Advanced Micro Devices is launching its code-named Kaveri processors for mobile device. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company says the chips represent one of the biggest technical advances that the company has made in some time. Kaveri chips are meant for games and other high-performance applications, and now they’ll go into laptops and other mobile devices.
The new chips show that AMD is moving in a very different direction from Intel, which has put a lot of emphasis on “perceptual computing,” or using gestures and other new kinds of interfaces to control computers. Instead of interfaces, AMD is focusing on powerful graphics capabilities. AMD says Kaveri has 2.4 billion transistors (the basic building blocks of computer electronics), and 47 percent of them are aimed at better, high-end graphics.
Although the codename is Kaveri, the new mobile chips will officially go by the names AMD FX Series and the AMD Pro Series Accelerated Processing Units (APUs). Like most AMD processors, they combine both graphics and central processing unit functions on the same chip. AMD’s chips will include up to four CPUs and eight graphics processing units (GPUs) on a single piece of silicon. With a total of four CPU cores and eight graphics cores, the Kaveri APUs can run at up to 818 gigaflops and they have support for AMD’s TrueAudio technology. That makes them great for gaming devices.
“These graphics and CPU components are tightly coupled and they actually work together in new ways that open up new opportunities for creative applications,” said Kevin Lensing, senior director mobility solutions at AMD, in a press briefing.
The Kaveri line is the first series of chips to use a new approach to computing dubbed the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA), which makes it easier to get around bottlenecks inside a PC and speed the whole system up. The chips have Steamroller x86 microprocessor cores. They also have Graphics Core Next (GCN), an architecture designed for next-generation games.
AMD says the new chips will also use Mantle, an applications programming interface that makes it easier for developers to write high-performance games for AMD chips — it’s kind of like AMD’s own version of Microsoft’s DirectX technology — except AMD says Mantle runs twice as fast as DirectX. The chips will also have AMD TrueAudio technology, a 32-channel surround audio technology that makes it seem like sound is coming from all directions. The A-series chips will support screen resolutions up to 4K, or UltraHD, which puts four times as many pixels on a screen as 1080p high-definition TV.
HSA is pretty arcane technical material for consumers, but if it takes off, AMD says it will lead to faster and more power-efficient personal computers, tablets, smartphones and cloud servers. It goes hand-in-hand with hUMA, a new way for processors to access the memory inside an Accelerated Processing Unit, or a single chip that combines both a microprocessor and graphics.
“This is a major step in an architectural model,” Lensing said.
The problem is that it isn’t easy for programmers to harness the power of the GPU, or graphics processing unit, inside an APU. The HSA has been designed to fix this problem, making graphics an equal partner with the CPU (central processing unit) and other processors, such as a digital signal processor, inside a computing system.
All of these functions used to be part of separate chips. But now they can be packaged inside the same system-on-chip, or SoC, on the same piece of silicon. The three different kinds of processors access data in different ways, but AMD wants to change and simplify that.
GPUs can be used for other computing tasks, but it often takes too long to route requests for data through a CPU. Most developers don’t want to deal with the difficulty of optimizing their code for this kind of work. But a new technique, dubbed “heterogenous queuing,” allows applications to directly communicate with the GPU, treating it as an equal partner along side a CPU when it comes to accessing data quickly. That means an application won’t have to wait for the CPU when what it really needs to is to access the GPU.
With HSA and heterogeneous queuing, the GPU doesn’t have to wait for the CPU to feed it data. It can spawn its own tasks on its own.
AMD also said that Mantle will make it easy for developers to access new features in graphics chips. It enables developers to write games “closer to the metal,” getting rid of some of the overhead associated with running a PC and letting them get more access to the hardware’s real firepower.
AMD said that Kaveri-based chips can run Adobe Creative Cloud Photoshop 59 percent using AMD’s OpenCL compute technology. And it can run a JPEG image decoder up to 80 percent faster than an ordinary Windows decoder.
As for specific products, AMD is launching both an FX version of its Kaveri mobile chips for consumer machines and AMD Pro Series APUs for businesses.
Kaveri-based laptops will be able to last for up to 11 hours with e-reader applications running or up to 9.2 hours while web-browsing.
As for performance, AMD says the AMD FX-7500 Kaveri-based chip is comparable to the more expensive Intel i7-4500U Haswell-based chip. And it runs 3D graphics benchmark 3DMark over 50 percent better than Haswell, and it can run graphics-based compute Basemark CL 50 percent better than Haswell.