Sunnyvale (CA) – AMD claims that it has been gaining market shares with its Turion mobile processor over the past two years, but the CPU is far from being a threat to Intel’s Core 2 Duo. In 2008, the company will introduce the “Griffin” dual-core mobile processor as part of the “Puma” platform, which promises to deliver power and performance enhancements and introduce AMD’s version of on-board flash cache.A replacement for Turion is long overdue: Even with 65 nm versions of the processor shipping, Turion does not have the necessary feature set and performance to allow AMD to break out of the mainstream notebook segment into higher profit margins. By the end of 2007, AMD plans to be ramping “Griffin,” a redesigned mobile processor that is expected to debut in Q2 of 2008. In Q4 2007 or Q1 2008, Intel will throw its 45 nm shrink Core 2 Duo “Penryn” into the market and AMD will need to play every trump it has to stay in the game.
What is new in Griffin
Griffin is not an entirely new processor. The design is based on the K8 core, which is used, for example, for current Opteron and Athlon X2 CPUs (with 2 x 1 MB L2 cache). AMD has applied a system-on-a-chip methodology to develop the Griffin architecture and has designed a new, more power-efficient integrated Northbridge from scratch. The encapsulated 65 nm core will receive Barcelona’s HyperTransport 3 physical interconnect.
Griffin will also share with Barcelona a new optimized DDR2 interface (see images in our slideshow) as well as a DRAM prefetcher, but the mobile processor’s memory controller will have an even greater focus on low power consumption. First, the CPU can limit the power consumption of the memory interface by limiting setting the bandwidth to x16, x4, x2 or shut-down states. Second, multiple on-die thermal processors enable Griffin to throttle memory speed. The memory controller monitors the temperature of the DDR2-800 devices and can enforce temperature limits through a memhot signal.
AMD has also improved the overall power management capability of the processor. Griffin supports a greater granularity of frequencies than its predecessor and integrates variable voltage planes for each of the two cores and the integrated Northbridge (see images in our slideshow).
The processor continues to use the S-socket of Turion, but will use a different pinout, AMD representatives said.
The chipset: Puma and Hyperflash
AMD describes 2008 as the year of a system level optimization for its mobile platform. The chipset that goes along with Griffin, RS780/780G, will play a major role in this strategy. It will be AMD’s first chipset that can be directly aligned and fine-tuned for its processors and promises to bring some enhancements. The 780 series will support DirectX 10, playback of high-definition media (Blu-ray, HD DVD), HyperTransport 3 and PCI Express 2.
Also supported is a new feature that AMD calls “PowerXPress”, which combines two graphics engines under one hood - discrete and integrated graphics: When the computer is connected to a power outlet, the notebook processes graphics through a discrete graphics card. When system is unplugged and the battery becomes the power source, the notebook disables the connection to the graphics card and dynamically activates the integrated graphics chipset, which does not offer as much performance as the graphics card, but consumes substantially less power.
Depending on your view, the introduction of Hyperflash with Puma can be a surprise. It essentially is AMD’s version of Intel’s “Turbo Memory”: AMD will also build NAND flash into mainboards to accelerate startup processes of software. AMD representatives remained quiet on the performance potential of Hyperflash, but we are almost certain that this technology will refuel the discussion about copying technology ideas from competitors.
And just in case you wonder, no, AMD will not offer its own wireless chipset. The company will continue to rely third party vendors such as Broadcom to complement its mobile platform. Wimax is unlikely to become a feature of Puma (from the start).
What we can expect from Griffin
Despite a briefing by AMD, it is difficult for us to predict how good Griffin will be. What we do know, however, is that it won’t deliver earth shattering performance and that it will not have the capability to challenge Intel’s Core 2 Duo in every notebook market segment. We expect Griffin to deliver more performance than the Turion X2 CPU, but it clearly is a design that will compete in the mainstream and aim for notebooks in the $400 to $1000 segment.
Other than plain performance, power consumption may see substantial improvements with Puma. According to AMD, Puma (which is scheduled to ramp in late 2007) will enable notebooks to exceed more than 5 hours of running time on one battery charge. Griffin itself will remain in the same power envelope as today’s Turion X2 processors (35 watts).
Given AMD’s current competitive positive, one may wonder whether a K8-based mobile processor was a good idea to compete with Intel. Should AMD have used the Barcelona “Stars” core (which, by the way, never was code-named K10, as some rumors on the Internet indicate) instead? AMD fellow Maurice Steinman said the “K8 is a very good core” and that “it did not have the issues that Intel had to fix” when it transitioned from Netburst to Core in 2006.
Will Griffin be good enough? We don’t know, but we should not expect miracles from this CPU. Today, Griffin looks very much like a Turion X2 upgrade that needs to bridge the gap between 2008 and the time when Fusion arrives (2009/2010).