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AMD's Carrizo chip promises aggressive power savings, but not fanless PCs

Mark Hachman | Jan. 16, 2015
AMD executives said Wednesday that their upcoming "Carrizo" mobile processors will significantly increase battery life in the PCs that use them. Even better, the new chips won't require transitioning to a new process technology in order to reach lofty new power-efficiency goals.

AMD executives said Wednesday that their upcoming "Carrizo" mobile processors will significantly increase battery life in the PCs that use them. Even better, the new chips won't require transitioning to a new process technology in order to reach lofty new power-efficiency goals.

Typically, the easiest way to reduce power consumption without losing performance is by "shrinking" the CPU die to a new manufacturing process. This is what Intel did with its shift to the "Broadwell" generation of fifth-generation Core chips. But David McAfee, director of software and platform solutions at AMD, said that his company will be able to keep pace in the power-efficiency game without the expensive transition to a new manufacturing process.

"We have focused an enormous amount of effort on battery life," McAfee said. "That's kind of the point. It's not a problem that can be measured by synthetic benchmarks, but by actual user scenarios."

This year's Carrizo chip, McAfee said, "will offer one of the largest generation-to-generation battery-life improvements from AMD in the past few years." Carrizo is expected to ship during the first half of 2015.

Why this matters:  It's no secret that Intel has a dominant position in the PC market (though AMD's X86 chips do ship in all three of the major game consoles). Intel's Broadwell chip is manufactured on a 14-nm process, while AMD's Carrizo is a generation behind, at 28-nm. So AMD has been forced to become clever — a tactic that has, at times, brought the company success.

As cheaper, low-end PCs come to dominate a declining PC market, AMD stands to benefit, especially as consumers put higher premiums on battery life. That said, if Intel discounts its Core chips, AMD could get pinched.

All Carrizo, all the time

AMD first revealed Carrizo last November, announcing the chip would be the foundation of AMD-powered notebooks in 2015. There will be two members of the family — Carrizo and the less powerful Carrizo-L — and system makers will be able to use a common design platform, potentially saving development costs. Carrizo also integrates a separate I/O chip that AMD's previous "Kaveri" chips did not, further saving cost and space. 

The Carrizo processor will integrate a new x86 CPU core codenamed "Excavator" with next-generation AMD Radeon graphics, while the Carrizo-L derivative will use the Puma+ core and AMD Radeon R-Series GCN GPUs for mainstream configurations, AMD said. 

At the Consumer Electronics Show, AMD showed off Carrizo chips and systems, proving that the company had workable silicon. McAfee said that Carrizo chips will be designed at the 35-watt range for standard notebooks, while thin-and-light machines will target 10 to 15 watts. The chips will also appear in small formfactor desktops and all-in-ones, much like Intel's Broadwell chips.

 

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