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Richland: What’s New?

It’s hard to tell much about the Richland design. Suffice it to say that it is the same Trinity but with slightly higher clock rates. According to AMD’s current plans, the Richland is a minor upgrade on the Trinity which should keep users entertained until the company has finished its truly innovative hybrid processors codenamed Kaveri. It is then that we will see a whole lot of new features: the Steamroller microarchitecture, GCN-class graphics, and support for heterogeneous computing with fully unified memory.

As for the Richland, it consists of the same constituents as the Trinity: Piledriver modules and a VLIW4 graphics core. The integrated graphics has been rebranded, too. AMD calls it Radeon HD 8000 but it is almost the same as in the Trinity where it used to belong to the Radeon HD 7000 class and has the same architecture as discrete graphics cards of the Radeon HD 6900 series.

Richland CPUs are manufactured on 32nm tech process, which is used for all other desktop CPUs from AMD, so their semiconductor die doesn’t differ from the Trinity die visually. It is 246 sq. mm large, incorporating about 1.3 billion transistors. About 42% of the transistor budget is allotted for the graphics core.

The semiconductor die being the same, we cannot expect the Richland to get faster by means of more x86 cores or shader processors. As before, the senior APU models are based on two Piledriver modules, so they have four execution cores. The maximum version of the graphics core only has 384 unified shader processors.

So why did they change the brand name on the Trinity series, especially as the latter was introduced less than a year ago? On the mobile market AMD makes up for the lack of hardware innovations by means of software tools. For mobile Richland-based APUs these include accelerated system startup, gesture control, face recognition, wireless connection of TV-sets, and driver-level real-time video processing. Increased battery life and certain performance improvements (thanks to higher clock rates and modified Turbo Core technology) top this up.

It would be pointless to provide this set of features with desktop Richland-based APUs, so AMD has limited itself to a small increase in performance and a more aggressive Turbo Core. Using more accurate APU die monitoring and flexible voltage and frequency control, AMD promises that its Richland-based APUs will stay up to 25% longer in the turbo mode than their predecessors.

As for default clock rates, the peak clock rate of the x86 cores is increased by 5-10% in the Richland compared to the Trinity. The graphics core has become 6-11% faster. The slow progress is due to the fact that the new Socket FM2 APUs have the same TDP as their predecessors: 65 and 100 watts.

For the desktop Richland APUs not to be too much alike to their Trinity predecessors, AMD talks about an improved memory controller. The company’s desktop APUs now officially support DDR3-2133 SDRAM, even though in the top-end model only.

Otherwise, the Richland is the same as the Trinity. And that's not so bad after all since it is fully compatible with the existing Socket FM2 ecosystem. The Richland doesn’t call for new mainboards, working smoothly on platforms with old A85X, A75 and A55 chipsets after a BIOS update. Dual Graphics configurations are supported so the integrated graphics core of the new APUs can be combined in CrossFireX subsystems together with discrete graphics cards of AMD Radeon HD 6450, 6570 and 6670 series.

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