Introducing AMD's Mobile Kaveri APUs

A couple weeks back, AMD flew us out to San Francisco for a briefing on their upcoming Mobile Kaveri APUs. Along with the briefing, we were given some time to run benchmarks on a prototype Kaveri laptop, though I'll note up front that the laptop isn't intended for retail and is merely a demonstration of performance potential. A funny thing happened about a week after the briefing, which some of you likely saw: AMD's web team accidentally posted all of the specs for the upcoming mobile Kaveri APUs ahead of schedule (for about half a day). We removed our coverage of the Mobile Kaveri APUs when AMD corrected the error, but we might as well jump right into things with the overview of the new mobile APUs.

Kaveri is AMD’s latest generation high-performance APU, and appeared first released on the desktop back in January of this year. We were a bit surprised – perhaps even perplexed – about the desktop first launch, considering AMD's "we're not going after the highest performance CPU market" stance. Then again, AMD-equipped laptops haven't been as strong as Intel-equipped laptops – not that the APUs aren't fast enough, but getting OEM partners to make a compelling AMD laptop seems rather difficult. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." AMD has provided a compelling APU and platform solution for a couple years, but the perception is that AMD platforms are budget platforms, so basically almost every corner gets cut. I'll have more to say on that later, but it's still a major concern in my book. Regardless, since the desktop Kaveri launch we have been eagerly awaiting the release of the mobile incarnation.

The launch has been scheduled for H1 2014 for some time now, and with AMD able to offer significant GPU performance with their APUs coupled with the space benefits of an integrated GPU versus a discrete GPU, it should be an easy sell. Mobile of course is not without its challenges. Power use is paramount, and while AMD has always been able to meet the desired TDPs, there is often the matter of performance tradeoffs required to hit those TDPs. Mobile is also a highly contested market right now; Intel of course has their Bay Trail and Haswell parts, but we're now seeing tablets and ARM-based Chromebooks pushing into AMD territory.

Despite the somewhat questionable decision to launch first on desktop – particularly odd given both Llano and Trinity launched more or less simultaneously on laptops and desktops – it's now time to pull the wrappings off Kaveri for the second time and see what AMD has created. We're now almost exactly a year after the launch of mobile Richland, which was really just a minor tweak of Trinity that launched about two years back. This is the first major architectural upgrade for AMD laptop APUs in two years, and expectations and hopes are high.

Kaveri brings a number of improvements, including the higher performance Steamroller based CPU cores and modern GCN based GPUs. We've previously covered this material, so rather than rehash things on the mobile side I'll simply refer back to the desktop Kaveri launch information. (You can also view the full presentation deck in the above gallery if you're interested.) AMD's Kaveri will be going up against Intel’s existing Haswell products, and this is AMD’s best chance to claw back market share from the Haswell family. Of course AMD has other APUs as well – specifically, Beema/Mullins will target the ultra-low power and tablet markets – but those compete in an even lower price bracket and go up against Intel's Bay Trail offerings. For now, let's start with an overview of the new Mobile Kaveri APUs.

AMD Mobile Kaveri SKUs
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  • xenol - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    TDP doesn't equal power consumption. It equals how much heat a cooling unit must dissipate for safe thermal levels of operation. While there is some correlation, as more TDP generally means higher power consumption, it's not a direct one. Reply
  • Galatian - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    I think it actually pretty much does equal top power draw, since energy in pretty much equals heat out. But do correct me if I don't understand the physics correctly. To me it simply seems like no work being done. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    TDP means the maximum power that needs to be dissipated, but most CPUs/APUs are not going to be pushing max TDP all the time. My experience is that in CPU loads, Intel tends to be close to max TDP while AMD APUs often come in a bit lower, as the GPU has a lot of latent performance/power not being used. However, with AMD apparently focusing more on hitting higher Turbo Core clocks, that may no longer be the case -- at least on the 19W parts. Overall, for most users there won't be a sizable difference between a 15W Intel ULV and a 19W AMD ULV APU, particularly when we're discussing battery life. Neither part is likely to be anywhere near max TDP when unplugged (unless you're specifically trying to drain the battery as fast as possible -- or just running a 3D game I suppose). Reply
  • Galatian - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Yes, which is why I said it equal top power draw ;-) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Yeah, my response was to this thread in general, not you specifically. :-) Reply
  • nevertell - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    It's amazing that we live in a world where information is accessible on a whim to most people living in the western world, yet even on a website that caters to more educated people (or so I would think), people have problems understanding even the simplest concepts that enable them to expose themselves to this medium. Energy is never lost, it's just used up in different ways. Essentially if we had access to a superconductive material to replace lines and a really efficient transistor, we would have a SoC that's TDP is zero watts. Say, a chip does not move a thing, there is no mechanical energy involved, all of the energy is wasted as heat. Why ? Electricity at it's core is flow of charged particles through a medium. If this medium is copper and the particles are electrons, the only thing standing in the way of the electrons flowing are the copper atoms. The electrons will occasionally bump into the atoms, exchanging kinetic energy, making the atom in question move. As the atoms move faster (i.e. their kinetic energy increases), collisions become more likely to occur, and so they do. In other words, the conductors resistance increases. What scale do we use to measure the movement of atoms ? Temperature! Heat is literally the average amount of kinetic energy of every atom of piece of thing has. Thereby all of the energy that is used to power electronics just goes to waste. Kind of. Reply
  • ol1bit - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Unless you live in a cold climate, then you get to use part of the energy as Heat! :-) Reply
  • Galatian - Thursday, June 05, 2014 - link

    I'm not sure who you are responding too. Nobody said energy is lost. The discussion was first about AMD TDP not being the same as Intel TDP and ten switched over to a discussion of TDP not actually meaning power draw, which by itself is true, but there obviously is a correlation which a several posters (yourself included with a more physical explanation) talked about . Reply
  • johnny_boy - Saturday, June 07, 2014 - link

    Compare performance per watt in gaming and Intel stops looking impressive. If you're buying a notebook with the FX chip then that should be what you care about. Reply
  • bji - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    The comparison is for CPUs in the same price range, not CPUs in the same TDP range, obviously.

    So the performance is decent for the price, as gdansk correctly pointed out. It is not decent for the TDP, at least not compared to Intel's chips, which is what you are focusing on, and is not the metric that most people use when comparing processors.
    Reply

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