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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  • rhx123 - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    I am really confused about the Acer, as according to Ark, the 4500U has no PCIE 16x lane output, how is the 750M attached?
  • TheinsanegamerN - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    It has a single x4 link and dual x2 ink. the 750m would be connected by the x4 link.
  • coburn_c - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    The GPU isn't good enough to game with and the CPU isn't good enough to do anything else with. You'll get half the battery life of the competition and it will get twice as hot. Abject failure.
  • frozentundra123456 - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    Yes, you hit on the crux of the matter. Problem is still that of all APUs, the igp performance is still in limbo: almost there but not quite for gaming, while cpu performance and power consumption trail intel badly. Looking at the gaming tests, looks like one will be limited to 768p, and even then COH (admittedly terribly optimized) is not playable, and we have no tests for demanding games like Watchdogs, Metro LL, or Crysis 3. So one will be stuck with either a crappy 768p screen or playing at non-native resolution for a lot of games. Not to mention, this mobile chip should have come out first instead of being so close to the broadwell mobile launch.
  • silverblue - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    You say "cpu performance and power consumption trail intel badly". There's no real data on the latter apart from TDP values (which, in themselves, aren't an accurate indicator), and the FX-7600P is certainly no slouch when viewing the CPU benchmarks in this preview. Let's not forget that large portion of the die dedicated to the GPU, either - just because it's there, doesn't mean it's being used. Toms had the FX-7600P doing well at GPGPU (it should) and PCMark, less well at physics scores in 3DMark (the competition was a high-end i7) and even worse in Sandra, but we know that doesn't always mean everything; after all, the Core 2 had low memory bandwidth due to having no IMC but was still easily the match of the Phenom II series.

    This is a preview, so quite why people are expecting numerous tests on 2013/14 titles from a very brief testing period is beyond me. Patience, grasshopper!
  • Novaguy - Thursday, June 5, 2014 - link

    But I suspect you can hit 1080p with an awful lot of 2007~2012 games, making kaveri mobile + 1080p a great humble bundle mobile gaming solution. Now, if they combined it with freesync, you could get away with lower frame rates and play even more recent games.
  • The_Assimilator - Thursday, June 5, 2014 - link

    The use case for a laptop is simple: you don't require graphics horsepower the majority of the time. Hence it makes more sense to use a CPU that uses less power (and performs better), and pair it with a discrete GPU that won't be drawing any power most of the time. Intel understands this and it's why they make money.

    AMD on the other hand, have dreamed up a mythical future reality where everyone who buys a laptop expects it to deliver decent GPU performance. But very few people buy laptops to play games on, they buy laptops to be productive while mobile - and faster CPU that use less battery power are always going to win out.
  • nemi2 - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    It's becoming more of a glaring omission as time progresses that AMD doesn't have a SSD caching option in their SATA BIOS/drivers. AMD is targeting the cheaper end of notebooks so I agree with the author: a pure SSD storage solution will not make the BOM, and because there is no AMD SSD caching solution a 8,16,32GD SSD cache can't make the BOM either - discrete chece is not supported and a hybrid HD unfortunately also seem to also command a $ premium and don't have as good integration with windows.
    Makes me wonder what the state of USB "ready boost" is with Windows these days?, things are very quiet on the that front. Also where is a cheap / free 3rd party utility to provide SSD/ NVM caching, do AMD laptop vendors have any budget / driver solution?
  • lmcd - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    The SSD caching probably explains it -- thanks for posting (not an obvious conclusion to reach!)
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    SSD caches are really only good for two things:

    1) Inflate certain benchmark scores (PCMark being a major one).
    2) Help laptop boot/resume faster.

    Seriously, most other tasks that hit the storage hard -- installing an application, loading a bunch of apps at once, opening a browser with 30 active tabs -- are all only slightly faster than an HDD with SSD caching, where a pure SSD is substantially faster. The best SSD caching solution right now comes from Apple, and it's only good because it's 64GB or more; 24/32GB SSD caches just don't cut it in my experience.

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