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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  • yannigr2 - Friday, February 05, 2016 - link

    The 845 doesn't have an iGPU. You threw away the chance to directly compare the color compression advantage of Carrizo's GPU in a very limited bandwidth scenario like this one by either removing one dimm from the Kaveri laptop or adding another one in one of the Carrizo laptops. I wouldn't ask why. Thanks for the article. Reply
  • FriendlyUser - Saturday, February 06, 2016 - link

    Thank you for this extensive article. Many people seem to dismiss AMD CPUs today without actual data. I commend your efforts to examine all aspects of real systems. I'll be waiting for the data from 845 (which sound like a decent upgrade for a NAS...).

    Keep up the good work.
    Reply
  • JMC2000 - Sunday, February 07, 2016 - link

    This is something I've been interested in since AMD released the 845 (wasn't there a Phenom II-based Athlon 845? I know there was a Phenom II 845...). Shame that they chose not to release an A12/FX Carrizo APU, those 512 shaders could be nice... Reply
  • mczak - Friday, February 05, 2016 - link

    I agree with that, it's _really_ missing results with dual channel. I understand why single-dimm configurations were tested, but at least two of the notebooks had the option to use dual channel, and even if it might be difficult to get preconfigured options with dual-channel, it's easily upgradeable - I'm also interested in what Carrizo can do as a chip, not only what it can do if sufficiently crippled by the OEM.
    (Not that I expect wonders with dual channel though, at least not at 15W where the graphics doesn't run with more than half the max clock anyway, but still...)
    Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Friday, February 05, 2016 - link

    On the chip side, we'll do a full breakdown of perf and IPC when we get our hands on the desktop version in Athlon X4 845. I'm hoping to get some R-Series too, and we can do DDR3 vs DDR4 on AMD as well. That might provide a better pure comparison which I know some users want to see. I do too :) Reply
  • bojblaz - Friday, February 05, 2016 - link

    Excellent, excellent article. Lucid questions asked and answers pursued - we need more of this kind of journalism. I can't praise this enough.

    It would have been really interesting to see the results had you filled the second SODIMM on the laptops that supported dual channel? I assumed time constraints prevented you from doing so. Also any chance of going to the OEMs directly and asking them why they make the decisions they make?
    Reply
  • Lolimaster - Friday, February 05, 2016 - link

    That's like givin 5 tons of deadweight to pre-Raditz-Vegeta saga Goku. AMD, why even bother, release your products under Ruby brand or something... Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, February 11, 2016 - link

    I second that. A proper 13 inch design with a 35 watt 8800p, none of this hybrid graphics stuff, and good battery life, would be an insta-buy. Or 14 or 15 inch. I just want something like my old lenovo e535, but smaller. It cant be THAT hard, can it? Reply
  • nfriedly - Sunday, February 07, 2016 - link

    Agreed. This article was basically a long-winded way of saying "all current AMD laptops suck, and we aren't even sure how good they could be because *all* the OEMs half-assed their designs"

    I, for one, would be very interested in an AMD designed laptop.
    Reply
  • Cryio - Sunday, February 07, 2016 - link

    Apparently AMD wants to push 28 nm even farther with Bristol Ridge, maybe better binned chips and hopefully DDR4 support will provide a much needed boost. Reply

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