First look: AMD Puma platform

AMD has given PC Pro an exclusive look at its new mobile platform, codenamed Puma. The platform was formally launched in May, but until this week no hardware had been made available for public examination.

Like Intel’s Centrino, Puma isn’t a single product but a laptop specification which sets standards for CPU, GPU and wireless hardware.

Click here for our Intel Centrino 2 review.

The model loaned to us was a pre-production MSI device, built on a compact chassis similar to the Wind. But other manufacturers will be making Puma products (we know, for example, that Fujitsu Siemens is already on board), and the platform will accommodate the whole gamut of form factors.

Turion Ultra

The heart of Puma is the dual-core Turion Ultra processor, codenamed Griffin. It’s a 65nm part, like all current AMD processors, and includes 1MB of L2 cache per core.

Our sample laptop used the 2.2GHz ZM-82 model, but there are also 2.1GHz and 2.5GHz versions, known as the ZM-80 and the ZM-86. Later this year, we also expect to see Mobile Sempron chips, for more lightweight Puma systems, though details of those are yet to be confirmed.

The Turion is designed for power efficiency, and cores can be throttled individually, as with the Phenom desktop processor. It’s all but impossible to isolate the effect this has on overall power consumption, but our sample MSI notebook drew no more than 67W from the mains even at 100% CPU load – around 15W less than some Centrino products we’ve seen.

When it comes to speed, the Turion Ultra is capable but hardly ground-breaking. Our MSI, equipped with 2GB of RAM, achieved an overall score of 0.86 in our 2D benchmarks. That’s fine for a mid-range notebook, but it implies that even the fastest Griffin will struggle to achieve 1.00.

There’s nothing in the Puma line-up to compete with the likes of the Core 2 Duo T8300, which propelled the Sony VAIO VGN-FZ31Z to an overall score of 1.27.

Wireless

Our MSI sample used a Ralink 802.11n controller, but AMD has also approved wireless chipsets from Atheros, Broadcom and Marvell for use in the Puma platform.

This is a big difference from Centrino: the current generation (‘Santa Rosa’) mandates the Intel 4965AGN controller, and the upcoming Centrino 2 platform (codenamed ‘Montevina’) limits manufacturers to either Intel’s 5100/5300 or 5150/5350 chipsets, depending on whether WiMAX is required.

AMD claims that a freer choice of chipsets gives scope for manufacturers to offer far better wireless range. It also promises improved transfer rates – according to AMD’s own tests, the Puma-certified Atheros AR9280 can transfer files 38% faster than the Intel chip.

But while this flexibility may give AMD-based notebooks scope to outrun Intel, it also gives manufacturers carte blanche to use the cheapest chipset they can source. So while Centrino guarantees a certain level of wireless performance, Puma could be a less dependable beast.

Graphics

Since AMD owns ATI, it’s no surprise that the company is emphasising Puma’s graphical prowess. The baseline chip is the Mobility Radeon HD 3200 IGP, and that’s what we found in our sample laptop. It achieved 14fps in our low-detail Crysis test, indicating that it’s fine for older games, though far from cutting edge.

The good news is that this little chip is about to be joined by a range of nine discrete mobile GPUs, starting with the Mobility Radeon HD 3410 and going all the way up to a Mobility version of the HD 3870 X2.

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