Low Power and Low Price
Back at CES earlier this year, we came across a couple of interesting motherboards that were neither AM3+ nor FM2+. These small, sparse, and inexpensive boards were actually based on the unannounced AM1 platform. This socket is actually the FS1b socket that is typically reserved for mobile applications which require the use of swappable APUs. The goal here is to provide a low cost, upgradeable platform for emerging markets where price is absolutely key.
AMD has not exactly been living on easy street for the past several years. Their CPU technologies have not been entirely competitive with Intel. This is their bread and butter. Helping to prop the company up though is a very robust and competitive graphics unit. The standalone and integrated graphics technology they offer are not only competitive, but also class leading in some cases. The integration of AMD’s GCN architecture into APUs has been their crowning achievement as of late.
This is not to say that AMD is totally deficient in their CPU designs. Their low power/low cost designs that started with the Bobcat architecture all those years back have always been very competitive in terms of performance, price, and power consumption. The latest iteration is the Kabini APU based on the Jaguar core architecture paired with GCN graphics. Kabini will be the part going into the FS1b socket that powers the AM1 platform.
Kabini is a four core processor (Jaguar) with a 128 unit GCN graphics part (8 GCN cores). These APUs will be rated at 25 watts up and down the stack. Even if they come with half the cores, it will still be a 25 watt part. AMD says that 25 watts is the sweet spot in terms of performance, cooling, and power consumption. Go lower than that and too much performance is sacrificed, and any higher it would make more sense to go with a Trinity/Richland/Kaveri solution. That 25 watt figure also encompasses the primary I/O functionality that typically resides on a standalone motherboard chipset. Kabini features 2 SATA 6G ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, and 8 USB 2.0 ports. It also features multiple PCI-E lanes as well as a 4x PCI-E connection for external graphics. The chip also supports DisplayPort, HDMI, and VGA outputs. This is a true SOC from AMD that does a whole lot of work for not a whole lot of power.
The 7 Year Console Refresh
The consoles are coming! The consoles are coming! Ok, that is not necessarily true. One is already here and the second essentially is too. This of course brings up the great debate between PCs and consoles. The past has been interesting when it comes to console gaming, as often the consoles would be around a year ahead of PCs in terms of gaming power and prowess. This is no longer the case with this generation of consoles. Cutting edge is now considered mainstream when it comes to processing and graphics. The real incentive to buy this generation of consoles is a lot harder to pin down as compared to years past.
The PS4 retails for $399 US and the upcoming Xbox One is $499. The PS4’s price includes a single controller, while the Xbox’s package includes not just a controller, but also the next generation Kinect device. These prices would be comparable to some low end PCs which include keyboard, mouse, and a monitor that could be purchased from large brick and mortar stores like Walmart and Best Buy. Happily for most of us, we can build our machines to our own specifications and budgets.
As a directive from on high (the boss), we were given the task of building our own low-end gaming and productivity machines at a price as close to that of the consoles and explaining which solution would be superior at the price points given. The goal was to get as close to $500 as possible and still have a machine that would be able to play most recent games at reasonable resolutions and quality levels.
Subject: Processors | November 13, 2013 - 05:35 PM | Josh Walrath
Tagged: Puma, Mullins, mobile, Jaguar, GCN, beema, apu13, APU, amd, 2014
AMD’s APU13 is all about APUs and their programming, but the hardware we have seen so far has been dominated by the upcoming Kaveri products for FM2+. It seems that AMD has more up their sleeves for release this next year, and it has somewhat caught me off guard. The Beema and Mullins based products are being announced today, but we do not have exact details on these products. The codenames have been around for some time now, but interest has been minimal since they are evolutionary products based on Kabini and Temash APUs that have been available this year. Little did I know that things would be far more interesting than that.
The basis for Beema and Mullins is the Puma core. This is a highly optimized revision of Jaguar, and in some ways can be considered a new design. All of the basics in terms of execution units, caches, and memory controllers are the same. What AMD has done is go through the design with a fine toothed comb and make it far more efficient per clock than what we have seen previously. This is still a 28 nm part, but the extra attention and love lavished upon it by AMD has resulted in a much more efficient system architecture for the CPU and GPU portions.
The parts will be offered in two and four core configurations. Beema will span from 10W to 25W configurations. Mullins will go all the way down to “2W SDP”. SDP essentially means that while the chip can be theoretically rated higher, it will rarely go above that 2W envelope in the vast majority of situations. These chips are expected to be around 2X more efficient per clock than the previous Jaguar based products. This means that at similar clock speeds, Beema and Mullins will pull far less power than that previous gen. It should also allow some higher clockspeeds at the top end 25W area.
