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AMD's Beema, Mullins chips use software, sensor smarts to cut power, not performance

Mark Hachman | April 30, 2014
Do you really need to run your mobile apps at the fastest possible speed? AMD's new "Beema" and "Mullins" chips don't think so and have cut power by up to 20 percent from its previous generation while improving performance.

Do you really need to run your mobile apps at the fastest possible speed? AMD's new "Beema" and "Mullins" chips don't think so and have cut power by up to 20 percent from its previous generation while improving performance.

Yes, processor generations typically offer more performance and lower power as a result of silicon optimizations. But AMD designers have taken a new tack: the new chips are performing real-time analysis on the types of apps you're using and providing just enough clock speed to keep them running at optimal rates. If need be, AMD will even offer hardware partners the ability to mount sensors in their tablets to overclock the chips for a short time without burning the user's skin. And AMD plans to bundle apps like the BlueStacks Android emulator as a value-added benefit.

AMD's quad-core "Beema" chips consume between 10 and 15 watts and will appear in mass-market notebooks. The "Mullins" quad- and dual-core family, optimized for tablets and other low-power devices, will consume between 3.95 and 4.5 watts. AMD is currently shipping both chip families in mass production to its hardware partners, who have yet to announce their own tablets.

Why buy them?

The selling points of both chips, according to AMD executives, is that they achieve higher clock speeds and performance than the prior generation, even though they're manufactured on the same 28-nm process. Beema, for example, boasts 10 percent better graphics performance (as measured by 3DMark) at 40 percent less power than the previous "Kabini" generation, AMD claims. Both chips also include an integrated ARM-based security coprocessor for encryption and additional security and will in some cases come bundled with apps optimized for the chip itself.

"I think AMD has a very solid product here," said Patrick Moorhead, a former AMD fellow and now an independent analyst with Moor Insights and strategy. "Their biggest challenge will be to get designed in an OEM and ODM environment where Intel wants every single socket. The other challenge is that they are only supporting Windows versus Android, which is clearly in second place in tablets."

Unfortunately, AMD's overall CPU market share is 16.9 percent, bolstered by strong sales into game consoles. In notebooks, AMD's share was just 10.9 percent in the first quarter of 2014, according to analyst Dean McCarron of Mercury Research — and that's down from 13.2 percent from a year ago. And although Kevin Lensing, AMD's senior director of mobility solutions, claimed that AMD "created" the X86 tablet processor category with its 2011 "Brazos" chips, its tablet market share is "effectively zero," McCarron said, with just two aging design wins. 

"Just to provide some contrast, Intel claimed tablet shipments of 5 million units in Q1," McCarron said via email. "AMD's total mobile shipments were within a couple percent of Intel's tablet shipments, so tablet is a wide open growth opportunity for AMD at the moment."

 

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