AMD Richland APU Preview: Trinity Gets a Facelift

Author: SKYMTL
Date: March 10, 2013
Product Name: AMD Richland
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AMD have officially revealed the upcoming Richland APUs, which represent a unique amalgamation of old architecture with new, updated features and additional performance benefits for the mobile market. This new product range is somewhat unexpected given the fact that even a a few months ago Richland wasn't on most people's radars since roadmaps showed Trinity making a relatively quick transition to Kaveri. Now it seems as though things are being done a bit differently.

When it was first released, AMD’s Trinity represented a huge step forward, improving upon Llano’s success in every way possible. It was one of the first true moves towards the ultimate goal of building a Heterogeneous System Architecture (HAS) with the accelerated processing unit (or APU) as its heart and soul. Trinity met with a fair amount of success, and it seemed the public was ready to completely embrace what AMD was trying to achieve. Now, its replacement Richland is being pushed onto the scene.

This release marks the beginning of a very aggressive year for AMD as Trinity, Brazos 2.0 and Hondo gradually make way for their Richland, Kabini and Temash replacements. This approach does potentially give Richland a short lifespan since AMD’s top-tier Kaveri APU is still due out in Q4 and will incorporate several new features based around HAS initiatives.

AMD’s typical cycle has new products hitting the market in the late April / May timeframe so Richland is a slight departure from this methodology. Supposedly, manufacturing optimizations improved yields and allowed for a quicker turnaround time between the initial design and final silicon. The fact that Richland uses most of Trinity’s core architecture likely helped things along in this regard as well.

Unlike past designs like Trinity and Llano, Richland is a simple silicon refresh based on the tried and true 32nm manufacturing process rather than a true architectural overhaul. It is meant to tide the APU lineup over until Kaveri launches later this year but more importantly, it will give AMD a fighting chance against Haswell when it launches in June.

The Richland A-series mobile lineup will closely mirror the outgoing Trinity product stack, albeit replacing the 4xxxx moniker with 5xxxx. There is however one notable absence for the time being: low voltage parts. Those LV and ULV APUs will be gradually rolling out over the next few months and will effectively replace current generation parts. Whether or not there will be any potential overlap with upcoming Jaguar-based Kabini APUs remains to be seen, but we doubt AMD will choose to put all of their low voltage ultra-thin APUs directly under one umbrella.

Desktop parts haven’t been discussed yet, but we would assume they’ll go down the same path as Trinity did and follow the initial mobile release after a few months.

So what makes Richland tick? Mostly the same things as its predecessor, but there has been some fine tuning going on behind the scenes which will allow Richland APUs to compete against Intel’s processors on a more level footing.

While Trinity mated up to four Piledriver cores with a Northern Islands class GPU, and AMD’s next generation Kaveri APUs will use Steamroller CPU architecture paired up with GCN-based graphics, Richland takes a path between these two. It uses the same architectural bones as Trinity, but rolls in several next generation power management optimizations which directly affect clock speeds. As a result, its GPU and CPU cores operate at higher frequencies without negatively impacting TDP.

Regardless of the HD 8000-series moniker used for the GPU core, Richland still uses the same Northern Islands design as Trinity did. Once again, AMD has rebranded theses units in order to properly reflect the additional performance benefits derived through their higher operating frequencies.

One of the most interesting aspects of this architecture is its ability to work with the HD 8000M "Solar" branch of the Sea Islands architecture when used in Dual Graphics mode. Given the differences between the Northern Islands VLIW4 design within Richland and the GCN-based HD 8000M, some technical wizardry is likely going on behind the scenes in order facilitate communication and load balancing between the two. Either that or the lower-end, as yet unannounced HD 8000M parts will use the older core technology.

The memory controller on A10 APUs has also been revamped with support for DDR3-1866 modules, though lower-end APUs don’t receive the same treatment. Meanwhile, the use of an FS1r2 uPGA socket retains mobile platform compatibility, allowing Richland to become a simple drop in solution for existing designs.

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