AMD Trinity: Going Mobile with a New APU

Author: SKYMTL
Date: May 14, 2012
Product Name: AMD Trinity APU
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There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about the current processor market’s direction. Instead of using multiple chips spread across a common platform, more and more core functionalities are being condensed into a single, all inclusive unit. Even in the smartphone market, every company is looking for the inherent efficiency and adaptable performance aspects than a System on a Chip or SoC architecture can bring to the table. After first integrating the memory controller and other Northbridge functions onto their CPU dies, AMD’s effort in this area eventually received a fitting name: Fusion

After years of championing the idea of incorporating a CPU and graphics subsystem onto a single chip, AMD’s Fusion goals were finally realized last year. The Brazos, Lynx and Sabine platforms serving the ultra portable, desktop and mobile platforms respectively, burst onto the market and found the public waiting with open arms. According to AMD, the age of the all inclusive compute unit had arrived and judging from their competitors' reactions, it’s hard to fault their vision. For example, Intel move their graphics controller on-die and as the recent Ivy Bridge launch showed, they’re quickly accelerating their performance objectives in this field.

Trinity has been created to maintain AMD’s commanding lead in the heterogeneous computing field but as with Llano, they’ve added a bit of a twist. Instead of focusing solely upon beating Intel from an x86 standpoint, this new architecture is meant to strike a delicate balance between the CPU cores and graphics pipeline. But make no mistake about it; the standard processing capabilities of the new Trinity APUs has been significantly improved over the previous generation. The GPU portion has also received a noticeable bump in performance in order to keep it heads and shoulders above anything Intel can currently offer.

Trinity may seem to be a close sibling to the outgoing Llano architecture but there’s more going on here than what first meets the eye. It uses a slightly larger die, houses more transistors, and is fabricated on the same manufacturing node but through advances in the 32nm HKMG process, performance per watt has been increased by an order of magnitude. As such, a new 17W, low voltage, high efficiency tier has been added to the APU lineup while the 35W, 65W and 100W units have remained standing but now feature additional performance benefits. AMD hopes this means traditional desktop and notebook form factors will speed up their transition towards sleek all in one systems and ultra slim, performance oriented mobile systems sporting extended battery life.

Long accused of releasing inefficient architectures, AMD is striving for performance per watt leadership, even though they won’t be making use of an advanced 22nm tri-gate manufacturing process like Intel. In order to do this, a focus has been put upon offering up the best possible blend gaming and entertainment experiences, two areas where traditional processors fall woefully short.

Initially, the Trinity lineup will be solely geared towards the mobile market, an area we’re sure it will excel in. AMD’s new A10-4600M heads things up with a quartet of cores with a maximum frequency of 3.2GHz through the use of Turbo Core 3.0, 2MB of L2 cache and a TDP of just 35W. When compared against the previous generation’s top end Llano A8, the improvements are certainly there on every front.

Alongside the A10, AMD will be releasing the A8-4800M and A6-4400M, two processors which also have a TDP of 35W but should consume significantly less power. The 4800M still uses four cores and 4MB of L2 cache but its clock speeds have been reduced and the integrated GPU's SIMD array has been cut down to 256 cores. The 4400M is a dual core processor with a mere 512KB of L2 cache per core and a lower end graphics stage but its clock speeds match those of the higher end A10.

Further down-market are the low voltage and ultra low voltage APUs for Ultrabook-like mobile platforms. We already saw their introduction within HP’s new Sleekbook, a great looking Ultrabook competitor that promises huge amounts of battery life. The A10-4655M and A6-4455M are similar in layout to their full voltage cousins but due to decreased operating voltage, clock speeds have been severely curtailed in favor of lower TDP values.

One of the major changes within Trinity's architecture is the use of Radeon graphics cores featuring the Northern Islands architecture (otherwise known as the HD 6000-series) and full support for DX11. The number of graphics processing engines has been actually been decreased over the HD 5000-series Evergreen-based cores within Llano but that doesn’t mean less performance as the VLIW4 architecture holds a significant core per core lead over VLIW5. An expanded feature and functionality set has been built in as well.

While we’ll be getting into the gritty details of this architecture and it’s impressive potentially, you’ll have to wait a few weeks for a full Trinity review from us. In addition, today marks the introduction the Trinity mobile platform, code named Comal while the desktop-oriented Virgo platform will see its launch in the coming months.


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