Initial Thoughts

I really wish Kaveri could have launched on laptops earlier in the year. While Trinity was a decent solution, Richland didn't really offer much in the way of real improvements, and then seeing Kaveri on desktops first and laptops second was more than a little disappointing. The good news is that Kaveri laptops should start shipping in the near future, and overall they offer a good blend of performance and features that should help AMD be more competitive in the growing world of laptop computing.

Our initial performance results look about right, perhaps even a little lower than we'll see from final shipping hardware. There's also plenty of potential for improved performance as more applications start to leverage OpenCL, but AMD has been beating that drum for a while and it's been a relatively slow process. Yes, there are applications that can perform much faster with an APU than with an Intel CPU, but we still need more. It's fine to talk about HSA and Compute Cores, but until they make a tangible difference in every day applications they're mostly talking points. For people that truly need compute performance, I suspect they're looking at much higher performance parts than an APU.

One interesting example AMD discussed was using an optimized JPEG decoder to process images and generate thumbnails in a Windows folder. This is actually something I can see as being useful to a lot of people, and AMD was able to speed up the process by 80% compared to an Intel laptop running the stock Windows JPEG decoder. However, it's not clear how much of that performance increase is AMD being faster than Intel as opposed to the default Windows JPEG decoder simply being slow.

Kaveri's Die Up Close

There are some notable omissions in our performance data right now as well. We were only able to test the highest performance Kaveri laptop APU, the FX-7600P, and even that was essentially in "beta" form. I think the 19W FX-7500 will be potentially more interesting, and if AMD is really able to hit close to max turbo speeds most of the time it could prove a potent alternative to Intel's 15W ULV processors. Something else I'm very interested in seeing is what sort of battery life AMD is able to coax out of these APUs, as Llano and Trinity both did quite well – or at least, they did well when the laptop OEM took time to get things right. And that is perhaps the biggest obstacle AMD faces right now: getting their APUs into laptops that don't cut corners in all the wrong places.

As I noted earlier, storage performance (i.e. having a pure SSD solution for the OS and primary applications) is now far more critical for most use cases than the choice of CPU. However, we can't even get $1000+ laptops to universally switch to SSDs, and it's going to be a long row to hoe getting anything priced under $800 to include one. You can just picture the bean counters: "Why are we using a $100 SSD that only holds 256GB instead of a $50 HDD that holds 1TB!? That's a terrible component choice!" On a similar note, getting a laptop with a good keyboard, trackpad, and screen is more difficult than it needs to be even on midrange laptops, and I've seen many an AMD-equipped laptop fall flat on its face thanks to penny pinching and cut corners in these areas. Finally, it's important to note that all batteries are not created equal; while it would be nice if a 56Wh battery was always a 56Wh battery, I know from experience that there's still a wide range of quality, including the ability to store a charge for more than a few weeks without going dead.

But these things cost money, and when you're saving $50-$100 by using an AMD APU instead of an Intel CPU, the mindset often becomes, "Where else can we save money?" The result is a race to the bottom, and if laptop OEMs aren't careful they'll lose more and more market share to alternative devices. (There's a thought: someone make a Kaveri-based Chromebook. That could be interesting!)

Bottom line: AMD's Kaveri APUs show plenty of promise. Now I want someone to build a nice AMD-equipped laptop for under $800 (with or without a ULV APU). Take the core elements of a good Ultrabook, swap out the Intel CPU/platform for an AMD Kaveri APU/platform, and keep the SSD, form factor, and screen. If one of the major OEMs can deliver that sort of product at a lower price than the Intel equivalent, it would be an easy recommendation.

AMD Kaveri FX-7600P GPU Performance Preview
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  • kirilmatt - Friday, June 6, 2014 - link

    These chips are an amazing step for AMD. They have moved from i3-level CPU performance up to i5 level in some cases. People seem to neglect the potential of dual graphics in these laptops. With a GCN GPU, big gains could be seen. There would be less energy usage for more performance in games. The 19W FX looks like the best chip that they offer. AMDs previous ULV offerings have been dead awful. The OEMs are sure to ruin it though by putting them in inferior hardware.
  • MLSCrow - Friday, June 6, 2014 - link

    Just think about this...considering that Kaveri is actually a pretty decent APU, especially for the mobile market, just imaging what Carrizo is going to be like. I honestly believe that Carrizo will be the first APU that will actually be considerable in terms of an enthusiast gaming laptop/ultrabook. When AMD moves to 20nm, we will finally have HD7870 performance in an iGPU and that is when APU's will completely take over the market as that puts out acceptable performance even for a hardcore gamers.

    Add to that an all new x86 core built from the ground up by Jim Keller, mixed with a 16nm process by the time it comes out...and hell, we may even get what all AMD fans are dreaming of right now, an 8 or 16 core APU with the iGPU performance equivalent of an HD7970 or perhaps even R9-290x.
  • johnny_boy - Saturday, June 7, 2014 - link

    The 19W FX part is nice. These make great chips for linux laptops since you get good gpu performance without having to deal with dual graphics and graphics switching, a horrendous affair on linux (though improving). If they put this in a moderately well-built machine in the $600-800...
  • UtilityMax - Sunday, June 8, 2014 - link

    The tests are kind of meaningless. As others pointed out, AT compares AMD's 35W TDP part with Intel's 18W TDP designs. Moreover, those lower power Intel CPUs are dual core while the Kaveri A10s are quad core. Bring Intel's mobile quad core i7 or at least a 35W Core i5 (dual core) part, and there'd be no comparison. AMD would be far behind in any bench that doesn't use GPU.
  • Andrew H - Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - link

    After reading, I was a bit disappointed that that didn't have the socket type. After doing some digging, those of us currently using the 5750M (Socket FS1r2) will NOT be able to swap in the new FX-7600P (Socket BGA/FP3).

    Shame, guess I'll have to wait for MSI to get on the bandwagon and I can order a motherboard/cpu combo that fits in their universal 17" chassis.


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