More Details from Lisa Su

AMD’s Lisa Su took the time to expose more features of the upcoming Kaveri APU

The executives at AMD like to break their own NDAs.  Then again, they are the ones typically setting these NDA dates, so it isn’t a big deal.  It is no secret that Kaveri has been in the pipeline for some time.  We knew a lot of the basic details of the product, but there were certainly things that were missing.  Lisu Su went up onstage and shared a few new details with us.

Kaveri will be made up of 4 “Steamroller” cores, which are enhanced versions of the previous Bulldozer/Trinity/Vishera families of products.  Nearly everything in the processor is doubled.  It now has dual decode, more cache, larger TLBs, and a host of other smaller features that all add up to greater single thread performance and better multi-threaded handling and performance.   Integer performance will be improved, and the FPU/MMX/SSE unit now features 2 x 128 bit FMAC units which can “fuse” and support AVX 256.

However, there was no mention of the fabled 6 core Kaveri.  At this time, it is unlikely that particular product will be launched anytime soon. 

The GCN cores in Kaveri are exactly as advertised, but we were not entirely certain how many were going to be included.  Lisa mentioned that there will be up to 8 GCN compute units, which comes out to be around 512 stream units.  GCN has turned out to be a very flexible and efficient architecture for AMD, and a lot of stream units can be fit per mm-squared.  These GCN units are also DX 11.2 compliant.  Lisa did not give us the speeds that we would see running, but they did show off performance running BF4 at medium quality settings and 1080P.  The Kaveri chip was running between 24 and 30 fps, compared to an Intel i7-4770K paired with the GT 630 graphics card.  The Intel/NVIDIA combination was providing 12 to 14 fps in performance in the same scene with the same quality settings.

Kaveri will be the first HSA enabled part to be released (though the specification is not yet finalized).  It will contain the hUMA and HQ specifications that we have been made aware of over the past few years.  Kaveri will also be the first APU to support shared physical and virtual memory spaces between the CPU and GPU.  In addition, this chip will feature the TrueAudio functionality introduced with the latest AMD standalone GPUs (Hawaii and Bonaire).  This DSP technology will accelerate audio functions when combined with the necessary middleware.  From all indications, adding this functionality entails a very small die size hit.

AMD also talked about Mantle support for Kaveri.  This low-level rendering API will give Kaveri a nice boost in performance with games that support Mantle technology.  While it will not be faster under all situations as a standalone budget or midrange card, it will be a free performance boost for people who game on their APU. 

Kaveri will also be the first PCI-E 3.0 APU from AMD.  While rumor had it that Trinity supported PCI-E 3.0, it was never certified. AMD is pushing PCI-E 3.0 with Kaveri and the latest FM2+ motherboards.

Software support for heterogeneous computing is on the rise.  AMD detailed the progress they have made and what products are coming up that will help programmers and developers integrate heterogeneous features into their products.  Throughout the next year, more tools and features will be released so that it will become more and more transparent to programmers to implement parallel processing in appropriate scenarios.

Kaveri at the top end will feature around 856 GFlops of processing power.  This is well up from the 779 GFlops of the A10-6800K.  Kaveri also throws in support for up to 32 GB of memory that is shared between the CPU and GPU.  There should be a smaller latency hit for parallel loads as compared to the previous memory setup with Trinty/Richland.

Kaveri is going to be a very big product for AMD.  While it likely will not compete in CPU performance with the i5 and i7 4000 series from Intel, it will certainly be a big jump up in terms of graphics performance.  Nobody is sure where CPU performance will land, but it will certainly be a big improvement over the current iterations present in Vishera and Richland based products.  All indications point to it eclipsing the very competent Intel Iris Pro graphics component that is found only in certain Ultrathin notebooks, including Apple's new MacBook Pro 15'.  It is also the first shot across the bow of the industry when it comes to serious heterogeneous computing.  AMD is doing their best to make sure the software ecosystem is there, and the HSA group has gained a lot of momentum with the addition of Qualcomm and Samsung to the group (not to mention ARM and MediaTek being some of the original founders).

Lisa was pretty emphatic that they would be shipping product in 2013.  This may be true, but we really have no idea exactly how much product will be shipped.  They could certainly ship a couple thousand APUs at the very end of December and they would be keeping their word.  Launch looks to be January 14, 2014, but availability is not known at this time.  Press samples will probably be available some 3 weeks before launch. 

This is a very significant moment for AMD, and one very much akin to what the original Athlon 64 meant for the company.  They are treading on new territory here, and their implementation is logical and open to the industry.  Kaveri may not be an Intel killer, but it will certainly insure the survival of AMD if it performs as expected.