AMD’s Kaveri APU range and first look at Mantle

Last week AMD debuted the next line in their APU series. APUs focus on creating a combination of the processing power of a CPU and the gaming orientated capabilities of a GPU into a single chip. Intel currently have integrated graphics in their CPUs too, but AMD’s APU ranges are far better suited for gaming, allowing higher framerates and better graphical settings.

This new range of APUs gives us a first look at the next generation of AMD CPU technology – Steamroller. AMD have significantly reduced their power usage of their chips, taking into account the large mobile computing market that the APUs would be very well suited to. AMD have managed to squeeze 85% more transistors into the chips, which is a much larger increase than one would normally expect. This is partly due to the move from 32nm to 28nm SHP (Super High Performance) though you would normally only expect an increase of around 26% from this change. There is a tradeoff of frequency, in return for the increased density however, though AMD says this is an “APU optimised” process.

The GPU side of things are now moving towards AMD’s latest and greatest Hawaii range, including Mantle and HSA support for the Kaveri range. The main claim was that Kaveri can run modern fps games at 30fps and 1080p. As someone gaming at only 10fps at 480p on modern games from a 1st generation mobile i3, I welcome this with open arms.

They will also feature AMD’s new TrueAudio technology, which is said to offload sound processing tasks from the CPU cores, allowing them to focus on the other contents of the game.

AMD 95-100W Bulldozer Based APUs
Trinity Richland Kaveri
Model A8-5600K A10-5800K A8-6600K A10-6800K A10-7700K A10-7850K
Core Name Trinity Trinity Richland Richland Kaveri Kaveri
Microarchi Piledriver Piledriver Piledriver Piledriver Steamroller Steamroller
Socket FM2 FM2 FM2 FM2 FM2+ FM2+
Modules/Cores 2/4 2/4 2/4 2/4 2/4 2/4
CPU Base Freq 3600 3800 3900 4100 3500 3700
Max Turbo 3900 4200 4200 4400 3800 4000
TDP 100W 100W 100W 100W 95W 95W
L1 Cache 128KB I$
64KB D$
128KB I$
64KB D$
128KB I$
64KB D$
128KB I$
64KB D$
192KB I$
64KB D$
192KB I$
64KB D$
L2 Cache 2 x 2 MB 2 x 2 MB 2 x 2 MB 2 x 2 MB 2 x 2 MB 2 x 2 MB
Graphics HD 7560D HD 7660D HD 8570D HD 8670D R7 R7
GPU Cores 256 384 256 384 384 512
GPU Clock 760 800 844 844 720 720
Max DDR3 1866 1866 1866 2133 2133 2133
Current Price $100 $130 $120 $140 $152 $173

Above: A table showing the specifications of the 100W APUs that AMD have released; newer models to the right. Source: AnandTech

I don’t expect that AMD will have a great deal of competition with Intel with their Steamroller architecture in the high end of the CPU market. Once they leave the Bulldozer family, after they release Excavator later this year, I think a fresh start could give them a chance to start competing in the top again. Unfortunately, I think it will still be a painstaking wait as they roll out Excavator, but they have done fairly well with Piledriver, to the extent that waiting a little longer shouldn’t do any considerable harm. An issue with the APUs here is that intel is competitively pricing it’s lower range of CPUs to them, so an Intel CPU and dedicated card combination are still quite enticing to those looking at these APUs.

Finally, on to Mantle. We’ve heard a lot about this lately, with the most interesting part being the fact that AMD now control the console market due to their chips being in both the PS4 and Xbox One, so they can use Mantle to improve compatibility between the games designed for PC or for console.

The way Mantle is designed means that if game developers choose to design their game for AMD hardware, it will be able to utilise superior performance across PC and  consoles. Since AMD dominate the console market, so long as developers take Mantle into account, it should make be easy for their PC range of APUs and GPUs to take advantage of it. Mantle can be seen as AMD’s way of enticing buyers into getting their cards, and promoting their brand, in a similar way to how Nvidia promote things like PhysX – special graphical physics that you can utilise particularly well on Nvidia cards.

Also shown last week was a new game engine called Nitrous, which allows 5000 AI or physical driven objects to be displayed onscreen at one time. This is a vast increase compared to the limits on many RTS games, which can cope with anything from 50 to 500 players.

A graph showing the performance increase on a demo of Starswarm, a game based on the Nitrous engine. It compares the new Mantle API with the current DirectX technology, on a Kaveri APU.

To take advantage of the new engine, you would need a robust CPU. Nitrous can take advantage of all cores, which is an improvement from a lot of previous engines, many of which only support around 1-4 cores. To take advantage of the huge scale as well as the enhanced visual effects, you require Mantle capabilities which can speed up communication between the CPU and GPU. If more developers start using Mantle, and it proves to be as effective as AMD claim it will be, then it could tempt more buyers towards AMD hardware for their new PC or for an upgrade in the next few years.

To check out the full review of Kaveri, including benchmarks, check out http://www.anandtech.com/show/7677/amd-kaveri-review-a8-7600-a10-7850k

For a look at the Mantle and Nitrous news, take a look at http://www.engadget.com/2014/01/14/oxide-star-swarm-real-time-strategy-mantle-demo/

Thanks for reading, let me know how you think these new advancements will affect gaming, in consoles, or for PC gaming, in the comments here or on my facebook page.

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