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Is AMD’s Kaveri going to be delayed until 2014?

UPDATE (9 August, 2013) - AMD's representatives contacted us to issue the following statement: "(Consistent with AMD public guidance at CES 2013 and Computex 2013), AMD's 'Kaveri' high-performance APU remains on track and will start shipping to customers in Q4 2013, with first public availability in the desktop component channel very early in Q1 2014. 'Kaveri' features up to four 'Steamroller' x86 cores, major heterogeneous computing enhancements, and a discrete-level Graphics Core Next (GCN) implementation – AMD's first high-performance APU to offer GCN. 'Kaveri' will be initially offered in the FM2+ package for desktop PCs. Mobile 'Kaveri' products will be available later in the first half of 2014."

Rumours point to a potential delay for AMD’s upcoming Kaveri processor. According to the ever popular “industry sources,” Kaveri will only sample in a handful of parts (two A10s and an A8 SKU) before the end of the year, with the majority of the ramp being pushed back into 2014. While the accuracy of the rumour mill is always questionable, in this case, the rumours make sense.

According to our sources, Kaveri didn’t tape out until after November 2012 – AMD kept the part in-house a little longer to try and squeeze more performance out of the core. While the company has been adamant about a 2013 launch – see AMD’s roadmap below, which still shows Kaveri in Q4 – shipping product just 10 to 12 months after the design was completed would be extremely quick.

True, GlobalFoundries has more experience with the core at this point, but Kaveri still integrates non-trivial features like a new GCN-based graphics solution and HSA (Heterogeneous System Architecture) compatibility. The idea that the core could slip a bit for wider availability is logical.

The other reason we suspect a potential slip is that the desktop market is dropping like a rock. Gartner’s latest data points to low-end desktop sales suffering particularly badly, but the mobile market is “enjoying” its worst downturn in years as well as consumers shift to tablets that aren’t powered by x86 chips. That means AMD is under pressure to ramp tablet chips and win designs in that space above all else, which could mean Kaveri is bumped back a bit to focus on that goal.

The final piece of the puzzle is the ramp for Xbox One and PS4 parts. While those chips should be well into production at this stage, it’s a production issue that has to be managed with GlobalFoundries. Again, with limited foundry space and a supposed new GPU ramping up for the holidays (Volcanic Islands), AMD may be staggering its launches to hit the more important markets first.

There’s also a Kabini refresh on the way for 2014, codenamed Beema, but this is expected to be a “Brazos 2.0” style launch with some clock speed improvements and power gating enhancements rather than a new core. That means Kaveri will continue to be the HSA-capable part (Kabini isn’t HSA-capable), but AMD may change that in 2015, when it launches the next iteration of its smaller core.

If pushing Kaveri back a bit gives AMD more flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing dynamics in the PC market, it’s going to be a net positive. Consumer buying patterns are shifting rapidly at this point and while the conventional PC business remains vital to AMD’s income, it needs to establish itself as a player in these new spaces.

While you're here, you might also want to read our article entitled AMD's Kyoto: Kabini secures AMD an advantage against Intel in low power servers.