Introducing AMD's Mobile Kaveri APUs

A couple weeks back, AMD flew us out to San Francisco for a briefing on their upcoming Mobile Kaveri APUs. Along with the briefing, we were given some time to run benchmarks on a prototype Kaveri laptop, though I'll note up front that the laptop isn't intended for retail and is merely a demonstration of performance potential. A funny thing happened about a week after the briefing, which some of you likely saw: AMD's web team accidentally posted all of the specs for the upcoming mobile Kaveri APUs ahead of schedule (for about half a day). We removed our coverage of the Mobile Kaveri APUs when AMD corrected the error, but we might as well jump right into things with the overview of the new mobile APUs.

Kaveri is AMD’s latest generation high-performance APU, and appeared first released on the desktop back in January of this year. We were a bit surprised – perhaps even perplexed – about the desktop first launch, considering AMD's "we're not going after the highest performance CPU market" stance. Then again, AMD-equipped laptops haven't been as strong as Intel-equipped laptops – not that the APUs aren't fast enough, but getting OEM partners to make a compelling AMD laptop seems rather difficult. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." AMD has provided a compelling APU and platform solution for a couple years, but the perception is that AMD platforms are budget platforms, so basically almost every corner gets cut. I'll have more to say on that later, but it's still a major concern in my book. Regardless, since the desktop Kaveri launch we have been eagerly awaiting the release of the mobile incarnation.

The launch has been scheduled for H1 2014 for some time now, and with AMD able to offer significant GPU performance with their APUs coupled with the space benefits of an integrated GPU versus a discrete GPU, it should be an easy sell. Mobile of course is not without its challenges. Power use is paramount, and while AMD has always been able to meet the desired TDPs, there is often the matter of performance tradeoffs required to hit those TDPs. Mobile is also a highly contested market right now; Intel of course has their Bay Trail and Haswell parts, but we're now seeing tablets and ARM-based Chromebooks pushing into AMD territory.

Despite the somewhat questionable decision to launch first on desktop – particularly odd given both Llano and Trinity launched more or less simultaneously on laptops and desktops – it's now time to pull the wrappings off Kaveri for the second time and see what AMD has created. We're now almost exactly a year after the launch of mobile Richland, which was really just a minor tweak of Trinity that launched about two years back. This is the first major architectural upgrade for AMD laptop APUs in two years, and expectations and hopes are high.

Kaveri brings a number of improvements, including the higher performance Steamroller based CPU cores and modern GCN based GPUs. We've previously covered this material, so rather than rehash things on the mobile side I'll simply refer back to the desktop Kaveri launch information. (You can also view the full presentation deck in the above gallery if you're interested.) AMD's Kaveri will be going up against Intel’s existing Haswell products, and this is AMD’s best chance to claw back market share from the Haswell family. Of course AMD has other APUs as well – specifically, Beema/Mullins will target the ultra-low power and tablet markets – but those compete in an even lower price bracket and go up against Intel's Bay Trail offerings. For now, let's start with an overview of the new Mobile Kaveri APUs.

AMD Mobile Kaveri SKUs
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  • Gigaplex - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    "The comparison is for CPUs in the same price range, not CPUs in the same TDP range, obviously."

    For a mobile platform? I couldn't disagree more. Power consumption directly affects battery life, and you either need to spend more on the battery (negating cost savings) or just live with less runtime.
  • The_Countess - Sunday, June 15, 2014 - link

    you can buy a LOT of extra battery capacity for the premium intel charges for its ULV CPU's. (a whole laptop battery replacement can be had for as little as 50 euro's.)

    furthermore most of the time, and most of the power, will be spent on idle, which is completely separate from the TDP. and again TDP is not power draw. the 2 don't even have to be related. a TDP is quit often set for a whole RANGE of CPU's so OEM's can make 1 laptop designed to one TDP and put a whole host of CPU's in it.

    so without some actual power draw tests doing various tasks this speculation is useless.
  • Galatian - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    It's even a bigger joke when they test Intel chips with the worst possible iGPU (HD4400). If you have to use 15W chips vs. a 35W chip in comparison at least take the best of the bunch aka one with a HD5000. Apple offers the MacBook Air for an incredible cheap price, while having a high builds quality. Though for AMD to get into designs like that. When you have a processor that cuts corners, than your entire product has to cut corners IMHO. I mean I can pay 600€ for a cut corner AMD notebook or I can spend 300€ and be a happy camper.

