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Old Jun 5, 2012, 08:10 PM   #1
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caveman-jim
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AMD AMD Launches Brazos 2.0 - The best low power x86 platform just got better

Without making any ground shaking or startling improvements, AMD's new Brazos 2.0 platform has made the best x86 low power platform for embedded, low power and ultra portable better.

In a phone call briefing today with Chris Sutphen, AMD Product Marketing Manager for Ultra Low Power, we found out that the major changes to Brazos aren't to the Bobcat-powered APU but the platform controller hub (known as Fusion Controller Hub in AMD heterogeneous speak), now Hudson 3L.

The new E1-1200 and E2-1800 APU's are based on the same Bobcat and Cedar combination we saw in the first gen APU, released in January 2011. There have been no significant tweaks to the design, just normal process improvements which allow the E2-1800 to run at 1.7GHz for the dual-core Bobcat x86 module and 523MHz for the 80 Radeon Core GPU. The GPU can also boost upto 680MHz using AMD's Turbo CORE technology.

The E1-1200 is still a dual core but has a lower clock speed, 1.4GHz, and the GPU runs at 500MHz with no turbo clock. The memory controller has been breathed upon, now supporting DDR3-1333 for the E2-1800 but still DDR3-1066 for the E1-1200. Both models also support DDR3L and DDR3U 1066, an important note for embedded options.

The graphics are now branded in the Radeon HD 7000 series, which means the Cedar design from the 5450 has become the 6300 in the first generation of C/E/Z-series APU's and now the 7300 series; HD 7340 for the E2-1800 and HD 7310 for the E1-1200. Like the first gen Brazos, Brazos 2.0 has 8 PCI-E gen 2 lanes for various uses by original design manufacturers (ODM's), typically implemented as a PEG slot for simple compatibility.

So, then, to the actual big change - the new Fusion Controller Hub. Hudson D3L, presumably L for low power, features three new features - SATA 3 6gbps ports, USB 3.0 SuperSpeed, and a native USB SD card reader. Originally AMD didn't put USB 3.0 in Brazos because of the power needs of the design. This indicates that AMD has done some work on addressing power use to get the new features into the platform; either that, or their customers deemed it too big a check box to leave of for the second round. USB 3.0 comes with a trade off, the 14 port count of the 2011 FCH platform drops to 8, not a big deal really.

SATA 6 is added more as a top-to-bottom range checkbox than real need, given it was present on some of the first gen Brazos platform boards, but it'll be useful as new generation solid state storage controllers get cheaper. It's also a welcome boon for those with an eye on low power, x86-based storage or web appliances. With 30 million Brazos APU's shipped and 160 design wins, AMD weren't going to risk screwing up a cash cow.

The inclusion of a native SD card reader is a clear testament to where the pressure came from - ultra portables, tablets - although embedded designers like to do fun things like put their OS on a write-protected flash card and boot the system from that. It's one less thing for platform builders to have to add on, and in the ultra low power notebook space every bit of power counts - power saved on extra chips can be spent on screen resolution or brightness, better wireless connectivity options, or just plain better battery life.

In feature terms, we got two things and missed out on one. There's no Video Codec Engine in Brazos 2.0, so it's not capable of hardware accelerated H264 encoding like it's bigger brother Trinity, or the Southern Island GCN-based GPU's. The two options we do get are AMD Steady Video and AMD Quick Stream.

AMD Steady Video uses GPU compute to remove shakiness from hand-cam videos, realtime, from both local media and streamed internet sources. We first saw this with Llano APU's, and it's available on any AMD platform with an AMD processor and AMD GPU through the Catalyst software - Intel guys with a Radeon don't get it. Steady Video 2.0 was introduced with the GCN architecture cards, which have hardware to help speed up the algorithm, and the bigger GPU's can do it through GPU compute functionality.

AMD Quick Stream technology is a video-playback focused quality-of-service (QoS) application that enforces higher priority for network streaming video traffic, managing bandwidth automatically. This is another feature debuted with Trinity, and OEM's can adjust the list of applications that get priority. Presumably there will be no controls for end-users as it wasn't mentioned, but we might get lucky and be able to turn it off or add to it as new software is released.

All in all, the Brazos 2.0 refresh brings two new models into the market with some much needed tweaks to features and options. The main use for Brazos 2.0 is initially going to be ultra low power notebooks, all-in-one PC's, and mini-desktops. AMD wouldn't comment on the improvements rolling out to the rest of the Brazos range - the C and Z-series APU's - but with the improvement in performance and battery life, as well as new features, it seems obvious they will switch over quickly throughout the year.

Read the AMD Press Release here.
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