AMD Makes some Lemonade...
I guess we could say that AMD has been rather busy lately. It seems that a significant amount of the content on PC Perspective this month revolved around the AMD AM1 platform. Before that we had the Kaveri products and the R7 265. AMD also reported some fairly solid growth over the past year with their graphics and APU lines. Things are not as grim and dire as they once were for the company. This is good news for consumers as they will continue to be offered competing solutions that will vie for that hard earned dollar.
AMD is continuing their releases for 2014 with the announcement of their latest low-power and mainstream mobile APUs. These are codenamed “Beema” and “Mullins”, but they are based on the year old Kabini chip. This may cause a few people to roll their eyes as AMD has had some fairly unimpressive refreshes in the past. We saw the rather meager increases in clockspeed and power consumption with Brazos 2.0 a couple of years back, and it looked like this would be the case again for Beema and Mullins.
I was again expecting said meager improvements in power consumption and clockspeeds that we had received all those years ago with Brazos 2.0. Turns out I was wrong. This is a fairly major refresh which does a few things that I did not think were entirely possible, and I’m a rather optimistic person. So why is this release surprising? Let us take a good look under the hood.
Maxwell and Kepler and...Fermi?
Covering the landscape of mobile GPUs can be a harrowing experience. Brands, specifications, performance, features and architectures can all vary from product to product, even inside the same family. Rebranding is rampant from both AMD and NVIDIA and, in general, we are met with one of the most confusing segments of the PC hardware market.
Today, with the release of the GeForce GTX 800M series from NVIDIA, we are getting all of the above in one form or another. We will also see performance improvements and the introduction of the new Maxwell architecture (in a few parts at least). Along with the GeForce GTX 800M parts, you will also find the GeForce 840M, 830M and 820M offerings at lower performance, wattage and price levels.
With some new hardware comes a collection of new software for mobile users, including the innovative Battery Boost that can increase unplugged gaming time by using frame rate limiting and other "magic" bits that NVIDIA isn't talking about yet. ShadowPlay and GameStream also find their way to mobile GeForce users as well.
Let's take a quick look at the new hardware specifications.
|GTX 880M||GTX 780M||GTX 870M||GTX 770M|
|GPU Code name||Kepler||Kepler||Kepler||Kepler|
|Rated Clock||954 MHz||823 MHz||941 MHz||811 MHz|
|Memory||Up to 4GB||Up to 4GB||Up to 3GB||Up to 3GB|
|Memory Clock||5000 MHz||5000 MHz||5000 MHz||4000 MHz|
Both the GTX 880M and the GTX 870M are based on Kepler, keeping the same basic feature set and hardware specifications of their brethren in the GTX 700M line. However, while the GTX 880M has the same CUDA core count as the 780M, the same cannot be said of the GTX 870M. Moving from the GTX 770M to the 870M sees a significant 40% increase in core count as well as a jump in clock speed from 811 MHz (plus Boost) to 941 MHz.
Introduction and Design
Contortionist PCs are a big deal these days as convertible models take the stage to help bridge the gap between notebook and tablet. But not everyone wants to drop a grand on a convertible, and not everyone wants a 12-inch notebook, either. Meanwhile, these same people may not wish to blow their cash on an underpowered (and far less capable) Chromebook or tablet. It’s for these folks that Lenovo has introduced the IdeaPad Flex 14 Ultrabook, which occupies a valuable middle ground between the extremes.
The Flex 14 looks an awful lot like a Yoga at first glance, with the same sort of acrobatic design and a thoroughly IdeaPad styling (Lenovo calls it a “dual-mode notebook”). The specs are also similar to that of the x86 Yoga, though with the larger size (and later launch), the Flex also manages to assemble a slightly more powerful configuration:
The biggest internal differences here are the i5-4200U CPU, which is a 1.6 GHz Haswell model with a TDP of 15 W and the ability to Turbo Boost (versus the Yoga 11S’ i5-3339Y, which is Ivy Bridge with a marginally lower TDP of 13 W and no Turbo Boost), the integrated graphics improvements that follow with the newer CPU, and a few more ports made possible by the larger chassis. Well, and the regression to a TN panel from the Yoga 11S’ much-appreciated IPS display, which is a bummer. Externally, your wallet will also appreciate a $250 drop in price: our model, as configured here, retails for just $749 (versus the $999 Yoga 11S we reviewed a few months back).
You can actually score a Flex 14 for as low as $429 (as of this writing), by the way, but if you’re after any sort of respectable configuration, that price quickly climbs above the $500 mark. Ours is the least expensive option currently available with both a solid-state drive and an i5 CPU.
