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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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  • MLSCrow - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Who cares that it's slower as a CPU? Beside the point that it's not even noticeably slower, have you forgotten that it's not a CPU at all, but rather an APU, and as an APU its performance is something to be praised not degraded. Intel fans have honestly become the worst fanboys out there now. Can't give credit where it's due and can only make negative comments, even in the light of positive results. Facepalm. Reply
  • kingpin888 - Thursday, June 05, 2014 - link

    Dude, mobile AMD Kaveri has a 35W TDP and is quad core and intel i5 is dual core and has a 35W and 47W TDP. What are you talking about ?? Reply
  • Gondalf - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Jarred.....Anand.....you are comparing an hot 35W SKU with a constrained 15W ultrabooks SKU.
    This time there is no justification, Anantech lab is plenty of notebooks with a 37W Intel cpu on board and i pretty believe of notebooks with 28W U parts with a less constrained HD 5000 or Iris 5100 GPUs. And why a i7 4500 (GT2) and not a i7 4550 (GT3) ??????
    This is a pretty biased article, nearly useless for customers.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Comparing $300 CPUs against $150 APUs is potentially just as bad. And you'd be surprised how many laptops we don't actually have; most come with high-end configurations, which really muddies the waters. I do have a 37W i7-4702MQ available where I can disable the dGPU and see how performance compares, but that's a $370 CPU and again just not anywhere near the price of the AMD offerings. (Base price on the laptop is $1500+.) Reply
  • Morawka - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    your looking at tray cost. overall laptop costs will be comparable, intel has much more components on die. maybe $150 off. I would have liked to see a comparable wattage intel cpu in there as well. Reply
  • Gondalf - Thursday, June 05, 2014 - link

    Yes agreed with you.
    The perfect review could be with a i7 4550 or i5 4250 both GT3 with TDPup enabled up to 21/22 W. We have forgotten that Kaveri is 19W but we need of other 2/3W for southbridge that is on package on Haswell.
    Looking at others reviews, in this conditions Intel and Amd are average on pair in GPU (depending on game title) and Intel is in huge advantage in CPU. The 19W (21/22) TDP figure seems an attempt to put sand in customer eyes.
    Lets wait a review with real Notebooks, yes because the TDPup feature is largely utilized by Intel OEMs to have more performance from mobile Haswell.
    Reply
  • Thermogenic - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Can't wait until we get real laptops tests - tests without battery life on a mobile device aren't all that useful anymore. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Yeah, I tried to check it and found that the prototype was basically not tuned at all for battery life -- probably would have been under four hours for Internet surfing, which is way out of line with what we expect. Basically, idle power draw was around 16-17W, almost double what it should be, so the firmware and hardware wasn't tuned to go into low power states as far as I could tell. When we get shipping laptops, I suspect we'll see battery life competitive with Intel solutions, maybe even better. I figure 5-6W idle power draw or less isn't too far off these days. Reply
  • s44 - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Competitive with Haswell or with Ivy Bridge? Battery life really is everything for most laptop use. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Haswell is obviously the target, and AMD is claiming 11 hours vs. 9.2 hours for Kaveri vs. Richland (doing a low intensity eReader/Browser test), so that's at least a decent bump. But I've seen Trinity laptops with lousy battery life due to the OEM not spending the needed effort in that area, so really it's as much the laptop as it is the CPU/APU. Reply

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