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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.

Unfortunately, AMD has persisted in using model names to identify its chips. If you're interested in notebooks using either chip, be sure and print out the following two graphics and bring them with you to the store, to make sure you have the right one. 

Performance on par with Intel's low end

AMD's Beema and Mullins chips both use an advanced version of the AMD Puma core, called Puma+, as well as Graphics Core Next (GCN) graphics architecture that powers the latest generation of game consoles. Still, AMD positioned its A6-6310 Beema chip as roughly comparable to Intel's Pentium 3556U "Haswell" processor, an entry-level chip Intel launched last year, under the PCMark 8 benchmark. Using 3DMark 11, it is roughly 50 percent faster, AMD said. 

AMD also said that its A4-Micro 6400T Mullins chip delivered 15 percent better graphics performance than the Intel Atom Z3770, or "Bay Trail T" chip, using PCMark 8 V2, while the top-of-the-line A10 Micro-6700T outperforms a Core i3. Lensing boldly claimed that chips like the Intel "Bay Trail" series of Atom chips were "late and not good enough" to compete with AMD's offerings.

AMD's updated architecture helps boost CPU and graphics performance, but some of the the power savings can be attributed to a significant reduction — between 19 and 38 percent — in leakage current, the power that "leaks" into the ether when the chip is not being used.

Interesting software optimizations

AMD's new chips also support low-power DDR3-1333 memory, as well as a lower-power display interface. But some of the more interesting optimizations are outside the processor itself.

AMD's Mullins and Beema introduce what AMD calls "skin aware power management," a fancy name for trying to optimize for the amount of heat you'll put up with. If a laptop or tablet maker chooses to, they can install a sensor in the back of the tablet to detect when the heat it produces exceeds a certain level — say 60 degrees centigrade. 

Sam Naffziger, an AMD corporate fellow, explained that the nature of apps processing — quick bursts followed by long periods of idle time — made skin-aware power management particularly appropriate. If necessary, the laptop or tablet can tempoararily overclock the processor to quickly get the job done, then drop back into idle mode. AMD's "race to idle" technique has been used by Intel for several generations as its "hurry up and get idle" philosophy.

Finally, there's what AMD calls "intelligent boost," a technique that only provides the CPU horsepower an application needs and not much else. Using an embedded microcontroller within the chips, AMD quickly assesses the performance that a CPU needs within a few microseconds, Naffziger said. 

 

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