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AMD Richland APU Preview: Trinity Gets a Facelift

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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AMD have officially revealed the upcoming Richland APUs, which represent a unique amalgamation of old architecture with new, updated features and additional performance benefits for the mobile market. This new product range is somewhat unexpected given the fact that even a a few months ago Richland wasn't on most people's radars since roadmaps showed Trinity making a relatively quick transition to Kaveri. Now it seems as though things are being done a bit differently.

When it was first released, AMD’s Trinity represented a huge step forward, improving upon Llano’s success in every way possible. It was one of the first true moves towards the ultimate goal of building a Heterogeneous System Architecture (HAS) with the accelerated processing unit (or APU) as its heart and soul. Trinity met with a fair amount of success, and it seemed the public was ready to completely embrace what AMD was trying to achieve. Now, its replacement Richland is being pushed onto the scene.

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This release marks the beginning of a very aggressive year for AMD as Trinity, Brazos 2.0 and Hondo gradually make way for their Richland, Kabini and Temash replacements. This approach does potentially give Richland a short lifespan since AMD’s top-tier Kaveri APU is still due out in Q4 and will incorporate several new features based around HAS initiatives.

AMD’s typical cycle has new products hitting the market in the late April / May timeframe so Richland is a slight departure from this methodology. Supposedly, manufacturing optimizations improved yields and allowed for a quicker turnaround time between the initial design and final silicon. The fact that Richland uses most of Trinity’s core architecture likely helped things along in this regard as well.

Unlike past designs like Trinity and Llano, Richland is a simple silicon refresh based on the tried and true 32nm manufacturing process rather than a true architectural overhaul. It is meant to tide the APU lineup over until Kaveri launches later this year but more importantly, it will give AMD a fighting chance against Haswell when it launches in June.

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The Richland A-series mobile lineup will closely mirror the outgoing Trinity product stack, albeit replacing the 4xxxx moniker with 5xxxx. There is however one notable absence for the time being: low voltage parts. Those LV and ULV APUs will be gradually rolling out over the next few months and will effectively replace current generation parts. Whether or not there will be any potential overlap with upcoming Jaguar-based Kabini APUs remains to be seen, but we doubt AMD will choose to put all of their low voltage ultra-thin APUs directly under one umbrella.

Desktop parts haven’t been discussed yet, but we would assume they’ll go down the same path as Trinity did and follow the initial mobile release after a few months.

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So what makes Richland tick? Mostly the same things as its predecessor, but there has been some fine tuning going on behind the scenes which will allow Richland APUs to compete against Intel’s processors on a more level footing.

While Trinity mated up to four Piledriver cores with a Northern Islands class GPU, and AMD’s next generation Kaveri APUs will use Steamroller CPU architecture paired up with GCN-based graphics, Richland takes a path between these two. It uses the same architectural bones as Trinity, but rolls in several next generation power management optimizations which directly affect clock speeds. As a result, its GPU and CPU cores operate at higher frequencies without negatively impacting TDP.

Regardless of the HD 8000-series moniker used for the GPU core, Richland still uses the same Northern Islands design as Trinity did. Once again, AMD has rebranded theses units in order to properly reflect the additional performance benefits derived through their higher operating frequencies.

One of the most interesting aspects of this architecture is its ability to work with the HD 8000M "Solar" branch of the Sea Islands architecture when used in Dual Graphics mode. Given the differences between the Northern Islands VLIW4 design within Richland and the GCN-based HD 8000M, some technical wizardry is likely going on behind the scenes in order facilitate communication and load balancing between the two. Either that or the lower-end, as yet unannounced HD 8000M parts will use the older core technology.

The memory controller on A10 APUs has also been revamped with support for DDR3-1866 modules, though lower-end APUs don’t receive the same treatment. Meanwhile, the use of an FS1r2 uPGA socket retains mobile platform compatibility, allowing Richland to become a simple drop in solution for existing designs.
 
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SKYMTL

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Richland; Created Through Hybrid Boost

Richland; Created Through Hybrid Boost


Richland may only represent a slight refresh to the original Trinity design, but AMD claims it delivers between 10% and 40% more performance than its predecessor for CPU and GPU related tasks respectively. Whether or not that’s performance per watt or raw benchmark data will be up for debate until samples begin rolling in, but it is nonetheless promising to see what can be achieved through a few modifications.

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Much of Richland’s potential performance improvements are derived through the optimized clock speed responsiveness of AMD’s new Hybrid Boost technology. Much like Trinity, it uses a 32-bit microcontroller within the APU which dynamically tracks the temperature of every on-die component. The major difference in this implementation is its ability to effectively parallelize its calculations in order to balance clock speeds in relation to temperatures within different regions of the APU, power needs, regional loads and other factors.

The entire point of this exercise was to add some granularity to Boost speeds. As it stood, Trinity could accomplish many of these same tasks but relied on a strictly limited number of P-states, limiting effectiveness when it tried to find an optimal frequency point. Hybrid Boost meanwhile provides additional “sub-states” which lead to more fine grain control over the operating points for frequencies and power consumption. Compare this real-time responsiveness to Intel’s Turbo Boost which estimates many of these factors and you can begin to comprehend the amount of engineering which goes into AMD’s new solution.

