Mullins Performs; Remains To Be Seen How It Does On Power
I'm impressed with the potential of AMD's newest low-power APUs, just as I was hopeful that the previous generation would enjoy more success than it apparently did. The Discovery platform I was able to benchmark, featuring an A10 Micro-6700T APU, fares well compared to a number of other compelling SoCs.
Of course, the demo platform I played with was purpose-built to showcase the Mullins APU design, and those numbers only serve as an early indicator of what the hardware can do. We need to wait and see whether the company can attract IHVs. Not only does it face Intel, a powerhouse with advanced manufacturing and product shipping at 22 nm, but also the ARM-based efforts from Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia, and Apple.
The good news for AMD is that low-cost tablets with Android on them are prolific. They're everywhere. But they have their limitations, too. Typically, stepping up to a piece of hardware with full Windows 8.1 (not that Windows RT dreck) involves a corresponding price hike. If AMD is able to help enable more budget-conscious mobile devices able to run x86 software competently, it has the opportunity to attract a market full of value-seeking PC users unaccustomed to being told their apps don't work on the road.
It's odd that Microsoft managed to fall so far from grace in a segment that Bill Gates tried to invent at the turn of the millennium. The company completely failed to entrench itself before Apple arrived with its iPad, changing everything. Then, Google took the experience and made it more affordable with Android. I own iPad and Nexus tablets, and both satisfy me as media consumption devices. Neither proves to be especially useful for getting real work done, though. I did have an Iconia W3 with Windows 8. But while it checked the important functionality boxes, Intel's Atom Z2760 (that was Clover Trail, remember) was too slow for me to tolerate.
I now use that Dell Venue 8 Pro you saw me benchmark. Armed with an Atom Z3740D (Bay Trail) and Windows 8.1, it's the first tablet I've owned that truly satisfied me from the four perspectives of battery life, functionality, general performance, and portability. It only really lacks the ability to play demanding PC games, which is what's going to keep PCs around most of our houses for years to come.
But that's one of the reasons I see so much potential in AMD's hardware. This is a company with ATI's DNA. It has what it takes to augment graphics performance in mobile devices. Mullins will never cope with Crysis, but it might be able to handle titles that you've never been able to play on a tablet before. And it gives me hope that we're only a couple of generations away from an x86 tablet with real gaming chops.
Whatever shortcomings kept Temash and Kabini out of more shipping products, Mullins and Beema show significantly more promise, if only because of their lower power envelopes. The inclusion of an integrated ARM-based Platform Security Processor is a dark horse that may yield benefits we currently can't evaluate. Of course, Intel isn't standing still, and its 14 nm Bay Trail replacement, known as Cherry Trail, is well on its way. We'll see if AMD is able to gain real traction from Mullins and Beema in the coming months, and hopefully healthy competition can bolster Windows' success in the mobile space.