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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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  • ionave - Thursday, June 16, 2011 - link

    I'm honestly sick of the fact I can't play TF2 on high settings on my laptop AND I cannot find an affordable computer to do so while I'm not paying attention during class. Several people I know feel the same way. Reply
  • krumme - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    The GPU performance hits dues to the shares bus is very low. Getting NV 540 /ati 5650 performance is far better than most expected.
    Battery life is simply amazing. Far better than expected.

    The OEM is standing at a very long line for this.
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    That battery life is incredibly impressive. That AMD will finally have a competitive mobile offering is huge news; their engineers definitely deserve a pat on the back. Let's just hope that OEMs don't mess things up by cutting costs and shipping Llano laptops with tiny batteries.

    Unfortunately AMD will almost certainly struggle to get the message across that their CPU performance deficit is pretty much irrelevant for the vast majority of mobile usage models. It'll be especially difficult to get across to the huge number of consumers that think a 2GB 6570 is better than a 768MB GTX 460, but I wish AMD's marketing department the best of luck.
    Reply
  • Dribble - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    They'll struggle because cpu performance deficit does matter, cpu performance matters more then gpu performance for most of us. While llano might be *enough* today everyone buys a notebook and expects it too last several years.

    If llano currently only has the performance of a notebook several years old (core 2 intel) then you can bet in 3 years it'll be dog slow.

    Really its only a winner for a pretty small margin of people. If you don't really care about gaming you go intel because cpu's are faster, if you really care about gaming you go intel + discrete. That leaves those who really care about gaming but are on an extremely tight budget.
    Reply
  • ET - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    I think that you underestimate the effect of price. If you really care about gaming you go desktop, anyway. If you want a reasonable size laptop with good battery life and capable of some gaming, Llano will fit the bill, and if it sells considerably lower than the competition, then I'm sure a lot of people will buy it. It won't be anyones main gaming rig, but it will surely serve many as a secondary one.

    I agree that Llano is disappointing at the CPU level, but it really should be enough for most people. How well it sells will depend on pricing. There are big E-350 laptops being sold, which boggles the mind, and there wouldn't be if all people really cared or had any clue about performance.
    Reply
  • ppeterka - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    I strongly disagree with you. My first notebook was exceptionally crappy in terms of raw CPU power. Desktop P4 Celeron 2.6GHz was used to power it. Yet I could use it for more than 4 years, after which I changed the CPU to a 2.8GHz P4, only to discover that the "user experience" was left unchanged except of the rare cases when I used the computer to work on it. Compile times were not left unchanged...

    But even with the Celeron in, the casual usage was just fine. Why? Because of the quite nice VIA IGP in it. I could actually play GTA San Andreas on the poor thing - even though there were times it was not very much fun, but it did work. Swapping the CPU didn't make it much better, only considering work duties.

    Today "everything" is about multimedia. By "everything" I mean 80% of what the people are doing. Youtube, Facebook, who-knows-what, all. None of my friends ever regretted heeding to my advice to choose a notebook with a reasonable graphics solution even when there would be an altenative type with a stronger CPU. (of course not to the extremities). Granted, they were not primarily interested in scientific calculations, or heavy duty software development.
    Reply
  • Dribble - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Multimedia doesn't need llano's gpu - SB graphics accelerates video just fine. Hence why you are recommending something that has better 3D graphics performance they'll never use, over something with a faster cpu which they will use all the time? Reply
  • GeorgeH - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    You claim that CPU performance matters. That's true, but can you answer the following -

    1) Consider two laptops side by side. One has a ~2.5GHz C2D, one has a quad-core Sandy Bridge. Name a single task more than 5% of mobile users run that would allow you to definitively tell which laptop is running the C2D and which has the SB. (Task Manager doesn't count, I'm talking actually using an application.)

    2) Name a single task or application that theoretically might let you do the above once it's widespread in the next 3-5 years.

    3) What percentage of laptops are sold for <$1000 with roughly Llano or below levels of graphics?

    4) What percentage of laptop buyers care about battery life?

    My answers are -
    1) No clue
    2) No clue
    3) Most of them
    4) Most of them

    That's why I say that Llano's battery life is huge and its CPU performance really doesn't matter. Even Intel agrees, which is one reason why you're seeing them move towards lower-power CPUs. Ivy Bridge will have "configurable" TDP, and Haswell will move from 35-35W to 10-20W:
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4378/ivy-bridge-a-ti...
    Reply
  • RussianSensation - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    3) The fact is you can get a laptop with better GPU performance and faster CPU performance for $700-750 on the Intel side:

    i5 480 + HD5730 for $700:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    i5 480 + GT 540M (which beat 6620 in almost every gaming benchmark in this review) for $700:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    i5 480 + HD6550M for $700:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    i5 2410 + GT 540M for $750:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    Every single one of these provides faster CPU & GPU performance (http://www.notebookcheck.net/Mobile-Graphics-Cards...

    So Llano A-8 would need to be less than $700.
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    Can you find faster GPUs for <$1000? Sure, but that wasn't the question. Go to Dell or HP's website and look at the number of laptops priced under $1000, then look at the percentage of those that come with significantly better than Llano-level graphics.

    There's much more to determining the value of a laptop than raw CPU and GPU performance; you could easily pay more than $700 for a Llano laptop and still be getting a very good deal.

    I'm not saying whether or not Llano should target this or that price point, though - I'm just trying to give a little perspective.
    Reply

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