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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  • Gondalf - Thursday, June 05, 2014 - link

    "maybe even better" i have some doubts, AMD has a process disasvantage that is a damnation in those uses where the cpu works at very low voltage or stay idle for a little. Web surfing is an example.
    Mullins has showed that AMD main weakness is there, being behind Qualcomm (TSMC) and Intel (in house) in idle power.
    Reply
  • Shivansps - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Wait, why they are comparing it to a 15W ULV I7? for the same price you can get a Acer Aspire V3-772G-9822, its a I7 QM+760M.. Reply
  • takeship - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Comparing these chips to the haswell mobile i7 quads would only show that AMD has stopped competing in CPU perf. The cinebench scores tell that story - my old workhorse i5-520M from 4 years ago scores higher in both single & multi than these chips. I think the graphics scores also make it apparent that memory bandwidth is a big issue for GCN, and even 2133ddr3 doesn't cut it. 4x the gpu cores as kabini, with only 2x the output. What AMD desperately needs is an OEM that will put their chips in a design that doesn't look and perform like a black friday door buster. Sadly, with Intel's ultrabooks all calling for 17w cooling systems (and broadwell will be less!) there just aren't that many compelling (read: apple-like fashionable) 35w designs for AMD to hope they get recycled into. Reply
  • parkerm35 - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    "a big issue for GCN, and even 2133ddr3 doesn't cut it"

    It was using 1866MHz ram.
    Reply
  • jabber - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    They probably gave up competing because 95% of the customers stopped caring around 2006 onwards. Reply
  • iTzSnypah - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    I think the next step AMD should make in APU progression is the addition of DRAM on die. It's more efficient than adding more GPU cores for performance and you have hUMA so the CPU cores could take advantage of it too. Reply
  • Novaguy - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Except that 3000mhz ddr4 is coming out, so why invest time and r&d into on die dram for that next chip? Reply
  • CarrellK - Friday, June 06, 2014 - link

    What you are asking for is an Xbox One APU. DRAM on die is not a trivial choice. The amount of DRAM you'd want to add is not insignificant and thus the amount of die area consumed would be very significant. To use the inevitably limited amounts of on-die DRAM introduces tremendous complexities in software, as coders have to special case the use of the high-bandwidth on-die DRAM and manage its use very carefully. You can do that with consoles, not with PCs. And the XBox One APU is at different cost/power/etc. points than Kaveri.

    There are other solution paths, but that isn't suitable for a comment to a comment in a review article.
    Reply
  • Meaker10 - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    Is it a faux "FX" chip or is it unlocked? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - link

    It's not unlocked, but what would the point be? Let's just say my experience with overclocking laptops is that there's usually a reason 99% of laptops don't allow it. Huge notebooks with much beefier coolers can try, but even then we often get only marginal bumps in performance. Reply

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