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AMD adds ARM security core to new, low-cost x86 mobile processors

Fan-free Beema and Mullins chips add Android support

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AMD has two new, low-power system-on-chip (SoC) designs for laptops and tablets ready to roll that include an ARM processor core built into the die to handle security and virtualized Android support for Windows systems.

"This category of products is AMD's; we own it, we created it, every year we build upon it to deliver even more. Our competition is finally following us and mimicking our strategy but we've got 'em beat," said Kevin Lensing, senior director of mobility solutions at AMD.

The two new SoCs, dubbed Beema and Mullins, are based on the same type of design as Brazos and its successors Kabini and Temash, he explained, but with beefed up processing power from quad-core Puma engines, better graphics support, reduced power consumption, intelligent heat management, and a platform security processor (PSP) – an ARM Cortex-A5 that keeps core programs secure.

The PSP has its own cryptographic engine and runs ARM's TrustZone software ecosystem to lock down key code as "trusted applications" and provide a secure boot facility. AMD says the new chip will be much more secure as a result, and we may see more ARM integration in future designs.

AMD is also adding fully optimized Android support within Windows via its partnership with BlueStacks. The new processors will run an Android Jelly Bean environment concurrently in a Windows system, rather than as a dual-boot system, and can access files and data shared between both operating systems.

Beema and Mullins have increased processor power over previous AMD SoC designs (up to 2.2 and 2.4GHz clock speed, respectively). They also include 128-core Radeon graphics that AMD claims will give the new hardware double the performance of their predecessors but with a 20 per cent reduction in the amount of power used.

The company has optimized the new SoCs for low-power connections to DDR3-1333 memory and uses what AMD called "intelligent boost control," whereby applications that need a lot of energy can be frontloaded and then run in a lower power state.

That applies to cooling as well. As fitting temperature sensors is expensive and takes up space in slim form factors, Beema and Mullins use data collected on heat generation to step down performance when things run too hot, limiting temperatures to a maximum of 60°C.

Both Beema and Mullins are ready for volume production now, Lensing said, and AMD has already produced its own reference tablet designs. Lenovo and Samsung are readying new kit using the SoCs and devices from more manufacturers will be coming soon, he said. ®

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