AMD Trinity APU - A Notebook Platform Performance Review

AMD’s Mobile Trinity APU Competitive Positioning

 AMD’s Mobile Trinity APU Competitive Positioning

By now you should have a clear idea of what is the Trinity APU about and its key differences against its predecessors. We listed a full list of processors launched on the first page and while you can roughly estimate where they rank, you probably may not be sure exactly who are they targeted at. Thankfully, AMD has the following broad slide that points out the estimated target market and key enablers that they bring about in their various classes of A-series APUs:-

The complete A-series APU stack compared against their Brazos platform (E2) and their high-end desktop FX series.

Note that the AMD A6, A8 and new A10 class are likely candidates to populate the mainstream notebooks and the supposed Ultrathin notebooks that will compete with Intel’s Ultrabooks. And just like the latter, AMD too is following in their footsteps to prepare more premium labeling that will be used for the Ultrathin notebooks. To give you an idea what you might soon see in stores, here’ yet another slide from AMD:-

Some of the premium marketing logos you’ll soon see in retail to market Ultrathin notebooks.

However we noted an issue with the branding as there’s no clear differentiation between a first generation AMD A8 APU and the second generation APU. While AMD mentioned of the updated logo color, this is quite subtle and most consumers will not notice it unless told. As such, for the next few months, consumers would be wise to check on the exact APU models that the system and notebooks posses in retail. The foolproof method is look out for the full processor model number such as the A8-4500M APU where the number "4xxx" denotes that it’s a Trinity class APU. Previous generation Llano APUs go by the "3xxx" numbering scheme.

So how exactly do all these second generation A-series APUs compete against the dominant mobile computing platform provider from Intel? Our benchmarks in the next few pages will soon reveal these from our personal testing. But before that, let’s take a look at a slide from AMD showing how they position their Comal platform (which is the AMD Trinity APU for mobile systems) stacks up against Intel’s counterparts.

AMD’s A-series APUs compared against an equivalent Intel processor class. Take note that at the time of information dissemination, the Intel comparisons amassed are of the Sandy Bridge class variety.

Given that the compared slide takes Sandy Bridge processor in comparison, we feel that the current Ivy Bridge mainstream CPUs are an even tougher match for them. We estimate that the AMD A10 and A8 would end up competing against Core i5 and Core i3 notebook platforms.

As iterated earlier, a new market segment that AMD wants to target with the Trinity APUs is Intel’s Ultrabooks To tackle this, AMD has able to come up with more ultra low voltage (ULV) processor variety. In the current Comal platform, AMD has one rated for 17W TDP usage and should hopefully fit in an Ultrabook-like form factor, which AMD has coined as Ultrathin (imaginative, we know).

However, will these low-powered chips be able to keep pace with Ultrabooks equipped with Ivy Bridge CPUs? From the looks of things, our benchmarks pitting the AMD A10 APU against an Ivy Bridge equipped machine (HP Pavilion dv6) shows that the AMD chips lose out in pure processing throughput. However when it comes to gaming, the Trinity platform with its integrated GPU came out on top and did not disappoint (when not considering the comparison notebook’s discrete graphics performance.). So what does this all mean for consumers?

In the case where ultra-thin-and-light notebooks are concerned, since most of them do not have space for discrete graphics (unless they are 14-inches or larger), the capabilities of the integrated graphics are far more important and here’s where the AMD Trinity platforms can deliver. The story is a little different when it comes to proper multimedia class notebooks where there’s space to integrate a discrete graphics unit and if the price is right, and Intel CPU and discrete GPU combo is still the better outcome as you’ll seen in our test results later.

But of course, graphical and CPU capabilities are only one part of the story. The multimedia experience on the Trinity platform is also something that will make or break AMD’s “Ultrathin” ambitions. Thus there is a need to introduce the AMD HD Media Accelerator, which is a collection of AMD technologies that boost performance of multimedia tasks. These technologies include the AMD Perfect Picture HD (image and video processing), AMD Quick Stream (online video streaming) and AMD Steady Video (software video stabilization), and all that comes baked into the chip you buy.

To make use of all that exciting multimedia technology, AMD also worked with developers of popular software like Photoshop, VLC, Winzip and more to make sure these apps are written to take advantage of the technology available on the chips. The list of applications that support these functions as well as tapping on to the GP-GPU capabilities is still a growing one and is far from complete, but we’re glad to note that it has ballooned notably as compared to a year earlier.

Here are some of the key applications that AMD is working closely to get them optimized for the AMD Fusion computing strategy.

It will take a while longer to reach a tipping point where almost every other application is written to take advantage of these technologies. Since AMD is adopting open standard APIs, the effort put in by the developers can also be harnessed by competing companies like Intel and NVIDIA. As such, we’ll have to revisit performance aspects all over again, but at least AMD will be in a better position competing with its GPU and CPU know-how than the competition.

Recently, we mentioned that HP was first to announce ultra-portable notebooks (dubbed Sleekbooks) that run on the Trinity platform but sadly won’t be reaching Singapore. However, there will still be other vendors producing AMD APU toting notebooks. In fact one of them will be sending one our way pretty soon. Until then, read on as we tackle how AMD’s reference Trinity notebook platform is able to compete with a variety of tough competitors we’ve got lined up.