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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  • xenol - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    TDP doesn't equal power consumption. It equals how much heat a cooling unit must dissipate for safe thermal levels of operation. While there is some correlation, as more TDP generally means higher power consumption, it's not a direct one.
  • Galatian - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    I think it actually pretty much does equal top power draw, since energy in pretty much equals heat out. But do correct me if I don't understand the physics correctly. To me it simply seems like no work being done.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    TDP means the maximum power that needs to be dissipated, but most CPUs/APUs are not going to be pushing max TDP all the time. My experience is that in CPU loads, Intel tends to be close to max TDP while AMD APUs often come in a bit lower, as the GPU has a lot of latent performance/power not being used. However, with AMD apparently focusing more on hitting higher Turbo Core clocks, that may no longer be the case -- at least on the 19W parts. Overall, for most users there won't be a sizable difference between a 15W Intel ULV and a 19W AMD ULV APU, particularly when we're discussing battery life. Neither part is likely to be anywhere near max TDP when unplugged (unless you're specifically trying to drain the battery as fast as possible -- or just running a 3D game I suppose).
  • Galatian - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    Yes, which is why I said it equal top power draw ;-)
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    Yeah, my response was to this thread in general, not you specifically. :-)
  • nevertell - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    It's amazing that we live in a world where information is accessible on a whim to most people living in the western world, yet even on a website that caters to more educated people (or so I would think), people have problems understanding even the simplest concepts that enable them to expose themselves to this medium. Energy is never lost, it's just used up in different ways. Essentially if we had access to a superconductive material to replace lines and a really efficient transistor, we would have a SoC that's TDP is zero watts. Say, a chip does not move a thing, there is no mechanical energy involved, all of the energy is wasted as heat. Why ? Electricity at it's core is flow of charged particles through a medium. If this medium is copper and the particles are electrons, the only thing standing in the way of the electrons flowing are the copper atoms. The electrons will occasionally bump into the atoms, exchanging kinetic energy, making the atom in question move. As the atoms move faster (i.e. their kinetic energy increases), collisions become more likely to occur, and so they do. In other words, the conductors resistance increases. What scale do we use to measure the movement of atoms ? Temperature! Heat is literally the average amount of kinetic energy of every atom of piece of thing has. Thereby all of the energy that is used to power electronics just goes to waste. Kind of.
  • ol1bit - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    Unless you live in a cold climate, then you get to use part of the energy as Heat! :-)
  • Galatian - Thursday, June 5, 2014 - link

    I'm not sure who you are responding too. Nobody said energy is lost. The discussion was first about AMD TDP not being the same as Intel TDP and ten switched over to a discussion of TDP not actually meaning power draw, which by itself is true, but there obviously is a correlation which a several posters (yourself included with a more physical explanation) talked about .
  • johnny_boy - Saturday, June 7, 2014 - link

    Compare performance per watt in gaming and Intel stops looking impressive. If you're buying a notebook with the FX chip then that should be what you care about.
  • bji - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

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

    So the performance is decent for the price, as gdansk correctly pointed out. It is not decent for the TDP, at least not compared to Intel's chips, which is what you are focusing on, and is not the metric that most people use when comparing processors.

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