Subject: Processors | November 13, 2013 - 10:35 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.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | July 24, 2013 - 09:15 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Siggraph, kepler, mobile, tegra, nvidia, unreal engine 4
SIGGRAPH 2013 is wrapping up in the next couple of days but, now that NVIDIA removed the veil surrounding Mobile Kepler, people are chatting about what is to follow Tegra 4. Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games, contributed to NVIDIA Blogs the number of ways that certain attendees can experience Unreal Engine 4 at the show. As it turns out, NVIDIA engineers have displayed the engine both on Mobile Kepler as well as behind closed doors on desktop PCs.
Not from SIGGRAPH, this is a leak from, I believe, GTC late last March.
Also, this is Battlefield 3, not Unreal Engine 4.
Tim, obviously taking the developer standpoint, is very excited about OpenGL 4.3 support within the mobile GPU. In all, he did not say too much of note. They are targeting Unreal Engine 4 at a broad range of platforms: mobile, desktop, console, and, while absent from this editorial, web standards. Each of these platforms are settling on the same set of features, albeit with huge gaps in performance, allowing developers to focus on a scale of performance instead of a flowchart of capabilities.
Unfortunately for us, there have yet to be leaks from the trade show. We will keep you up-to-date if we find any, however.
Subject: General Tech | June 5, 2013 - 06:48 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: computex, notepal u2 plus, mobile, laptop cooler, laptop, cooler master, computex 2013
Cooler Master has released a new notebook cooler called the NotePal U2 Plus that is the latest model in the NotePal U-series. This cooler supports up to 17" laptops and allows you to move the two included fans for optimal cooling (ie, actually put the fans over the vents).
Other features of the NotePal U2 Plus include raised feet that lift up your laptop at a slight angle to make long typing or gaming sessions more comfortable, according to Cooler Master. The cooler feet also aid in cable management by allowing you to loop your long cords around the included hooks. Finally, the NotePal U2 Plus can attach to your laptop and be carried with along using an elastic strap and the cooler feet to hold your notebook in place.
The new Cooler Master notebook cooler is available now with an MSRP of $29.99.
A Reference Platform - But not a great one
Believe it or not, AMD claims that the Brazos platform, along with the "Brazos 2.0" update the following year, were the company's most successful mobile platforms in terms of sales and design wins. When it first took the scene in late 2010, it was going head to head against the likes of Intel's Atom processor and the combination of Atom + NVIDIA ION and winning. It was sold in mini-ITX motherboard form factors as well as small clamshell notebooks (gasp, dare we say...NETBOOKS?) and though it might not have gotten the universal attention it deserved, it was a great part.
With Kabini (and Temash as well), AMD is making another attempt to pull in some marketshare in the low power, low cost mobile markets. I have already gone over the details of the mobile platforms that AMD is calling Elite Mobility (Temash) and Mainstream (Kabini) in a previous article that launched today.
This article will quickly focus on the real-world performance of the Kabini platform as demonstrated by a reference laptop I received while visiting AMD in Toronto a few weeks ago. While this design isn't going to be available in retail (and I am somewhat thankful based on the build quality) the key is to look at the performance and power efficiency of the platform itself, not the specific implementation.
Kabini Architecture Overview
The building blocks of Kabini are four Jaguar x86 cores and 128 Radeon cores colleted in a pair of Compute Units - similar in many ways to the CUs found in the Radeon HD 7000 series discrete GPUs. Josh has written a very good article that focuses on the completely new architecture that is Jaguar and compared it to other processors including AMD's previous core used in Brazos, the Bobcat core.
British chip design company ARM recently released an unaudited financial report with details on its Q1 2013 performance. The mobile SoC giant announced that it saw 2.6 million ARM chips in the first quarter of this year, a 35% improvement over last year and further evidence that ARM still dominates the low-power mobile market.
In fact, the chip designer made $94.9 million in licensing all those ARM chips, which was a big chunk of the company’s total Q1 2013 revenue of $263.9 million. Revenue was up by 26% versus the first quarter of the previous year (Q1 2012), which was only $209.4 million. Further, ARM’s profit (pre-tax) is 89.4 million pounds or approximately $137 million USD.
