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AMD’s Heterogeneous Computing with Trinity

It’s not all about just CPU or GPU performance, though—or at least that’s what we’ve been hearing from various parties for a while now. The real question is how a platform performs as a whole. There are some tasks where pure CPU performance is what really matters, and there are other tasks where the parallel nature of GPUs pays serious dividends. AMD (and NVIDIA) has been pushing for more applications to make use of the GPU for tasks where it can provide a lot of number crunching prowess.

With Trinity, AMD provided us with a selection of applications that now leverage—to varying degrees—AMD’s App Acceleration, OpenCL, OpenGL, or other tools. For some of these applications, we don’t have any good way of measuring performance across a wide selection of hardware, and for some of those where benchmarks are possible I’ve run out of time to try to put anything concrete together. I don’t want to skip this section entirely, so what follows is a list of the applications, how they benefit from heterogeneous compute, and some general impressions of the application. We also have graphs for a few of the applications where performance seemed to matter the most.

Adobe Flash 11.2—The latest version of Flash continues to add GPU acceleration features, and now there are 3D hooks in addition to the video offload acceleration we first saw with Flash 10.x. There’s not too much of note here, as NVIDIA and Intel also support the latest features of Flash 11.2. Flash works fine on Trinity, but the same goes for Ivy Bridge and various NVIDIA GPUs. If you never saw the Epic Citadel demo for iOS or Android, there’s now a Flash-based version of the same demo that will run in your browser. (Warning: that link can take 10-15 minutes on a decent connection to download all the textures and other data!) Epic Citadel looks just as nice as it did on iOS, but now we need some actual games to take advantage of the tools. Then perhaps we can start looking into benchmarks of browser games or something….

Adobe Photoshop CS6—Photoshop started to take advantage of GPU acceleration back with the CS4 release, using OpenGL to improve performance on certain filters and features. With CS6, Adobe has begun using OpenCL. Fundamentally, I’m not sure how big of a change this represents, but there are quite a few functions in Photoshop that are now supposed to be faster/better with an OpenCL compatible graphics card. There are also two new features that leverage OpenCL; one is Iris Blur, which allows you to mimic depth of field using Photoshop instead of your camera, and the other is Liquify. Unfortunately, I’m by no means a Photoshop expert, so I’m not sure how much the features really help “power users”. I did try doing a benchmark of general Photoshop CS6 performance using the Photoshop Retouch benchmark with and without GPU acceleration enabled; unfortunately, it looks like most of the filters in that action script don’t benefit from the GPU acceleration, as the scores I got were essentially unchanged with or without GPU/OpenCL enabled. Overall, I’ll take the GPU acceleration, but for most of what I do in Photoshop it doesn’t appear to benefit; if you’re interested, you can read more about AMD’s work with Adobe.

GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP)—Going along with Photoshop CS6, AMD provided a special preview build of GIMP 2.8. GIMP is sort of the poor man’s Photoshop, as it’s completely free. At present, there are 19 filters that utilize OpenCL to speed of processing, and over the coming months as the release version of GIMP looks to take their new engine live there will undoubtedly be more additions. For now, probably only five of the filters are things I would use (e.g. noise reduction, maybe a light blur). I tested several of these, and there is sometimes an order of magnitude speedup vs. doing the work on just the CPU. The problem is that it also looks like GIMP isn't incredibly well threaded in many of these tasks, putting multicore CPUs at a disadvantage. My biggest complaint isn’t even about performance, though; sadly, I just find the GIMP UI and general performance to be really bad compared to Photoshop. I've tried several times over the years to use GIMP instead of Photoshop, but I’ve never felt comfortable with the tool. If on the other hand you prefer GIMP, hopefully when the current GEGL menu gets integrated into the main program you’ll realize a healthy performance boost.

Assisted Video Transcoding—ArcSoft MediaConverter 7

ArcSoft MediaConverter 7.5—MediaConverter should be a familiar name by now if you’ve been following our reviews, as it’s one of the showcase titles for Intel’s Quick Sync transcoding. When we reviewed Ivy Bridge last month, we found that on Llano at least the version of MediaConverter we had ran slower on the GPU than on the CPU; with Trinity on the other hand, enabling GPU acceleration results in times that are about 60% faster than the CPU alone. That’s a good performance increase, but we’re looking at 154 seconds on the CPU compared to 98 seconds using the GPU. In contrast, dual-core Sandy Bridge on CPU transcoding took 127 seconds and with Quick Sync it only took 28 seconds—a 5X improvement. Quad-core Ivy Bridge was just as impressive, going from 68 seconds on the CPU down to 16 seconds with Quick Sync (4.25X). We’ve been hoping to see something more from AMD’s new Video Codec Engine (VCE), first announced over six months ago with HD 7970, but unless there’s substantial room for improvement it looks like Intel’s Quick Sync will continue to be the fastest transcoding tool for now.

