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AMD's Griffin core has few changes from older designs

The next generation of AMD's mobile processors looks an awful lot like the last one, but it has some tweaks to other parts of the chip to make it more friendly to notebooks.

The basic design of AMD's forthcoming Griffin processor isn't all that different from its predecessor, according to a company engineer.

Griffin has been billed as AMD's "next-generation" mobile processor, with significant changes designed to make AMD's chip design more suitable for power-sensitive notebook PCs. But those changes are mostly implemented in things like the memory controller; the cores themselves are almost identical, said AMD's Jonathan Owen, speaking at the Hot Chips conference.

AMD's first Turion mobile chips was essentially a power-optimized version of its Opteron server processor. AMD and Intel took different paths with their current chip designs; AMD designed a server chip, and tweaked it for other applications, while Intel designed a notebook chip and tweaked it for other applications.

AMD does fairly well in the notebook market, but it hasn't made nearly as much headway against Intel among the more expensive (read: profitable) notebooks. Griffin is supposed to help change that, but it won't be because of any changes AMD made to the basic core design, Owen said. "Griffin is largely a northbridge project built on an existing processor core design," he said.

The northbridge, which connects the processor to memory, underwent the most radical changes with the Griffin processor. AMD's chips use a northbridge integrated directly onto the processor, unlike Intel's, which use memory controllers outside the chip.

The Griffin memory controller will be more power-friendly because it will run at the speed of the memory, not the speed of the processor, Owen said. It sits on a separate power plane from the processor, which means it runs at a lower voltage and a lower clock speed. The company also built thermal monitors directly onto the Griffin processor that can throttle the chip back to more respectable speeds if things start to get a little hot. That used to be done by a thermal monitor outside the chip.

Griffin notebooks will be available in the middle of next year. Because it's basically the same chip as AMD's current Turion chips, Owen estimated that the clock speeds of Turion and Griffin will be about the same, but with a few ticks up the speed ladder.