AMD is trying to get noticed again in the notebook space with a new Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) codenamed Richland, which is based on, but improves on the previous APU, codenamed Trinity.
The new APU puts graphics performance and power efficiency at the forefront of the computing experience, rather than plain old CPU power (even though that gets a slight boost, too). In an era where there appears to already be enough CPU power for everyday, mainstream computing tasks, squeezing more efficiency out of a chip and putting in better graphics performance makes sense, and AMD is hoping that with these traits, along with a few other value-added software features, it can make gains in a notebook market that has been dominated by Intel for as long as one can remember -- the last AMD notebook we reviewed was actually a netbook.
The Richland APUs will go by the name of the AMD Elite A-Series, and so far four models have been announced: the A10-5750M (quad-core), the A8-5550M (quad-core), the A6-5350M (dual-core) and the A4-5150M (dual-core). The A10 is the most powerful product in the line-up, featuring four cores a maximum potential frequency of 2.5GHz, while the A4 is the most modest with two cores and a maximum potential frequency of 3.3GHz.
The different models and their main specs.
The thermal design power (TDP) of all of the new APUs is 35W. This TDP puts the new Richland products in the same league as some of Intel's third generation Core i5 mobile CPUs, although Intel does have lower wattage (and therefore lower frequency) models available already for devices such as Ultrabooks. At 35W, the Richland APUs are also rated the same as the Trinity products, but they do have faster base and maximum CPU frequencies.
Furthermore, faster DDR-3-1866 memory support has been added to the top APU model and the graphics frequencies also get a boost. The physical package between the Trinity and Richland products remains the same, but AMD says that the TDP in the Richland products can be configured according to the specific design needs of each notebook manufacturer.
AMD's internal tests claim that Richland consumes slightly less power than Trinity while idle or when used for basic Web browsing, but that significant gains can be had when using the newer APU for 720p video playback.
The reason for the increased efficiency, AMD claims, is due to significant changes to the controlling algorithms in the new APU, which are said to have more complexity. More operating points that determine the best speed and voltage of the APU (P-states) have been added, which AMD says can ensure that the APU will use an optimal operating point for each workload. Temperature-smart Turbo Core is the feature that AMD claims can increase the performance of the APU by detecting ambient temperature and the capability of the installed heat sink to calculate an attainable and sustainable overclocking point. AMD says this can be achieved due to the temperature headroom that's built in to the APU.
Graphics is a big driver for the Elite A-Series APUs and the Richland models get a more powerful Radeon HD 8000 Series graphics capability built into them. AMD says that this graphics engine, which has DirectX 11 support, up to 384 cores and a maximum frequency of 720MHz in the top model, can noticeably out-perform the graphics in the Trinity chips, and it can even top the graphics performance of an Intel Core i7 CPU (as tested internally by AMD using the latest 3DMark benchmark).
Another key selling point of Richland is a broader range of AMD-supplied software. Specifically, three new software programs are going to be made available for the new APU: AMD Gesture Control, AMD Face Login and AMD Screen Mirror. The Gesture Control software is said to be able to track a user's hand and recognise gestures that can be used to operate a media player or Web browser from almost 1m away from the screen. AMD Face Login, as the name suggests, will be able to recognise a user's face and use it in place of a password. It will do this by comparing the shape, size and position of a face to a stored image, and it will be useful for logging in to Web sites in addition to the operating system. The performance of these features will largely depend on the quality of the webcam that manufacturers install in their laptops.
The final feature is perhaps the most interesting. AMD Screen Mirror harnesses the Wi-Fi Direct standard to beam an H.264 stream of a notebook's screen directly to a DLNA-capable TV on the other end. A feature like this will come in handy for displaying photos and videos on a big-screen display, and AMD claims the feature will be so low-latency that you'll even be able to browse the Web comfortably over it.
There are no release dates for actual notebooks that will use this new APU in the Australian market, but we've been told that Acer, ASUS, HP, Toshiba, Samsung, Sony and Lenovo, in addition to some other as yet unconfirmed vendors, will all have models based on the Richland APUs at some point in the near future. It's been a long time since a hardware vendor actively pushed an AMD APU-powered notebook, so we look forward to testing any new models that may come our way.