AMD's K6-2+ in Notebooks - Evaluating Performance with PowerNowby Anand Lal Shimpi on September 12, 2000 7:06 PM EST
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Just 10 months ago, at Fall Comdex '99, AMD was demonstrating their first air-cooled Athlons running at speeds of up to 900MHz. They were readying themselves for the launch of the first 0.18-micron Athlons (K75) starting with the 750MHz parts that would see their introduction just ten days after we published our initial coverage from Comdex. Word of the successors to the K75 core, in particular the Spitfire (Duron) and the still yet to be seen Mustang quickly grabbed our attention and helped to even further renew our faith in AMD.
In the midst of all of this talk of faster CPUs, increased memory bandwidth and cranking up FSB frequencies, one market segment we all seemed to have ignored is the mobile market. While it's great that both AMD and Intel can push their CPUs to four digit speeds, try lugging around your 1GHz desktop system around with you to meetings, classes or even to accompany you on a plane or on the beach. It was at this very same meeting at Comdex that we first caught glimpse of a technology that AMD was planning to introduce to the mobile market shortly.
The market for portable computers is enourmous, unfortunately there are a number of areas in which the mobile market of today is lacking.
Mobile 3D acceleration is virtually non-existent, it is basically at the point the PC was years ago. Availability of mobile solutions from ATI and S3 are steps in the right direction, but even TNT2 class performance is fanaticizing for notebook users.
While it's true that the currently available 3.5" hard drives for desktops are still limiting overall system performance, the 2.5" notebook drives that often don't spin faster than 4200RPM (there are some 5400RPM models) will make you truly appreciate your "performance limiting" desktop drives.
In spite of the lack of powerful 3D acceleration and faster storage devices, the notebook arena has recently been very blessed with some extremely powerful CPUs. With desktop CPUs already having broken the 1GHz clock speed barrier, it is very impressive to see laptops shipping with 700 and 750MHz CPUs. Unfortunately, the problem with bringing these desktop CPUs down to the mobile level is not only that these chips are producing quite a bit of heat, but they're also consuming an incredible amount of power.
One of the reasons Intel has been able to dominate the mobile market is because the Pentium III does not have the fierce competitor in the mobile world as it does in the desktop arena. The Athlon, in its current state, draws entirely too much power for it to be a viable solution for a notebook. Because of this disadvantage, the Pentium III can easily dominate the competing AMD solutions which are unfortunately based AMD's previous generation flagship, the K6-X.
Luckily for AMD, there is one thing that you have to realize before passing judgment on their currently available mobile solutions. If you remember, the biggest downside to the K6-X series of processors when they were AMD's only desktop solutions was the fact that they could not even begin to compete with the Pentium II/III in terms of FPU performance, mainly noticed in certain high-end applications (3D rendering, etc ) and games. However, if you take into account two of the current limitations of notebooks, the lack of any powerful mobile 3D accelerators and the lack of any high performing 2.5" hard disk solutions, all of the sudden AMD's weaknesses are not as evident.
On a platform that wasn't used for 3D games, the K6-X series of processors gave their competing Intel solutions a pretty big run for their money. Now, being used in a situation where the expectation of being able to run Quake III at 60 fps is ridiculous, the AMD processors of yesterday are much more attractive.
While free of most of the criticisms that plagued AMD during the days when their K6-X series was the only processor they had to offer the high-end, gaming and mainstream users, there is still another factor that is used to measure the "performance" of a mobile CPU, power consumption.