AMD’s new Griffin CPU, PUMA mobile platform

AMD has released details of its forthcoming mobile processor, code-named Griffin, as well as the platform that will support it, code-named Puma (aka the RS780 chip set). Both are due out in mid-2008, and mark the first time that AMD has designed a platform from the ground up for the mobile market.

The combination will also be a significant step in AMD’s path to “Fusion,” the code-name for the integrated CPU/GPU part planned for release sometime in 2009, says Maurice Steinman, AMD Fellow, and lead architect for the Griffin processor.

Although AMD plans to go 45-nm in 2008 as well, the Griffin CPU will still be 65-nm.

Griffin will boast several improvements that should help it serve the mobile market and increase performance. First, it has a larger 1MB L2 cache for each of the CPU’s two processor cores. The CPU also integrates the Northbridge on-die to increase efficiency, and it’s on its own power plane, so that it can be powered down to conserve battery life if it’s not in use, while the cores continue to draw power as needed.

AMD already integrates the memory controller on-die, and plans to make it more efficient with Griffin. For example, it has a DRAM pre-fetcher, and like the Northbridge, it is on its own power plane at a lower voltage than the CPU cores.

The cores themselves are each on a separate power plane, and can operate at independent frequency and voltage, according to AMD. Its power management scheme allows Griffin to shut down parts of each core, or even shut one off completely in order to conserve power, and dynamically adjusts to demands of the operating system.

AMD has also added intelligence to the HyperTransport link, so that the CPU and chip set can adjust its bandwidth as needed, or even shut it completely. It also promises a 3X boost in peak I/O performance, according to Steinman.

The RS780 chip set/Puma platform (shown running below in a demo system), brings additional improvements. First, it offers PowerXPress, an intelligent power management system where the notebook not only goes into standard battery savings mode when it’s not plugged in, it will dynamically switch to integrated motherboard graphics to conserve power instead of any performance enhanced graphics chip set you may have. Once you’re back to an outlet, it will switch to the more powerful graphics. Users will, of course, have control and can disable this feature if desired.

The chip set supports Microsoft’s DirectX 10 graphics, and will support high-def DVD (Blu-ray and HD DVD), plus PCI-Express 2. It will also support HyperFlash, AMD’s version of a non-volatile flash memory cache meant to improve performance; it will work with Windows Vista technologies like Ready Boost and Ready Drive.

The platform’s integrated graphics will support up to three active displays, as well.

All of this is leading AMD to Fusion in 2009, which is the point at which AMD says it will deliver an integrated combination CPU/GPU–and it will go into mobile first. After that physical integration, the company can begin getting cross pollination of the two functions at the instruction level, says Steinman, leading to a radical new microarchitecture, inherently optimized for and natively able to handle GPU and CPU instructions.

Griffin and Puma sound impressive, though we’ll only be able to really gauge their power once systems debut in mid-2008. But since the new AMD parts are a ways off, Intel has plenty of time to improve its own mobile platform, which already boasts some of the features AMD will be offering in Griffin and Puma.