The third wave of AMD’s new mobile campaign: Lower power Richland APUs

Yesterday, we took a detailed look at the launch of Kabini and Temash, AMD’s new low power processors, but these new chips, while they’re grabbing much of the limelight, aren’t the only important products AMD announced this week.

The Richland APU series – the tweaked version of Trinity, which first debuted last year – has gotten a set of new, low power parts and a suite of additional features as well. While the mainstream Richland parts were a fairly standard refresh, the new low voltage and ultra-low voltage chips are aimed at the hottest part of the market.

Compared to AMD’s 19 Watt Trinity CPU (the A8-4555M), the new quad-core A8-5545M has a 6 per cent faster base clock (1.7GHz vs. 1.6GHz) and a 12.5 per cent faster boost speed (2.7GHz vs. 2.4GHz). The GPU core is also significantly faster at 450MHz to 554MHz, up from 320 to 424MHz.

Combined, improvements like this should help the low wattage Trinity perform significantly faster when compared to Intel’s HD 4000 graphics. CPU performance comparisons will continue to favour Ivy Bridge (and Haswell), but iterating in the low power space is important for AMD.

Here’s the projected battery usage between Trinity and Richland. Most of the gains are modest, but the 720p video playback improvement is rather surprising and likely comes courtesy of improved clock throttling.

There’s more to this, however, than just low power SKUs. AMD is putting a comprehensive push behind the idea of leveraging other technologies to create different experiences for its hardware. The company has its own wireless display standard (it claims vastly improved latency over Intel WiDi, though we’ve not been able to test this in person), is integrating gesture control in Richland systems, and wants to drive multi-display configurations via the use of an external dock.

The gesture capability apparently runs on the GPU (based on comments made on the Eyefinity website) and while AMD discussed this capability at CES and when it launched Richland, the company is extending these options down to the A10/A8 SKUs in the 17-25 Watt range. While we can’t render judgment without testing the capabilities for ourselves, looking at what AMD has done here, it’s clear that the company is working to create a better class of product.

Meanwhile, in the 35 Watt range, AMD is also talking up the idea of dual graphics for its laptops. That’s a configuration we have previously tested (albeit on the desktop), and we can confirm that in certain circumstances, it can make good sense to leverage the on-board APU with a second GPU. We’ve also seen existing Trinity laptops shipping with this type of configuration, so it’s not just a theoretical.

Against Kabini (and Haswell)

AMD’s low power Richland TDPs aren’t an exact comparison against Kabini – the latter is an SoC, which means it integrates the entire northbridge/southbridge, while Richland is still just the APU. It’s also important to note that Richland is still a 32nm part built at GlobalFoundaries, while Kabini is a 28nm TSMC part.

What AMD did tell us, however, is that it tested total system power consumption on Kabini and Richland using the same workloads. Here’s what those figures look like. Footnotes from the AMD briefing confirm that this is the A4-5000 (quad-core Kabini, 15 Watts) and the A10 (presumably the A10-5745M, at 25 Watts). Because AMD didn’t present this information in the same format, I’ve inserted green boxes around the relevant areas of text above and below.

Here’s what we see: Kabini draws 22 per cent less power at idle, 30 per cent less during web browsing, and 33 per cent less power during 720p video playback. The flipside to this, of course, is that the A10-5745M is substantially faster than the quad-core Kabini at 1.5GHz in both CPU and GPU workloads. This comparison is why I’m uncertain as to the long-term appeal of the 25 Watt quad-core Kabini clocked at 2GHz with a 600MHz GPU – the A10-5745M hits the same TDP but will end up being considerably faster than the new APU.

Haswell is going to continue to outperform AMD’s A-series chips in CPU power. GPU performance is going to be a tough fight, and we don’t want to assume that an AMD advantage at, say, 35 Watts will automatically translate into an advantage at 17 Watts. But Intel has a habit of conserving its margins nicely, and the Haswell mobile parts with the high-end GPU solution are going to be 48 Watt TDP solutions. That opens a potential door to competition in gaming from Richland parts with paired GPUs.

The new Richland APUs aren’t going to reshape the market, but they do improve AMD’s position in the critical low power market. If the gaming bundles evolve in the right direction (info on this is still unclear), AMD could create a popular value proposition for itself without going head-to-head against Intel’s Haswell.