Assisted Video Transcoding—CyberLink MediaEspresso 6.5

CyberLink MediaEspresso 6.5—This tool is very similar to MediaConverter, and the results are also better this time around. We measured the assisted encode time at 74 seconds compared to 135 seconds on the CPU alone. The 74 second transcode time actually makes Trinity potentially faster than CPU-based transcoding on dual-core Sandy Bridge, but again Quick Sync (25 seconds on SNB, 12 seconds on IVB) remains the fastest way to transcode.  Considering both of these tools are apparently using VCE, I have to state that I’m disappointed; with VCE I was expecting performance similar to what Intel is getting with Quick Sync—four or five times faster than CPU-based encoding for the same APU. That Trinity isn't quite twice as fast with VCE is unfortunate; even though there's a decent improvement, Intel is in a completely different category of performance. We’ll have to wait and see if anything more develops with VCE.

File Compression—WinZip 16.5 and 7-Zip 9.2

Handbrake— Yep, this popular open source video transcoding app is getting an OpenCL facelift. Check out our separate post on it here.

WinZip 16.5—This final application is one that I can see being very useful, assuming we see similar advancements in other compression utilities. WinZip 16.5 now supports OpenCL to improve compression times. We tested by compressing the entire Cinebench 11.5 directory with and without OpenCL enabled, and we also compared the results with 7-Zip. On Trinity, performance improved by about 20%, which is decent; Llano sees an even larger 28% improvement. Meanwhile, Sandy Bridge using CPU-based compression is about as fast as Trinity with OpenCL, and Ivy Bridge is still faster, but the 20% increase for “free” is nothing to scoff at. Unfortunately for WinZip, 7-Zip compressed the same directory to 95MB vs. 108MB in roughly the same time as the non-OpenCL WinZip, and 7-Zip is completely free and doesn't nag you and tell you to buy it. Where WinZip 16.5 is a good proof of concept, what will really help AMD is if all the other compression utilities (7-Zip, WinRAR, etc.) all start using OpenCL or other tools to improve performance.

The majority of the applications continue to focus on video and image manipulation, likely because those are areas where the parallel nature of GPUs can be readily utilized. WinZip on the other hand is an application showing other potential uses for GPGPU and heterogeneous compute. We’d love to see even more adoption of OpenCL and similar tools, but the stark reality is that coming up with new and useful ways of doing this is difficult—if it were easy, everyone would do it! The good news is that giving the creative people of the world more tools with which to work can only help, and we’ll just have to wait and see what else comes out.

There’s another interesting sidebar worth mentioning here. OpenCL is an open standard, and the latest Intel drivers actually install an OpenCL driver on Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge. Not surprisingly, not all implementations are created equal, so even with Intel’s drivers we couldn’t enable OpenCL in Photoshop or WinZip; GIMP on the other hand apparently worked okay with OpenCL on Intel—we measured a 5X performance improvement of the Noise Reduction filter with Ivy Bridge. Trinity also came in slightly faster with both leveraging OpenCL, while Intel was nearly twice as fast without.

AMD Trinity Gaming Performance AMD Trinity: Battery Life Also Improved
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  • zepi - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - link

    You've got it backwards.

    Stuff is priced according to the value it has for customers. To get as much money from their product as possible, regardless of manufacturing costs. Or that's what everybody is aiming for. Trinity is going to be cheap only because it's not good enough to get sales if priced higher.

    Best possible outcome for everybody would have been that cheapest Trinity-based laptops would cost about $1500, but they'd be about as fast as Ivy Bridge Quadcore-desktops with Geforce GTX680 and still achieve a battery-life of about 8min per Wh. And performance & price would both have only gone upwards from there on.

    That kind of performance-dominance would force Intel and Nvidia to drop their prices considerably (getting us the cheap laptops regardless of trinity being pricey) and we'd still have to option to go for über Trinity's if we'd have the cash.

    And it would save AMD from bankruptcy, ensuring that we'd have competition in future as well.

    Llano, Brazos and Bulldozer are all horrible products for AMD. Good product is characterized by the fact, that it has considerably more worth to the customer than it costs to manufacture it. If a product is good, it's easy to price it accordingly, and people will still buy it. AMD's CPU's are apparently very bad products, because AMD is making huge losses at the moment. And I don't think it's the GPU-division that's causing those losses.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - link

    Products are priced according to where the marketing folks think they'll sell. All you have to do is walk into Best Buy and talk to a sales person to realize that they'll push whatever they can on you, even if it's not faster/better. And I think the bean counters feel they can sell Trinity at $700 or more--and for many people, they're probably right. We'll see $600 and $500 Trinity as well, but that will be the A8 and A6 models, with less RAM and smaller HDDs.

    As far as competition, propping up an inferior product in the hope of having more competition isn't healthy, and if AMD has a superior product they simply charge as much as Intel. NVIDIA is the same. If someone came out with a chip that had the CPU performance of IVB and the GPU performance of a GTX card, all while using the power of Brazos...well, you can bet they'd charge an arm and a leg for it. They wouldn't sell it for $1500, they'd sell it for $2500--and some people would buy it.

