AMD Mobility from Past to Present

It's been a long time in coming, but today we can finally provide a look at an up-to-date AMD mobile platform that doesn't disappoint. My first encounter with AMD's Turion processors came back in 2006 with the MSI S271 whitebook. Unfortunately, that laptop came out shortly after the Core 2 Duo tour de force, and various flaws left us wanting more. Battery life checked in at a then-respectable 3 to 3.5 hours, and pricing started at around $1000 for a fully-equipped system. My, how things have changed!

Since the first Turion parts, most of AMD's mobile processor advances have been relatively tame. Four years ago we looked at AMD's mobile dual-core parts running at 1.6GHz and 2.0GHz, built on a 90nm SOI process technology and running in socket S1 (S1G1). Today, the fastest AMD parts are built on a 45nm process and we're now on socket S1G4. We've changed from DDR to DDR2 and now DDR3, performance per clock has gone up, and performance per watt has increased significantly. We've also gone from X1200 series IGPs to HD 3200 and HD 4200, with the latter two adding DX10 and DX10.1 respectively. Many of these changes have had the overall goal of reducing power requirements and increasing battery life—an area where AMD has been trailing for the past four years.

In short, we need to see better performance and better battery life from AMD's mobile division (and their OEM partners), with a price that's appropriate to the features and performance provided. Let's start with a look at the specs of the laptop behind AMD's latest ultraportable (a.k.a. 2010 Ultrathin) platform, the Toshiba T235D.

Toshiba T235D-S1345RD Specifications
Processor AMD Turion II Neo K625
(2x1.50GHz, 45nm, 2x1024KB L2, 3200MHz HT, 15W)
Chipset AMD M880G
Memory 2x2GB DDR3 (Max 2x4GB)
(DDR3-1066 @ DDR3-800 6-6-6-15 1T)
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225
(40 Stream Processors, 380MHz core clock)
Display 13.3" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) Toshiba MK3265GSX 320GB 5400RPM 8MB
Optical Drive None
Networking Fast Ethernet (Realtek RTL8139/810x)
802.11b/g/n (Atheros AR9285)
Audio HD Audio
Stereo speakers with headphone/mic jacks
Battery 6-Cell, 10.8V, 5300mAh, ~61Wh battery
(Note: 57Wh calculated)
Front Side N/A
Left Side Flash Reader
1 x Combo USB 2.0/eSATA
Exhaust vent
AC Power
Right Side Headphone and Mic jacks
2 x USB 2.0
Back Side N/A
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 12.7" x 8.8" x 0.70"-1.03" (WxDxH)
Weight 3.9 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD/SD-HC/xD)
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Pricing $600 MSRP
Starting at $580 Online
(Sale this week: $500 at Office Depot)

Unlike the higher performance AMD parts, the Nile platform (and Geneva CPUs) compete in the ultraportable market. We've looked at a few laptops from the previous generation AMD Congo family, the Acer Ferrari One and the MSI Wind U230, but to date we haven't found anything that can seriously challenge the Intel ultraportable market. On the performance side, both Intel's CULV and AMD's ultraportables have easily pounded Atom netbooks into the ground, but where CULV laptops are able to hit 8+ hours of battery life we've yet to break the five hour mark with an AMD laptop (while using a moderately sized 6-cell battery). The Toshiba T235D changes that, and finally we have an AMD platform—and a Toshiba laptop—that we can recommend without a whole bunch of caveats.

The Turion II K625 processor comes clocked at a relatively tame 1.5GHz, but keep in mind that the Intel competition has typically been clocked at 1.3GHz (CULV) or even 1.2GHz (Arrandale ULV). The K665 bumps the clock up to 1.7GHz while the K325 drops to 1.3GHz, making the K625 a good middle-of-the-road choice. What's more, while CULV laptops like the Acer Timeline AS1810T were saddled with Intel's anemic GMA 4500MHD, the newer Timeline X series moves up to Core i3/i5 processors, with faster graphics…and a higher price and apparently worse battery life! The only Arrandale CULV we've tested so far is the Alienware M11x R2, which came with Intel's fastest ULV in the i7-620UM. We'll at least be able to see how the K625 rates in comparison, and we'll also be able to look at graphics performance (with the M11x's GT335M disabled). It's shaping up to be an interesting battle at least, rather than the previous results where Intel easily won in CPU and battery life, with lackluster IGP results. Going forward, we do have some additional Arrandale ULV laptops coming in, with some of the lower spec CPUs, so consider this a first volley in the comparisons that are coming.

