Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New AMD "A Series" Llanos Mobile and Desktop CPUs Shipping Out Now

AMD has finally started playing catch up with their rivals at Intel. A company cursed since the evolution of the Pentium 4, Advanced Micro Devices has now released it's newest line of uniquely designed APUs(Accelerated Processing Unit); a family of hybrid processors which debuted earlier this year. Now available in the form of the code-named Llanos CPU-GPU fused APU, the new "A series" processors are the first designed by AMD using the 32nm manufacturing process. Unique from ordinary CPUs, the APU design is the first to take what is essentially discrete radeon graphics and place it right onto the same silicon die as the CPU. The Goal? Achieve high graphical performance while maintaining the best possible power, cost, and hardware efficiency at the microprocessor level.

Although previously seen in netbooks as AMD's C and E series APUs, the latest results of AMD's bold new direction are the A5 and A8 processors which feature the equivalent of a low to middle range discrete graphics solution incorporated directly onto the CPU die. By combining the GPU and CPU, AMD looks to enhance GPU-CPU communication speeds and bypass many inefficiencies which result in wasted power on normal motherboards with a discrete PCI-E 16x GPU + CPU. The APU should decrease power consumption, boost graphical performance, and provide cheaper manufacturing when compared to similarly performing hardware. Early benchmarks have shown promising success in the mobile media and gaming market for Llanos equipped laptops, which I'm assuming the new tech was mainly designed for. After receiving moderate praise from their netbook-based APUs, AMD has progressed toward the more advanced laptop and entry-level desktop sector with surprisingly minimal sacrifices. In return for the coexistence of seemingly amazing battery life and moderate media/gaming abilities, general processing power unfortunately had to take a step down. The A8 has proven to be a regression in terms of raw processing ability in regards to a similar phenom II x4 or Intel i5 processors; however, the gains in media performance and energy efficiency under moderate stress tests make this minor performance hit very palatable at listed prices.
With the new APUs, AMD is proposing a future where the average consumer laptop costing $500-600 will be able to eliminate the age old choice between productivity/speed, battery life, and media/gaming needs. The A8 and other (specifically mobile) A series APUs make judicious use of their unique construction and maintain the ability to carry out a more-than-sa
tisfactory day of general use (document reading, web browsing and moderately intensive programs). The kicker is, when called upon for graphics, gaming or HD media, the APU's integrated Radeon series GPU can deliver a powerful punch with an anorexic's appetite for battery wattage. Preliminary benchmarks show mobile Llano APUs running modern games at medium settings and getting almost 2x the battery life of comparable Sandy Bridge i5/intel HD 3000 setups (about 1 hour for the i5 vs. 2 hours for A8); not to mention tests showing off AMD's Allday power plan actually working! The Allday power plan is designed to hopefully provide APU laptops with 8+ hours of standby time. A report on Tom's Hardware stated an A8 mobile system lasted over 7.5 hours on a laptop while browsing documents on lowest brightness settings.

Of course the new AMD Fusion APUs still don't come close the performance of a "desktop replacement" laptop or a PC housing any high end discrete AMD/nVidia GPU coupled with a powerful CPU. However, the A series does wonders for the future of mobile media and as technologically races forward, we may be seeing a lot more of the APU design platform. Imagine the possibilities of the future if the current A8 already has the ability to play Left for Dead 2 at 50+ FPS, and can view HD movies on a mobile platform without running your batte
ry to the ground in 30 minutes.

I'm sure many people can attest to the feelings of worry regarding the future of AMD. With struggling internal leadership issues and Intel's market success backed by their seemingly unstoppable chip advances, this recent tactical strike into the heart of mobile computing is exactly the type of out-of-the-box approach AMD needs to take the reigns from a confidentially coasting Intel Corp. Although not a an instant success by any means, I think APUs will aid in capturing at least part of the mobile computing market back and rebuild the trust lost with by selling inefficient, energy sucking products. The speed, power and ability of CPUs in general has raced ahead of software development over the past decade. While Intel processors and the computing industry as a whole have made amazing technological advances, the priority of CPU companies in recent years has always been more power and speed; the benefits of this are mostly appreciated in the production/business sectors where speed and efficiency equates to profit.

AMD has finally realized the average person's needs for a longer lasting battery and the ability to use their computers for recreation; whether it be music, moderate gaming or just browsing HD media. The general public just isn't in the business of rendering scenes for the next Toy Story, decompressing huge archives, or repeatedly running decryption on government messages. There is really just an astounding surplus of computing power available on the average, mid-range PC being used solely for Facebook updates. With the presence of advancing smartphone technology the consumer-level mobile computing world could see a major realignment, focusing on media and gaming capabilities more than ever. With the ability to become increasingly more productive each year on new pocket-sized devices, the advantages of a bulkier laptop or tablet may become more associated with exactly what the APU is designed to excel at.

One can only hope the future of AMD will see even further development and success with their designs. Here's hoping the intended performance of APUs coupled with the newly designed Bulldozer 32nm architecture, will put the 2nd largest microprocessor manufacturer back on the silicon map. Bulldozer will be the successor to the aging Stars architecture which is used in AMD's current lineup of desktop/mobile CPUs (including Llanos). Look for the first set of newly designed Bulldozer CPUs to be released in Q3 2011.

Here is a link to benchmarks and a full testing report on the Llanos A8 APU:
Another link which reports on A8-3500m benchmarks and testing: