Introduction and Design
Back in June of 2011, we reviewed AMD’s new Llano mobile processor line by taking a look at a testbed system. The overall review was favorable, but it was also based on the best AMD had to offer, a quad-core A8-3500M processor running alongside a separate Radeon discrete GPU.
If you take a tour through your local electronics retailer, you’ll find that this is not the most common combination of parts on store shelves. The less expensive and less powerful A4 and A6 processors are more common. In our original Llano laptop review, I theorized that these would remain competitive at their respective price points, but we didn’t have the opportunity to test a laptop equipped with the less expensive hard.
Now, via the ASUS K53T, we finally have a chance to thoroughly examine a mid-range Llano laptop.
Subject: Graphics Cards | December 26, 2011 - 12:05 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: tahiti, southern islands, radeon, amd, 7990, 7970
The big talk during the holiday break was AMD's release of the Radeon HD 7970 3GB graphics card - the new single-GPU performance leader. I gave the card our Editor's Choice award for simply impressing the hell out of us, all while keeping power consumption in check thanks to the TSMC 28nm process technology it is built on. Being the first card to support the upcoming DX11.1 and PCI Express 3.0 are just a bit of icing on the fruitcake.
During our talks with AMD they teased a dual-GPU version of Southern Islands they were calling "New Zealand". According to a report from Softpedia that card might be available sooner than we thought - sometime in the first quarter of 2012. Because the new Tahiti GPU is actually more power efficient than Cayman, seeing the pending Radeon HD 7990 with two full powered GPUs isn't out the question though we would expect to see slightly lower clock speeds.
Because of the ZeroCore Technology implemented this generation of GPU from AMD, the HD 7990 will be able to run at basically the same power levels as the Radeon HD 7970 at idle and at the Windows desktop.
The most interesting part? This would give the HD 7990 a 6GB frame buffer, 3GB per GPU as we see today on the HD 7970. Chances are this would give the graphics card more memory than many of our readers primary computer...
If you are interested in this type of card, start saving your pennies now. When the Radeon HD 6990 launched (the Cayman-based dual-GPU card) it was priced at $699 and never went any lower. With the price of a single Southern Islands GPU curently at $549, expect to see even higher numbers than the HD 6990 has. I hope we don't see the same availability issues with the pending HD 7990 release but you can't be sure.
The First 28nm GPU Architecture
It is going to be an exciting 2012. Both AMD and NVIDIA are going to be bringing gamers entirely new GPU architectures, Intel has Ivy Bridge up its sleeve and the CPU side of AMD is looking forward to the introduction of the Piledriver lineup. Today though we end 2011 with the official introduction of the AMD Southern Islands GPU design, a completely new architecture from the ground up that engineers have been working on for more than three years.
This GPU will be the first on several fronts: the first 28nm part, the first cards with support for PCI Express 3.0 and the first to officially support DirectX 11.1 coming with Windows 8. Southern Islands is broken up into three different families starting with Tahiti at the high-end, Pitcairn for sweet spot gaming and Cape Verde for budget discrete options. The Radeon HD 7970 card that is launching today with availability in early January is going to be the top-end single GPU option, based on Tahiti.
Let's see what 4.31 billion transistors buys you in today's market. I have embedded a very short video review here as well for your perusal but of course, you should continue down a bit further for the entire, in-depth review of the Radeon HD 7970 GPU.
Southern Islands - Starting with Tahiti
Before we get into benchmark results we need to get a better understanding of this completely new GPU design that was first divulged in June at the AMD Fusion Developer Summit. At that time, our own
lovely and talented Josh Walrath wrote up a great preview of the architecture that remains accurate and pertinent for today's release. We will include some of Josh's analysis here and interject with anything new that we have learned from AMD about the Southern Islands architecture.
When NVIDIA introduced the G80, they took a pretty radical approach to GPU design. Instead of going with previous VLIW architectures which would support operations such as Vec4+Scalar, they went with a completely scalar architecture. This allowed a combination of flexibility of operation types, ease of scheduling, and a high utilization of compute units. AMD has taken a somewhat similar, but still unique approach to their new architecture.
Subject: General Tech | December 21, 2011 - 03:39 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: llano, APU, amd, a-series
From DigiTimes we have some news that AMD has been keeping a very tight lid on for some reason. The secret was not a brand new product line or surprising advance that won't see the light of day for a long time to come, instead it was the arrival of updated A-series APUs to the market. With absolutely no press build up or even a review of these processors in sight it came as a bit of a surprise, albeit a good one. We have a pair of new A-8 and A-6 processors and a single A-4 on the desktop side, with an addional "K" in the name of two. That "K", which you will remember from Intel processors, does indeed seem to replace the Black Edition name AMD previously used to identify unlocked processors. For the notebooks are a few more chips, two of each of the A-8 and A-6, three A-4 processors and an E2 as well. The naming scheme here is concerned with the TDP of the chip, an M part is 35W and the MX is 45W.
