AMD Puma pads softly into 100+ notebooks

Underdog chipmaker AMD says it is seeing unprecedented uptake by PC makers for its forthcoming “Puma” notebook platform.

Upwards of 100 notebooks are being designed with Puma chipsets said John Taylor of AMD’s Graphics division speaking at a technology update event in Singapore.

According to Taylor notebook manufacturers are recognising Puma’s key advantages over competing notebook platforms (read: Intel Centrino) particularly in the area of graphics.

AMD has devised a system called “hybrid graphics” where an integrated GPU does the low-powered 2D and 3D work (for example Vista’s GPU-accelerated windowing system) while a discrete GPU chip can be fired up instantly to take on the heavy lifting 3D tasks when a demanding app like a game or Google Earth is loaded.

For example a Puma-based notebook might come with AMD’s RS780M integrated GPU for basic graphics work (which in itself provides up to four times the performance of current generation Radeon X1200) as well as an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3000 with full DirectX 10.1 support (ATI was at pains to point out that it is the only vendor on the market currently offering full DirectX 10.1 support.)

If AMD delivers on the hype it may be offering the holy grail of notebook architecture: both long battery life for day-to-day computing tasks as well as full-powered GPU performance for gaming. In notebooks this hybrid graphics capability will be called AMD PowerXPress.

On the CPU front Puma-based notebooks will be based on the AMD Turion X2 Ultramobile processor which uses Hypertransport 3 bus for extremely fast (20.8GB/s) data transfer between CPU and chipset power management that can turn whole segments of the chip off on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis to save power. Intel is only now catching up to AMD’s use of Hypertransport after many years with its competing QuickPath technology which will debut in its Nehalem-class Core 2 Duos later this year.

Finally AMD says its “WiFi certified” program means notebook makers will have a lot more flexibility in building notebooks with parts that are certified as compatible with the WiFi standard by the vendor-neutral WiFi forum rather than Intel’s competing Centrino certification. Puma notebooks will offer 802.11a/b/g/n networking from vendors such as Broadcom Atheros Marvel and Ralink. (It’s worth noting here that while this ‘vendor neutral’ rhetoric certainly sounds positive the reality is that if AMD doesn’t currently produce networking chipsets so supporting all vendors is a practical necessity for them. However it’s a good thing that AMD is demanding that any wireless chips built into Puma notebooks are WiFi certified rather than just being another vendor’s attempt at implementing the standards as cheaply as possible.)

AMD said it is also on track for a 2009 release of its long-anticipated “Fusion” processor which will have a CPU and GPU on the same silicon die allowing extremely fast exchange of data between the two and presumably unprecedented graphics performance in notebooks.

Our only question after sitting through presentations delivered by American and Canadian AMD/ATI presenters is whether Apple will ever be running OS X “Jagwyre” on “Pooma”. Probably not since Jagwyre was OS X 10.2 – three versions old but with big cats prowling around in seemingly every corner of the computing space at the moment the question had to be posed.

We can expect to see the first Puma-based notebooks launched at Computex in Taiwan in June.

Dan Warne travelled to AMD Technology Update Singapore as a guest of AMD.