Kaveri Mobile APUs; AMD's FX Reincarnated

Author: SKYMTL
Date: June 3, 2014
Product Name: AMD Kaveri
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With the introduction of Kaveri and its HSA features, AMDís APU lineup took a large step towards providing a competitive feature set. However, regardless of how well the desktop side has been received, there was still a large hole within AMDís lineup: until now, the mobile computing market has been serviced by the previous generation Richland architecture. After months of waiting Kaveri for notebooks has finally arrived in performance and ultra low voltage forms.

The advent of mobile Kaveri chips comes at a critical juncture for AMD since Haswell CPUs have gobbled up the lionís share of notebook processor sales. Put simple, the 32nm Richland APUs stood very little chance of competing on a level footing against Intelís latest generation 22nm offerings. From battery life to x86 performance Haswell was vastly superior so system builders found very few reasons to use Richland despite its superiority from a graphics and GPU compute perspective. Kaveri is supposed to change that equation in a big way.

One of the major differentiators with Kaveri is its implementation of several Heterogeneous System Archtecture (HSA) features. Heterogeneous Unified Memory Architecture (hUMA) and Heterogeneous Queuing have been carried over from the desktop iteration. AMD hopes these will allow the APUís x86 processing cores and graphics modules to back each other up in supporting applications, thereby creating a vastly more powerful processing ecosystem. The only concern at this point in time is the lack of software which natively supports hUMA and hQ. HSA and its associated technologies rely on software support to achieve their ultimate goals but without that key component, AMDís architectures may continue to underachieve.

In an effort to broaden the appeal of APUís despite a slow adoption rate of HSA, AMD has boosted Kaveriís performance in other areas as well. By utilizing their Steamroller architecture, the IPC of x86 cores has increased and GCN-based GPU cores allow for a noteworthy speedup on the graphics front. Furthermore, the move to a 28nm manufacturing process boosts overall architectural efficiency to the point where AMD was been able to accomplish significantly better performance while maintaining competitive TDP levels.

When looking at the new APU lineups below, youíll notice that AMD has done a lot of cutting and rationalizing. Each segment only receives a few relatively well targeted SKUs while the A4 and E-series have moved down into mainstream Puma+ based Beema 6000-series stack. In addition, none of the Kaveri-based mobile processors are meant to compete head to head against Intelís higher performance Haswell chips.

Looking at AMDís so-called ďPerformanceĒ notebook lineup (denoted by a ďPĒ at the end of the product number), youíll notice that an old friend has returned: the FX-series. Donít take this to mean that the FX-7600P has an unlocked multiplier or any other overclocker-friendly tools in its box because it doesnít, nor can it even be overclocked. Rather, AMD figures they finally have an APU which is powerful enough to go up against some of Intelís best alternatives so this storied brand name is being effectively revived in another role.

Operating with a base clock of 2.7GHz and a Turbo frequency of 3.6GHz, the FX-7600P is the fastest mobile APU AMD has ever launched. Even though its highest speed is only 100MHz faster than the A10-5750M, performance should be something in the neighborhood of 12-15% better due to Steamrollerís IPC improvements. It also receives R7-series graphics with eight SIMD engines totaling 512 Radeon cores operating at a maximum of 686MHz (AMD no longer publishes Base clocks). Thereís also support for DDR3-2133 memory and a 4MB L2 cache. Even though performance has received a serious shot of adrenaline, TDP has remained at 35W.

The A10-7400P replaces the outgoing A10-5750M with an APU that has very similar CPU performance but significantly better graphics capabilities. Meanwhile, the A8-7200P should prove to be quite popular among system builders due to its cost and reasonably good improvements over the previous generationís A8-series.

Thereís also an interesting story in AMDís ultra low voltage category since these APUs are finally able to compete against some of the best ULV processors in Intelís current inventory. Arguably, these are the most compelling products being announced today.

Once again an FX-series leads with way with the FX-7500, a quad core processor that can run at 3.3GHz and supports DDR3-1600L memory while boasting a TDP of just 19W. That represents a massive improvement over the A10-5745M even without taking Steamrollerís design improvements into account. More importantly, the FX-7500 has the capability to compete against Intelís 15W i7-4500U which still requires less power but doesnít boast the 7500ís graphics capabilities.

Moving a bit further down market, thereís the A10-7300 which is AMDís spiritual replacement for their last ultra low voltage A10. Thereís also an A8-7100 with four cores and four SIMD engines within its R5 series GPU. Weíre actually expecting these two APUs to take up the lionís share of sales since they can pack a punch and offer a compelling price / TDP ratio for notebook manufacturers.

One thing thatís looks to be missing from the Kaveri notebook lineup are the usual lower end A-series parts; the A6 and A4. At least in the mass market, those segments will be addressed with the Beema ultra mobile parts and to a lesser extent Mullins APUs.

Rounding out the new AMD lineup is a trio of APUs which makes up the new business-focused commercial ultra low voltage product stack. So what exactly makes a ďcommercialĒ APU? According to AMD, itís an emphasis on longevity within each SKU and stability of BIOS and drivers.

Longevity has been attained through a longer product refresh cycle which means the APUs you see above will be sticking around for a while. This facilitates the jobs of IT managers who typically struggle with products that reach end of life status within a short amount of time.

Perhaps the most enticing element of the commercial ULV APUs is AMDís commitment to a BIOS and software stack thatís released with the stability expected by corporations. That means less revisions in the near-term future so corporate buyers can have peace of mind that additional expenses wonít be incurred by rolling out bug fixes on a regular basis. We canít emphasize enough how hard this will be for AMD to accomplish; hitting the ground running has always been a challenge for them but if they can achieve the aforementioned balance, clients like Lenovo, HP and Dell line up for this platform.

There are of course a few returning technologies as well. While Kaveri notebook APUs arenít pin compatible with Richland and Trinity platforms, they still carry over the Dual Graphics features from previous generations (though itís now compatible with GCN-based discrete add-in cards) and have fully configurable TDPs.

That concludes our overview of the new notebook-focused Kaveri lineup but itís not the end of this article. What follows on the upcoming pages is very much a rehash of tech-focused sections of our previous Kaveri desktop review but with a mobile slant. Weíve also posted a number of AMD-supplied benchmarks but within them, you wonít notice any mention of the so-called ďPerformanceĒ lineup.

With all of that being said, if youíre interested in the fine-grain details behind Kaveri read on. If not, wait for our reviews of supporting notebooks when theyíre ever available.

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