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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  • 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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