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Conclusion: What Makes a Trinity?

I have often wondered about where AMD came up with the codename Trinity (other than the river name, of course). Was it a reference to this being AMD’s third APU? Or maybe AMD was gunning for the Holy Trinity of Performance, Battery Life, and Cost—get wins in all three areas and you’d have a guaranteed best seller! If that’s what AMD was hoping to accomplish, they’ve got a good foundation but we’ll need to see what the laptop OEMs come up with before issuing a final verdict.

To recap, Trinity is AMD’s continued journey down the path they started with Llano. Both CPU and GPU performance have improved over Llano. The general purpose CPU performance gap vs. Intel is somewhere in the 20—25% range, while the GPU advantage continues to be significantly in AMD's favor. It is surprising that Intel's HD 4000 is able to win even in some tests, but overall AMD continues to deliver better GPU performance even compared to Ivy Bridge. It's worth pointing out that the concerns about AMD's battery life from a few years ago are now clearly put to rest. At least at the TDPs we've tested, AMD is easily competitive with Intel on battery life.

AMD's GPU accelerated software lineup this time around is significantly better than it was with Llano, but we're still not quite where we need to be yet. I will hand it to AMD though, progress is clearly being made. Battery life is generally a step forward vs. Llano, which is more than we've been able to say about Ivy Bridge thus far.

The improvements in Piledriver really appear to have saved Trinity. What was a very difficult to recommend architecture in AMD's FX products has really been improved to the point where it's suitable for mobile work. AMD couldn't push performance as aggressively as it would have liked given that it's still on a 32nm process and the APU needs to make money. A move to 2x-nm could help tremendously. Similarly the move to a more efficient VLIW4 GPU architecture and additional tuning helped give AMD a boost in GPU performance without increasing die size. Overall, Trinity is a very well designed part given the process constraints AMD was faced with. 

As a notebook platform, Trinity's CPU performance isn’t going to set any new records but it’s certainly fast enough for most users; battery life isn’t at the head of the class, but it’s better than just about anything that doesn’t qualify as an ultrabook; and finally there’s the question of cost. That last item isn’t really in AMD’s control, as the final cost of a laptop is a product of many design decisions, so let’s do some quick investigation into laptop pricing.

If you figure on memory, motherboard, chassis, LCD, and storage as all being the same, a typical laptop will have a starting price point of around $300—for a cheap, injection molded plastic shell, 4GB RAM, a 5400RPM HDD, a 1366x768 TN panel, and a no-frills feature set. Take that same basic platform and you can make an Intel laptop and have a BoM (Bill of Materials) cost of around $450, or you can make an AMD laptop and your BoM might start at $400. Depending on what other upgrades an OEM makes, as well as marketing, R&D, and profit, and we end up at a final price tag that might be $600 for a Trinity laptop compared to $700 for an Ivy Bridge laptop. The problem is that AMD doesn't just compete against vanilla Ivy Bridge; it has to compete against all the existing laptops as well.

Right now, Llano A8 laptops at Newegg have a starting price of $480 for an A8-3500M Acer Aspire, and they range up to $700 for a 17.3” HP dv7. The highest performance laptop of the bunch is probably Samsung’s Series 3, which uses an A8-3510MX APU and goes for $680. I suspect we’ll see similar pricing for Trinity laptops. On the Sandy Bridge Core i3/i5 side of the fence, Newegg has a much larger selection of laptops, starting at $430 for a Lenovo G570, $550 for the cheapest Core i5 model (again from Acer), and going up to $680 or more for laptops with Core i5 and NVIDIA Optimus graphics. Or if you prefer some place other than Newegg, you can find Core i5-2450M with GT 540M in Acer’s AS4830TG for $600.

That pretty much defines the maximum price we should expect people to pay for Trinity, as Core i5 with Optimus will deliver better CPU and GPU performance based on our test results. Obviously there are other factors to consider, like build quality of the laptop(s), display quality, battery life, and features, but most people shopping for an inexpensive laptop are going to be looking at cost first and features second. On the other hand, if you want style as a consideration, HP’s new sleekbooks will have Trinity versions starting at $600 for 15.6” and $700 for 14”—though it’s not clear which APU you’ll get at those prices. As long as last-generation Sandy Bridge laptops are at clearing house prices, though, AMD’s partners are going to need to be under $600 for something like the A10-4600M laptop we’re reviewing today. Assuming they can manage that, Trinity should see plenty of volume with the back to school season coming over the next few months.

For those who are interested in more than just the bottom line, as usual the best laptop for you may not be the best laptop for everyone. Trinity in a 14” form factor like our prototype would make for a great laptop to lug around campus for a few years. It would be fast enough for most tasks, small enough to not break your back, battery life would be long enough to last through a full day of classes, and the price would be low enough to not break your bank. And if mom and dad are footing the bill, you even get to disguise the fact that it’s a gaming capable laptop by not having a discrete GPU specifically called out on the features list. On the other hand, if you’re after a higher performance laptop or you want a “real” gaming system—something that can hand high detail settings at 1600x900 for instance—your best bet continues to be laptops with an Intel CPU and a discrete GPU from NVIDIA, at least of the GT 640M level—I’d say AMD GPUs as well, but I’m still waiting for a better switchable graphics solution.

At this point, AMD has done everything they can to provide a compelling mobile solution. The difficulty is that there's no longer a single laptop configuration that will be "best" for everyone, and Trinity only serves to further muddy the water. Intel continues to offer better CPU performance, and if you need graphics—which mostly means you want to play games—they have a good partner with NVIDIA. AMD on the other hand is delivering better integrated graphics performance with less CPU power, and depending on what you want to do that might be a more well rounded approach to mobile computing. What we need to see now are actual laptops and their prices. To trot out a tired old saying once more, "There are no bad products; only bad prices." Now it's up to AMD's partners to make sure Trinity laptops are priced appropriately.

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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