AMD 'Puma' Ready to Pounce

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2008-06-04

AMD 'Puma' Ready to Pounce

AMD is ready to let "Puma" roar.

At the 2008 Computex conference, June 4 in Taipei, Taiwan, AMD will officially unveil its new laptop platform, formally code-named Puma, as the chip maker looks to gain a bigger share of the red-hot notebook market.

Just as it did with its recently released desktop platform, AMD is offering Puma as a complete package that includes the company's own processor, the dual-core Turion x2 Ultra, 7-series chip set and ATI Radeon HD 3000 series graphics.

AMD is mainly targeting the platform at consumers, who are continuing to choose notebooks over desktops, which is one reason that IDC predicts that 71 percent of consumer purchases and 66 percent of commercial buys will be laptops by 2011.

The company also designed the platform to appeal to small and midsize businesses, which are also switching to laptops, and specialized markets such as government and education.

"The notebook provides an opportunity for IT to reduce support and maintenance costs," said Scott Shutter, a brand manager for AMD. "In the public sector they tend to have older infrastructure. However, they can update their client technologies and have the latest client devices and still extend the life of that infrastructure by having modern clients without increasing the complexity of the network."

AMD Beats Intel to Notebook Market

AMD is releasing Puma at a fortuitous time as the company looks to bounce back from a series of missteps in 2007. Before the Computex show kicked off, Intel told its customers that it would delay releasing its Centrino 2 laptop platform after the company discovered problems with the chip set's integrated graphics. There were also problems with the licensing of Intel's WiMax technology in the United States.

This means that AMD will bring its laptop to the market first, which some analysts believe will give it an edge, especially when it comes to back-to-school and holiday sales later this year.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said that Puma, for the first time, gives AMD a chance to compete with Intel in the laptop market. While Enderle believes that AMD still can not compete against Intel when it comes to power efficiency, he does think that Puma's graphics, both integrated and discrete, are better than what Intel offers with Centrino.

"Their [AMD's] advantage is with graphics," said Enderle. "Companies have been specifying that an increasing number of notebooks have discrete graphics. It's still not the prevalent way of doing things, but it's a growing trend so that might indicate that AMD may have an advantage with regard to this trend. However, most folks are still buying [integrated graphics] Intel."

For the most part, the integrated and discrete Radeon graphics are meant to offer consumers options such as being able to download and watch high-definition video or support Microsoft's DX10 graphics API. AMD also packed a number of power-saving features into Puma to appeal to commercial buyers and to try to close the gap with Intel's offerings.

New Architecture and New Power

The processing cores of the Turion Ultra chip-a new architecture based on AMD's K8 design-are built on different power planes, which allow the cores to scale back clock speed independently of one another. A core can also switch into a "deep sleep" mode and let the other core handle the workload by itself.

AMD also included its HyperTransport 3 technology-a high-speed interconnect technology-which will increase the bandwidth when it's needed and then power down again. The memory controller has also been built on a different power plane, which should conserve the battery life.

The Puma platform looks to increase battery life when it comes to graphics. AMD included a feature dubbed PowerXpress, which allows a notebook to switch from discrete to integrated graphics. When the laptop is plugged into an AC adapter, the platform switches to the discrete graphics card. However, when running on battery power, it switches to integrated graphics to reduce power and extend battery life.

PowerXpress also allows a laptop to switch between graphics without rebooting.

AMD is offering three new Turion Ultra processors with the new platform. These include the ZM-86 chip with 2MB of L2 cache and a clock speed of 2.4GHz. The other two chips-the ZM-82 (2.2GHz) and the ZM-80 (2.1GHz)-have 1MB of L2 cache each. These processors are built on the company's 65-nanometer manufacturing process.

The platform will also offer a choice of two different chip sets: the M780G and SB700, which include integrated Radeon HD 3200 graphics. For discrete graphics, AMD offers its Radeon 3400, 3600 and 3800 series graphics. The platform also supports 802.11 a/b/g and draft-n wireless technology, as well as 3G wireless.

AMD is also looking to appeal to more commercial buyers with security features. The Puma platform, just like the new desktop platform, adheres to several security and management standards, including the TCG (Trusted Computing Group) standard for security and the Distributed Management Task Force's new DASH (desktop and mobile architecture for system hardware) standards for management.

When AMD details Puma on June 4 at Computex, it will display several laptops from Acer, Asus, Fujitsu, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Hewlett-Packard, MSI, NEC and Toshiba that have been designed with the new platform.

Puma will remain AMD's mobile platform until the first half of 2010, when the company releases "Shrike," which will integrate the CPU and GPU in the same package under what the company calls Accelerated Computing.

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