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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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    Vivek has an R700 review coming, I think... should be here in the next week or so.
  • ekoostik - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    Any reason you can't just download the latest AMD drivers from their website?:

    Granted under 'not supported' it includes: "Toshiba notebooks" - but is that just because Toshiba doesn't participate in certification?

    I've got a friend who bought this laptop when the sale started at the beginning of August (and back then it was supposed to end 8/7/10) and would like to help them get their drives updated. And they don't have access to another AMD laptop.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    The download for mobile solutions is a 1.1MB utility that checks your laptop model and then allows you to download the full driver set if it's a supported laptop. That means Toshiba laptops come back with a message saying the laptop isn't supported; please contact your notebook manufacturer (or something to that effect). However, I have verified on at least two Toshiba laptops that you can still install the latest drivers (at least 10.7 worked) if you can get the install files elsewhere. (A quick search turned up nada, sadly.)

    Also, I don't know if you can just grab the regular Catalyst Control Center, HydraVision Package, and Avivo Package and end up with the same thing as the unified installer. If so, then go that route.
  • ekoostik - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Ah, got it. Thanks for the feedback, and for looking. I'll see what their appetite is for installing the individual components.

    Looks like AMD released v 10.8 yesterday.

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