Intel has just released its new line of laptop and desktop processors, but they’re not the only ones working on a new product. AMD has also been working hard to improve its laptop APUs and has now released them.
These new feature both updated processor cores and an updated graphics solution, both of which are sorely needed. Should you consider one of these new AMD processors for your next laptop?
Last year AMD came out with its Llano APU. This was a product that combined up to four processor cores and a Radeon GPU on the same die. Doing this reduces power consumption and allows the CPU and GPU to share resources, such as cache.
Trinity updates the processor cores to AMD’s latest Piledriver architecture, which is an evolution of Bulldozer. It also improves upon the graphics solution, updating it to the new HD 7000 series.
These enhancements have allowed AMD to increase the clock speed of its components while reducing power consumption. There was never a low-voltage version of Llano, but there is a Trinity part with a thermal design power (TDP) of 17 watts. Previous APUs had a TDP of 35W or 45W.
Turbo Core 3.0
Shortly after Intel introduced Turbo Boost, AMD countered by introducing Turbo Core. The idea is the same. When a multi-core processor is running an application that does not fully utilize all cores the remaining cores will automatically increase their clock speed.
Turbo Core 3.0 is clearly AMD’s best implementation of the concept to date. Most of the new Trinity processors have a more aggressive maximum Turbo Core speed than older products, and the flagship product (AMD’s A10-4600M) can increase the speed of a single core by up to 900 MHz.
The Product Line
When Llano came out AMD decided to use new A-Series branding. Each processor was given an A4/A6/A8 prefix, followed by a model number. A4 products were dual core, while A6/A8 products were quad-core. AMD also bestowed the A8 with the best Radeon IGP, while the A4 and A6 received versions with fewer cores.
AMD has changed the branding a bit with this new release. Trinity parts with a dual-core processor will now be called A6, while quad-cores will be called A8 or A10. Make sense? No? I don’t think so either, but that’s how it is.
Model numbers have also taken a jump from a baseline of 3000 to 4000. This is how you can tell if an AMD Fusion APU is part of new generation. Its model number will begin with a 4 instead of a 3.
To make matters worse, AMD has taken a page from Intel’s playbook and given its low-voltage parts confusing names. You’d expect the AMD A10-4655M to be faster than the A10-4600M, but it isn’t. That’s because the 4655M is a low-voltage part meant for ultraportable computers.
Anyone thinking of buying an AMD APU should probably do some research on Wikipedia and the AMD website beforehand. It’s easy to become confused about where each part stands in the company’s line-up.
The new Piledriver cores in Trinity allow for a nice boost in performance when compared with previous AMD mobile processors. In the best scenarios the new products are as much as 50% quicker, and overall they’re 15% to 25% better.
Even so, the quad-core AMD A10-4600M is still behind the last generation of Core i5 dual-cores. In Peacekeeper, for example, an older Core i5 will score between 1600 and 2000 points in Firefox 9. The flagship Trinity APU scores about 1350.
AMD knows this and is no longer making any claims about its processors being quicker than what Intel offers. Instead the company promotes its Radeon IGP, which has traditionally been faster than Intel’s integrated graphics.
This is still the case. Though there are some games where Intel HD 4000 can put up a good fight it generally loses to Trinity’s IGP, and sometimes by a margin of over ten frames per second. Games like Civilization 5 and Skyrim are not enjoyable at 1366×768 and Medium detail on Intel HD 4000 systems, but they work fine on a laptop using the AMD A10-4600M APU.
But there’s a catch. AMD sent out its best product, the A10-4600M, for the first round of reviews. It has a Radeon IGP with 384 cores clocked at up to 686 MHz. It’s also the only part with this combination of traits. The others have fewer cores and/or lower clock speeds. It’s no small difference, either. The next step down from the A10-4600M only has 256 cores.
This means that while the best Trinity APU can beat Intel HD 4000 handily, products lower on the totem pole may only be on par with, or slower than, Intel integrated graphics.
Should You Buy It?
I can’t recommend laptops with an AMD processor. They trail Intel badly in CPU performance, and while the Radeon IGP is robust when well equipped, the gimped versions found in the less expensive parts really take away from the promise of AMD’s Fusion APU.
More importantly, buying a Core i3 or Core i5 laptop with a low-end discrete GPU will give you the best of both worlds. You may have to pay an extra $100, but you may not – and a small increase in price is well worth the massive increase in performance.
As a former AMD fanboy it pains me to see the company in its current position, but it’s hard to make an argument for these new mobile processors even if you want to. If you want a laptop, go check out our articles about Ivy Bridge and Intel’s processor lineup. Chances are good that you’ll find an Intel processor is a much better value than anything AMD currently offers.