Introduction, Overview

AMD Tries To Catch Up With Ivy Bridge Laptops

AMD’s position is not enviable. Though they’re the only large competitor to Intel in the market for x86 processors, the company is dwarfed by the Giant of Santa Clara. As a resident of Portland, I can’t forget this fact. Intel offices are strewn across the landscape of the western suburbs, most of them at least four times larger than any office I’ve worked at.

Despite the long odds, AMD is set in this course for now and has no choice but to soldier on. And so we have today’s reference platform, a laptop powered by AMD’s latest mobile processor, codenamed Trinity. These processors, like the older Llano models, will be sold as the AMD A-Series. This might lead you to think that it’s simply another minor update, but that’s not the case. 

Llano was released around the same time as Bulldozer, but it did not use Bulldozer cores. Instead it used yet another update of Stars, which is a mobile incarnation of Phenom II, which was of course an improvement upon the original Phenom. The “new” Llano APU in fact was equipped with some rather old processor cores. This showed in the performance of the mobile Llano products. They simply could not keep up with Sandy Bridge’s more modern cores.

Bulldozer isn’t coming to mobile with Trinity, either. Instead we’re receiving Piledriver. AMD has effectively skipped the first iteration of its new Bulldozer architecture and moved straight on to the second. Piledriver includes the third generation of AMD’s Turbo Core and promises “up to 29%” better processor performance than last year’s Llano-based A-Series.

That’s a significant improvement, should it turn out to be correct. Is it true, and will it be enough to catch up to Intel?

Getting The Band Back Together 

In the image above we have the platform diagrams for Llano (on the left) and Trinity (on the right). As you can see, they are similar. Switching out the old cores in favor of (up to) four new Piledriver cores has not resulted in any radical changes in how a Trinity APU is laid out. 

This means the L2 cache still maxes out at 4MB and you’ll still be receiving a maximum of four USB 3.0 ports in addition to 10 USB 2.0 ports from the A-Series chipset controller. Turbo Core is still implemented in basically the same way (though there have been some enhancements, which we’ll discuss later). Outside of the new Piledriver cores AMD has simply reunited the band for another tour.

Memory is almost the same, but there is now support for low-power ULVDDR3-1333 memory, which features a voltage that limbos under 1.25V. DDR3-1600 memory running at 1.5V is still the quickest supported by the platform.

Another minor change can be found in instruction set support. FMA3 and F16C are now included, joining the previous team of AVX, AVX 1.1 and AES. Including the FMA3 instruction set is a small concession to Intel. AMD had used FMA4 in Bulldozer, but Intel announced that they would not be supporting it and would instead use FMA3 starting with the Haswell microarchitecture. 

For those interested, here’s the full platform definition table for Trinity.

Trinity’s most significant change is not the platform specifications but rather the thermal design power. Llano only fit within 35W and 45W TDPs, which meant AMD has no answer to Intel’s low-voltage Sandy Bridge processors. With Trinity the entire range has been moved downward and there are now processors with 17W, 25W and 35W TDPs.The fastest Trinity A-Series APU has a significantly lower TDP than the fastest Llano APUs. This change will allow for slimmer systems and should help improve battery life. 

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