    Also dedicating so much text about why SSD are important doesn't really bode well for the product reviewed here...
  • hamoboy - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    Well, Tom's Hardware takes a 35W Intel chip to compare their Kaveri test system to, and the Kaveri still absolutely smokes the Intel competitor in gaming. What Jarred is getting at in his reviews I think, is that it's no use for AMD to put out 19/17W chips if OEMs aren't going to bother making anything worth a damn with them inside.

    The comment about OEM's hamstringing AMD laptops is quite true, so many AMD laptops come out with single channel RAM and slow mechanical HDDs, but people attribute the low performance to the APU being slow, when for most purposes, any new mainstream chips coming from Intel or AMD are more than enough.
  • Galatian - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    It doesn't "absolutely smoke" the Intel competition:

    1.) DOTA2 is actually faster on the Intel chip
    2.) Frametime variance is better on the Intel chip through out (although admittedly probably moot point, since abysmal FPS anyway)
    3.) It's a HD4600, so still not the better Intel iGPUs
  • Fergy - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    If you take an Intel cpu with HD5000 (that is the one with the expensive L4 cache right?) doesn't that make it really really expensive so totally outside the market where AMD is putting these chips?
    System1: kaveri $500
    System2: intel HD5000 $700
    Consumers compare on price not on performance.
  • Galatian - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    No. The HD5000 is actually what's Inside the MacBook Air for example, so a 15W ULV part. For 35W you have the Iris 5100 (which is still without the "expensive" eDRAM). Only some of the 45W chips have the Iris Pro 5200.

    I only have Apple as a reference but their notebooks are of high quality, don't cut corners and are actually affordable. The MacBook Air starting at 899€ and the 13" rMBP at 1299€. I would argue that an AMD equipped notebook which doesn't cut corners is not going to be much cheaper. In the end the price difference will be a question of weather you want the more powerful Intel chip or not.

    Also I think AMDs claim of OpenCL performance I blown out of proportion. Their advertisement slides when Kaveri lunch actually had faked stats for Intels iGPU OpenCL performance. I did my own tests and received muh higher numbers. You can also check the PCMark and 3DMark websites to see that Intel was and is much better then what AMD wants you to believe. That is not to say that they are not better, I just think it needs to be put into better perspective if you really want to make the trade off (Better GPU for OpenCL but worse CPU)
  • nico_mach - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    Your price comparison is off, though. Apple gets the highest end GPU chips from Intel, and then charges LESS than competitors. That Sony i5 was MORE expensive than the MBA or even the Mac Pro. Apple doesn't make cheap hardware, but they haven't had overpriced hardware in years (or no more than competitors).

    But I agree in principle, it just isn't going to happen for AMD. The HP sleekbook was easily the best looking 'ultrabook' and it was only briefly available (not that it was good, but lots of poor laptops do better). AMD is used by the OEMs only to keep Intel honest - and that's why they launched on desktop first. Intel doesn't really care about desktop, so AMD wisely chose that first, where they can get some enthusiasts as well as a few modest OEM wins.

    I have an AMD chip and it was a good budget choice for a basic PC. But the OEMs are closer to adopting ARM en masse (HP has joined Samsung with ARM chromebooks now) than AMD. I'd like to think HSA might turn it around, but I think at this point Intel's guns are bigger than AMD's and they have more of them. Perhaps Lenovo will keep going vertical and scoop them up to move to China. They already have red logos, after all.
  • hamoboy - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    1) That Dota2 result is so wide it seems like a result of driver non-optimization, than the Intel GPU actually being better.
    2) Like you said, it's a moot point.
    3) The best Intel GPUs are found in chips that are way way out of AMD's price range. A true apples to apples comparison is between affordable midrange chips to affordable midrange chips, and that's what Tom's Hardware did.
  • Galatian - Thursday, June 5, 2014 - link

    I agree on your first two points but beg to differ on the later. Not everybody is shopping with a set amount of money, most usually look what will 100€ more or less get me or what can I get in a given thermal envelope. I would argue for example that the HD5000 will turn out faster in the 19/15 W TDP envelope next to AMDs chips.

    Also I think most people are forgetting that AMD won't be competing with Haswell but with Broadwell which is close to be released.

    Now this is not to say it's a bad chip, I just don't get the hype that's being made. I think the trade off worse CPU for better GPU is not worth it for most customers. HUMA and HSA still has to show how powerful it could be (and I have my doubts if it will ever get widespread attention) and people easily forget that Intel also supports OpenCL, so every software optimized for it will also run faster on Intel hardware.
    In the end AMD chips - in my eyes - still remain the budget choice (if at all) and this is why you probably won't see many non cut corners notebooks.

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