AMD has been curiously absent from the value netbook and nettop segments since Atom’s arrival nearly three years ago. These markets are highly profitable only for component vendors, as the OEMs that sell netbooks and nettops must survive on very slim margins in order to hit aggressive price points. It wasn’t too long ago that we were shocked by $699 desktop PCs, but to now be able to get a fully functioning portable PC with display at below $300 is impressive. In order for the profit equation to work out however, you can’t simply scale down a larger chip - you need an architecture targeted specifically at the type of very light workloads you expect to encounter in these segments. Underclocking and undervolting an architecture targeted at high end desktops or servers won’t cut it.

Generally a single microprocessor architecture can cover an order of magnitude of power envelopes. You can take an architecture from 10W - 100W using clock speed, voltage scaling and disabling features (e.g. cutting cache sizes). You can’t efficiently take a 100W architecture and scale it down to 1W. Intel realized this with Atom, and what resulted was a new architecture designed to span the 0.5W - 5W range. Given the constraints of the process (Atom was built at 45nm) and a desire to keep die size down to a minimum (and thus maximize profits), Intel went with a dual-issue in-order architecture reminiscent of the old Pentium - but with a modern twist.

AMD came to the same realization. For it to compete in these value markets, AMD couldn’t rely on its existing Phenom II derived architectures. The Phenom II and its relatives currently span a range of TDPs from 9W to 140W, and at the lower end of that spectrum we’re talking about some very low clock speeds and performance targets. Getting down to 1W was out of the question without a separate design.

What AMD came up with was a core called Bobcat, initially targeted for netbooks, notebooks, nettops and entry level desktops. Architecturally Bobcat is a significant step ahead of Atom: while still dual-issue, it features an out-of-order execution engine making it the Pentium Pro to Atom’s Pentium.

It isn’t just CPU architecture that AMD surpassed Atom with, the first incarnation of Bobcat is an integrated SoC with on-die DirectX 11 GPU. AMD calls this combination a Fusion APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) as it places both a CPU and GPU on a single die. The possible CPU/GPU combinations for Bobcat based APUs are listed in the table below:

AMD Brazos Lineup
APU Model Number of Bobcat Cores CPU Clock Speed GPU Number of GPU Cores GPU Clock Speed TDP
AMD E-350 2 1.6GHz Radeon HD 6310 80 500MHz 18W
AMD E-240 1 1.5GHz Radeon HD 6310 80 500MHz 18W
AMD C-50 2 1.0GHz Radeon HD 6250 80 280MHz 9W
AMD C-30 1 1.2GHz Radeon HD 6250 80 280MHz 9W

AMD avoided branding its first APUs, they’re simply the AMD E-series and C-series Fusion APUs. The emphasis isn’t on the CPU or the GPU in this case, just the company name and a model number.


AMD's E-350

CPU Specification Comparison
CPU Manufacturing Process Cores Transistor Count Die Size
AMD Zacate 40nm 2 ? 75 mm2
AMD Thuban 6C 45nm 6 904M 346mm2
AMD Deneb 4C 45nm 4 758M 258mm2
Intel Gulftown 6C 32nm 6 1.17B 240mm2
Intel Nehalem/Bloomfield 4C 45nm 4 731M 263mm2
Intel Sandy Bridge 4C 32nm 4 995M 216mm2
Intel Lynnfield 4C 45nm 4 774M 296mm2
Intel Clarkdale 2C 32nm 2 384M 81mm2
Intel Sandy Bridge 2C (GT1) 32nm 2 504M 131mm2
Intel Sandy Bridge 2C (GT2) 32nm 2 624M 149mm2

These APUs do need the aid of an additional chip - the Hudson Fusion Controller Hub (FCH). The FCH adds support for things like SATA, USB, Ethernet and Audio.The Hudson FCH is very tiny measuring approximately 4mm x 7mm for a total die size of around 28mm2.


The Hudson FCH

The combination of these Bobcat based APUs and the FCH is called the Brazos platform.

Late last year AMD invited me to spend several hours with a Brazos system at its brand new campus in Austin, TX. While the preview gave us some insight into what we could expect from Brazos, I didn’t have enough time to really dive in as much as I would’ve liked to.

Earlier this month, AMD officially launched Brazos with hardware expected sometime this quarter. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been testing a Brazos mini-ITX motherboard from MSI and today, it’s time to break the silence and share the results. They are quite good.

The Price: Around $100, The Motherboard: MSI's E350IA-E45
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  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, January 31, 2011 - link

    Nonsense. ARM is more optimized that x86. x86 code is always sloppy, because it has always been designed without having to deal with RAM, ROM, and clock constraints. When you code for an ARM device, you are presented with limits that most software engineers never even faced when writing x86 code. When writing software for Windows, 99.9% of developers will tell you they never even think about the amount of RAM they are using. For ARM it was probably 80% 10 years ago. Today it is probably less than 20% of ARM software engineers who would tell you they run into RAM and ROM limitations. With all this smartphone development going on today, ARM devices are getting more sloppy, but still nowhere near as bad as x86. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, January 31, 2011 - link

    Best buy is still littered with them. Literally. Littered. Reply
  • e36Jeff - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    what review were you reading? The only bug that is actually mentioned is the issue with flash, which AMD and Adobe are both aware of and should be fixed in the next iteration of flash. Stop seeing anything from AMD as bad and Intel as good. For where AMD wants this product to compete, this is a fantastic product that Intel has very little to compete with now that they locked out Nvidia from another Ion platform. Reply
  • codedivine - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Ok one last question. Is it possible to run your VS2008 benchmark on it? Will be appreciated, thanks. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Running it now, will update with the results :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Malih - Sunday, January 30, 2011 - link

    I'm with you on this.

    I'm thinking about buying a netbook and may be a couple net tops with E-350, which will mostly be used to code websites, may be some other dev that require IDE (Eclipse, Visual Studio and so on).
    Reply
  • micksh - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    how can it be that "1080i60 works just fine" when it failed all deinterlacing tests? Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    It failed the quality tests but it can physically decode the video at full frame rate :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • nitrousoxide - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    That's cool. When Intel owned everything, try buy a Core i5 with $200 as today. Actually, I'm not quite sure if an i3 will cost less than $150.

    And that's what happened during G80 era. nVidia has the best GPU, much much faster while the R600s are craps, ATI's on the edge of extinction. See what you got? $1000 for the flag-ship 8800 Ultra, $600 for a high-end 8800GTX. A decent card may cost you $400 (8800GTS) and even a crappy (though not as slow as Radeon 2600) 8600GT costs you $250.
    Reply
  • Enlightenment777 - Thursday, January 27, 2011 - link

    Rumors, Rumors, Rumors, Reviews, Reviews, Reviews, when can we buy E-350 motherboards from NewEgg? Reply

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