Perhaps AMD let a few too many of their marketers go as they are not only not telling anyone about their new parts they had to borrow a naming scheme from the competition. Catch all of DigiTimes coverage here.
"AMD has updated its A-series lineup of desktop and notebook accelerated processing units (APUs), further improving its family of dual- and quad-core APUs. Along with speed and performance improvements, AMD Steady Video update make this unique feature more compelling. For desktop users, AMD extends its overclocking pedigree to the APU; for the first time users can tune both x86 and graphics settings in a single processor for boosted performance.
The updated AMD A-series APUs combine up to four x86 CPU cores with up to 400 Radeon cores, delivering powerful DirectX 11-capable, discrete-level graphics and dedicated HD video processing on a single chip. These new APUs increase performance and deliver a richer feature set than existing AMD A-series APUs. Plus, only AMD APUs offer AMD Dual Graphics for an up to 144% visual performance boost when a select APU is paired with a select AMD Radeon HD 6500 Series graphics card.
The AMD A-series family of APUs also features AMD Steady Video, designed to stabilize videos during playback. On select systems using AMD A-series APUs, Internet Explorer 9 will include an AMD Steady Video plugin, unlocking one-click control to simplify access to the premium AMD Steady Video feature for video stabilization.
All AMD A-series processors are powered by AMD VISION Engine Software, a suite of software that provides end-users with regular updates designed to improve system performance and stability, and can add new software enhancements."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- HDD industry to be dominated by Western Digital, Seagate @ DigiTimes
- Samsung MV800 Digital Camera Review @ Tech-Reviews
- Secrets and solutions from a reformed benchmarketer @ The Register
- Xerox PARC: A Brief Nod to the Minds Behind Laser Printing, Ethernet, the GUI and More @ Techspot
- eTeknix Christmas Hardware Buying Guide
Subject: Graphics Cards | December 21, 2011 - 07:26 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: amd, 7900, radeon hd, tahiti, gpu, pcb
Tech Power Up managed to get their hands on a couple photos of the PCBs used in the upcoming AMD Radeon HD 7900 series graphics cards. The blue boards show the traces and connectors that will eventually house the memory chips, graphics processor, capacitors, PCI-E power and video out connections (among others). This particular PCB is allegedly the "cost effective" version that is an alternative for Add-In-Board partners (for example: Sapphire, HIS, and XFX) so that they can offer lower cost cards.
The naked boards feature spots for two DVI, one HDMI, and one Display Port connector, although graphics card manufacturers do not have to include all of the connectors enabling low profile HTPC friendly versions. Further, the PCB features connections for an 8+2 analog VRM (voltage regulators), 12 memory chips, and two 8 pin PCI-E power connectors.
Keep in mind that this PCB is merely a reference design and may not be used in all Tahiti cards. AMD has given its partners free reign to design their own PCBs for the 7950 graphics cards. On the 7970 card; however, the cost effective reference design may well be used in many third party 7970 cards as an alternative to the main 7970 board design.
I suppose we will just have to wait until tomorrow for the official launch to learn more about the new cards. However, being so close to the launch date, the photos are likely representative of the actual PCB design. More photos can be found here.
Subject: Graphics Cards | December 20, 2011 - 03:38 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: gpu, amd, nvidia, turks, Caicos, graphics core next, GCN, cape verde, HD7770, kepler
Rebranding and rebadging is becoming a very bad habit for both major GPU manufacturers. It is fair to imply that NVIDIA was the first to start doing so on a regular basis but AMD has noticed that they have successfully managed it on several different chip families and has since joined in on crushing enthusiasts hopes in the holy name of the profit margin. On the other hand, with the financial difficulties that both companies are experiencing it is a viable strategy no matter how much enthusiasts dislike the practice.
Just two weeks ago we received information about the mobile chips from NVIDIA and AMD and the news was not good. From AMD we have rebranded Turks and Caicos chips with improved clock speeds but the same base technology already on the market. NVIDIA didn't even go that far and released the exact same chips as the previous generation, under new names.
We have heard rumours that AMD will also be applying that marketing strategy to at least some of the upcoming HD 7xxx series cards but thanks to a link from VR-Zone we know where the new chips will start. The HD7770 will feature Graphics Core Next and a 128-bit memory interface, replacing the ageing Juniper chips. As far as power there seems to be only a single PCIe 6 pin connector needed, which should keep the power draw to around 100W. If you are planning on picking a new AMD card when they arrive on the market ensure you do not look lower in the family as you will be picking up a rebranded card.
There was also a leak on the NVIDIA side today, with a single slide marked for internal use only appearing at a site called EXP Review. These types of slides and the benchmarks on them should always be taken with at least your daily allowance of sodium, if not more as the rules for what optimizations can be done to the benchmarks are very different for internal testing. They do show a nice performance difference, the GTX780 ranges from 190% to 230% of the performance of a GTX580. Astute readers will immediately start wondering what happened to the GTX6xx family, as according to this slide NVIDIA seems to be skipping an entire series with Kepler. Perhaps that is where rebranded Fermi chips could find a niche?