These will be some of the first fanless quad cores that AMD will introduce for the tablet market. Previously we have seen tablets utilize the cut down versions of Temash to hit power targets, but with this redesign it is entirely possible to utilize the fully enabled quad core Mullins. AMD has not given us specific speeds for these products, but we can guess that they will be around what we see currently, but the chip will just have a lower TDP rating.
AMD is introducing their new security platform based on the ARM Trustzone. Essentially a small ARM Cortex A5 is integrated in the design and handles the security aspects of this feature. We were not briefed on how this achieves security, but the slide below gives some of the bullet points of the technology.
Since the pure-play foundries will not have a workable 20 nm process for AMD to jump to in a timely manner, AMD had no other choice but to really optimize the Jaguar core to make it more competitive with products from Intel and the ARM partners. At 28 nm the ARM ecosystem has a power advantage over AMD, while at 22 nm Intel offers similar performance to AMD but with greater power efficiency.
This is a necessary update for AMD as the competition has certainly not slowed down. AMD is more constrained obviously by the lack of a next-generation process node available for 1H 2014, so a redesign of this magnitude was needed. The performance per watt metric is very important here, as it promises longer battery life without giving up the performance people received from the previous Kabini/Temash family of APUs. This design work could be carried over to the next generation of APUs using 20 nm and below, which hopefully will keep AMD competitive with the rest of the market. Beema and Mullins are interesting looking products that will be shown off at CES 2014.
Kabini is a pretty nifty little chip. So nifty, AMD is actually producing server grade units for the growing micro-server market. As readers may or may not remember, AMD bought up SeaMicro last year to get a better grip on the expanding micro-server market. While there are no official announcements from SeaMicro about offerings utilizing the server-Kabini parts, we can expect there to be sooner as opposed to later.
The Kabini parts (Jaguar + GCN) will be branded Opteron X-series. So far there are two announced products; one utilizes the onboard graphics portion while the other has the GCN based unit disabled. The products have a selectable TDP that ranges from 9 watts to 22 watts. This should allow the vendors to further tailor the chips to their individual solutions.
The X1150 is the GPU-less product with adjustable TDPs ranging from 9 to 17 watts. It is a native quad core product with 2 MB of L2 cache. It can be clocked up to 2 GHz, which we assume is that 17 watts range. The X2150 has an adjustable TDP range from 11 to 22 watts. The four cores can go to a max speed of 1.9 GHz while the GPU can go from 266 MHz up to a max 600 MHz.
Subject: General Tech | May 23, 2013 - 01:00 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: z87, Y500, xbox one, xbox, video, Temash, Richland, podcast, pcper, msi, Lenovo, Kaveri, Kabini, Jaguar, Intel, hgst, gtx 650m, Giagbyte, ECS, asus, APU, amd
PC Perspective Podcast #252 - 05/23/2013
Join us this week as we discuss Z87 Motherboards, Xbox One, Lenovo Y500 Gaming notebook and more!
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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, and Morry Teitelman
Program length: 1:17:01
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The Architectural Deep Dive
AMD officially unveiled their brand new Bobcat architecture to the world at CES 2011. This was a very important release for AMD in the low power market. Even though Netbooks were a dying breed at that time, AMD experienced a good uptick in sales due to the good combination of price, performance, and power consumption for the new Brazos platform. AMD was of the opinion that a single CPU design would not be able to span the power consumption spectrum of CPUs at the time, and so Bobcat was designed to fill that space which existed from 1 watt to 25 watts. Bobcat never was able to get down to that 1 watt point, but the Z-60 was a 4.5 watt part with two cores and the full 80 Radeon cores.
The Bobcat architecture was produced on TSMC’s 40 nm process. AMD eschewed the upcoming 32 nm HKMG/SOI process that was being utilized for the upcoming Llano and Bulldozer parts. In hindsight, this was a good idea. Yields took a while to improve on GLOBALFOUNDRIES new process, while the existing 40 nm product from TSMC was running at full speed. AMD was able to provide the market in fairly short order with good quantities of Bobcat based APUs. The product more than paid for itself, and while not exactly a runaway success that garnered many points of marketshare from Intel, it helped to provide AMD with some stability in the market. Furthermore, it provided a very good foundation for AMD when it comes to low power parts that are feature rich and offer competitive performance.
