Business, Graphics, Hardware

AMD Launches Kaveri APU with HSA, Propelling AMD?s APU Vision Forward

AMD has finally launched one of their long awaited processors, the Kaveri APU. The Kaveri APU is the culmination of the company?s three latest efforts in terms of processing technology. The first two, are hardware-based and the third is software-based. First and foremost, on the silicon level, Kaveri is the combination of AMD?s latest Steamroller CPU cores and their GCN GPU cores. This alone should deliver the best overall performance that an AMD chip could offer to date. However, the third and arguably most important piece of the pie is the introduction of HSA in product that can finally utilize it.

AMD has been talking about HSA for over a year now and didn?t really have a product to show for it, until now. HSA is clearly AMD?s strategy for the company?s processor division going forward into the future and they want to bring many partners with them on their HSA view of computing. They founded the HSA Foundation and brought industry titans like ARM, Imagination, MediaTek, Qualcomm, Samsung and Texas Instruments aboard. While HSA hardware from many of the HSA foundation?s founding members remains to be seen, I suspect that an HSA architecture seems very attractive to many of these companies with SoCs that pair compute capable GPUs with ARM CPUs. Two notable companies are not on the HSA foundation, most notably Intel and Nvidia, however, both companies are fairly well known for preferring their own standards.

The Kaveri APU itself is manufactured for AMD by Globalfoundries using their 28nm SHP process. AMD selected this process instead of their 28nm SLP, 28nm HPP or 28nm LPH because they wanted a process that wasn?t specifically designed just for CPUs. They wanted a process that was more conducive to both CPU and GPU design rather than one or the other and the bigger metals on 28nm SHP allow for lower resistance and higher frequencies. AMD claims that this process is ?APU Optimized? and is well balanced for both. However, this results in AMD taking a hit to their CPU frequency at higher TDPs (see A10-7850K clock speeds below). I believe that many people are still a bit disappointed with the fact that there was effectively no clock increase from Richland to Kaveri even though Kaveri was a die shrink from 32 to 28nm. The A10-6800K has a 4.1 GHz CPU that turbos to 4.4 GHz, while the Kaveri A10-7850K only does 3.7 GHz and a maximum Turbo of 4.1 GHz. AMD claims that their 20% IPC improvement in CPU performance going from Piledriver to Steamroller cores will compensate for this loss, but the truth is that it really should be a step forward with a new CPU core and process, not a step sideways.

I suspect that Globalfoundries is once again having issues with a newer process and we probably won?t see the true potential of Kaveri until later in the year when their 28nm SHP yields improve. Sure, it could be an AMD problem with the design of the APU itself, but it isn?t that radical of a departure in terms of process technology or CPU design to explain yield issues. Neither AMD nor Globalfoundries is talking about this problem in too much depth, but it ultimately hurts both companies as AMD doesn?t have as fast of a CPU onboard their APU as they could be having and GloFo doesn?t have as good of yields.

With the introduction of the AMD A10-7850K, 7700K and the A8-7600 AMD is trying to fill the gap of what consumers desire on a varying level of price and performance. Their A10-7850K is a quad core CPU paired with an 8 core GPU, giving it a total of 12 ?compute cores? as AMD likes to count them. The CPU cores will be clocked at 3.7 GHz with a maximum turbo speed of 4.0 GHz, while the GPU will be clocked at 720 MHz. The A10-7700K, however, will only feature 6 GPU cores and a total of 10 ?compute cores? with the same GPU clock speed and a base CPU clock of 3.4 GHz and a boost of 3.8 GHz. Both CPUs are currently available now and both have a TDP of 95W.

The A7-7600, however, comes in two flavors both with a quad core CPU and a 6 core GPU with the 65W variant sporting a 3.3 GHz CPU with a 3.8 GHz boost and the same 720 MHz GPU clock as the other CPUs. The 45W variant will sport a 3.1 GHz base clock and a 3.3 turbo clock, making it the least power consuming APU and also the slowest. The A8-7600 APUs will be available sometime in Q1 with an official date still unknown.

Looking at AMD?s product mix, it seems apparent that the best value will be the 65W A8-7600 with very similar performance to the A10-7700K but doing it with less power and likely for less price. The A10-7850K will retail for $173 while the A10-7700K will retail for $152 and the A8-7600 for $119. Clearly when you look at these chips against each other the A8-7600 stands out as the clear value. AMD is currently positioning these chips to compete against the Intel i3-4330, i5-4440S and i5-4670K. Another big deal is the fact that AMD will be bundling Battlefield 4 with their top-end A10 APUs, meaning that with the A10-7850K and A10-7700K will come bundled with a $60 game when purchased from certain retailers. For anyone that doesn’t already own the game and is shopping for a new PC to play Battlefield 4, this could easily convinced people to buy an AMD chip over an Intel one. There are no details on how many copies of BF4 will be available or how long it’ll run, so we’ll keep our enthusiasm muted for now.

Newegg is currently selling the A10-7850K for $189 without any actual BF4 bundled unless you buy a motherboard or RAM or some other component listed on the promotional page. Hopefully this promotion won’t be limited to Newegg only and won’t require that you buy any other hardware other than the APU. It just seems disingenuous on AMD’s part to promote this Battlefield 4 bundle if they don’t tell you it needs to be more than just an APU.

Edit 1/15/2014: Since the publication of this article, Newegg has since added the bundle to their promotional page linked above. Seems like they forgot to add what would most likely be the most popular bundle.

While we haven?t had enough time to finish our testing for our Kaveri review, we will be bringing you our full review with performance figures and in-depth price to performance analysis in the coming week. Judging by what AMD has shown us so far, they are clearly going for the value proposition and it wi
ll be interesting to see how much that value proposition will increase with things like HSA and Mantle maturing through 2014.