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AMD's 2013 Elite Desktop APUs Take Aim at Intel
Author: James Prior
Editor: Sean Ridgeley
Date: June 5th, 2013
Bang for your buck
Hot on the heels of Intel's Haswell launch is AMD's Richland, this time in desktop form. Unlike Intel, AMD aren't asking customers already invested in AMD socket FM2 mainboards to abandon them: all you need for an AMD Elite Performance APU upgrade is BIOS support from your mainboard manufacturer.
The products codenamed Richland are dubbed the AMD An-6000 series, and feature AMD Radeon HD 8000 series graphics. This is not news for those of you that read our mobility APU coverage recently, back in March when the Richland Elite Mobility APUs launched (and just last month for the rest of the mobile line up).
Richland is based on the Trinity design, a serves as a respin designed to take advantage of improvements to the GlobalFoundries 32nm SOI node and enable new power management features. When the AMD Radeon HD 7790 card launched, it touted a new workload measurement and power estimation method to keep clocks higher for longer, advancements credited at the time to AMD's APUs; this is the APU that Bonaire learned its tricks from.
Six models are launching into the channel, topped by two models sent out to reviewers for testing. The latter two include an unlocked multiplier 100W TDP A10-6800K and a 65W A10-6700, both of which feature the Radeon HD 8670D graphics unit -- a 384 core VLIW4 architecture unit known as Devastator in the Trinity line up. Let's go into the details that contrast between Trinity to Richland.
AMD A-series vs. Intel 4th Generation Core i
First of all, the Trinity based models are staying in the market to flesh out the stack. The A10-6800K (Richland) is aimed to compete with Intel's new Haswell Core i5 4670K, while the A10-5800K (Trinity) takes on the i5 4430. AMD's strategy here is that while Intel has an undisputed x86 CPU core performance advantage, AMD have a clear graphics advantage while still delivering enough CPU performance to support it.
Initial reception to the Elite A-series launch should be good, as the platform has a number of features that make it interesting. The top end A10-6800K supports DDR3-2133Mhz memory, and conveniently AMD recently launched an AMD Radeon Gamer memory kit at just that speed. AMD's CPU and GPU cores benefit from more memory bandwidth, so running at the higher speed should ramp up system performance nicely.
The recent AMD Catalyst 13.6 beta driver update adds support for Miracast on AMD Elite Mobility APUs. This is something that's coming to the desktop soon in addition to AMD screen mirror -- a DLNA based solution for video and game streaming leveraging the APU's built in H264 encoder, VCE. The rest of the ecosystem support -- namely OS support -- is coming with Windows Blue / 8.1, which will natively understand how to leverage this technology for content that's streaming or being streamed, but will also require specific hardware and driver combinations, so watch for future a compatibility matrix.
With so much die space allocated to GPU cores, gaming is the APU's strength. On its own, it's claimed to offer mid-range performance for games, although I would classify it as entry level. Gaming performance can be upgraded simply by adding a discrete GPU in Dual Graphics CrossFireX mode -- the venerable AMD Radeon HD 6450, 6570, and 6670 series cards can utilized in CrossfireX.
Unlike the mobility line, there's no Sea Islands (CI) GCN low end graphics cards to be used in CrossFireX with the APU. A new CI card equivalent to the mobility Solar System mobility GPUs could appear and replace the HD 6500/6660 for this duty, or it perhaps could be a Volcanic Islands card towards the end of this year. Likely the graphics options will stay the same until Richland is replaced.
With the most recent AMD Hudson chipset (A85X), you can also run discrete CrossfireX between two external cards and not use the internal graphics at all. This is really a 'because AMD can' option rather than a highly demanded feature, but it does allow you to use AMD FM2 Athlon APUs with no enabled graphics, or drop in a couple of new GPUs later in the system's lifespan. Hopefully there will be a desktop switchable graphics platform in the future.
My testing isn't complete so I don't have benchmarks to show you yet, but AMD claim higher performance in GPU compute accelerated applications. Video playback quality is claimed to be higher through AMD's video playback enhancements, courtesy of the built in UVD + GPU Post Processing features. Display flexibility allows you up to 4-display Eyefinity, depending on mainboard options and use of newly available DisplayPort 1.2 feaures such as MST hubs and daisy chaining.
AMD & Intel Competitive Positioning
AMD and Intel are at slightly different TDP and price points: Richland ranges from $44 USD for the silently launched A4-4400 to $149 for the top A10s. This hits price points $20-$25 below their targeted competitive products; the A10-6800K is a full $100 under Intel's 4th gen Core i5 4670K. With the 2013 Elite A-series APUs, AMD are moving up their performance per dollar while Intel are marking time.