We are Still Among the Living

AMD talked extensively about their upcoming 2013 releases.

The day after the official AMD presentation we were able to sit down with Leslie Sobon for a good hour and really dig into the products we are expecting throughout this next year.  AMD did not officially announce any products, but they revealed more details about products on their roadmaps.

To say that AMD is in a somewhat precarious situation is an understatement.  This does not necessarily mean that they won’t survive for some years.  This was never mentioned to us by AMD, but we can assume that it is not in ATIC’s best interest to let AMD flounder too much.  AMD is still GLOBALFOUNDRIES largest customer, and ATIC believes that they can become a fabrication giant in the next few years.  So, while AMD is hitting some hard times, they will be around for some time to come in spite of their issues.

CPUs

Believe it or not, AMD is still a CPU company with some relevant producxts.  While Intel has the advantage in x86 performance and process technology, AMD has a distinct advantage in the integrated graphics portion.  While Trinity was a big step in the right direction in terms of performance and power consumption, it was not enough to boost their flagging marketshare.  Throughout the 2013 they are working on several products that will help to change their fortunes.

The first product that we will likely see is the Jaguar core based Kabini APUs.  These are the next generation, low power APUs which will replace the Brazos 2.0 products that we currently are seeing.  These quad core and dual core parts are manufactured by TSMC on their 28 nm process.  Kabini will be the first APU to include the new GCN architecture that we currently see in the HD 7700 series and above.  AMD will be breaking new ground in offering a true quad core part at price points unseen so far.

Overall Kabini should offer around 50% greater performance than the previous Brazos generation of produts.  This is a combination of CPU and graphics performance rather than one or the other.  AMD believes that there should be around a 20% increase in IPC over the previous Bobcat architecture and a pretty hefty jump in graphics performance.  Going from a 40 nm manufacturing node with Brazos to the latest 28 nm process for Kabini should net some major improvements.  Jaguar is a bigger CPU design as well as the graphics portion being used.  The die size should be comparable to current Brazos chips, but we will again see some thermal improvements as well as greater IPC.

Temash is a subset of Kabini and is intended for the tablet market.  The 2C version can scale down to 3.9 watts, which is in the fanless tablet range.  The 4C product will go up to 15 watts which is aimed at the convertible market.  Temash features a configurable TDP which will allow its use in convertibles.  When plugged into the base unit the TDP can be much higher and take advantage of the second battery typically included in the base unit (or AC power) to give better performance.  When in tablet mode it will clock down to a lower TDP to maximize battery life.  15 watts is the full power envelope while 8 watts is the convertible mode. 

The 4C version will be released in Q2 while the 2C version will be released during the mid-year timeframe.  These are most definitely budget oriented parts, but with the push for ultra mobile notebooks and tablets, AMD is hitting a good time frame for the release of these parts.  At their tent AMD showed off quite a few Temash based products and their performance was impressive, especially in graphical applications.

On the desktop and traditional notebook market we will see the release of the Richland APU.  This is a Trinity based product, but “optimized” for greater performance.  The optimizations on the CPU portion are essentially some basic BIOS tweaks as well as small improvements in manufacturing which should allow higher clockspeeds at the same current TDPs.  So we will see a couple hundred MHz improvements at the 17, 35, 65, and 95 watt TDPs.  The low level BIOS/microcode changes are expected to improve the IPC of these products by a measureable amount, but do not expect anything truly massive.  My expectations are within the 3 to 5% range for some if not most workloads.

The graphics side is a bit more of a rework.  It is a redesigned graphics portion that will still use the VLIW4 architecture.  I doubt that there will be more stream units, but they are changing the layout to improve efficiency.  They are going from the current 3 SIMD units to 6 units.  There are many other smaller tweaks to the design, but AMD expects a pretty sizeable increase in graphics performance without inflating the die size of the Richland APUs.

The biggest news of this meeting is that AMD detailed their Kaveria APU to us for the first time.  Kaveri is a next generation CPU which implements the improved Steamroller architecture and is the second APU to include the GCN graphics architecture.  While Kabini implements GCN, it is not a fully enabled HSA part.  I do not believe that it has the extensive interconnect technology to be able to do things like the shared address space that HSA dictates.  Kaveri will be the first fully HSA enabled part from AMD (and anyone else for that matter).

This particular part will be fabricated by GLOBALFOUNDRIES on their 28 nm node.  It will be made on bulk silicon, so no SOI for this part.  I was quite surprised that GF would be in a position in the next half year to start ramping production on their 28 nm process.  AMD expects to start shipping Kaveri in a late Q4 timeframe this year.  These parts will be desktop at first and will transition to mobile in 2014.  AMD wants (and needs) to get these parts out in a timely manner, and they are pulling in the launch as much as possible.  Hence the desktop first release while they refine production to be able to adequately address the mobile space.  Achieving good bins and yields at the higher TDP is easier than trying to hit those numbers for a 35 watt and below product line.

FM2 and FM2+ will be the primary platform for AMD for quite some time.  It was essentially confirmed that Trinity has the ability to run PCI-E 3.0 speeds, but the parts were never certified due to a mix of time, budget, and personnel constraints.  FM1 did not support PCI-E 3.0 while FM2 does, hence the change in sockets.  No timeline has been given for when PCI-E 3.0 will be implemented on the AMD platform, but we were assured that when it makes sense for them to do so we will see products supporting this technology.

AM3 is a big question internally for AMD.  These parts are partitioned off of the server market and they are not interchangeable with FM2 (HT vs. PCI-E connections).  There will be no updates for some time other than potentially a speed bump down the road with the current Vishera product line.  Kaveri will be the first Steamroller part and it is yet unknown if Steamroller will be making it to AM3 or if FM2 will simply replace it in the enthusiast market.

Graphics

AMD has launched the 8500 and 8600 parts to the market, and these are primarily mobile.  The last generation HD 7600 and below parts were rebranded VLIW5 parts.  So these products are the first GCN based parts for this market in both mobile and discrete desktop.  These are not next generation GCN parts or even updates.

The Solar System code name is simply that of notebook parts under the Sea Islands umbrella.  These again are not next generation parts as compared to the current 7700 series and above.  AMD did not give a timeline as to when they will be refreshing their desktop parts.  We have seen rumors of the HD 8900 series, but we do not yet know if this is a new part or simply a rebranded 7900 that coincides with OEM/ODM  product refreshes.

In Closing

Kabini will be a very major step for AMD and one that will help them stay competitive in the x86 market.  The Richland APU will also improve AMD’s standing, but it will certainly not put AMD back in the running for the performance crown.  It will not be until Kaveri that we will see a part that will be more competitive with the current Intel lineup.  Unfortunately for AMD, Intel will have released their Haswell parts into the market which promises not only improved CPU performance but also a significant bump in graphics performance and capabilities.

Coverage of CES 2013 is brought to you by AMD!AMD CES 2013: Temash, Kabini, and Kaveri with a side of Sea Islands - Shows and Expos  1

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