Interesting times ahead for fans of thin-yet-high-performance laptops. Last week at Computex, a day after Intel unveiled its Core M fanless processor for 2-in-1 devices, AMD announced the mobile version of its Kaveri A-Series APU chip. AMD calls this new third-gen mobile APU line-up its most advanced ever, ready to go “toe-to-toe” with Intel Core i5 and Core i7, and lead by the first FX-branded enthusiast mobile APUs.
In AMD’s view of the local market, the company "believes that in Q1 2014, AMD was used by 1 in every 3 Windows based PCs sold in retail in Australia and New Zealand. More than double that of a year ago," AMD Country Manager, Peter Chambers, told Gizmodo.
How do you continue that growth? You take the fight up the stack. While AMD has invariably topped out against laptops using Intel’s fourth-gen Core i5 line-up, that’s about to change.
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The Kaveri Platform
As with the desktop ‘Kaveri’ architecture from earlier this year, the mobile APU family includes up to 12 compute cores (four Steamroller CPU cores + eight Radeon R4/5/6/7 GPU cores) in a Heterogeneous System Architecture design. HSA lets optimised software improve performance by allowing the CPU and GPU to quickly divide and direct the right tasks to the appropriate cores.
Kaveri will enable laptops with 4K resolutions and offer post-processing enhancements that help 1080p upscale to a 4K televisions.
The platform also provides a range of ‘AMD experiences’: dual graphics boost for games, gesture control/face log-in (handy, but basic compared to Intel RealSense), AMD Quick Stream enhanced video playback, TrueAudio positional audio in supported games and Mantle, AMD’s API for improved game performance over Direct X. An API on the PC that’s as efficient as those for consoles, where AMD reigns this generation.
Mantle is now supported by major game engines like CryEngine, Nitrous, Asura and Frostbite 3. I’m told there’s more to come. Here’s hoping Unreal is on that list. Also: How DirectX 12 Compares Against Mantle.
Geared to take on Core i7 at the top end is the AMD FX-7600P APU with Radeon R7 graphics. You get 12 compute cores (four Steamroller CPU cores running at up to 3.6GHz at Max Turbo plus eight Graphics Core Next GPU cores running at 686MHz and supporting DDR3-2133 memory).
“Across the board on benchmarks we actually go toe-to-toe and in many cases beat Core i7,” claimed Kevin Lensing, AMD’s Senior Director, Mobility Solutions in Taipei. “FX is aimed at Core i7…which AMD hasn’t done very often. FX represents the premium — the best AMD has to offer.”
At 35W Total Power Draw (TPD), the FX-7600P part also looks to be competitive in power efficiency against Core i7. Time, tests and laptop maker specs will soon paint a fuller picture, especially given the Kaveri platform’s support for discrete, stand-alone and dual graphics.
One other wildcard: For raw-power, Intel also used Computex to out its 4GHz Core i7-4790 quad-core mobile processor.
Improved high-end ultrathin laptop performance, particularly in gaming, isn’t AMD’s only new focus. It also announced a professional line of Kaveri-based A-Series APUs designed for business users. That means IT Pro features like stable driver stacks for corporate deployment, part longevity, and support for the open DASH standard for management.
“[today’s workers require] video conferencing, 3D, design — not just the spreadsheets and word processing of 5 to 10 years ago,” says Lensing. “This plays into the APU value proposition… Now against i7. Now in commercial business computing. And now touting benchmarks in areas AMD has shied away from in the past.”
HP has already signed onto AMD PRO with a complete upcoming range: the EliteBook 725, 745 and 755 G2 notebooks, the EliteOne All-in-One and EliteDesk desktop PCs.
Expect to find AMD’s new 2014 mobile chips powering laptops from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Toshiba in the next few months. Indeed, some new models were on show at Computex, including the Toshiba S50 (with A10-7300 APU). New AMD FX-series laptops likely won’t arrive until September, but will be a big focus for AMD this Christmas.
With Kaveri, the suite of AMD APUs for laptops can now be roughly summarised as below (allowing for the fact that OEMs can spec up models with discrete graphics, retailers can change pricing, etc)
• Mullins (E1, A4, A10 APUs): AMD’s Baytrail competitor represents its efforts in fanless, low-power CPU cores intended for tablets, 2-in-1 devices, convertibles and hybrids. More: Tablets In 2014... What Should We Expect?
• Beema (E1, E2, A4, A6 APUs): Mainstream 14-/15-inch laptops priced between $400 and $700
• Kaveri (A6, A8, A10, FX APUs): Performance laptops and ultrathins priced from around $800.
APU, by the way, stands for Accelerated Processing Unit — AMD’s single chip approach that combines CPU and GPU. Graphics processing know-how bolstered after buying ATI. (See AMD's Roadmap: More Horsepower, Less Juice, But Is It Enough?)
Meanwhile, Ultrabooks (a term coined and spec controlled by Intel) most commonly pair fourth-gen Haswell Core processors with integrated Intel graphics — though models with discrete graphics can be found if you look around.
AMD’s Kevin Lensing says he “actually gives a lot of credit to ‘Ultrabook’ for forcing the marketplace to deliver faster performing, better-looking notebook faster than it would have on its own." But he "doesn't like making it hard for the OEMs [laptop makers] to differentiate...”
On that point I can only agree. Diversity means choice, and competition is always good for us consumers.
Danny Allen traveled to Computex Taipei as a guest of AMD
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