The coming year looks dangerous for GPU buyers, with older cards masquerading as newer models, thanks to AMD mixing VLIW4/5 cards with GCN cards and NVIDIA's suspicious naming scheme. While we have a bit of information about AMD's new cards, no indication of their performance has tipped up on the net. If NVIDIA's benchmarks are even close to reality a doubling of performance in a single generation would be a coup for them, as that type of increase in such a short time is almost unheard of. Then again, NVIDIA has been working on this architecture for a long while now. We will find out more over the coming months as both products come closer to their first appearance on the market, likely by the end of Q1.
Speed Bumps and Unlocked Processors
AMD has announced the latest members of their fairly successful APU series for both the desktop and the mobile markets. The original release in June of this year saw the first fully integrated 32 nm APUs from AMD. These proved to be quite popular with their decent CPU performance and outstanding integrated graphics speed and quality. The launch was not entirely smooth for AMD though, even though the company had been shipping products to partners and OEMs for some months.
The desktop saw limited SKUs, and the availability of the top end parts was disappointing to say the least. AMD and their partners at GLOBALFOUNDRIES were not able to produce enough usable chips to supply demand. Quantities were tight throughout the summer, and the mobile market did not see as big of a boost for AMD as was hoped. AMD did get a lot of new business though, as the thermal and power envelopes of these A-series chips were able to match that of Intel.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | December 16, 2011 - 04:45 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Radeon HD 7000, leak, amd
Update: 5:35, added a few points.
If the convincing-looking leaked slides are to be believed, the upcoming AMD Radeon HD 7970 card is now naked before us with all its measurements laid to bare. While there still is nothing official as the embargo is not up yet, rest assured that at some point the full story will flood to the surface. What can be said is that if this slide is true, the 7970 looks to be a real beast of a card.
The supposed reference specifications of the 7970… or are they?
(Image obviously from OBR-Hardware)
As you can tell from the heavily watermarked slide, AMD claims 3.5 TFLOPs of computing power from their 2048 stream processing units clocked at 925 MHz. Contrast this against the AMD’s assertion of 2.7 TFLOPs from the Radeon 6970’s 1536 stream processors and a core clock of 880MHz; while it is not an apples-to-apples comparison, it is a healthy buff to AMD’s portfolio. Also relevant, is a more recent slide claiming much-increased performance during tesselation which NVIDIA typically has maintained a healthy lead over AMD with.
Possibly the most major point from the table is the power consumption: less than 3 Watts during idle. To give a bit of... pc perspective...: HardOCP measured the idle power consumption of the 6970 to be 24 Watts and the NVIDIA GTX 580 at 41 Watts. We are talking about an 88% decrease in idle power draw compared to AMD’s last generation’s single GPU powerhouse. It makes me wonder: how will this affect mobility graphics? According to OBR-Hardware, their slide is somewhat out-of-date; the expected peak is 200W give or take for the card on load, though I am sure that will vary depending on which brand of card you purchase.
Subject: Processors | December 16, 2011 - 12:41 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: amd, bulldozer, cpu, processor, windows, microsoft
Intel was far from demolished when AMD's Bulldozer came to town. Users still clung to hope that Microsoft's Windows 7 was not optimized to take advantage of Bulldozer's multi-core environment. Vindication came sweetly with a knowledge base article and a patch from Microsoft confirming the issue and offering a solution. While they can still feel comfortable knowing they were right, the solution has been pulled from Microsoft's website without any announced reason. Who should we feel sorry for: those who didn't download it yet, or those who did?
To be entirely fair, Microsoft's knowledge base article was quite clear in its instruction to users regarding this hotfix.
A supported hotfix is available from Microsoft. However, this hotfix is intended to correct only the problem that is described in this article. Apply this hotfix only to systems that are experiencing the problem described in this article. This hotfix might receive additional testing. Therefore, if you are not severely affected by this problem, we recommend that you wait for the next software update that contains this hotfix.
Still, AMD users have another reason to be upset as if they needed one. The hotfix will come, and will come in completely stable form; it just looks like today is not that day. If you already received this update and have experienced technical difficulties, the comment form awaits.
Subject: Processors | December 16, 2011 - 01:56 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: amd, bulldozer, cpu, processor, windows, microsoft
When AMD’s Bulldozer processors arrived, they were unable to best Intel’s fastest at most tasks. A number of users held out hope for Bulldozer; however, as it was discovered that Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system was not optimized to take advantage of the multi-threaded execution scheduling engine. While MS has implemented this optimization in the Windows 8 kernel, the current stable release has been without a fix until recently. The fix in question is available for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 and can be downloaded here. It should be noted that service pack 1 is a pre-requisite to this hot-fix.
Conservatively, previous indications suggested such a fix would add a 5 % to 10 % performance boost in multi-threaded applications. That number is based on the estimates from around the web from people comparing benchmarks between Windows 7 and Windows 8 Developer Preview. If you are running a Bulldozer processor in your machine, be sure to apply this update and let us know how performance improves.