In Q2 of 2015, AMD officially launched Carrizo, their new APU aimed at mobile devices such as laptops and portable all-in-ones that normally accommodate 15W-35W processors. Quoted in the media as 'the biggest change to Bulldozer since Bulldozer itself', the marketing arm of AMD released information regarding the Excavator architecture of the new processor, and which contained a long list of fluid and dynamic implementations on improving the Bulldozer based architecture over the previous iteration of Steamroller (Kaveri). Despite this, AMDs target market for the Carrizo platform has not been receptive to AMDs product stack in recent generations due to issues surrounding performance, battery life and designs. AMD believes to have solved the first two of those matters with Carrizo, whereas the third is out of their hands and up to the OEMs to embrace AMDs platform. We wondered if the OEM’s concerns were well placed, and organized some special testing to confirm AMD’s claims about Carrizo.

Who Controls the User Experience: AMD’s Carrizo Tested

Back in early 2015, we performed a long analysis on Intel’s Core M platform, featuring 4.5W processors under the Broadwell microarchitecture. The purpose of that piece was to test several designs using that line of processors, and examining how the design of the chassis and features of the platform directly affected both performance and user experience. For Brett and I at the time, it was an eye opening endeavor, showing just how the slowest processor in a stack in the right notebook chassis can outperform the fastest, most expensive processor in a bad chassis that is wholly un-optimized.

This review is along similar lines, but instead we are testing AMD’s latest Carrizo platform, which is focused on 15W mobile parts in the $400 to $700 market. We approached AMD after the Carrizo Tech Day back in May with a proposal – to speak to engineers and to test the claims made about the platform. Typically sourcing AMD laptops, at least over the past few years, has been a veritable minefield as they are seemingly never promoted by OEM partners as review samples, or as one senior member put it, ‘Some sales people only seem to offer AMD devices if people specifically ask for them’. Our proposal involved sourcing a number of Carrizo laptops when they were launched and tackling them head on, to see how many of the claims made on the Tech Day were testable but also noticeable and true. The issue AMD and OEMs have is that everyone in the AMD-to-OEM-to-retailer chain is invested in selling the platform, so there needs to be a source of third-party testing for people who don’t trust that chain.

Over the course of a few months, our proposal changed and merged with ideas to speak with AMD’s VPs and engineers, with a number of meetings and discussions. It emerged the best way to do this was to fly to AMD’s HQ in Austin, Texas for a week and get hands on time in the labs. We agreed, as speaking to engineers and learning what is going on behind the scenes at AMD is always a good thing, but on the condition that we were free to setup, test and report without any predisposition to the results. There is an added benefit of having engineers only a floor or two away if a problem was to arise. There have been similar events in the past where media have been invited on-site for canned testing, but we made sure this wasn’t going to be the case before we arrived. For example, Qualcomm has invited select media to in-hand, temporary Snapdragon testing on a couple of occasions, with media free to test and report whatever results.

 

The Testing

We had four Carrizo devices on hand to test for a week, along with a single Kaveri system. These devices were sourced by AMD, and I put in requests for a variety of price points, hardware configurations and styles, along with some specific testing equipment to which we don’t have access. While it wasn’t possible to get everything on hand due to timing issues, the arrangement at least captured a number of areas we planned on testing.

The testing aimed to cover the devices as units, the underlying hardware, as well as the Tech Day claims. Some of this piece will read like a regular review, some of it similar to our Core M testing regarding performance, power and temperature, but a large part is reserved for discussing both the results and the market. When building a platform like Carrizo, a lot of binary decisions are made that can be good or bad for the processor manufacturer, the OEM or the user. We discuss these in detail as a result of our findings. 

The Devices: #1 The HP Elitebook 745 G2 (Kaveri, A10 PRO-7350B)
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  • Squinoogle - Saturday, February 27, 2016 - link

    An interesting read. I'll say I'm glad you went to the bother even if the ends weren't quite what you were expecting from the outset.

    I agree that it would be quite interesting to see someone make a proper halo device to showcase Carrizo at its best, rather than the trend of taking an established Intel chassis and then stuffing a hobbled AMD configuration inside it.

    Speaking of which, I had a look at the HP UK website since I remembered seeing exactly that situation in the past (was an Envy 15 model that time) and came across an interesting trio of devices:

    Three models from the Pavilion Black Edition range, all three using the same chassis and internal components, the only difference being the wifi card on the A10 model is upgraded.

    http://store.hp.com/UKStore/Merch/Product.aspx?id=... - Core i3-6100U £459
    http://store.hp.com/UKStore/Merch/Product.aspx?id=... - A10-8780P + R7 M360 £529
    http://store.hp.com/UKStore/Merch/Product.aspx?id=... - Core i5-6200U £549

    I'd be interested in seeing a true apples-to-apples comparison between devices like these, where the Intel and AMD models are priced and specified so closely together.
    Reply
  • Gc - Sunday, February 28, 2016 - link

    Another Carrizo 'capability' not implemented:
    Carrizo was advertised as the first architecture to support full HSA 1.0, but ...
    Can any retail Carrizo systems run HSA?

    As I understand, to run HSA currently requires installing Linux and the HSA driver.
    (Possible running the HSA Docker container on this host, but the host must have the HSA driver.)
    https://github.com/HSAFoundation/HSA-Docs-AMD/wiki...
    https://github.com/HSAFoundation/HSA-Drivers-Linux...
    The only test system listed is a "A88X-PRO" desktop motherboard and Kaveri "A10-7850K" APU.
    (No Carrizo chips are available for that socket.)
    The host must have "the IOMMU enabled in the BIOS".

    This is the IOMMU of the GPU, typically under Graphics Configuration in the BIOS.
    https://community.amd.com/thread/169962

    However, I have not seen any retail Carrizo systems that implement that BIOS option. Do they exist? (The closest thing is the option to enable AMD-V as required for Docker, but that is not the same thing, as the above link indicates.)

    If not, why not? (Is an effort/investment needed to get the support into common AMD chip BIOS/UEFIs used by ODMs, similar like it was needed to get support into the Linux kernel?)
    Reply
  • albert89 - Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - link

    Although I congratulate Anandtech after repeated demands from consumers like myself as to why a review of Carrizo wasn't done sooner the result is a review that leaves one ask many questions and a demand for another review since new info has come to light.
    So redo the whole review under dual channel conditions for AMD's Carrizo. Otherwise you'll be leaving this review incomplete and short changing a competitor of Intel leaving us to wonder how bias Anandtech is towards AMD !
    Reply
  • DJ Dave - Saturday, March 25, 2017 - link

    hey.i just bought this as a refurb. it seems to lag/stutter with certain programs. Mine has 2 ram slots with 4gb in each..does anyone know if that can be upgraded? Reply

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