AMD Launches “Elite APU” with Richland, Successor to Trinity
3/12/2013 by: Theo Valich
Without any doubt, the last couple of years have been quite turbulent for AMD and often made the headlines in not the most flattering way. Under the new leadership, the company saw the return of some industry legends such as Jim Keller, arguably the best CPU architect on the planet (the person behind VAC in 1980s, Alpha, K7 and x86-64 in 1990s as well as Apple’s AX SoC’s of yesterday, today and tomorrow – 2014 “A7” will be the last SoC with Jim’s signature).
The arrival of Jim Keller has already had a profound effect on the company, especially a very risky decision to stop talking about “execute” and actually start with a realistic roadmap. As a consequence, AMD reshuffled the roadmap and inserted several products which are considered as first generation efforts into the new markets, while giving engineers time to tweak the designs of the big dies. For example, this decision caused Richland platform to slide from Q4 2012 into the Q1 2013 introduction, albeit with completely different specifications (APU became the platform itself).
With the completion of custom silicon for Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Durango (Xbox 720, Xbox Next) during 2012, AMD’s stretched engineering team was reoriented in order to create two new products for 2013: Beema and Richland. While Beema is successor to the recently introduced Temash APU (Brazos 2.0 platform) and scheduled to debut by end of the year, Richland is a low-power platform that debuts right now as the successor to Virgo, AMD’s notebook platform for Trinity APU.
AMD designated Richland as the “Elite Performance APU Platform”, focusing on delivering Trinity desktop experience in half the power consumption. This ties into the new visual identity, leaving the “VISION” and “Fusion” branding behind. New branding is as simple as it gets “AMD” is followed by the product number and that’s that. The company representatives claimed that the current way of branding products was confusing to the consumer and that the new branding will help the consumers to select their products accordingly. Seeing that we had Fusion A4, Fusion A6, Fusion A8 and Fusion A10 (and then add Fusion E-Series) and a CPU simply branded FX, we understand the need to simplify their product naming.
All of the stickers will be manufactured in high quality, giving a holographic effect. Now, onto the important question:
What Does Richland Bring?
With the Richland platform and the associated silicon, AMD is delivering two lines of products – Standard and Low Voltage. Standard voltage products are being shipped now, while the Low-Voltage parts are scheduled to debut around Computex Taipei (beginning of June), where the OEMs are going to unveil their new models for the 2013 Back-to-School and Holiday Season sale cycles.
AMD’s “Elite Performance APU Platform” is a mix’n’match of optimized silicon that should in theory, provide a better experience to the consumer.
AMD put special accent on optimizing hardware for the new user interfaces and you can expect a sea of touchscreen notebooks coming to the markets. Personally, I’ve used a touchscreen on a notebook and it got me hooked to the point that going back to my non-touch Ultrabook resulted in touching the screen during corporate presentations. It’s a good conversation starter, anyways. In order to power the laptop displays, Richland pairs 2-4 Piledriver cores with the (rebranded) Radeon HD 8000 graphics.
AMD’s Richland APU platform comes not just with transistor-optimized clocking, which significantly reduced the power consumption (Trinity vs. Llano) but with a “bi-directional frequency scaling with extended boos latency based upon ambient temperature”. Translated into English – AMD put sensors on the die that are checking hot spots on the chip and clocks the APU accordingly. During the talk with Sam Naffziger, AMD Corporate Fellow, we learned how Richland brings third generation of power optimizations that enable maximum performance at minimum power consumption.
The third generation of APU power optimizations brings “fine grained dynamic power transfers”. This combines the current load of the CPU or GPU with the temperature achieved by the chip. The company integrated a dedicated micro-controller which does nothing else but pays attention to power consumption dynamic. On the notebook parts, Richland APUs will not enable you to overload the CPU and GPU part at the same time, should you try to max out the APU with power virus applications (let’s say running Linpack or Prime alongside with a GPU Burn-in Test).
As Richland silicon is mobile, it has to keep below 35W at all times. This technology is called Hybrid Boost and it will keep the power in check. Hybrid Boost is a combination of hardware and software, with the APU having temperature calculations written into the micro-code which dictate how the actual silicon operates. Given that mobile designs are mostly challenged with the heat dissipation capabilities, Richland pays special attention to the ambient temperature.
After all is said and done, comes the hardware lineup. Richland is divided into four parts, branded A4, A6, A8 and A10 accordingly. The entry-level processor is consisted out of a single “processing element” based on two Piledriver x86-64 cores and Radeon HD8350G, a 128-core GPU which you can also find on the upcoming Jaguar-based parts (Beema).
The A6 and A8 parts are there for diversity and enhanced product positioning, while the big king of the hill is A10-5750M. This part gathers a lot of attention with its performance. In a mere 35 Watts Max. TDP, AMD managed to cram as much performance as the original 100W Llano offered. We’re talking about four Piledriver x86-64 cores, 384-core GPU (Radeon HD 8350G) with a quite surprising clock. A notebook part at 3.5GHz Turbo mode is something we definitely did not expect, while the GPU can be clocked as high as 720MHz. The part also supports DDR3L-1600 and DDR3-1866 memory for extracting maximum performance out of the embedded GPU.
AMD is no longer “Hardware Only”, Rich Software Bundles Ahead
In our on and off the record conversations with people close to heart of the matter we heard a lot of details about the rejuvenated AMD. In order to generate cash for the new projects, the company sold its Austin campus, leaving the company with just the two major real estate assets: HQ in Sunnyvale, California and ATI Technologies U.L.C. campus in Markham, Ontario. This move raised $164 million in cash and generated several kill pieces by various media.
However, the company did not decide to use the fiscal numbers to stay idle but rather to accelerate the market share initiatives. The recently announced Never Settle: Reloaded bundle is probably the main example of how the company is restructuring and pushing to offer more value to the consumer. While those moves attract ridicule from specific short-sighted Intel employees, or knee-jerk reactions from their direct competitors, the consumers are now able to receive between $170 and $320 in free software, with AAA games such as the hit title Crysis 3, Tomb Raider, BioShock Infinity and others. According to sources in the know, the bundles will expand beyond the discrete graphics onto the APU business as well.
For example, the company invited several companies to deliver accelerated applications which are now offered free of charge to its APU customers.
As you can see on the slide above, Richland comes with no less than six 3rd party developed applications for the “AMD Software Experience”: Gesture Control utilizes the embedded HD camera on most notebooks to enable hands-free operation of the computer. Face Login is something that HP pioneered (and failed to recognize different skin colors) but AMD leverages the performance of its GPU to enable more sampling points, regardless of the skin color.
Screen Mirror is an answer to the growing talks about DaaS (Display as a Service) momentum, similar to WiDi (Wireless Display). This is Miracast service at its best or so AMD hopes.
Quick Stream, Steady Video and Perfect Picture HD are dedicated to offer as much convenience for the end consumers, utilizing the CPU and GPU aspects to enable smooth video streaming, video post processing and naturally, enhance the color features. While this is something we’ve seen already on different mobile apps (either as an app or built-in feature) the performance offered by the APU is such that the end result should be much better than what puny ARM cores can deliver.
The Bottom Line
On paper, Richland looks like a properly refined Virgo platform, and given the aggressive pricing strategy there’s no doubt that the company will enjoy a significant amount of design wins. Naturally, the availability is always the real challenge when it comes to the launch of AMD products but the company executives are quick to state that the new delivery dates to their partners are more aggressive than ever.
Only time will tell but for now, AMD seems to be making good progress.
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