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AMD Mullins Preview: A New Windows Tablet Paradigm?

Introduction

A Primer on Beema & Mullins

Last year saw AMD introduce Kabini and Temash, the company’s low-power APUs targeted at low-power computing applications - tablets, ultra-thin notebooks, entry-level desktop systems and Mini-PCs.

The new APUs were launched to much fanfare and high expectations, but unfortunately under delivered on their performance promise and were therefore unpopular to OEMs. As we had discovered during our preview of Kabini last year, overall performance was disappointing in light of Intel's impending Haswell launch. To further compound matters, the PC industry in general - desktops and notebooks - has suffered a steady decline in recent times, resulting in even poorer uptake on Kabini.

As for Temash, despite being the world’s first quad-core SoC, finds itself in a market dominated by the iPad and various Android tablets. A recent study by Gartner indicates that Windows tablets only have a paltry 2.1% share of the tablet market. As a result, it has been largely overlooked by OEMs and users alike.

However, not one to be discouraged, AMD has followed up on Kabini and Temash with Beema and Mullins. Beema replaces Kabini while Mullins replaces Temash, and like their predecessors, are targeted at low-power and mainstream applications (again for thin mobile platforms like notebooks and tablets respectively).

Briefly put, the new Beema and Mullins APUs are an incremental update of Kabini and Temash. The headline change here is the use of new Puma+ cores and other hardware improvements and optimizations to reduce power leakage and boost CPU frequencies. Also new to Beema and Mullins is the addition of an ARM Cortex-A5 with ARM TrustZone technology for security. And to improve power efficiency, the new APUs will support DDR3L (low-voltage) and various hardware optimizations and enhancements have also been undertaken to reduce power leakage.

To add on to these are also two new power management ideologies. The first is called Skin Temperature Aware Power Management (STAPM), which looks at the 'surface temperature' of the tablet to determine whether it can boost clock speeds. This allows the APU to remain in a boosted state for a longer period of time as it often takes a bit longer before surface temperatures of the tablet to increase to the point where it becomes uncomfortable to handle.

In a nutshell, STAPM looks at the 'surface temperature' of the tablet as opposed to the chip's temperatures to determine whether it can boost clock speeds. Oddly though, this isn't achieved via another monitoring sensor on the tablet surface, but via algorithms and system temperature instead of just that of the APU. As such, STAPM isn't exactly monitoring surface temperature as we would ideally like it to. However, this implementation allows STAPM to work with any device and doesn't require specific hardware designs to track actual surface temperatures.

The second is called Intelligent Boost Control, in which the APU looks at what tasks are worth boosting its clock speeds so that it can complete them faster and return to an idle state quicker. Think of it as a car that is accelerating quickly so as to get to its most efficient cruising speed. The net result of these improvements is performance increases without sacrificing on TDP (similar ideals to Intel's Turbo Boost).

Here are the various SKUs that users can expect to see from Beema and Mullins.

AMD Mullins SKUs (tablet-class APUs)
Model Radeon Brand SDP TDP CPU Cores CPU Max Clock Speed L2 Cache  Radeon Cores GPU Max Clock Speed DDR3 Support
AMD A-Series APUs

A10 Micro-6700T

R6 2.8W 4.5W 4 2.2GHz 2MB 128 500MHz DDR3L-1333
A4 Micro-6400T R3 2.8W 4.5W 4 1.6GHz 2MB 128 350MHz DDR3L-1333

AMD E-Series APU

E1 Micro-6200T R2 2.8W 3.95W 2 1.4GHz 1MB 128 300MHz DDR3L-1066

 

AMD Beema SKUs (notebook class APUs)
Model Radeon Brand TDP CPU Cores CPU Max Clock Speed L2 Cache  Radeon Cores GPU Max Clock Speed DDR3 Support
AMD A-Series APUs

A6-6310

R4 15W 4 2.4GHz 2MB 128 800MHz DDR3L-1866
A4-62100 R3 15W 4 1.8GHz 2MB 128 600MHz DDR3L-1600

AMD E-Series APU

E2-6110 R2 15W 4 1.5GHz 2MB 128 500MHz DDR3L-1600
E1-6010 R2 10W 2 1.35GHz 1MB 128 350MHz DDR3L-1333

On the graphics front, Beema and Mullins will employ GPU parts using AMD’s latest GCN architecture and as you can see from the table above, are all comprised of 128 Radeon cores, with the only differentiating factor being GPU core clock speeds. According to AMD, the higher clock speeds coupled with power optimizations is enough to give the new APUs up to 10% better graphics performance at 40% lower TDP when compared to Kabini and Temash. However, these new integrated GPU parts will have a new branding that will hopefully make it clearly for users when deciding which APU to pick.

Speaking of branding, AMD’s new Mullins part will have a new nomenclature as evidenced in the table above. Mullins APD will feature “Micro” in their model name, which will clearly differentiate it from its Beema counterparts.

We had the opportunity to spend some time with AMD’s reference Mullins tablet, to find out how it performs head over to the next page.