One thing that's nice to see for a change is that Toshiba's contestant isn't saddled with a smaller battery this time around. We've seen a lot of 48Wh 6-cell batteries in inexpensive notebooks and laptops, but thankfully the T235D comes with a 6-cell 61Wh battery. [Note: the spec pages on Toshiba and elsewhere list a battery capacity of 48Wh, but it appears that's just an error as the battery in our test unit is definitely a higher capacity 6-cell.] It has the now-standard 1366x768 (768p) LCD found in so many ultraportables, but the chassis lacks an optical drive as Toshiba goes for the thin crowd. With a 13.3" chassis this is still more of a thin and light laptop as opposed to being an 10" to 12" ultraportable, but it tips the scales at just under four pounds so it's definitely easy to carry around, particularly for students. As usual, we'll start with a closer look at the T235D before we get to the performance metrics.

Toshiba T235D – Glitzy or Glamorous?
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  • mczak - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    per-clock performance of HD3200 and HD4200 is pretty much the same. The difference here (aside possibly from clock - not sure what clock the hd3200 used in the other notebooks were running at) is the platform. Most notably the HT speed, which was limited to HT-800 for Congo platform instead of HT1600 (for the K625). This basically halves the memory bandwidth available to the GPU and as you can guess this has a pretty disastrous effect on performance. Other differences are possible as well (e.g. different sideport memory), I believe some congo designs also ran their (ddr2) memory at a very low clock which could further lower scores though unless it was single channel it shouldn't make much of a difference since the HT-800 limits available gpu memory bandwidth still more. Well it could be a combination of slow memory and slow HT but whatever the case it's a bandwidth problem not architectural differences which make the HD3200 and HD4200 perform differently (unless you had an app which would use DX10.1 features).
  • Hyperion1400 - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    "Of course, battery capacities are a bit tricky—I know I have some 2500mAh 1.2V AA Energizer rechargeable batteries that suck compared to some equivalently rated 2500mAh Eneloop rechargeables"

    IxV gets you rated output(max power output assuming 0 ohm resistance). The only way to know the capacity of a battery is to rely on the manufacturer's word or to test the battery yourself.
  • Computer Bottleneck - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    I think it is really interesting that older 45nm Intel's like SU7300 score better in battery tests than 32nm Arrandale i7-640um (found in Alienware M11 R2).

    Does this have anything to do with differences in peripherals (hard-drive, LCD, etc)? I noticed the Alienware has a 7200 rpm drive whereas the Acer Timeline 1810 has a 520 rpm drive. Or is the battery life difference related more to other factors? (I was expecting 32nm to definitely pull away from 45nm all things being equal).
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    I don't think most of the components make much of a difference. M11x isn't the most power-friendly implementation of Arrandale ULV, though, so we'll see how the ASUS UL80Jt stacks up next week. In general, though, the IGP in Arrandale is far more potent than the old GMA 4500MHD, and perhaps that's part of the difference.

    Intel specs the Arrandale ULV chips at 18W, which includes graphics. The CULV stuff was 10W, but I don't have a clear number on the chipset+IGP. It would appear that the chipset tops out at around 3W-5W for the IGP based on my testing here:

    Idle power draw on CULV may also be better, for whatever reason. Maybe 32nm has higher leakage, or it's just the number of transistors. I keep thinking the next 32nm parts from Intel will probably show much better power numbers, as this is really their first 32nm part. We'll see later this year with Sandy Bridge I guess.
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    All the testing with any Arrandale (ULV or not) has shown battery life not really improved from the later C2D processors, correct? Maybe there will be an improved stepping at some point.
  • Computer Bottleneck - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    Good point about Arrandale ULV possibly having higher leakage at idle. Maybe this is because i7-640um needs to be built on higher power wafers in order to hit the 2+ Ghz turbo speeds?
  • Kishkumen - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    As usual, the display just kills it all for me. A fine review, I just wish these laptop manufactures would throw us a freakin bone when it comes to some better displays. They're not doing themselves any favors with my pocket book anyway.
  • Taft12 - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    If you're referring to 1366x768, I fully agree!!

    Dell doesn't allow you to customize the screen nearly as much as they used to. Come on already, I am not paying over $600 for a laptop with that screen resolution!
  • The Crying Man - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    Nice review. Is there any in the works with the N930 paired with an HD 5650? I have the dv6, but I'm just curious where it falls compared to all the other review laptops.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    I've got a P920 with 5650 review coming, but I do wish the CPU were faster. It's the Toshiba A665D... except the A665D is now discontinued and so my replacement system is the A660D. It's the same notebook but with a 7200RPM HDD AFAICT. Should have that up in the next week or so.

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