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AMD Updates APUs, Athlons & Motherboards


Author: SKYMTL
Date: January 31, 2016


AMD is a company in the process of transition with a new and hopefully extremely competitive strategy. Their Zen processor architecture is on the horizon and the Radeon Technology Group has surged ahead with a number of key announcements like the upcoming Polaris architecture and GPUOpen. The future certainly does look like it’s full of new hope but on the CPU / APU front, AMD feels the need to slightly refresh and simplify their current lineup with some new blood. That means a few new updates based on current Kaveri / Godavari designs, one Excavator-based surprise and a sprinkling of motherboard revisions as well.

Before we get too far into this article, one question is likely already in your mind: with AMD dropping so many hints about their future initiatives, why muddy the waters with simple updates? We didn’t get a straightforward answer to that question but there’s a number of possibilities. This could also be an effective way to clear out some existing stock before transitioning towards a new lineup later this year. There’s also the chance that 14nm designs to replace existing desktop FX-series CPUs and A-series APUs are further away than we’ve been led to believe. As such, these minor updates are key to insuring AMD remains somewhat relevant until there’s an effective answer to Intel’s Skylake and Kaby Lake.

Changes to the APU lineup may seem relatively minor on paper but a vast swath of AMD’s A10 lineup is being replaced, a new leading-edge APU is being introduced and their entry level lineup is receiving a slight speed bump. Unfortunately, this may just lead to more confusion in an already-cluttered listing but as the 28nm manufacturing process matures, its boosted efficiency has allowed for the creation of higher speed processors without an associated TDP increase.

During CES AMD teased the A10-7890K, a quad core APU with frequencies reaching 4.3GHz but even now there’s not all that much known about it. Supposedly there will be more information released in the coming weeks but we have to wonder if AMD’s constant talk about Zen will negatively impact this product’s reception when it hits retail shelves.

A bit further down the line there’s the new A10-7860K which is supposed to effectively replace the older A10-7850K, A10-7800 and A10-7700K. That’s something of a relief considering many of those APUs were launched more than two years ago in January 2014. If anything, that goes to show how desperately AMD needs a complete lineup overhaul rather than these minor updates we’ve become accustomed to.

Much like the A10-7870K, this APU uses AMD’s Kaveri refresh architecture known as Godavari but despite its name there’s nothing new about this design other than the fact it uses an updated 28nm HKMG to achieve a high efficiency ratio. This leads to the A10-7860K achieving performance that matches or exceeds the A10-7800 but at a much lower TDP. It is also unlocked for quick and easy overclocking while ringing in at a pretty affordable $118USD.

AMD will also be introducing a new, more affordable SKU in the form of the $xxxx A6-7470K which is meant to supplement the A6-7400. Once again higher processor and graphics clocks at a low TDP are the name of the game here which is great for entry-level systems.

The Athlon lineup is what contains a few interesting surprises, starting with the Athlon X4 845. This CPU (there’s no integrated graphics) is the first desktop part to receive the Excavator core architecture. About a year ago, Excavator was rolled out into Carrizo-based APUs destined for the mobile market and we covered it quite extensively at the time. Since then we’ve heard precious little about Excavator and its various permutations but here it is sneaking into a 65W $70 Athlon processor.

The X4 845 is directly based off of a Carrizo mobile core which means it some pretty significant limitations, even when compared against other Athlon processors. It only has 2MB of L2 cache, the multiplier is locked and there’s a paltry eight PCI-E 3.0 lanes. As a foundation for lower-end systems, the X4 845 seems pretty solid since none of these metrics is a deal breaker (even mid-tier GPUs don’t require the bandwidth offered by eight Gen3 PCI-E lanes) but we do have to wonder its true purpose. Could this be a pipe-cleaning SKU which will prepare the way for upcoming Excavator-based products? Only time will tell.

While it may seem like AMD is simply throwing what amounts to be a pretty important CPU into their lineup without much context, we have to remember this SKU has been available in China for quite some time now. Also remember the Excavator architecture and its Carrizo derivatives include some key differentiators from Steamroller. There is an integrated southbridge which takes over from the FCH, the high density design was supposed to increase IPC by 5% while lowering power by 40% and adaptive voltage / clock gating was meant to usher in a new era of performance optimizations. How many key Excavator-specific revisions have been rolled into this CPU? Are the northbridge and processor cores communicating directly with the FCH while bypassing the integrated Southbridge or has the SB been left out of this design altogether? AMD states the only things disabled are the integrated GPU and Southbridge which effectively allows them to utilize a low-powered part that was destined for notebooks in a higher performance application.

Another addition here is the long-rumored Athlon X4 870K which, at just $90, is an extremely enticing product for anyone who doesn’t require processor-based graphics. It features frequencies that compete with the highest end APUs with a significantly lower price and comparable TDP values. There isn’t much talk about it from AMD’s end since this thing would surely cut into APU sales but there it is, offering what could be one of the best values currently on the market.

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