AMD Mobility APUs for 2013: Richland, Temash, Kabini



Company: AMD
Author: James Prior
Editor: Sean Ridgeley
Date: May 23rd, 2013

Completing the trinity

During a recent press briefing, AMD brought us up to speed on the AMD Client Mobility platforms for 2013: laptops, ultra-portables, tablets, and convertibles. The most interesting part: how the reshaping of the market -- begun by the Apple iPhone and iPad -- isn't affecting desktops, but attacking notebooks.

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IDC's 2012 extended forecast data shows several interesting and key points. Number one is that for the future, the desktop and all-in-one market is stable with little growth or shrinking predicted; it's mature.

Secondly, the traditional notebook market is shrinking, as different mobile devices become popular (ultrathins, hybrids, netbooks, and tablets). Within these types, the convertible and mainstream ultrathin form factors represent the largest growth for x86-based PCs.

Finally, we can see the large growth of non-Windows devices hasn't yet matched the shipping volume of x86 based devices as a whole, indicating there is still a lot of market, and therefore money.

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"Good enough functionality became attractive"

- Scott Sutter, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, AMD

This shift is driven by the user experience. Smart phones and tablets were initially CPU bound -- think Android Gingerbread -- and quickly the need for graphics performance was seen. Apple baked this into iOS and their platform from the get go, and Google brought themselves to parity and beyond with ICS and JB releases; Android phone/tablet chip designers and OEMs quickly adopted the same mantra of 'good enough CPU and lots of GPU' to support the needs of the user experience.

The need for always on, sync all the time, converged media player and communication device has hit the Windows ecosystem; consumers are already used it to and expecting it from portable computing devices including Windows PCs. Cell phone carriers used their subscription subsidized model to get expensive hardware into lower price bands, making the Windows PC seem more expensive because of the out the door pricing, regardless of the ongoing contract cost. AMD's low cost SoC's and software bundle attempt to address the user experience deficiencies, and the pain point of price the OEM's are feeling.

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The problems with traditional notebook devices are not new; we've all been complaining for years that low res, low pixel density, low contrast panels in notebooks aren't what we want. No wonder then, when the first hint of a pixel-dense, gloriously colored screen came along we snapped it up -- no matter that it was under 5" in size and attached to a cell phone. Oh, and it rests in a low power, connected state and resumes instantly? Even better. The only things 'missing' are the applications and lack of content creation or productivity focus.

AMD are addressing these problems by making new system-on-chip (SoC) accelerated processing units (APU) platforms that address these shortcomings. A new x86 microarchitecture, codenamed Jaguar, allows AMD to offer x86 muscle in a much lower overall thermal design point (TDP).

Jaguar replaces Bobcat, the CPU architecture of the world's first APU found in the AMD E-series APUs. The new 28nm design increases performance over the outgoing 40nm Bobcat by more than 20%, and is combined with AMD's latest graphics architecture, Graphics Core Next (GCN). GCN increases parallel compute and graphics performance by up to 75% over Bobcat's VLIW5 architecture.

"AMD are uniquely positioned to win, based on Graphics IP and world class x86 for the full Windows 8 experience -- something AMD can deliver uniquely for this class"

- Scott Sutter, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, AMD

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Combining the latest 28nm process with their latest small-core x86 architecture and high performance graphics cores is the basis for AMD's confidence in the new convergence form factors. For this, AMD have three products based on the Temash APU SoC, under the umbrella term of AMD Elite Mobility.

These three A-series APUs -- two dual cores and one quad core -- feature a 128 core GCN GPU. The A4-1200 features a 3.9W TPD and Radeon HD 8180 graphics. Bumping up to 8W, the A4-1250 offers more GPU performance, while the A6-1450 doubles the CPU core count, and adds turbo modes to both execution core types. Temash SoC APU tablets are in a new category of Performance Tablets, claim AMD.

Aiming squarely for the middle is the AMD Mainstream APU platform, using the APU design codenamed Kabini. Kabini is another Jaguar architecture APU SoC. Kabini bridges the gap between Temash and Richland and brings the fight to Intel head on.