ARM saw revenue from both licensing and royalties increase year over year (YoY) by 24% and 33% which indicates that more companies are jumping into the mobile and embedded markets with ARM chips or licenses to make custom designs of their own. According to the report, the company sold five-times more Mali GPUs, saw a 50% increase in ARM-powered embedded devices, and noticed a 25% increase in ARM mobile devices year over year respectively. ARM has also started moving ARMv8 (64-bit ARM) licenses. Of the total 22 licenses in Q1 2013, 7 of the licenses were for ARM’s Cortex-A50 series processors along with a single ARMv8 license (a total of 9 to date). In Q1 2013, ARM also sold three Mali GPU licenses, and one of those was for the company’s high-end Skymir GPU.
In all, ARM had a good first quarter and is showing signs of increased growth. With ARMv8 on the horizon, I am interested to see the company’s numbers next year and how they compare year over year as ARM attempts to take over the server room in particular. The profits and revenue are modest in comparison to X86 giant Intel's Q1 2013 results, but are not bad at all for a company that doesn’t produce chips itself!
Subject: General Tech | April 3, 2013 - 05:43 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: wireless display, Raspberry Pi, paperwhite, mobile, kindle, e-ink
The Raspberry Pi makes for a cheap and low power media PC, file server, or desktop but the lack of a display means that it is not very portable. Recently a hack was posted online by Max Ogden that enables the Rasbperry Pi to be used on the go by pairing it with an Amazon Kindle and its e-ink display. His wireless display setup was actually based on a previous hack that allowed the Pi to be paired with the 3rd-generation Kindle. Ogden's hack takes things a step further by supporting the latest Paperwhite versions as well as no longer requirig a wired connnection between the display and the Raspberry Pi.
By loading the Raspberry Pi with Raspian Linux and adding a terminal emulator to the Kindle, the Kindle connects to the Pi over an SSH session where the Pi console and any keyboard input can be seen on the Kindle's e-ink display. The hardware needed to make the setup work includes a Wi-Fi hotspot, a Wi-Fi USB NIC, The Raspberry Pi, a supported Kindle, and a battery pack with enough juice to power everything. A wired or wireless keyboard and Wi-Fi dongle can be added to the Raspberry Pi Model B, bu Model A users will need to add a USB hub as the $25 model only supports a single USB port on the device itself.
Max Ogden shows off his new portable battery-powered Raspberry Pi with wireless e-ink display.
There are some limitations to this setup. One is a bit of latency between typing and seeing the characters appear on the screen due to the low refresh rate inherent in e-ink displays and the wireless connection. Ogden estimates that this delay is around 200ms, and is noticeably but bearable while typing. The other major limitation is that the display can currently only be used to display the Pi console, and not the GUI of Raspian. For writing code or articles, you could get by with a command-line text editor like nano or vi--at the very least it would be a distraction-free writing environment as you could not procrastinate and browse Reddit or watch videos even if you wanted to (heh).
If you are interested in setting up your own wireless Raspberry Pi display, you should check out Ogdens blog for a list of recommended hardware as well as Rod Vagg's tutorial on configuring the Kindle Paperwhite with the correct software.
This is one of the more-useful Raspberry Pi hacks that I've seen so far. Hopefully, a future hack will come along that will also allow one of these e-ink devices to display the GUI desktop environment and not just the terminal.
Subject: Processors | April 3, 2013 - 12:35 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: mobile, Lenovo, electrical engineering, chip design, arm
According to a recent article in the EE Times, Beijing-based PC OEM Lenovo many be entering the mobile chip design business. An anonymous source allegedly familiar with the matter has indicated that Lenovo will be expanding its Integrated Circuits design team to 100 engineers by the second-half of this year. Further, Lenovo will reportedly task the newly-expanded team with designing an ARM processor of its own to join the ranks of Apple, Intel, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Huawei, Samsung, and others.
It is unclear whether Lenovo simply intends to license an existing ARM core and graphics module or if the design team expansion is merely the begining of a growing division that will design a custom chip for its smartphones and Chromebooks to truly differentiate itself and take advantage of vertical integration.
Junko Yoshida of the EE Times article notes that Lenovo was turned away by Samsung when it attempted to use the company's latest Exynos Octa processor. I think that might contribute to the desire to have its own chip design team, but it may also be that the company believes it can compete in a serious way and set its lineup of smartphones apart from the crowd (as Apple has managed to do) as it pursues further Chinese market share and slowly moves its phones into the United States market.
Details are scarce, but it is at least an intriguing protential future for the company. It will be interesting to see if Lenovo is able to make it work in this extremely-competitive and expensive area.
Do you think Lenovo has what it takes to design its own mobile chip? Is it a good idea?