AMD Kaveri A10-7850K & A8-7600 Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: January 12, 2014
Product Name: A10-7850K / A8-7600
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A8 7600 Conclusion

When I first opened the box, I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Who in their right mind samples a low-end APU processor to highlight their new lineup?” I thought. After years of bleeding edge Intel and AMD samples being sent in an effort to showcase the best of the unaffordable best, getting an A8-7600 just seemed odd.

I quietly progressed through the benchmarks and now, after more than 20 hours of testing, I get it. This particular APU isn’t about record setting overclocking, extreme gaming or pushing the boundaries of x86 performance. It’s a stark reminder of reality. While part of me misses the race towards the top, that’s not what folks are looking for these days. AMD’s goal this time around was to showcase how ridiculously capable their more affordable APUs are.

The A8-7600 is the real standout of AMD’s new lineup. It epitomizes everything we could want from Kaveri by incorporating the graphics and multimedia performance of a 95W A10-6800K into a part with a TDP of just 65W. More importantly, it can be easily configured down to 45W without taking a massive cut in the areas that count the most to its intended market: GPU accelerated decoding, transcoding and gaming. I’m not saying forget about the K-series parts but the A8 7600 makes one hell of a convincing case for itself in HTPC systems and simple set-top boxes. Intel doesn’t have a thing that can touch it within their current Haswell product stack.

By combining graphics horsepower that’s focused in key areas and “good enough” (for its segment at least) CPU performance into an efficient, affordable package, AMD has created the perfect poster child for their design mantra and a great companion for SFF systems. It may not have the overclocking chops of its more expensive siblings but the A8 7600 is infinitely more capable of displaying the best Kaveri has to offer.

A10 7850K Conclusion

AMD seems to have made it a point to keep the A10 7850K well away from most press outlets; they figured the A8 7600 story personified Kaveri’s strengths in today’s market. Sure, that makes sense but readers of these pages want a better perspective about what’s available and simply ignoring this APU would be doing them a disservice. Plus, the A8 will only be available a month or more after the other parts are launched. So inquiries went out to unofficial sources and our sample was literally airlifted in from overseas this weekend. With the APU in hand, I now understand why the A10-7850K was almost swept under the rug.

With its Steamroller x86 cores and 512 core GCN-based graphics capabilities, the A10 7850K is a potent addition to AMD’s lineup from a gaming and GPU compute perspective. It absolutely screamed through games, routinely outpacing the A10 6800K by a wide margin and its performance in the few available GPU accelerated applications was nothing short of amazing. These are two key elements which go a long way towards legitimizing AMD’s focus on graphics horsepower. It gives me hope for the future. With the sample arriving less than 24 hours ago there wasn’t time for overclocking but I expect some great results there as well.

On the other hand, the majority of benchmark results were not up to par by current standards. The 7850K’s CPU scores point towards a worrying trend: a real lack of inter-generational x86 performance increases. There were some IPC improvements that actually made things close but on average, it didn't deliver one iota more performance than its A10 6800K predecessor or provide anything in the way of efficiency increases. The K-series part didn't even distinguish itself all that well from the 65W, $55 less expensive A8 7600. This isn't just a poor showing; it's devastating for an APU that costs 20% more than the product it’s supposed to replace.

Despite AMD’s best efforts we’re still years away from the day when broad-scale availability of GPU accelerated applications. This means raw CPU horsepower is still a critical element in this equation. Yes, things will change and more accelerated programs will become available but we've been saying that for three years now. Until more developers jump on board, for all its innovative features and big ideas, Kaveri will remain relegated to entry level markets unless its low CPU frequencies are addressed and HSA-supporting software becomes available. And quickly.

Kaveri isn’t lacking potential and competes well on a price / performance level with some Intel offerings but I constantly found myself wondering how great the A10 7850K could have been if AMD had at least managed to match the previous generation’s clock speeds. With OpenCL 2.0 still in its infancy, HSA features inaccessible in the current driver stack, legacy instruction sets still prevalent in today's software and the glacial speed of GPU accelerated application development, there’s very little reason to spend the extra money for an “unlocked” 95W APU. Especially when a significantly less expensive 65W model can offer just as much, if not more.

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