This may not exactly be shocking news since we spotted a motherboard in the wild at CES, but AMD has officially announced that it's bringing its low-power, low-cost Kabini APU to the desktop.
In a bit of a novel twist, Kabini desktop motherboards will come with sockets onboard, into which users will be able to drop one of several models of CPU. Both Intel's Bay Trail Atom SoC and AMD's own prior-generation Brazos platform processors in this segment have been strictly surface-mounted parts, soldered forever onto their motherboards via BGA packaging.
Kabini silicon has been around for a while now in mobile form, and you may recall from our review that it's a true x86-compatible system on a chip. Kabini integrates four "Jaguar" CPU cores, Radeon-inspired GCN graphics, a DDR3 memory controller that runs at speeds up to 1600 MT/s, and an entire south bridge I/O complex, so no separate support chip is needed. The I/O section is very much up to date, with SATA 6Gbps, USB 3.0, and a trio of display output types: DisplayPort, HDMI, and ye olde VGA.
AMD is very carefully calling the desktop platform for Kabini the "AM1 platform," although the chips will drop into the same FS1b socket type used in mobile systems. We expect that dubious terminology to get conflated into "Socket AM1" in roughly a nanosecond. Below is a shot of the MSI desktop Kabini motherboard we snapped at CES.
We don't yet have all of the model numbers and specs yet (or do we?), but the desktop Kabinis will inherit a couple of AMD's older brand names, Athlon and
Sempr0n Sempron, since they're targeted at decidedly budget-class builds. In fact, the firm expects a motherboard and APU to cost as little as $60 combined. Rumor has it the APUs themselves will have TDP ratings of 25W.
There's a sample of a retail processor box pictured above. I'm intrigued by how AMD has slowly evolved into using the words "discrete GPU technology" expressly to describe an integrated Radeon. Marketing is weird.
Anyhow, the desktop Kabinis will be positioned opposite Intel's Bay Trail chips, specifically the quad-core Pentium variants. AMD says its APUs have several points of distinction over the Bay Trail-based competition, including faster memory speeds (1600 MT/s vs. 1333 MT/s), larger memory capacities (up to 16GB), and of course the ability to drop an upgraded chip into the CPU socket.
AMD hasn't made any promises about future APUs being compatible with Socket FS1b, but we'd bet that Kabini's successor, Beema, will fit into the same plug.
One other notable advantage for Kabini is broad support for the 64-bit variants of Windows, from XP through 8.1. 64-bit support for Bay Trail has been slow in coming, in part because of a delay in driver development for connected standby. The Kabini platform doesn't support connected standby at all, so it's not encumbered by this consideration.
As one might imagine, AMD expects Kabini desktop chips do especially well in emerging markets, where low-cost systems are often a must. As a result, these desktop Athlon and Sempron chips will first become available in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa in early April. North America and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region will follow shortly thereafter, on April 9.
We expect a whole host of motherboard makers to introduce boards for desktop Kabini systems, and the vast majority of those are likely to conform to the mini-ITX standard. In fact, both MSI and ASRock have product pages for AM1 mobos online now, and this mATX board from ASRock has me intrigued. We're hoping to snag a motherboard and APU for a review soon, alongside a comparable Bay Trail setup.