Graphics, Hardware

AMD Announces Cost-Efficient AM1 Platform for April

Yesterday AMD pre-announced their AM1 platform, which is scheduled to become available on April 9th. The AM1 platform revolves around a socketed version of the Kabini SoC running under the classic Athlon and Sempron brands and is slated to bring cost-efficient computing in a socketed form factor to the table.

The actual socket of the platform is called FS1b and features 721 pins. The AM1 name was probably chosen for simplicity reasons, but should not be confused with the AM2/AM3 desktop platforms from AMD. The APUs come in a lidded PGA form factor that measures 35mm x 35mm. Previous products based on Kabini came in a BGA form factor that was soldered to the board, which made upgrading impossible without a reflowing machine and lots of expensive hardware.

According to AMD there was strong customer demand for such a socketed platform that allows for flexibility in a very price-sensitive market segment. The product is primarily aimed at emerging markets where cost-efficiency is particularly crucial. AMD estimates that motherboard and APU combined should come in at around $60. Given AMDs product stack much higher prices wouldn’t be competitive against both AMDs own and Intels offerings. A low end FM2 motherboard can be had for around $45-50 with another $40 for an APU which would already offer slightly better performance. Do note that FM2 motherboards with the A55 FCH don’t feature USB 3.0 connectivity, so to be completely fair we’d have to go up the stack to an A75 based board, adding a few more dollars to the bill. On the other hand even the A55 motherboards provide a lot more SATA ports, albeit only at 3Gb/s interface speeds.

When AMD launched the G-series APU, the first Kabini-based product, we already discussed the features of the chip. It comes in dual- and quad-core variants that share a 2MB L2 cache, with clock speeds up to 2GHz and a GPU featuring 128 GCN cores that clock up to 600MHz. While AMD didn’t disclose the exact SKUs of the AM1 platform yet, the specs of the 25W Kabini products for various segments should give a good ballpark estimate where this is going.

The platform only supports a single memory channel at up to DDR3-1600 which delivers 12.8GB/s of bandwidth. Up to 32GB RAM are supported, which would require 16GB DIMMs. The Kabini SoC integrates the FCH functionality and thus allows for simpler and thus more cost-efficient board designs. It comes with two SATA 6Gb/s ports, two USB 3.0 and 8 USB 2.0 ports as well as one PCIe 2.0 x4 and four PCIe 2.0 x1 links for addon devices. Most motherboards will provide a PEG slot using the x4 interface to allow for discrete graphics expansion.

While the low PCIe lane count will hold back discrete GPU performance a bit it isn’t as bad as some people think. As was determined in reviews from AnandTech and Techpowerup not too long ago, slower PCIe speeds don’t impact all games equally. Some games are very sensitive to it and will show considerable regressions in performance especially below PCIe 2.0 x8. Other games are almost indifferent to the lower speeds. Also on this APU the CPU performance needs to be taken into account. Compared to those evaluations which were made on high-end CPUs from Intel, the CPU performance on Kabini might hold discrete GPUs back more than the slower PCIe interface does. Still we can see people using entry- to midrange-GPUs to achieve a more enjoyable gaming experience compared to the integrated GPU, which is swell-suited for a desktop-experience but a bit sub-par for gaming.

According to AMD 15 motherboards are planned from their partners ASrock, ASUS, BIOSTAR, ECS, Gigabyte and MSI, two out of which are designed for the mini ITX form factor. Some of these boards were already displayed at CES and will most likely be shown at CeBIT taking place from March 10-14 in Hannover, Germany.