AMD and GlobalFoundries, CES 2011by Jarred Walton on January 7, 2011 3:30 AM EST
AMD Meetings: APUs Make a Big Splash
We also had a visit with AMD at their meeting rooms, which were filled with product demonstrations. Brazos laptops and netbooks occupied a large area just inside the door—we counted at least 20 different laptops of varying sizes and capabilities. The vast majority of there were running an AMD APU, in this case Brazos. There were 10” E-350 netbooks, 11.6” E350 ultraportables, and even 14” to 15.6” solutions all using the power friendly APU. A few of the systems also had K10.5 CPUs with the new 6000M GPUs (we’ll get to those next). Browsing around the show floor, though, Brazos looks to be making some real waves, providing a compelling alternative to Atom in the sub-$500 netbook market. In the next couple of months, we should see a lot of Brazos systems, from small nettop/desktop systems to netbooks… and yes, tablets as well. AMD reports battery life of up to 12 hours on some of their test netbooks; the reason they’re able to get such long battery life is pretty simple:
Intel’s Atom is a fairly tiny chip, but even though it manages to sip power, it’s not a very attractive performer. Brazos is even smaller than Atom, in part thanks to the use of 40nm (Brazos) vs. 45nm (Atom), and while raw CPU performance may not be that much higher than the current Atom options, the DX11 GPU is an order of magnitude more powerful than the GMA 3150 found in Pine Trail. AMD mentioned at one point that the Brazos APU is rated at up to 90GFLOPS of compute performance; to put that in perspective, the new quad-core Sandy Bridge CPU (no word on the GPU in SNB) provides a similar 87GLOPS of compute potential. GFLOPS isn’t the most useful of measurements, but it does help to put things in perspective: similar compute potential in a package that has an 18W TDP (E-350), where i7-2600K is specced at 95W.
AMD is aiming the new E-series Zacate parts at Intel’s P6000 processor, while the C-series is gunning for Atom. You need to consider the source when looking at the above slides—and note also that most of the graphs don’t start at 0—but if AMD can deliver 10.5 hours with an 18W Zacate chip that puts them in the same ballpark as Atom. We’ve never been super positive about the performance of Atom netbooks, so better performance and a similar price would be a great starting point, but what will really make or break the laptops is the design. Here’s what we saw:
Sadly, not a single netbook or laptop stands out as being clearly superior to anything else out there. Performance looks good, aesthetics vary from okay to great depending on your point of view, but the LCDs are all same-old, same-old. It would be awesome to see ASUS or HP or some other manufacturer step up to the plate and deliver a Zacate ultraportable with a beautiful screen—you know, like the IPS stuff they're putting into $400 tablets? After all, the APU is now able to provide all the multimedia prowess you could ask for; why not give us a display that can make the content shine?
To drive home the point about the superiority of the Brazos platform compared to Atom, AMD had one more demonstration for us. This involved a set of four netbooks/ultraportables from several (undisclosed) manufacturers. On the far left is an Atom N550 netbook; next in line was an E-350 laptop, then C-50 and last C-30. All four netbooks were running a looping 1080p H.264 video with no apparent problems. Then AMD pulled out a $6000 thermal imaging device—and yes, I really want one! You can see the results in the gallery above, for the Atom N550, C-50, and C-30 (we didn’t get a good shot of the E-350 top temp, but it was ~97F I think). The bottom of the netbooks was even warmer, hitting ~97 on E-350 and ~98 on C-50, compared to 112F on N550. The results weren’t too much of a surprise, as the Atom CPU lacks any form of HD video decoding acceleration and thus ends up hitting the CPU quite hard. Mostly it was a confirmation of the fact that decoding H.264 on a GPU is a lot more efficient than doing it on a CPU, even if the CPU is a low power Atom dual-core.