    Ultimately, they're all big businesses, and they (try to) do what's best for the business, so I buy whatever product fits my needs best. I wish Trinity were more impressive, particularly on the CPU side of the equation. I think if Trinity's CPU were as fast as Ivy Bridge, the GPU portion would probably end up being 50% faster than HD 4000; unfortunately, there are titles that require more CPU work (Skyrim for instance) and that starts to level the playing field. But wishing for something that isn't here, or playing the "what if" game, just doesn't really accomplish anything.
    Reply
  • Targon - Wednesday, May 16, 2012 - link

    And you can get a quad-core A6 laptop for under $500 right now. If you pay attention, you generally get what you pay for. For most users, going with an AMD quad-core laptop does provide a decent product for the price. For some, CPU power is more important, and for others, a more well rounded machine is more important. I expect that A10-4600 laptops will start closer to $600 than $700, unless you are looking at machines with a large screen, discrete graphics, or something else that increases the prices. Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    What you're all missing is all the then second tier Optimus laptops that will have much deflated pricing, as well as the load of $599 amd discrete laptops that will sell like wildfire and please those who waited - just like the amd fans are constantly waiting for nVidia to release so they can snag a second tier deflated price amd card.

    Since the "cpu doesn't matter !" as we have been told, there's no excuse to not snag a fine and cheap Optimus that won't have an IB.

    This is the "best time in the world" for all the amd fans to forget all prior generations of laptops and pretend, quite unlike in the video card area, that nothing else exists.

    I love how amd fans do that crap.
    Reply
  • evolucion8 - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - link

    Also remember that Penryn was launched on 2007-2008 and until late 2009, several Core 2 Duo laptops were released. I have a Gateway MD7309u and it was launched on October 2009 and still feeling very snappy and has good battery life, I hate its GMA 4500M with my whole heart..... Reply
  • Nfarce - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - link

    Yeah well I don't understand the point of buying a low-mid range laptop expecting to be enjoying playing games at basic laptop 1366x768 resolutions. What's the point?

    You can spend around $1,200 on a mid-range i5 turbo boost laptop with a discreet GPU and 1600x900 resolution screen that plays games decently without completely shutting down the eye candy sliders. Save up and get a better laptop - and Intel with a dedicated AMD or Nvidia GPU. If you can afford $600 now, you can afford $1,200 down the road and enjoy things much better.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - link

    I agree but the famdboy loves to torture itself and claim everyone else loves cheap frustrating crap - often characterized as a "mobile employee on the road, in the airplane, or at the hotel spot" needing a "game fix"...(in other words someone flush enough to buy +discrete) as you pointed out.
    The rest of the tremendous and greatly pleased "light gamers" will purportedly be playing at work( no scratch that) or on their couch at home (that sounds like the crew) ... and then one has to ask why aren't they using one of the desktops at home for gaming... a $100 vidcard in that will smoke the crap out of "the light gamer".

    That leaves "enthusiasts" who just want to play with it and see for a few minutes if they can OC it, and "how it does" with games... and after that they will want to throw it at a wall for how badly it sucks - not to mention their online multi-player avatar will get smoked so badly their stats will plummet... so that will last all of two days.

    So we get down to who this thing is really good for - and I suppose that's the young teen to pre teen brat - as a way to get the kid off mommy's or daddy's system so they can have the reigns uninterrupted... so the teeny bopper gets the crud low $ cheap walmart lappy system that should also keep them tamed since being too rough with it means the thing snaps in half a the plastic crumbles.

    Yep - there it is - teeny bopper punkster will just have to live with the jaggied pixelized low end no eye candy crawler - and why not they still love it much more than homework and have no problem eyeballing the screen.
    Reply
  • Latzara - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - link

    While i agree with the 'nothing earthshattering' part I have to wonder what kind of average Internet browsing usage are you commenting on when you say 'People want their laptop to be responsive when doing work, watching movies and browsing' -- Most of the CPUs on the entire board presented here are enough for work - not graphics modelling mind you - excell, DB, mail, presentations, average calculation load, and even smaller programming projects - which constitutes most of the workload an average worker is gonna get, movies stopped being an issue way before, and what kind of browsing are we talking about that will make your platform unresponsive (i don't mean frozen)? 25 tabs at once? Cause i've done that with a much weaker platform and had no issues...

    The main problem i see is that the plaform hasn't moved as much as ppl hoped, but enough to be a new iteration in terms of progress - and with the right pricing it could be the sweet spot for many of the broader average consumers - not just the '1% of the 1% of people looking for great gaming" ...
    Reply
  • BSMonitor - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - link

    Load up a couple Java runtime environments in those browsers. Some flash. I did have an etc in there. I am a multi-tasker, and cannot stand waiting any amount of time. For the majority of real laptop owners, a late Pentium M, Athlon 64/X2, is not enough power for any real work. Reply
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, May 16, 2012 - link

    Please define a "real" laptop owner? I own an Alienware and I don't do any of that sort of crap. Mind you, most users I have met express more patience than you do, too. regardless, in none of these metrics do you appear to represent the majority, which is the target market for this chip. Reply

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