Kabini is delivered in five product SKUs, two branded as AMD A-series APUs, and three as AMD E-series APUs. The configuration is very similar to Temash, the same 1 GCN CU (128 Radeon Cores) paired with Jaguar modules. A-series Kabini get four x86 cores; E-series get two cores. TDPs move around: 15W and 25W for A-series; a pair of 15W and a 9W for E-series. X86, Radeon core, and system memory clock all vary, offering a large amount of differentiation for different product designs.

As was disclosed in March, Richland completes the top end of the mobile APU stack. In March we saw the socketed variants; now come the BGA mounted low voltage A6/A8/A10 APUs for thinner form factors. All this leaves is the AMD experience differentiation, or how AMD addresses the shortcomings of the Windows ecosystem and the difference in phone platforms. To address the responsiveness of 'instant on' but maintain power saving, AMD have a technology dubbed SmartNow, paired with a service titled SmartSleep.

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Many of us are creatures of habit, settled in routines where we wake around the same time and go to sleep around the same time. SmartSleep attempts to determine those times of day so it can automagically go to deep hibernate after you do, and then wake up (and begin network sync) before you. This is another step towards AMD's surround computing vision; perhaps future versions will know how to co-ordinate with your calendar and know when you're going on a trip and adjust accordingly.

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All APUs get the standard UVD and VCE block benefits, like Steady Video, Perfect Picture HD, and Quick Stream (a quality of service network prioritization service). A6s and above get the very handy AMD Screen Mirror ability, where your local display can be streamed to any DLNA compatible network device. AMD claim a 40ms latency in their solution vs. Intel's competitive WiDi, which clocks in at 201ms, making possible wireless gaming on your DLNA big screen, straight from your AMD Elite series APU notebook.

AMD APU Software

At the A8 level you get the natural interface extensions, Face Login, and Gesture Control. Face Login is especially useful: the simplicity of a password protected user account with the no-touch auto-login we all like is a must have for tablets. A10s get the all goodies plus a game bundle, which varies by region -- Never Settle for APUs, so look to those titles for your selection.

AMD have been trying to focus on the user experience for a while now, claiming the focus on pure x86 performance is the wrong metric. While there's some tricksy hobbits talking going on there, it's not without truth: the expectations of Android and iOS devices vs. similar price Windows devices are quite disproportionate and the user experience is heralded as the deciding factor, more important than anything else. Second is battery life.

AMD Dock Port

We've heard AMD talk about a single dock port cable to provide power, display and I/O connections before, under the codename Lightning Bolt. The upcoming Acer Angel ultrathin notebook will feature this new option, which permits the notebook to be recharged through its DisplayPort 1.2 port. Naturally, as this is an AMD device, the DP 1.2 output supports external displays. Here's the good part: the charging function and the display extension are concurrent, so you can run up to four external displays while charging. Oh, and a USB 3.0 hub, too. The only restriction is you can't run four external monitors at 1920x1200 resolution and keep the USB 3.0 speeds; you must either drop the resolution or number of displays or slow down to USB 2.0.

"The market has come to where AMD has been focused for years"

- Scott Sutter, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, AMD

With these three APUs and the associated software bundles, AMD are attacking the core of Intel's mobile strategy from Atom through Celeron and Pentium all the way up to Intel Core i5. This is subject to change with Intel's new Haswell APUs launching shortly. Intel's increasing transistor budget for GPU shows AMD's original balance of CPU and GPU to be much better suited to the market than Intel's, and the recent disclosed Atom architecture of a dual-core shared module has to resonate with the CPU architects at AMD.

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To sum up, you've got higher performance per watt, better outright performance, new lower power products, and a software stack that addresses the weaknesses of the ecosystem. As AMD end their 'reset and restructure' platform, the 'accelerate and execute' portion ramps up. High profile hires like Roy Taylor, Jim Keller, Raja Kadouri, John Gustafson, and now Sean Pelletier show AMD are packing on the much needed muscle to enjoy success in the Windows ecosystem and beyond.