AMD's 'Puma' Notebook Platform To Pounce On Intel

Looking to supplant Centrino, the CPU-graphics combination includes the Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core Mobile processor and the AMD 7-series chipset.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

June 4, 2008

4 Min Read

Advanced Micro Devices on Wednesday launched its first platform built solely for notebooks, leveraging its ATI graphics technology to try to make its new products more attractive than Intel's.

In unveiling the platform, codenamed Puma, at the Computex conference in Taipei, Taiwan, AMD goes head-to-head with Intel's Centrino platform. The new components within Puma include the Turion X2 Ultra Dual-Core Mobile processor and the AMD 7-series chipset. The latter comprises the AMD M780G and SB700.

Since buying ATI Technologies in 2006, AMD has sought to leverage the graphics chipmaker's technology to try to surpass Intel in performance when processing video and other graphics intensive chores. PCs are increasingly being used for entertainment, such as video, music and photos, so a machine's graphics capabilities are becoming a competitive advantage for computer makers.

In addressing the need for more graphics power, AMD is adding the option of a separate graphics card, a must for people into PC gaming or for graphics professionals. Puma supports ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3000 series discrete graphics cards, including the previously announced 3400 and 3600 and the new 3800. The last is the most powerful of the three.

An important feature in AMD graphics technology is the ability for the integrated graphics engine in the chipset to work with the separate card. In the past, the chipset would hand off the workload. With AMD's graphics technology, called CrossFireX, the CPU and graphics both work together; to give higher performance than if the card was working alone. To take advantage of the capability, a computer needs to have an AMD chipset and ATI graphics card. ATI rival Nvidia also offers similar capabilities.

New capabilities within the Turion X2 Ultra processor include the ability to power up cores depending on the workload in order to save power, Bahr Mahoney, director of notebook product marketing told InformationWeek. In the past, both cores had to be turned on at the same time. Now, if only one is needed, then the other can stay idle.

In addition, the chip has greater input/output bandwidth, and a more efficient memory controller than previous generation chips, Mahoney said.

For wireless connectivity, AMD is supporting 802.11n Wi-Fi chips from Atheros, Broadcom, or Ralink. The platform also supports products from the same vendors for connecting to high-speed 3G cellular networks. Puma represents another step toward AMD's goal of eventually bringing the general CPU and graphics processor onto the same core or die. Having the two together, according to AMD, will deliver better graphics performance than having the graphics engine on a separate chipset. AMD's first combined notebook chip, codenamed Swift, is scheduled to debut in early 2010, along with its supporting chipset, codenamed Shrike.

Puma will compete with a July refresh of Intel's Centrino mobile platform, codenamed Montevina. For now, Puma has a number of media features not in the current version of Centrino, such as support for hardware acceleration of H.264 video decode, Microsoft DirectX 10.1 graphics application programming interfaces (APIs), PCI Express 2.0 and HDMI and DisplayPort interfaces. The next version of Centrino, however, is expected to have those features, according to Intel.

Intel has a lead on AMD in moving the product line to a next-generation manufacturing process that shrinks the size of transistors on a chip to 45 nanometers from 65 nm. Increasing the number of transistors on a core delivers better power to performance ratios. AMD plans to ship its first 45 nm chip this year. Puma is in 65 nm.

"Intel still holds the performance lead, but AMD has a competitive offering," Jim McGregor, analyst for In-Stat, said. "They continue to be price conscious and have competitive solutions."

AMD has an advantage in graphics through its ownership of ATI, which is among the largest makers of graphics cards. AMD's Puma platform offers computer makers more flexibility than Intel by offering broader support of Nvidia and ATI products, McGregor said. This is particular important today, because computer makers are using graphics technology, especially in the form of separate graphics cards, as a way to differentiate their products from competitors.

"Having ATI in the fold definitely helps AMD," McGregor said.

While Intel has a jump in performance at the very high-end of the market, that's only a small segment. For the majority of consumers and businesses, what's makes the sale is price and features related to the purpose of buying the PC, McGregor said. "The processor isn't the selling point anymore."

Computer manufacturers lining up to use AMD's latest mobile platform include Acer, Asus, Clevo, Fujitsu, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Hewlett-Packard, MSI, NEC and Toshiba.

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