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A first look at AMD's Kaveri APU for notebooks


Kaveri goes mobile
— 11:01 PM on June 3, 2014

Five months ago, AMD pulled the curtain back on Kaveri, its latest full-fat processor for desktops and laptops. The first variants of this CPU were targeted at desktop systems, but today, AMD is unleashing some new Kaveri flavors aimed squarely at notebooks.

Like their desktop brethren, these chips combine AMD's Steamroller CPU cores with the same Graphics Core Next architecture featured in the newest Radeons. Mobile Kaveri chips also fully implement AMD's Heterogeneous Systems Architecture, which aims to simplify the development of applications that share work across the CPU and GPU cores. Various other goodies round out the mobile Kaveri package, including a TrueAudio DSP block, better video decoding, PCIe 3.0 support, and improved power management. The power management changes involve better monitoring of temperatures and activity counters, which all works to help the processor reach higher speeds via Turbo.

Architecturally speaking, there's no difference between the mobile and desktop versions of Kaveri. They're based on the exact same silicon. The key differences are in binning, we're told, and in the way the parts are "optimized and fused" to fit inside different thermal envelopes. While the TDPs for desktop Kaveri processors range from 45W to 95W, those for mobile Kaveri models max out at 35W and go as low as 15W.

AMD has put Kaveri on a crash diet, in other words, allowing the chip to fit a whole new wardrobe: everything from full-sized notebooks to ultra-thin laptops, including systems that might be called ultrabooks... if Intel hadn't trademarked the name.

A few weeks ago, we attended an AMD press event in San Francisco, where we benchmarked one of the very first prototype notebooks based on Kaveri. We also got briefed on the upcoming mobile Kaveri lineup, which will comprise 10 models in all. Let's start by dissecting the lineup, and then we'll delve into our benchmarks.


Kevin Lensing, AMD's Senior Director of Mobility Solutions, introducing Kaveri for notebooks.

The lineup
The mobile Kaveri family is split into three clans. The first includes standard-voltage processors with 35W TDPs:

Model Modules/
Integer
cores
Base/
Turbo
speeds
Total
L2 cache
capacity
Graphics
CUs
Graphics
clock
Max
DDR3
speed
PCIe
lanes
TDP
FX-7600P 2/4 2.7/3.6 GHz 4 MB 8 686 MHz 2133 MHz 16 Gen3 35 W
A10-7400P 2/4 2.5/3.4 GHz 4 MB 6 654 MHz 1866 MHz 16 Gen3 35 W
A8-7200P 2/4 2.4/3.3 GHz 4 MB 4 626 MHz 1866 MHz 16 Gen3 35 W

The fastest offering of the bunch, the FX-7600P, has all of its CPU and graphics units enabled. The CPU cores run at up to 3.6GHz thanks to Turbo Core. That's actually not all that far off from the 4GHz peak speed of the A10-7850K, the fastest desktop Kaveri, which has a 95W TDP. The 7850K's base speed is much higher, though, at 3.7GHz, and its peak graphics frequency is 720MHz.

Note the first two letters of the FX-7600P's model number. Until now, the FX brand has applied solely to desktop processors without built-in graphics. AMD told us that, since it's delivering an "enthusiast-level experience on mobile," it now wants to "parlay" the "enthusiast goodwill" it's accumulated in order to leverage the brand into its mobile lineup—or something along those lines. The marketing-speak was a little fuzzy, but the gist is that the FX name has gone freelance, and AMD will apply it to whatever processors it sees fit.

Competitively speaking, AMD expects the FX-7600P to fight it out with Intel processors ranging from the Core i5-4300M to the Core i7-4600M—all dual-core, quad-thread, 37W offerings.

The FX label also makes an appearance in the ultra-low-voltage Kaveri series:

Model Modules/
Integer
cores
Base/
Turbo
speeds
Total
L2 cache
capacity
Graphics
CUs
Graphics
clock
Max
DDR3
speed
PCIe
lanes
TDP
FX-7500 2/4 2.1/3.3 GHz 4 MB 6 533 MHz 1600 MHz 8 Gen2 19 W
A10-7300 2/4 1.9/3.2 GHz 4 MB 6 533 MHz 1600 MHz 8 Gen2 19 W
A8-7100 2/4 1.8/3.0 GHz 4 MB 4 514 MHz 1600 MHz 8 Gen2 19 W
A6-7000 1/2 2.2/3.0 GHz 1 MB 3 533 MHz 1600 MHz 8 Gen2 17 W

AMD maintains that the FX-7500 is powerful enough to compete with the Core i7-4500U, one of Intel's fastest ultrabook processors. According to AMD, these two chips perform identically in PCMark, but the FX is speedier in graphics and GPU computing applications.

The FX-7500's 19W TDP does exceed the i7-4500U's 15W envelope by a few watts. However, because of its lower thermal density, the FX-7500 can apparently squeeze into systems with the exact same cooling solutions as the i5-4500U. The 19W figure isn't set in stone, either. AMD says ultra-low-voltage Kaveri variants can be configured to fit inside TDPs from 15W to 25W. We'd expect some performance to be sacrificed at the lower end of that spectrum, though.

As for battery life, AMD expects to be "neck and neck" with the competition on that front—except, it says, in cases where Intel works "very closely" with system builders to maximize power efficiency.

We should note that the FX-7500 requires less power than AMD's previous flagship for ultra-thin notebooks, the 25W A10-5745M. AMD's own numbers indicate that these two offerings perform similarly in PCMark, but the FX-7500 is about 8% faster in 3DMark and 5% speedier in Basemark CL.

At the tail end of the ultra-low-voltage series, the A6-7000 is the most pared-down mobile Kaveri variant by far. Half of its CPU cores are disabled, as are three quarters of its L2 cache and five of its eight graphics compute units. Those sacrifices make it the lowest-power unit in the bunch, which could count for something, but we wouldn't expect stellar performance.

Rounding out the mobile Kaveri lineup are three ultra-low-voltage chips for professional applications:

Model Modules/
Integer
cores
Base/
Turbo
speeds
Total
L2 cache
capacity
Graphics
CUs
Graphics
clock
Max
DDR3
speed
PCIe
lanes
TDP
A10 Pro-7350B 2/4 2.1/3.3 GHz 4 MB 6 533 MHz 1600 MHz 8 Gen2 19 W
A8 Pro-7150B 2/4 1.9/3.2 GHz 4 MB 6 533 MHz 1600 MHz 8 Gen2 19 W
A6 Pro-7050B 1/2 2.2/3.0 GHz 1 MB 3 533 MHz 1600 MHz 8 Gen2 17 W

The models in this series have the same specs as the FX-7500, A10-7300, and A6-7000. One might reasonably expect the Pro variants to have the same driver-level certification for professional design apps as AMD's FirePro graphics products, but curiously, that's not the case. AMD says it could offer such drivers, and it's "had discussions" with partners about the matter. Right now, however, drivers certified for pro apps are "not a standard part of the Pro series."

Hmm.