The original Brazos update did not happen, instead AMD introduced Brazos 2.0 which was a more process improvement oriented product which featured slightly higher speeds but remained in the same TDP range. The uptake of this product was limited, and obviously it was a minor refresh to buoy purchases of the aging product. Competition was coming from low power Ivy Bridge based chips, as well as AMD’s new Trinity products which could reach TDPs of 17 watts. Brazos and Brazos 2.0 did find a home in low powered, but full sized notebooks that were very inexpensive. Even heavily leaning Intel based manufacturers like Toshiba released Brazos based products in the sub-$500 market. The combination of good CPU performance and above average GPU performance made this a strong product in this particular market. It was so power efficient, small batteries were typically needed, thereby further lowering the cost.
All things must pass, and Brazos is no exception. Intel has a slew of 22 nm parts that are encroaching on the sub-15 watt territory, ARM partners have quite a few products that are getting pretty decent in terms of overall performance, and the graphics on all of these parts are seeing some significant upgrades. The 40 nm based Bobcat products are no longer competitive with what the market has to offer. So at this time we are finally seeing the first Jaguar based products. Jaguar is not a revolutionary product, but it improves on nearly every aspect of performance and power usage as compared to Bobcat.
Jaguar Hits the Embedded Space
It has long been known that AMD has simply not had a lot of luck going head to head against Intel in the processor market. Some years back they worked on differentiating themselves, and in so doing have been able to stay afloat through hard times. The acquisitions that AMD has made in the past decade are starting to make a difference in the company, especially now that the PC market that they have relied upon for revenue and growth opportunities is suddenly contracting. This of course puts a cramp in AMD’s style, but with better than expected results in their previous quarter, things are not nearly as dim as some would expect.
Q1 was still pretty harsh for AMD, but they maintained their marketshare in both processors and graphics chips. One area that looks to get a boost is that of embedded processors. AMD has offered embedded processors for some time, but with the way the market is heading they look to really ramp up their offerings to fit in a variety of applications and SKUs. The last generation of G-series processors were based upon the Bobcat/Brazos platform. This two chip design (APU and media hub) came in a variety of wattages with good performance from both the CPU and GPU portion. While the setup looked pretty good on paper, it was not widely implemented because of the added complexity of a two chip design plus thermal concerns vs. performance.
AMD looks to address these problems with one of their first, true SOC designs. The latest G-series SOC’s are based upon the brand new Jaguar core from AMD. Jaguar is the successor to the successful Bobcat core which is a low power, dual core processor with integrated DX11/VLIW5 based graphics. Jaguar improves performance vs. Bobcat in CPU operations between 6% to 13% when clocked identically, but because it is manufactured on a smaller process node it is able to do so without using as much power. Jaguar can come in both dual core and quad core packages. The graphics portion is based on the latest GCN architecture.
AMD Gives a Glimpse of the Near Future
AMD has released an updated roadmap for these next two years, and the information contained within is quite revealing of where AMD is going and how they are shifting their lineup to be less dependent on a single manufacturer. The Financial Analyst Day has brought a few surprises of where AMD is headed, and how they will get there. Rory Read and Mark Papermaster have brought a new level of energy to the company that seemingly has been either absent or muted. Sometimes a new set of eyes on a problem, or in this case the attitudes and culture of a company, can bring about significant changes for the positive. From what we have seen so far from Rory and company is a new energy and direction for AMD. While AMD is still sticking to their roots, they are looking to further expand upon their expertise in some areas, all the while being flexible enough to license products from other companies that are far enough away from AMD's core competence that it pays to license rather than force engineers to re-invent the wheel.
The roadmaps cover graphics, desktop, mobile, and server products through 2013.
This first slide is a snapshot of the current and upcoming APU lineup. Southern Islands is the codename for the recently released HD 7000 series of desktop parts. This will cover products from the 7700 level on up to the top end 7990. Of great interest are the Brazos 2.0 and Hondo chips. AMD had cancelled the "Krishna" series of chips which would have been based on Bobcat cores up to 4 on 28 nm. Details are still pending, but it seems Brazos 2.0 will still be 40 nm parts but much more refined so they can be clocked higher and still pull less power. Hondo looks to be the basic Brazos core, but for Ultra Low Power (lower clocks, possibly disabled units, etc.) which would presumably scale to 5 watts and possibly lower.
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