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AMD's Kaveri chips bring console-like experience to PCs

AMD's Kaveri chips bring console-like experience to PCs

Kaveri chips will go into laptops starting at $400

Thin-and-light laptops have so far had to compromise on graphics to extend battery life, but Advanced Micro Devices wants to change that with its new laptop processors called Kaveri.

Kaveri chips will go into laptops starting at around US$400, and be an alternative to Intel's Core processors code-named Haswell, which dominate the market today. With 818 gigaflops of performance on the fastest chip, AMD claims Kaveri can outperform Haswell processors.

That level of performance is akin to bringing a "console experience to PCs," said Kevin Lensing, senior director of mobility solutions at AMD.

The new chips -- available in the A-series and FX lineups -- will have up to four CPU and eight GPU cores, and draw between 17 and 35 watts of power. Laptops will offer up to nine hours of battery life , Lensing said.

Lenovo will be one of the first to offer laptops with Kaveri chips. In the coming months, the company will sell a 15.6-inch Flex 2 starting at $429, 14-inch Flex 2 starting at $799, B50 and G50 laptops starting at $399, and Z-series laptops starting at $579. The chips were officially announced at the Computex trade show in Taipei.

Most buyers prefer Intel chips for laptops, but AMD has implemented a new chip design in Kaveri. Kaveri has a new "Steamroller" processor core and Radeon graphics processors similar to the ones found in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

The new chips replace the older chips code-named Richland, with the CPU getting a speed boost of up to 20 percent. AMD has put a "full GPU inside a chip," not just a watered down version of a graphics core like in predecessor chips, Lensing said.

Beyond better gaming, users will be able to get Kinect-like gesture recognition capabilities in laptops. For example, users can move a webcam around just by waving fingers, something that could not be easily achieved by earlier AMD chips. The CPU and GPU shaders are able to process the images of moving fingers, process them via algorithms, which then results in the webcam moving. This could be done with a basic webcam, Lensing said, adding that it wouldn't require expensive 3D cameras like Intel is recommending for gesture and face recognition on laptops.

But it are some of the software level improvements that will make the performance gains more visible, Lensing said. The chip will provide a better gaming experience with support for Mantle, which is a low-level toolkit to write some of the most popular games.

Kaveri's biggest architectural achievement is the pooling of CPU and GPU memory resources to increase the overall system memory available to all processors. As a result, tasks for CPUs and GPUs could be lined up for execution in a single queue, which reduces bottlenecks. On earlier chips CPU and GPU memory were partitioned -- CPUs would allocate memory for code execution, with information being copied into GPU memory for code execution.

AMD did not provide metrics on performance benefits resulting from CPU and GPU memory unification. But the new architecture will more efficiently allow PCs to harness the joint computing power of CPUs and GPUs, with both behaving like one single processing unit without walls. The CPU is considered quicker for basic tasks like Microsoft Word and antivirus software, while GPUs are faster for graphics and math-intensive tasks.

Kaveri is also AMD's first laptop chip that is compatible with HSA (Heterogeneous System Architecture) Foundation's parallel programming specifications, which allows for faster program execution. HSA provides the underlying tools so code can be written and compiled once for execution across multiple processors in the chip. AMD is a lead member of the HSA Foundation, but the programming tools are not yet ready, so it may be a while until coders can start writing programs that take advantage of HSA, Lensing said.

The nine new A-series chips have clock speeds between 1.9GHz and 3.6GHz. The fastest Kaveri chip is the quad-core FX-7600P with eight Radeon R7 GPUs with clock speeds between 2.7GHz and 3.6GHz. The most power efficient is the A6 Pro-7050B dual-core chip with three Radeon R4 graphics cores, which operates at clock speeds between 2.2GHz and 3.0GHz.

The other quad-core Kaveri chips include:

-- A10-7400P with six Radeon R6 GPUs, clock speed between 2.5GHz and 3.4GHz, draws 35 watts of power

-- A8-7200P with four Radeon R5 GPUs, runs between 2.4GHz and 3.3GHz, 35 watts

-- FX-7500 with six Radeon R7 GPUs, at between 2.1GHz and 3.3GHz, 19 watts

-- A10-7300 with six Radeon R6 GPUs, runs between 1.9GHz and 3.2GHz, 19 watts

-- A8-7100 with four Radeon R5 GPUs, runs between 1.8GHz and 3.0 GHz, 19 watts

-- A10 Pro-7350B with six Radeon R6 GPUs, runs between 2.1GHz and 3.3GHz, 19 watts

-- A8 Pro-7150B with six Radeon R5 GPUs, at speed between 1.9GHz and 3.2GHz, 19 watts

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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