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The Llano A-Series APU

Although Llano is targeted solely at the mainstream, it is home to a number of firsts for AMD. This is AMD's first chip built on a 32nm SOI process at GlobalFoundries, it is AMD's first microprocessor to feature more than a billion transistors, and as you'll soon see it's the first platform with integrated graphics that's actually worth a damn.

AMD is building two distinct versions of Llano, although only one will be available at launch. There's the quad-core, or big Llano, with four 32nm CPU cores and a 400 core GPU. This chip weighs in at 1.45 billion transistors, nearly 50% more than Sandy Bridge. Around half of the chip is dedicated to the GPU however, so those are tightly packed transistors resulting in a die size that's only 5% larger than Sandy Bridge.

CPU Specification Comparison
CPU Manufacturing Process Cores Transistor Count Die Size
AMD Llano 4C 32nm 4 1.45B 228mm2
AMD Llano 2C 32nm 2 758M ?
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

Given the transistor count, big Llano has a deceptively small amount of cache for the CPU cores. There is no large catch-all L3 and definitely no shared SRAM between the CPU and GPU, just a 1MB private L2 cache per core. That's more L2 cache than either the 45nm quad-core Athlon II or Phenom II parts.


Intel's Sandy Bridge die is only ~20% GPU

The little Llano is a 758 million transistor dual-core version with only 240 GPU cores. Cache sizes are unchanged; little Llano is just a smaller version for lower price points. Initially both quad- and dual-core parts will be serviced by the same 1.45B transistor die. Defective chips will have unused cores fused off and will be sold as dual-core parts. This isn't anything unusual, AMD, Intel and NVIDIA all use die harvesting as part of their overall silicon strategy. The key here is that in the coming months AMD will eventually introduce a dedicated little Llano die to avoid wasting fully functional big Llano parts on the dual-core market. This distinction is important as it indicates that AMD isn't relying on die harvesting in the long run but rather has a targeted strategy for separate market segments.

Architecturally AMD has made some minor updates to each Llano core. AMD is promising more than a 6% increase in instructions executed per clock (IPC) for the Llano cores vs. their 45nm Athlon II/Phenom II predecessors. The increase in IPC is due to the larger L2 cache, larger reorder and load/store buffers, new divide hardware, and improved hardware prefetchers.

On average I measured around a 3% performance improvement at the same clock speed as AMD's 45nm parts. Peak performance improved up to 14% however most of the gains were down in the 3—5% range. This is arguably the biggest problem that faces Llano. AMD's Phenom architecture debuted in 2007 and was updated in 2009. Llanos cores have been sitting around for the past 3-4 years with only a mild update while Intel has been through two tocks in the same timeframe. A ~6% increase in IPC isn't anywhere near close enough to bridge the gap left by Nehalem and Sandy Bridge.

Note that this comparison is without AMD's Turbo Core enabled, but more on that later.

What Took So Long? The GPU
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  • DanNeely - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Just looking at transistor count misses most of the story. The highly repetitive layout in the GPU allows for much denser transistor layout, the die is only 5% larger. That's close enough that factors like yield and raw per wafer cost become at least as important. Reply
  • Lunyone - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Looks like we're finally getting close to having integrated graphics good enough for some good light gaming :) Hopefully these won't be priced to high to sell. There are sooo many Sandy Bridge based laptops out there that are within the $500-600 price range it isn't even funny. I hope we can get the top of the line Llano for about $600-650. I think the C50 or E-350 have been relegated down to tablet only now, since Llano is where it's at now. Reply
  • ET - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Brazos will likely keep its place at the lower price point and smaller size laptops. It would be interesting to see if the larger E-350 laptops will be replaced by Llano or will survive. I was surprised they were even introduced, but it's possible that if people are buying them they will continue to do so.

    Still, I'm hoping that Llano can make it into small form factor laptops.
    Reply
  • Beenthere - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    I am definitely ready to buy a Llano powered laptop. I suspect Llano will suit the needs of the largest notebook segment and deliver better graphics at a lower price point. AMD is bound to take notebook market share from Intel. I wouldn't ever consider an Intel product. Reply
  • RussianSensation - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    What? The largest notebook segment doesn't care about GPUs in a laptop. Look at Apple - a non-gaming platform more or less - and quarter after quarter has the highest growth in the notebook market share. The fact that Intel HD graphics command #1 market share in the mobile and desktop space also shows that the the majority of consumers don't care about mobile graphics beyond watching HD content.

    So with Llano you get a GPU that's still only fast enough for 1368x768 resolution gaming at the lowest settings and CPU performance that's only as fast as a Q6700 from 2007. Llano only makes sense if you are on a budget to buy a laptop. If you care about CPU performance, it's too slow. If you care about GPU performance, it's again too slow. So the only customer it will find is a niche one until they can create an APU with Bulldozer cores inside and a much faster GPU.

    We have also seen a significant surge in consumers that desire premium made notebooks. Llano designs will likely be relegated to cheap looking and cheap quality laptops. Certainly it wont be able to compete with Ultrabooks.

    I am almost certain that most of today's consumers will care about screen resolution, an SSD, the quality of the screen/materials build quality of the laptop before even thinking about the fact that Llano's GPU is faster than Intel's. Then there is AMD's past history of having unimpressive mobile CPUs over the last 5+ years. It's going to take 2-3 generations before consumers even think about switching brands in such a scenario. Most people will just buy an Intel based SB notebook simply because Intel has made the best mobile processor for the last "forever".

    This is a good step for AMD, but they have a long road ahead.
    Reply
  • duploxxx - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    The share count is no longer relevant since an IGP is deployed anyhow with each system, while there are many delivered with discrete it still counts as an IGP also.

    Have a look at your so called apple highest growth market... it ships with discrete ATI graphics.....

    Actually most don't know that the IGP is crappy, they are fooled by adiot sales and large electronic vendors who try to push there margins.

    THis is the introduction generation that will shed some light, just look at the brazos also, it has been a success and even atom refresh wil not be able to take this back.
    Reply
  • nickb64 - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    arguably the most popular Apple laptop, the 13" Pro, now ships with Intel Integrated graphics, not discrete ATI/AMD graphics

    Overall, you're right, but I just wanted to point out that Intel is probably getting a pretty solid boost out of 13" MBP sales this year.
    Reply
  • jjj - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    lol that's quite something to give Apple as an example for what the average user needs.Macs are niche products and will remain so without fundamental strategy changes.

    ps:how outraged would you be if tomorrow the new Air shows up with a Llano in it?
    pps:today's average consumer makes a few hundreds $ per month and is not looking for high resolution (not that he knows wtf resolution is anyway) or SSD.
    Reply
  • RussianSensation - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Intel wouldn't ship Air with Llano, not until they can deliver Bulldozer cores. Why would they ship a laptop with 50% slower CPU speed and go backwards? Not to mention, they'd lose Thunderbolt if they ditched SB. Reply
  • mino - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Thunderbolt is PCIe. Reply

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