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This approach also allows Richland’s architecture to find a balanced operating frequency between GPU and CPU performance when both are loaded. Basically, AMD has determined “happy medium” points to ensure that neither component is starved for data at any given time. As a result, workload aware power management coupled with temperature aware TDP balancing can properly manage operating cycles of both functional architectural blocks in a concurrent, on-the-fly manner.

Richland’s use of Hybrid Boost Higher leads to more consistently high clock speeds and better overall efficiency than previous architectures without any large scale changes to the silicon. In plain English, this allows Richland to run faster more often while maintaining a TDP of 35W.

Another important addition to this architectural refresh is a set of scalable TDP points. These can be configured by the OEMs based on the needs of a given platform, opening up the possibility of using higher end quad core APUs within ultra-thin systems. Since AMD’s Hybrid Boost calculation is also based upon temperature status, we could also see potentially higher performance if OEMs use more efficient cooling assemblies.

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Naturally, all of this technical jargon leads to some significant improvements in the most important field for mobile users: battery life. While there are some platform-centric improvements, without significant changes to the silicon, AMD was able to squeeze between 5% to 20% more battery life out of Richland.

This focus on efficient use of the APU’s resources is especially evident in HD video playback where the workload balancing is able to minimize processing cycle waste. There are other areas which will benefit as well but for the time being, AMD was only willing to touch on this one. It should be interesting to see how Richland can take things to the next level since in our testing, Trinity was already quite efficient in the battery usage area.
 
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SKYMTL

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New “Elite” Features Unweave a Tangled Web

New “Elite” Features Weave a Tangled Web


Alongside Richland, AMD is also launching a new top-to-bottom branding policy for their upcoming APU designs by moving away from the sometimes confusing “Vision” designation. In its place will be a standardized typeface and logo along with different “modules” that are supposed to designate separate feature sets.

The new approach isn’t quite as convoluted, but the features’ implementation is anything but guaranteed across AMD’s entire APU product lineup.

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The best way to dive right into this explanation is an overview of the new branding we’ll see from AMD over the course of 2013. While the usual A10, A8, A6 and A6 will remain in place, certain product lines will receive the “Elite” feature set which includes a wide range of items designed to enhance a user’s experience. These SKUs will have “Dual Core” or “Quad Core” added in order for an end-user to distinguish the number of processing threads present in a given APU design. In addition, for certain designs, dual graphics will once again be an option for increased graphics performance. For example, a Richland A10 can be combined with Dual Graphics making it an AMD A10 Elite Quad Core with Dual Graphics. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, the upcoming “Mobility” line of Temash ultra-low voltage APUs doesn’t use quite follow the same naming scheme since dual core implementations will likely be utilized in the lion’s share of devices. It does however include the Elite feature set and there will be a Quad Core option so both monikers have been added in one way or another.

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Richland’s expanded feature set includes a number of old favorites which have been brought up-to-date alongside some new additions. These all put a focus on leveraging GPU acceleration in order to benefit the user’s overall experience with an AMD-equipped system. However, since many of the features have been implemented through ISV partnerships, OEMs can pick and choose their inclusions so they may not be available on all systems.

We’ve all come to know and love AMD’s Quick Stream, Steady Video and Picture Perfect HD and they have been ported over to Richland largely unchanged. There have been some new hardware encoder optimizations but don’t expect any drastic departures in this area.

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The new kids on the block are the “Elite” features which will only be available on select APU products and take the next step towards integrating mobile devices into everyday life. Once again, they are all GPU accelerated and have been brought about by AMD’s close working partnership with software developers.

Gesture Control allows a user to navigate through certain applications without actually touching the screen. It does this by enabling the system’s onboard webcam and tracking recognized hand movements while interacting with Windows 7 or Windows 8. According to AMD, there are a limited number of supported applications but they include Windows Media Player, Windows Photo Viewer, Microsoft PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat Reader along with Microsoft Photos, Microsoft Music, Microsoft Reader and Kindle within the MS Store.

AMD’s Face Login is exactly what it sounds like: by using several distinguishing points, it can use your face for login access to a computer or certain websites.

The final Elite addition is Screen Mirror which uses the Wireless Display standard to stream onscreen content (from your desktop to videos to games) to DLNA-equipped devices. AMD also uses GPU acceleration to effectively reduce lag times. Unfortunately though, it won’t stream HDCP or other protected content so using your notebook as a wireless Blu Ray player isn’t possible.

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While many of these new “Elite” features are being launched with Richland, as we already mentioned, they won’t all be available across AMD’s entire APU portfolio. The A10 and A8 series will receive Gesture Control, Face Login and Screen Mirror alongside the standard deck of GPU accelerated abilities, but the A6 and A4 SKUs will have to make due with a cut-down feature set. The only A4 and A6 branded parts that get the three new items will be the upcoming Temash “Elite Mobility” APUs slated for release in the second half of 2013.


Stay tuned for our full Richland mobile review as systems become available.
 
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