AMD Mullins & Beema Mobile APUs Preview

Author: SKYMTL
Date: April 28, 2014
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With the mobile market expanding at a rapid pace, the blurring of lines between different segments has become commonplace. In order to cope with these changing conditions, AMD has been evolving their platforms accordingly. Last year we saw the Richland APUs make their way into a number of successful mobile platforms while the next generation APUs, code named Kaveri, showed up in the desktop space.

While low power versions of Kaveri for the notebook and ultra portable markets have been conspicuous by their absence to compete against Intel’s Haswell offerings, AMD’s focus is now upon the low power and mainstream segments. This is where two new products will be introduced, code named Beema and Mullins.

These new APUs are actually part of an inter-generational lineup of broadly targeted architectures that date back to 2011, when AMD’s Heterogeneous System Architecture approach was still in its infancy. Back then, Brazos’ (along with its 2.0 stepping) Bobcat architecture and the associated Desna, Zacate and Ontario processors brought integrated CPU / GPU devices to the low power mobile market. Brazos was a success on some levels but ultimately proved itself to be a proof of concept rather than an outstanding seller since only a handful of design wins were ever associated with it.

In many ways Temash and Kabini represented a giant step forward for the APU scene when they were introduced last year. By successfully combining additional HSA features with GCN graphics, all of the I/O functions and four cores, the Jaguar microarchitecture was created and proved to be a serious contender. In modified form Jaguar even went on to feature prominently in the Playstation 4 and XBox One, becoming an overnight hit but it ultimately failed to win much market share from Intel.

AMD is hoping Mullins and Beema, their third generation low power and mainstream APUs will finally make some major inroads within their intended niches. With mobile versions of Kaveri now delayed past the first quarter of this year, they’re AMD’s best hope for making a dent in Intel’s dominant position. The focus this time around is to refine the Jaguar architecture to the point where it delivers enhanced performance per watt despite remaining on the 28nm manufacturing process. The result is a “new” microarchitecture called Puma+.

Sitting at the top of AMD’s mainstream offerings are the new Beema A-series APUs which effectively replace the Kabini processors of yesteryear. The A6-6310 sits atop the product stack and improves upon the outgoing A6-5200 with a part that operates at higher maximum CPU and GPU frequencies while supporting bandwidth-enhancing DDR3L-1866 DRAM. Meanwhile, since the core architecture hasn’t changed, the GCN-based HD 8000-series hasn’t been modified (though it has been rebranded for clarity’s sake) and still receives 128 processing cores backstopped by eight TMUs and a quartet or ROPs.

The A4-6210 boasts roughly the same specifications and four cores but hits a lower cost through reduced frequencies and utilizing a DDR3L-1600 memory interface. TDP for this part will remain at 15W, much like the APUs it will replace.

You will notice both of these APUs operate at substantially higher frequencies than their outgoing compatriots while operating at a lower or similar 15W TDP. We’ll detail how this was accomplished in the Architecture section but to see an approximate 30% speedup without negatively impacting power needs is extremely impressive. This will become a recurring theme since improving performance per watt was one of the primary goals of AMD’s engineers when creating Puma+ for mainstream slim and light notebooks.

The low cost mainstream segment has received a facelift as well with new E-Series APUs. The E2-6110 is a quad core processor that boosts CPU and GPU speeds by about 20% over its predecessor, the E2-3800 while maintaining the same power requirements. Meanwhile AMD’s E1-6010 is an interesting dual core combination that operates at 1.35GHz and 350MHz on the CPU and GPU respectively or about 50MHz lower than the E1-2500 but its TDP is an incredible 10W. Both of these APUs once again receive rebranded GCN graphics cores with the R2 series designation.

For the time being the Beema A-series and E-series are being set up as primarily competition against Intel’s mobile Haswell-U Pentium CPUs and the Bay Trail M powered Pentium N and Celeron N SKUs. This puts them in line to become prime candidates for convertible tablets, mainstream notebooks and ultra portables. However, later this year AMD will find themselves competing against Intel’s 14nm Broadwell architecture which may pose an issue for APUs that are based off of an older 28nm manufacturing process, despite their advances in performance per watt optics.

Mullins is the current runt of AMD’s APU litter but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fully capable of delivering a relatively high degree of performance. Aimed directly at the low power market, it competes against Intel’s Core i5 / i3 Haswell “Y” series and their latest Atoms powered by Bay Trail T and is designed for tablets and lower end ultra portables. The only minor hiccup may be AMD’s naming scheme which runs adds the odd “Micro” moniker while spanning a broad A10 to E1 product designation range.

As a direct replacement for Temash, Mullins seems to succeed past everyone’s wildest dreams since APUs in this segment arguably have the most to gain from AMD’s new architectural refinements. It offers an astonishing 30% to 60% more performance while lowering TDP to 4W to 4.5W. Take the A10 Micro- 6700T and A4 Micro-6400T, both of which provide substantial frequency benefits over their predecessors, support DDR3L-1333 memory and only require about 4.5W of power. Their sustained power envelope is actually closer to 3W, making them prime candidates for fanless tablets and set top boxes.

AMD’s E-series designation makes a comeback here as well with the E1-6200T. This APU is actually a replacement for the A4-1200, though it will effectively outcompete the A4-1250 in the majority of applications. Expect to see it used in entry-level, very basic small form factor notebooks and low end Windows-based tablets.

In order to properly support these new APUs, AMD has assembled a robust backbone of ISV partners with supporting software features. Many of these are carry-overs from the Elite Mobility feature set that was pioneered and offered for free with Richland and Trinity. Basically, everything seen here is built to take advantage of AMD’s GPU compute algorithms for accelerated performance. For example Quick Stream is a quality of service technology that manages internet bandwidth to prioritize high bandwidth tasks so they are properly buffered ahead of secondary requests.

One interesting addition is a partnership with Bluestacks which offers a virtualized Android environment that sits atop Windows. This allows for file sharing between Android and Windows along with a number of other interesting benefits.

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