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AMD Richland APUs Announced
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: March 12th, 2013
AMD Richland APUs Announced
Richland is the new codename, and it denotes a new product line of AMD A-series processors. It's not a new architecture; this is the Trinity die but with superior firmware and process improvements to deliver what AMD claims is a full generational performance lift. AMD is currently executing on a March/April unveiling, with mass availability in June/July cadence for their APUs; thanks to the nature of Richland AMD is able to execute early this year, with the launch in Q1 2013. Standard voltage Richland parts have been shipping to OEMs since December, prepping for a refresh of models based on the existing mobile platforms, plus some new designs. Each image in our article today expands to show more detail; would you like to know more?
Richland comes in three variants: Standard Voltage (SV), Low Voltage (LV) and Ultra-Low Voltage (ULV). The definitions are 35W package for SV, to be used in notebooks. UV is 25W and lower, aimed at both mobility uses and All-In One (AIO) form factors. ULV is 17W and lower, overlapping the top end of the upcoming Kabini and Temash APUs due later this year. AMD borrows a feature from their Opteron lineup for Richland - tunable TDP. The OEMs can tweak the power profile of the design to their own requirement, to ensure the best thermals and battery or other concerns. While 25W to 35W is only a 10W increment, that's a large jump in the mobility world and being able to dial back a 35W chip to say 29W means that power budget can used elsewhere like a brighter or higher resolution screen, better touch sensor, bigger hard drive, or even just longer battery life overall.
To get the touted full generational improvement, AMD has worked long and hard on power management. The essence of power management is to make the best use of the available thermal budget, both temperature and workload estimation of power draw. AMD supplemented their real-time temperature calculations with on-die temperature sensors, which allows the APU to be less conservative about which performance state it is.
This side to side shuffling of power, from CPU cores to GPU cores, is made possible by the Turbo modes. Each APU is given a base clock rating for CPU operation and a base clock for GPU operation. Turbo is the method where, if the CPU isn't consuming a lot of power, the GPU can allocate that thermal budget to increase performance. Richland adds more discrete operating points to give smaller, smoother changes in frequency and voltage which results in higher efficiency - in fact, AMD claim up to 45% better power consumption for their Richland processor vs. Trinity. New power estimation and workload calculation algorithms improve on power balancing to ensure that the unit inside the APU receives the power it needs for optimum throughput and efficiency, adding analog sensor data (with improved accuracy) to make a Hybrid Boost feature, new for Richland. By using actual fan speed, actual ambient, socket and on-die temperature information, the conservative worst-case values used in the digital estimation algorithms can be improved upon to exploit more thermal margin.
Richland slots right into existing Trinity designs, using the same socket FS1r2 and chipsets - Pumori reference design - which Trinity used. However, OEMs have a couple of new options to differentiate their Richland offerings with, beyond the performance increase and power savings. Like Trinity, Richland supports Enduro with Southern Islands GCN-based Radeon HD Mobility GPUs. Unlike Trinity, Richland supports Dual Graphics with the newly launched Solar System mobile GPU range, also based on the GCN architecture. There's no technical reason for this, just market timing - when Trinity launched, the rebranded HD 6000M series were all that was available for the HD 7000M series, but now Solar System GPUs offer 2011's GCN architecture to improve performance. Until we get hands on we can't tell you if feature level changes like DirectX 11.1, texture (de)compression, improved anisotropic filtering are available or if they're disabled due to the nature of APU Crossfire and Dual Graphics.
Another important bullet is the memory speed support - AMD has extended mobility support of Richland to include DDR3-1866 on the mobile platform, up from the previous limit of DDR3-1600. AMD APUs scale well with increased memory performance, making this a welcome move. The GPU clocks get a bump, both at base and maximum boost. The Richland based A-series get a number designation bump as well, now we have A4/A6/A8/A10-5000 series with Radeon HD 8000G graphics. New year, higher numbers, promised higher performance and better performance per watt, new discrete GPU options, what's not to like? It's everything Trinity should have been.
The marketing gets a boost with official retirement of AMD's Vision branding. Instead, AMD will focus on the core brand: AMD. Apart from when it's Elite, that is. AMD Elite APUs have different sparkly bits in the background of their alpha numeric descriptor, to 'reinforce product tier segmentation'. How this works under the retail lights isn't clear, and likely it doesn't make a difference, but it's a good decision for AMD to focus on their own logo and their primary product designator. If only you didn't need a look up table to figure out what An-5xxx Radeon HD 8yyyG with Radeon HD 8zzzM meant...
Richland vs Trinity power saving
Where AMD is upping the ante is software bundling. Having been focused on the user experience for the last few years in their marketing, AMD is helping OEMs get the best out of their hardware. AMD wants to improve the responsiveness of the system from S3/S4 (standby or suspend to RAM, and hibernate or suspend to disk) to be as fast as a tablet; before you finish opening the lid, the OS is resumed and the network reconnected. This is partially hardware dictated, an SSD will help with S4, and devices that support warm standby modes for fast initialization.
AMD touts 6 features for their software load, all of which have been seen before at some point or another but brought together are worth noting. Two of the six are AMD graphics driver features, Steady Video and Picture Perfect HD, which use the GPU to improve video playback and are well documented at this point. AMD Quick Stream is network quality of service, touted for some time with AMD APUs and thus not new, but also is hard to define as to where it has been seen - is it what we've seen with the like of ASUS Gamefirst, or Killer Networks Bigfoot? Or is it baked into the FCH hardware?
What we do know is that AMD Elite APUs get Face Login (Cyberlink YouCam), Screen Mirror and Gesture Control. Gesture Control uses a notebook's built in webcam, with 720P or higher resolution, with the Radeon GPU to take control of browsers, media players and e-readers at close distance (up to 3 feet). Supported gestures are 2D, meaning side-side not closer/farther - no depth perception available here. AMD stated that as notebook cameras get better the APU can take advantage of the increased capabilities, which sounds reasonable although I think the lack of GCN and it's QSAD hardware has a part to play in the processing abilities of APUs going forward. No mention of AMD SSDs, or previous tie-in's like AMD Radeon RAMDisk, that appears to have died an early death.
Screen Mirror leverages currently available common standards devices to provide wireless display, presuming you have the infrastructure in place. Your display needs to be DLNA enabled (and support H.264 with AAC) so either a smart TV or Roku or some such; and your network needs to have enough bandwidth (802.11n or 100Mbps Ethernet sound about right for basic 720P). Screen mirror then mirrors your screen on to the remote display in real time, allowing you to share your movie, web surfing or brainstorm session simply and easily. It's a great stop gap until MirrorCast, the Wifi standards display body name for the same functionality but requiring a MirrorCast dongle, is available.
User Experience Enhancements
Richland will gradually replace Trinity over the next few months, before the next generation APU Kaveri bursts on to the scene at the end of the year. Kaveri will feature the 3rd generation Bulldozer architecture cores known as Steam Roller, plus Graphics Core Next v2 architecture and full HSA support, a complete System on Chip (SoC) design. AMD's fast cadence here is reminiscent of mobile manufacturers', like Samsung and LG - both HSA members - very quick product iterations, getting better devices to the consumers at the right time, and repeatedly.
AMD touts a 50-70% performance advantage against competitive Intel products, predictably in the graphics performance realm - the A10-5757M with Radeon HD 8550G outperforms the Core i7-3520M by 50% in Futuremark's 3DMark FireStorm test. 2013 promises to be a big year for AMD APUs, with Richland, Kabini and Temash appearing well specified and positioned to offer performance and value for the graphics and media consumption oriented consumer.