      Lazy coders often use “OOM” as a catch-all error for any sort of resource exhaustion. The problem may have nothing to do with a lack of physical memory: it could be VAS fragmentation, internal heap exhaustion, or running out of some system resource (GDI handles, for example).

      • BoBzeBuilder
      • 11 years ago

      flip-mode is on point.

        • ssidbroadcast
        • 11 years ago

        finally someone who gets it right.

    • wingless
    • 11 years ago

    AMD should get this technology in desktop AM2+ form to replace the Athlon X2 line with more power efficient CPUs. This tech looks awesome for a laptop but it would also be great for a desktop. A power efficient, Hyper Transport 3.0 dual core would be sweet.

      • Deli
      • 11 years ago

      that’s a good point! i wouldn’t mind throwing one of these into a HTPC or even a gaming pc. I mean, a Turion X2 Ultra and a 9600GT would be a decent gaming machine.

    • Hattig
    • 11 years ago

    Hmm, I saw a video yesterday of an AMD Turion powered 7″ subnotebook at Computex – it looked like it had two cores as well – so are you sure AMD aren’t looking at this area? There was an 8.9″ device as well.

    Still, I think the platform is compelling, especially for the integrated graphics which will whip Intel’s efforts into the ground. The video decode should save CPU cycles as well, and extend battery life. If the price is right, of course.

      • dragmor
      • 11 years ago

      The one with the touch screen? From what I’ve seen/heard its slightly smaller than the 701 eepc and is a dual core permanently under clocked to ~850mhz.

      There is also talk of 7.5hrs on a single cell battery for an AMD UMPC but I’m not sure if its the same one.

        • DreadCthulhu
        • 11 years ago

        A dual-core 850mhz Turion doesn’t sound too bad, at least for the sub-notebook market segment. It would be a lot better than the Celery-Ms, Atoms, and Via C7 currently used in that niche.

    • titan
    • 11 years ago

    It’s for reals this time!

    • dragmor
    • 11 years ago

    Please put this in a 12-13″ laptop.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    q[

      • MattMojo
      • 11 years ago

      /[<"Color me impressed. Combined with the expected comparative performance advantage the 3200 IGP will have over the GMA 4500(?) series, and AMD has quite a compelling package in the laptop market for consumers."<]/ /[<"In other words: can't wait for TR to review, or possibly even have a showdown between two laptops!"<]/ +1 Mojo

    • Voldenuit
    • 11 years ago

    Is a “balanced” system any use for a non-gaming laptop?

    A gaming laptop will be using a discrete GPU anyway, so it’s not as if Puma will be of any benefit.

    So the only thing we’ve got is a slow CPU and a not-so-slow IGP. Yay.

      • shank15217
      • 11 years ago

      you don’t need a gaming laptop to play games on a laptop.

        • JumpingJack
        • 11 years ago

        True — solitare should load up and run just fine and dandy.

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 11 years ago

      The ability to switch between integrated and discrete (ATI) graphics does offer longer battery life than discrete graphics alone.

        • Dagwood
        • 11 years ago

        This is 100% on target. A 13 to 15 inch laptop that can run Vista smothly with all the eye candy turned on and not burn your lap in the process.

        Most review sites include some sort of graphical test in thier review so an all AMD “puma” system should fair well when compaired to Intel’s Centreno system.

        AMD has the jump on Intel again. Cheep ultra portables have all the processing power needed for office style aplications. The only reason to buy a full sized laptop and drag it arround with you is for video applications. Buying a laptop without at least a low end graphics processor in makes about as much sense as having a desktop without one.

          • swaaye
          • 11 years ago

          Got news for ya: GMA950 can do Aero flawlessly. I’ve been using a 945G desktop for almost a year now with Aero enabled. It’s not exactly Intel’s latest. So, IMO, AMD is just trying to get into realms that have been dominated by Intel for years.

          780G’s main advantage may be its video engine which can do most formats in hardware. This should benefit battery life to some degree, and perhaps simply make it possible to play 1080p on these machines if the CPUs are too gimpy. Although, it does sound like Intel will solve this soon and then all 780G will have is slightly more usable 3D for 3 yr old games (I have a 780G mobo).

            • grantmeaname
            • 11 years ago

            the integrated graphics market has been dominated by intel for years?

            • deruberhanyok
            • 11 years ago

            In terms of marketshare, oh yes. No one else comes close to the amount of onboard Intel graphics out there.

            • charged3800z24
            • 11 years ago

            Because Dell and HP only sold Intel IGP based systems.. No one else had a foot in…

            • swaaye
            • 11 years ago

            Intel actually is the most popular graphics supplier, period.

            • poulpy
            • 11 years ago

            Interesting use of the word /[<"popular"<]/, certainly the most represented because of all the unsuspecting users that end up with one of those IGP inside their box, but I am pretty sure very few of them know it and even less sing their praise for either performances or features really.

            • swaaye
            • 11 years ago

            I believe one could say it is quite popular, because it is very cheap. Most folks I know couldn’t care less about 3D performance. I don’t doubt that the vast majority of computer users aren’t looking for more than Aero capability (and only that because MS has basically forced it upon us.)

