AMD aims to win the converged device era with new Xbox One-like chips

AMD logoAMD is announcing today three new families of chips that it hopes will dominate the market of high-end tablets, low-end laptops, and converged hybrid devices. The chips—which will come to market variously as the A4 and A6 Elite Mobility series; the A4, A6, and E series; and the A6 and A10 Elite series—are close siblings to the processors found in both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles.

Most of the processors are built around the same building blocks: two or four Jaguar CPU cores, paired with AMD's Graphics Core Next (GCN) GPU. They support AMD's heterogeneous uniform memory access technology, too, designed to make it easier to share data and computation between the CPU and GPU. The differences are their power usage, clock speeds, and number of GPU cores.

AMD aims to win the converged device era with new Xbox One-like chips

Formerly codenamed Temash, the A4 and A6 Elite Mobility series are full systems-on-chip, adding PCI express, SATA, USB, and other I/O controllers to the CPU and GPU. SKUs range from a 3.9W dual-core 1GHz part with a 225MHz GPU to an 8W quad-core 1.4GHz (maximum)/1GHz (base) part with a 400/300MHz (maximum/base) GPU, the A6-1450.

AMD Kabini

AMD is positioning these three chips up against Intel's Clover Trail and low-end Ivy Bridge Core i3 processors, hoping to ship them into what it calls "performance tablets": tablet devices with better performance than ARM chips currently offer, and capable of running the full range of traditional x86 software.

Performance comparisons are thus far hard to come by. AMD's publicity materials include many, but due to their selective nature, it's difficult to make any direct comparisons. AMD believes that the Elite Mobility parts fill a hole in Intel's tablet line-up between the Atom and Core i3. They're a little more power-hungry than the Atom but less so than the Core i3, with performance that's more or less in between the two.

The GPU and gaming performance of the Temash parts will pull significantly ahead of the Clover Trails, with AMD claiming a Left 4 Dead 2 frame rate of 6.7fps for the dual-core, quad-thread 1.5 GHz Atom Z2760, compared to 15.6fps for the A4-1200, 16.4fps for the A4-1250, and 22.8fps for the A6-1450 at a screen resolution not actually specified, but presumed to be 1366×768. Benchmarks on a leaked A6-1450 suggest a performance in the SunSpider browser benchmark that's approximately twice that of the Clover Trail.

The A4, A6, and E series, formerly codenamed Kabini, share the design and integration of Temash but with higher power envelopes and higher clock speeds. There are three dual-core E-series parts, from 9W to 15W, and a pair of A-series parts, one at 15W, the other at 25W.

AMD Richland CPUs

AMD is aiming these chips at the mainstream laptop segment, putting them against Intel's Celeron, Pentium, and Core i3 branded parts. There aren't (yet) any good performance comparisons, with AMD's own numbers again focusing on GPU and gaming performance, claiming that an A4-5000 system achieves 120 percent of the frame rate in Batman Arkham City that a comparable Pentium 2117U system achieves (with the Pentium being a marginally more power-hungry 17W chip), and an A6-5200 system achieving 140 percent of the performance of the Pentium system.

Finally, AMD is introducing some SKUs codenamed Richland. They range from a 17W dual-core 2.6/2.0GHz part with a 554/424MHz GPU, the A4-5145M, to a 35W quad-core 3.5/2.5GHz chip with a 720/600MHz GPU, the A10-5757M. These are not full systems-on-chips, but rather what AMD calls "APUs;" accelerated processing units. Rather than the Jaguar CPU cores, they use the more powerful Steamroller cores, and their GPUs are a previous generation design.

AMD is pitting these against Intel's Core i3 and i5 processors, and aiming them at the performance laptop market. Again its performance comparisons are GPU-focused, claiming a frame rate in Batman Arkham City of 27fps for the A10-5757M, compared to 16fps for a Core i5-3210M.

In spite of the lack of concrete performance information, it's reasonable to believe these are all likely to be decent chips that will fill the needs of most computer users perfectly effectively. The Temash/Kaveri design is a flexible one; though the console processors double the number of cores to eight and likely have more substantial GPU resources (believed to be 12 GPU cores in the Xbox One and 18 in the PlayStation 4), they're fundamentally built from the same architecture with very similar performance profiles.

The problem for AMD is one of positioning. While AMD is positioning them directly against various Intel models, the reality is that especially for the Elite Mobility parts, they fall between the gaps. Their major strength is their graphics performance, but while this is superior to Intel's GPU performance, sometimes by quite some margin, it rarely falls into the category of "good enough for actual gaming." And if you're not gaming, the GPU just doesn't matter that much; Intel's GPUs are perfectly adequate for desktop graphics and motion video.

As such, AMD may struggle to turn that GPU superiority into something that buyers actually care about. To make a real success of these processors, AMD doesn't just need a few design wins: it needs to carve out an entirely new category of machines, where its performance profile provides tangible benefits to end-users. If the company can't do this, it may yet find some wins due to lower pricing, but it's difficult to see AMD upsetting Intel.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: AMD, CPUs

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