Low Power and Low Price

Kabini Goes Socketed!

Back at CES earlier this year, we came across a couple of interesting motherboards that were neither AM3+ nor FM2+.  These small, sparse, and inexpensive boards were actually based on the unannounced AM1 platform.  This socket is actually the FS1b socket that is typically reserved for mobile applications which require the use of swappable APUs.  The goal here is to provide a low cost, upgradeable platform for emerging markets where price is absolutely key.

AMD has not exactly been living on easy street for the past several years.  Their CPU technologies have not been entirely competitive with Intel.  This is their bread and butter.  Helping to prop the company up though is a very robust and competitive graphics unit.  The standalone and integrated graphics technology they offer are not only competitive, but also class leading in some cases.  The integration of AMD’s GCN architecture into APUs has been their crowning achievement as of late.

This is not to say that AMD is totally deficient in their CPU designs.  Their low power/low cost designs that started with the Bobcat architecture all those years back have always been very competitive in terms of performance, price, and power consumption.  The latest iteration is the Kabini APU based on the Jaguar core architecture paired with GCN graphics.  Kabini will be the part going into the FS1b socket that powers the AM1 platform.

Kabini is a four core processor (Jaguar) with a 128 unit GCN graphics part (8 GCN cores).  These APUs will be rated at 25 watts up and down the stack.  Even if they come with half the cores, it will still be a 25 watt part.  AMD says that 25 watts is the sweet spot in terms of performance, cooling, and power consumption.  Go lower than that and too much performance is sacrificed, and any higher it would make more sense to go with a Trinity/Richland/Kaveri solution.  That 25 watt figure also encompasses the primary I/O functionality that typically resides on a standalone motherboard chipset.  Kabini features 2 SATA 6G ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, and 8 USB 2.0 ports.  It also features multiple PCI-E lanes as well as a 4x PCI-E connection for external graphics.  The chip also supports DisplayPort, HDMI, and VGA outputs.  This is a true SOC from AMD that does a whole lot of work for not a whole lot of power.

AMD expects the top end combo to come in around $60.  All that is needed is memory, storage, and power (and maybe a case) and a fully working machine can be had for easily under $200.  This is very important for emerging markets that typically buy these types of parts.  AMD gives an example of Chile having a total disposable income of around $11,000 a year per home.  A few dollars here and there can make or break the purchase of a computer or mobile device.  The potential issue here is that of the cost of an OS.  If Microsoft does in fact release a free version of Win 8.1, this would render it a non-issue.  The combination of such a free OS and the quick and agile APU that Kabini represents a great value for people in these emerging areas.  The ability to upgrade the processor also provides more value for the system as compared to a soldered down APU.

Kabini will be the only APU available for AM1 for the foreseeable future.  While AMD is not disclosing their plans for future products in this marketplace, the very fact that these boards can accept upgraded APUs means that AMD does have something planned.  They will not comment on if Beema will make it into this socket, but considering that Beema is really only a slightly modified version of Kabini, I am not sure if the value is there.  When AMD moves to 20 nm and below, then we can likely expect new products based on the next gen low power architecture that AMD is working on.  These products will again have a significant edge in performance due to advances in design as well as process technology.  These parts are still well into the future though, and beyond the scope of this release.  Still, the potential for an inexpensive upgrade in the future makes this platform quite a bit more interesting.

These products will be available very soon in the developing areas that they are aimed at, and will hit the shores of North America sometime later in March.  A few places have put the motherboards up for sale, but they are approaching $60 by themselves.  I would figure that once supplies of these boards rise, the prices will drop.  AMD is using the old Athlon and Sempron branding for these particular processors.  It seems to be a solid use of the branding and differentiates it nicely from the latest A series of APUs.

Personally I like the idea of such a product, and it fills a niche that has not been fully exploited yet.  Users and OEMs can mix and match APUs for this platform to hit different price and performance points.  This flexibility plus the ability to upgrade in the future does add value to the platform.  Kabini does hold some advantages over Intel’s competing Baytrail parts, but Baytrail still performs well and is lower power.  About the biggest two features are the ability for Kabini to address up to 16GB of memory running at DDR-3 1600 speeds.  Baytrail is unable to do that.  AMD does need more traction and name recognition in these areas of potential growth, and this is a good tool to do that with.  It also doesn’t hurt that the GCN architecture is very fast and driver support for the latest applications is top notch as compared to what Intel offers at that price/power point.