AMD Refreshes the A-Series APUs for the New Year
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.
We now fast forward some months and we finally have started to see a good amount of product on the shelf in both the desktop and notebook categories. The low end netbook and notebooks were well represented by the Bobcat based E-series of processors, so AMD has been able to keep hold of those markets. AMD is finally growing some marketshare in the full sized notebook sector due to the greater availability of processors. Major brands have all adopted the A-series in multiple SKUs, and due to the greater compatibility and increased graphics performance of the AMD part, Intel did not have as an attractive part as they previously did.
Throughout the past months, AMD and GLOBALFOUNDRIES have worked together to try to solve the yield issues that have seemingly plagued the A-series of processors. While no major breakthroughs have been announced, we have seen the steady increase in availability and speed bins of these processors.
With improvements with the design and process technology, AMD is now able to offer more parts at standard TDPs with higher base and turbo frequencies. The top end A8-3550 MX now sports 4 cores running at 2.0 GHz base clock and 2.7 GHz turbo mode, all with a 45 watt TDP. This is quite a bit better than the original A8 mobile processors that we first saw in late spring of this past year. Several SKUs now support a maximum memory speed of DDR-3 1600, which will help in general CPU and GPU performance.
This should allow manufacturers a greater selection of parts to choose from to fit different categories of price, performance, and power consumption. The 35 watt parts will obviously run more efficiently, and the differing configurations of core count and shader units will have a direct effect on price and battery life.
Desktop and K Series
AMD is now releasing a K series of unlocked parts of their own with the A8-3870K and the A6-3670K. These are completely unlocked so both the CPU and GPU can be overclocked at will. The top end part will also see its CPU clockspeed increased 100 MHz as compared to the earlier high end A8-3850, but the graphics clock remains the same. The A6-3670K is still a quad core part, but the shader count for the graphics has been decreased to 320 units as compared to the fully functional 400 unit GPU.
AMD is also releasing new SKUs that are still locked, but provide a richer balance of TDP and performance across the price range these products are aimed at. These new parts have a slightly more aggressive turbo core setting, but it certainly is not amazing.
The new K series chips should be able to reach 500 MHz and above when overclocked, and I would expect the 3 GHz part to be able to get to 3.8 GHz without significant trouble. Do not expect 4 GHz overclocks though, as the process technology is aimed more towards power consumption and low leakage as compared to faster switching performance. The GPUs on these parts can be pushed up another 200 MHz which makes them a pretty good match to lower end discrete cards currently on the market.
None of these parts are going to blow away the competition, nor do they bring any massive technology leap to the table. This move is done to more adequately reflect the quality of parts coming off of the line from Dresden and GLOBALFOUNDRIES, and they help to keep AMD relevant against the juggernaut that is Intel and their Sandy Bridge line of chips.
The mobile parts arguably needed an update far more than the desktop portion. Now that AMD is finally able to deliver enough product to meet demand, they are hoping to gain a bit more marketshare from their rival. Unfortunately, they are introducing these parts at the very tail end of the Holiday Season. We also hear rumors of the next big product launch coming sometime after CES with the Trinity APU. These are rumors only, and since CES is only a few weeks away, I would not expect to see the Piledriver based Trinity core on the market within the next month. Still, it looks like the current A-series could be a relatively short lived product when faced with the easier to manufacture Trinity processor.
For the desktop I am doing a bit of head scratching. While offering an enthusiast part is a nice idea, the market they are aiming at seems a bit backward. The Black Series of processors on AM3+ are much more suited to both the midrange and budget enthusiast than the K parts on FM1. There will be people who will buy these parts and mildly overclock them for their parents and friends who do not require heavy duty CPUs that are overclocked and watercooled. As an “all-in-one” solution, AMD does deliver a nice level of performance at base clocks, and a tangible improvement when even mildly overclocked. Still, it is an interesting experiment to see what people are willing to buy.
AMD needed a refresh, and they got one. It may be a few days later than they wanted, but they are getting product out the door. Everyone needs AMD to keep competitive, otherwise we would see the x86 market stagnate.