Feature Articles

AMD Trinity APU - A Notebook Platform Performance Review

By Vijay Anand, Leo Boon Yeow & James Lu - 15 May 2012


Concluding Remarks

In a nutshell, AMD's new Trinity APU's performance results are rather interesting and strike a positive note. Certainly the mobile Trinity platform can easily claim 50% or better graphics performance over the Llano predecessor while maintaining similar battery life performance stats. That means the Trinity's performance-per-watt ratio is much improved and can easily compete with some of Intel's Sandy Bridge and even Ivy Bridge equipped processors - with low-end discrete graphics. However, if you're relying on CPU-intensive tasks like rendering, image editing and video encoding tasks, the Intel processors are still nearly two times faster.

Looking ahead, with more applications being enhanced with OpenCL acceleration capabilities, Intel's lead might become less dramatic in conventional CPU-heavy tasks. The level of advantage obtained from these new APIs to take advantage of compute capabilities on both the CPU and GPU will vary and the landscape is an evolving one. Plus, the differentiated hardware architecture design emphasis between AMD and Intel processors also don't yield an easy outcome. AMD's APU has allocated far more die space to its onboard GPU and the results show that clearly; the opposite is true for Intel where the graphics engine, though well integrated within the CPU now, is still more of an afterthought as it still holds the bottom performance bar. Raw processing power on the Intel processors is still far higher.

We'll have to investigate how the performance of these processors evolve in newer applications and with more comparable platforms. Notebook based systems aren't the easiest to perform platform comparisons unlike DIY systems where most parameters can be self controlled.

A quick overview of the Trinity APU's key new features.

Performance Fit for Casual Users

What we've shown today is just a performance potential of the new APUs. But considering that what we've shown is for the top SKU, we're somewhat concerned how the other variants will stack up. If you were to peer into the results graphics results carefully, what the Radeon HD 7660G managed to do is make integrated graphics finally usable for a wide variety of games at low to medium graphics quality. We've not yet turned up the graphics detail levels to maximum nor push the resolution up - both of which would make tax the APU by a large degree to easily bog it down. And that's just for graphics performance. If we were to assume that the lower performing variant has general performance to rival the Llano platform, we reckon that the processor's capabilities are clear - a rung below that of Intel. So while it seems that the APU has progressed much, it hasn't made enough of an impact to change night to day.

But is it bad? From a general performance stand point, we think consumers will like what AMD's Trinity APU delivers. It certainly can satisfy mainstream non-demanding users better with its better graphics capabilities than Intel's iGPU-only system solutions. This would mean it can compete better in the entry to low mid-range machines that usually don't sport a discrete graphics module since the Trinity APU can offer better experience for this target group of users. Consequently, the value proposition would have to be strong and from what AMD has been singing, we hope they will be attractive and competitive. More discerning users would  still prefer the extreme performance potential possibilities with a quad-core Intel CPU and discrete GPU combination - it's still the ultimate combo for this year.

The other challenge that lies ahead is notebook and system vendors integrating them to their platforms. Will they be something that consumers look forward to? They've got to be appealing physically from the aesthetics point of view before consumers want to even check these AMD equipped systems. Furthermore, we're also concerned of availability matters. AMD has stumbled once with limited availability of AMD Llano processors, but surely they should be better equipped this time round with a tried and tested manufacturing process? At least that's what AMD would like us to believe too.

In the end, we'll have to wait out till more AMD Trinity APU based notebooks and systems arrive in the market and get evaluated before we can make a better conclusion of AMD's new platform. The Fusion strategy has served them will in the netbook market and we believe they will have equally enticing products for the Ultrathin and mainstream multimedia target group to make a better market push than the Llano platform could ever imagine. 

We can only hope their execution goes as planned and put pressure on the Intel-based machines. Remember, Intel's Ultrabooks aren't yet as affordable as the chip giant wants us to believe, but pressure from AMD should help in one way or another. Likewise, the same should apply to the other notebook segments too. Here's to a more exciting and dynamic notebook market for us consumers!

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