            Obviously, educated gamer folk will see it another way. I believe that gamer folk who need beyond GeForce 4 3D speed (X3000 can deliver that) are definitely in the minority of all computer users, however.

            • poulpy
            • 11 years ago

            We’re on the same wave apart that I believe that users who “don’t need” and “don’t know” just -well- don’t know and don’t care they run an Intel IGP therefore it’s not popular it’s just widely spread and run because it’s there.
            I agree I’m getting picky but that was a long day 🙂

            • Price0331
            • 11 years ago

            No, you’re on target. If people know anything about IGPs, they wouldn’t buy a laptop with intel graphics. They are popular, I guess you could say, to manufactures because they are cheap, and as a consequence, have very low performance.

            This is what I have been waiting for all year. To use an IGP when I am typing up notes during college and a dedicated card when I am playing games at the local coffee shop.

            • ludi
            • 11 years ago

            I do, and I did. I don’t need a power-hungry component graphics solution (or for that matter, a high-zoot processor solution) in a device that I bought for battery life and portability.

            My roommate decided to go forward into grad school after getting his bachelors, so as a graduation gift, his parents gave him $x for a new laptop purchase. He decided to add $y of his own money to it so that he could buy a fast CPU and a good GPU. His laptop turned out to be loud (we gave him all kinds of grief over that fan), hot, heavy, and short on battery life; and it really didn’t get used for much gaming after all.

            In the end, that unit burned out its DVD-RW drive three times (twice under warranty, fortunately) and was an impediment to mobility, and he /[

            • eitje
            • 11 years ago

            popular, perhaps, from a system integrator’s standpoint.

        • Voldenuit
        • 11 years ago

        Sony has been offering that in some of their laptops for a while (ability to switch between IGP and Geforce M). Granted, this requires a reboot, so it’s nowhere near as elegant as Hybridpower promises to be, but this is nothing fundamentally new.

        People like myself who use our laptops for work instead of play remain unimpressed. A Turion??? In this day and age? If amd wants to gain marketshare, they need to do a whole lot better.

        Re: HD decode, current mobile CPUs can already do 720p flawlessly. I’d only care about 1080p if the screens are high enough resolution to actually display that. Since I enjoy being able to carry my laptop around without breaking my back (12.1″ here), and I also enjoy being able to read the font on my screen, 1080p is not a selling point. by the time we’re talking about screens big enough to display 1080p (14″+, and even then they’re in the minority), the form factor is big enough to call for discrete graphics.

        Prediction: Puma will not land on its feet.

          • poulpy
          • 11 years ago

          /[<"Sony has been offering that in some of their laptops for a while (ability to switch between IGP and Geforce M). Granted, this requires a reboot, so it's nowhere near as elegant as Hybridpower promises to be, but this is nothing fundamentally new."<]/ It's more than a bit more elegant it's actually bloody useful because it's on the fly! It's like saying on the fly frequency throttling of the CPU is nothing fundamentally new as I can just reboot and change it in the BIOS... It's just missing the point really. /[<" People like myself who use our laptops for work instead of play remain unimpressed. A Turion??? In this day and age? If amd wants to gain marketshare, they need to do a whole lot better."<]/ Granted some may not care about the IGP for gaming but what on earth are you doing on your laptop that would require something more powerful than a Turion Ultra can deliver in any way that matters? Unless the answer is Cold Fusion simulation then any Turion Ultra is likely to deliver more than enough horsepower and will just add more choice / bring the costs down to the non gaming user. IMO they will gain market share because what the vast majority want is: - a platform (something they had not before and why centrino was so successful) - good battery life (new cpu powersavings, PowerXpress) - decent price

            • Voldenuit
            • 11 years ago

            Matlab and PATRAN chew up CPU cycles like nothing.

            Being able to run scientific and analytical suites is very useful to engineers in my field (aerospace). It’s also common for us to be away from the desktop PC, whether it’s because we are at a teleconference, visiting another plant, or in an different country altogether.

            • poulpy
            • 11 years ago

            Fair enough then you could certainly benefit from the most powerful mobile cpu available on the market to save some time (out of curiosity did you actually run a comparison on those softwares between a Centrino and a TurionX2?) but IMO aeronautic engineers with high cpu requirements are far from the main target that will make or break the Puma platform (and AMD to an extend).
            As I said IMHO most of the market wants: a platform, good battery life, decent price, and to a lesser extend video/3d capacity.

            • flip-mode
            • 11 years ago

            You typify the average user alright 🙄

            • lammers
            • 11 years ago

            So why wouldn’t you get remote access to your server or workstation to setup a simulation. Its bloody useless to get a laptop that will do a simulation in even twice the time that a normal workstation can perform. If your laptop has that much performance you wasted money on that when you could have spent more money on memory to put in you’re workstation/server!

            • redpriest
            • 11 years ago

            VNC much? Trust me, you’re better served VNC’ing into a powerful workstation than crunching simulations on something with a 4200 rpm drive.

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