The last few years we’ve been watching AMD’s processor department lose its ground in terms of its presence in traditional PCs. The company is preaching about the importance of mobile and embedded solutions while keeping silent on desktop CPU issues. What we see is that AMD first lost the top-end CPU market to its rival and now they are already talking about only offering low-end desktop processors with integrated graphics. At least, this is implied by the proposed roadmap where we have no updates in the flagship FX series but do see more focus on accelerated processing units (APUs) which combine x86 and graphics cores within a single semiconductor die. Against this background, AMD’s new APU design, codenamed Kaveri, comes out as the company’s key processor product in 2014. Building on the ideas implemented in the Trinity and Richland APUs, the Kaveri is going to be viewed critically in this article since we remain loyal fans of desktop PCs.
There’s nothing particularly bad about AMD’s shifting its focus to processors with integrated graphics. After all, the majority of Intel’s desktop CPUs have the same internal design. The problem is that AMD, unlike Intel, does not strive to push the performance bar higher, preferring to set other priorities. The FX series was about multicore processors handling a lot of computing threads simultaneously. Now, with the APU having fewer x86 cores, the integrated graphics core comes to the fore. The Kaveri is optimized for affordable mobile gadgets, so it is supposed to sport a high performance-per-watt ratio. And this ratio is being improved not by increasing performance but by lowering power consumption and heat dissipation, which is now limited to 35 or even 15 watts.
Desktop users are offered special versions of the Kaveri design with a TDP up to 95 watts, yet AMD doesn’t even claim that they deliver high performance, talking instead about certain new capabilities. Judging by everything we know about it, the Kaveri can’t bring about any changes to the desktop processor market. The new series, just like AMD’s previous APUs, consists of affordable products for home, office and entry-level gaming computers.
It would be wrong to say that the Kaveri is absolutely unexciting for desktop users, though. It features a new version of the Bulldozer microarchitecture, codenamed Steamroller. Its graphics core is now based on the GCN design. And the APU at large complies with the heterogeneous system architecture (HSA) specs. Even though these innovations can’t make the new processors interesting for gamers or enthusiasts, they are quite exciting in their own way. At least, they show us what direction AMD is going in and may even suggest whether AMD will ever return to developing high-performance desktop processors as a top priority.
There are two desktop Kaveri-based products available since the beginning of 2014: A10-7850K and A10-7700K. They are not shipped in mass quantities, yet their availability is not a problem. We will be discussing the senior model which works at higher clock rates and features the most shader processors in its integrated graphics core. In other words, the A10-7850K is the fastest modern APU from AMD. Both models have a TDP of 95 watts.
There exists a third Kaveri-based desktop APU which features a TDP of 65 watts. This energy-efficient A8-7600 model is yet unavailable in retail, so we will review it at some other time.