AMD launches DirectX 11 laptop graphics processors

AMD's new graphics processors could improve graphics and system performance on laptops

Advanced Micro Devices announced new DirectX 11 mobile graphics processors which should bring improved graphics and application performance to Windows 7 laptops, the company said on Thursday.

The company released ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5000 series graphics cards that are the fastest laptop processors the company has released to date. The graphics chips offer bandwidth for laptops to run two Blu-ray streams at once, said Asif Rehman, product manager for AMD's mobile graphics business.

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The 5000-series cards outperform the older 4000-series graphics cards by up to 40 percent, Rehman said. The high-end 5800-series graphics card includes 1.04 billion transistors and provides computing power of up to 1.12 teraflops, which AMD claims is the highest in the laptop category.

The units can harness the parallel processing capabilities of GPUs to improve gaming and application performance on PCs, Rehman said. That is partly done by native hardware support for DirectX 11 tools that are built into Windows 7 by Microsoft.

DirectX 11 tools include a set of APIs (application programming interfaces) for realistic images and sound when playing games or watching movies. The tools also help free up CPUs by off-loading multimedia tasks to graphics processors, which could speed up overall laptop performance.

For example, processing of Flash videos could be off-loaded from the CPU to the latest ATI graphics cards, which could significantly speed performance.

The chips will also include support for a feature called UVD2, which will allow laptops to decode two high-definition video streams on a single GPU. The older 4000 series chips were capable of processing one high-definition and standard-definition stream at the same time. The GPUs will also be able to play back Blu-ray video in the Windows Aero mode, a task which was difficult to handle on earlier graphics cards.

Beyond performance improvements, the cards are more power-efficient. The cards consume less power in idle mode by adjusting the engine and memory clock, Rehman said. Energy efficiency was also achieved by making the cards at the advanced 40-nanometer manufacturing process.

Battery life on laptops could also increase with native support for Vari-Bright on the graphics cards. Vari-Bright was initially a software feature, but hardware support could reduce power drawn by up to 50 percent compared to the software.

The graphics cards will also support Eyefinity technology, which will allow the cards to support up to six displays.

AMD is the one of the first companies to announce a laptop graphics cards that natively supports DirectX 11. Most laptop graphics cards either support the older DirectX 9.0c or DirectX 10.1. AMD's rival, Nvidia, has announced plans for DirectX 11 graphics processors, but hasn't released hardware yet.

The 5800-series graphics cards would be for enthusiast laptops, while the low-end 5430-series GPU will be for thin and light laptops that require low power consumption. The 5450, 5470, 5600 and 5700-series graphics cards will be targeted at mainstream laptops. The cards will become available directly in laptops in the first half of the year.

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