The AM1 Platform
AMD saw a need for a low power desktop product that would embrace many next generation features, but be available for a very low price. Kabini seems to have hit a lot of these targets. AMD is introducing the AM1 platform which includes the socketed Kabini APU. This has a max TDP of 25 watts for the entire family of products, though performance is going to vary significantly from the top end Athlon 5350 to the bottom end Sempron 2650.
Motherboards will be fairly simple for the platform because of the integration of most southbridge functions into the APU/SOC. There will be some differentiation here and there, but do not expect any enthusiast class touches to a motherboard except perhaps another SATA chip or a slightly more exotic Ethernet controller.
AM1 is designed to be very simple to construct and run. Add-in graphics cards will be extremely rare to non-existent due to the very few PCI-E lanes afforded by this particular APU. The 25 watt draw will also allow the use of a simpler and less robust power delivery system. This is not some fire breathing CPU like the FX-9000 series which can pull upwards of 220 watts! Measuring the draw at the wall is going to be pretty boring for this particular product. Or exciting, depending how a user feels about their power bill every month.
AMD is announcing that the AM1 platform is now available worldwide. Initially it was going to be focused on growing markets where desktop products still have a lot of traction. This includes Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and India/Asia. It seems that the demand elsewhere is higher than expected. These products should be available in decent quantities everywhere by the time this article goes live.
The push behind such a product is that the vast majority of users only utilize their PCs for very simple functions. This is primarily email, social networking, browsing the internet, and streaming music and programs. These things do not necessarily require a lot of horsepower (unless the user thinks they should be streaming House of Cards in 4K). Kabini looks like a nice balance of power, heat, and performance. It supports the latest instruction sets for CPUs and DirectX/OpenGL versions for graphics. It can run a surprising amount of modern casual games as well as older games at higher resolutions.
Asus provided the AM1 ITX motherboard for review. These should not break the bank.
AMD is releasing four APUs with this release. AMD has resurrected (again) the Athlon and Sempron branding for these products. The top two products are the Athlon 5350 and Athlon 5150. Sempron is represented by the 3850 and 2650. The top three products feature the full quad core design, while the 2650 is a dual core part. Something of interest is that all four feature the full 128 stream units on the GCN compute cores. Clockspeeds are the primary differentiator of these products.
Before I get into the hard numbers in the benchmarking session, I thought I would talk a few minutes about my experiences with the setup. I typically like to get a feel for a new product by just using them in a regular manner. This means some browsing, some video playback, and gaming with a variety of titles.
The product does seem pretty quick for what it is worth. It does have some limitations. It comes with only two SATA ports, which can be a deal breaker for some people. Those looking for multiple storage drives as well as a BD drive for movie playback will have to look elsewhere. Configurations will be limited to something like a single SSD with an optical drive or a larger spinning drive for storage.
I installed Windows 8.1 Pro with the latest update (released today). This particular installation felt fairly sluggish due to my use of a Western Digital 1 TB Green drive. This drive spins at 5400 RPM, so it is going to be significantly slower than a SSD or even a 7200 RPM performance drive. My choice with the Green again revolves around power and price. It is going to pull less than a 7200 RPM drive, and it is going to be much cheaper than a 1TB SSD!
Real estate is not expansive on this board, but it does not appear too terribly cluttered.
I played a variety of games on it with the time I had available to me. My first game installed is the 2002 title, “The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind”. At the time this was one of the more stunning titles to hit the streets and required a fairly beefy machine to play at high resolutions and any sort of anti-aliasing. I was able to run this at 1600×1200 with 2X AA and Pixel Shaders enabled. It ran surprisingly smooth. I had no performance issues in any part of the limited time I had with the title, but it is fun to see that something that really pushed graphics some 12 years ago has no problem on a modern APU.
Next up I tried Doom 3 BFG Edition. I ran around that place with high settings, no AA, and a 1920×1200 resolution with again few performance problems. There were a few graphical glitches here and there, but nothing that would take away from the experience of not seeing demons jump out at the dark and owning me. I was again impressed by how this game played on a low power APU with limited memory bandwidth. Yes, this is a 2004/2005 title that was slightly hopped up a few years ago, but it is fun to see this type of performance on an entry-level, low power APU.
Finally I played Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance in a multiplayer game with the APU hosting. This really put a lot of pressure on this APU to perform well. While it is a quick quad core part, SupCom really hammered on it. I was able to play at 1920×1200 with the high preset, but it really started to struggle once the unit numbers started to rise. The machine also supported multiple AIs in this multiplayer match. This was one application where it was just being asked too much from CPU and graphics usage.
Common situations like streaming, desktop productivity, and browsing were again quick and trouble free. I edited a few photos and screen grabs without issue and at a fairly brisk pace. Program developers are starting to roll out more support for OpenCL/GPGPU, as well as implementing that functionality in a variety of more commonplace applications.
Overall I was quite pleased with what I encountered. It was not a perfect experience, but it more than met my expectations considering the power envelope and the overall cost of the product.