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.

GlobalFoundries – Expanding to Meet Demand More AMD Demos and Future Roadmap
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  • Christobevii3 - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    I've run an asus 790fx am2+ with sb600 for 3 years now. I can still update the bios and run a 6 core phenom now. It started witha 5000+ x2. To be able to still upgrade an intel this day you'd have to had waited for the x58 to be out which is nearing 2 years but dies pretty much now.

    Core 2's you had two busses unless you waited for the p35 or bought the expensive x48 board and again at most you probably got 2 years out of them.

    I'll wait for bulldozer to see instead of intels sandy bridge serving up $170 mobos that only have 8x/8x pci-e configs.
    Reply
  • azguy90 - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - link

    Bulldozer isn't any better for upgrading. Bulldozer CPUs are going to require an AM3+ motherboard; so your upgrade path is about the same as Sandy Bridge. You will be able to put older chips in the new boards, but not new chips in old boards. Reply
  • nuudles - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    Bulldozer should have been released now, AMD showed how much it hurts if you are late to the party by getting a 6 month head start in dx11 and therefore completely dominating dx11 marketshare. Unfortunately it is much harder keeping up with Intel than Nvidia...

    Hopefully Llano is a homerun for them as the mobile space is more lucrative than desktops. Unfortunately they are even further behind with their mobile cpus thankfullythan the desktop ones. Hopefully power gating will show big battery life gains and the GPU will be strong enough to make anything other than top end discrete mobile cards obsolete (to make up for worse cpu perf between athlon ii + tweaks and sandy bridge).

    Another beef is they should have had something to compete with optimus by now, they must have had 6 months to build support into the 6000 series! Either that or get their cards to draw rediculously low amounts at idle through power gating all but 1 alu or something like that (if that is possible).
    Reply
  • medi01 - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    It wasn't that nVidia was 6 month late, but that on top of being 6 month late, they created power hungry monsters with so-so performance.

    If Buldosers do perform well, delay won't matter much. If they don't, ouch, AMD (unlike nVidia who can simply punch editors harder, for better reviews, comparing stock clocked GPUs to cherry picked overclocked, cough) can't really afford that.
    Reply
  • shtldr - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    "Another beef is they should have had something to compete with optimus by now"

    I've had it for like half a year. It's called switchable graphics.

    Acer 3820TG, switchable between HD 5650 and i5 integrated graphics.
    Reply
  • nuudles - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    yes it is switchable, but not dynamic like optimus Reply
  • YukaKun - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    Asus K40AB line bro. 2009 and still kicking besides Optimus.

    AMD just fails hard at marketing and positioning their products sometimes =/

    Cheers!
    Reply
  • nuudles - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    Luckily for AMD we are at a point where even a low to midrange cpu is fast enough for most applications, very few consumers would notice a performance difference between something like an Athlon ii x4 and an i5 2400 in most of their programs.

    Even in games the difference is not huge, so if they strike the right performance with the integrated GPU and let the GPU and CPU work well alongside each other (openCL on the gpu for big performance gains in highly parallel workloads) they might just have a winner.

    I would much rather get athlon ii x4 or phenom ii x4 cpu performance levels together with hd5670/5750 gpu performance levels than i7 980 with hd 5450/5570.
    Reply
  • sirmo - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    """Right now, GlobalFoundries is entering full production mode for 32nm, with AMD’s Llano chips scheduled to be the first market solution to use the process. Later this year, AMD will also launch their Bulldozer cores on the 32nm process."""

    Everything we've seen so far said Bulldozer was going to be first 32nm product in Q2 and Llano was going to be later? Why the sudden change?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    Maybe in the past Bulldozer was coming first, but everything I've heard for the past few months was: Brazos first, Llano seconds, Bulldozer third. Probably the use of K10.5 with HD 5600 to make Llano on 32nm was easier than a completely new architecture. What really worries me is that there were some hidden undertones in conversations that make me think desktop Bulldozer may not even get out in force until 2012. I really hope I'm imagining things and they get the chips out more like Q3'11. Reply

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