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Mullins And Beema APUs: AMD Gets Serious About Tablet SoCs

Mullins And Beema APUs: AMD Gets Serious About Tablet SoCs
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AMD recently introduced us to its Mullins and Beema APUs, which are architecturally similar to Kabini and Temash, but include some power and performance enhancements. We take an early look at a custom form factor and compare to Intel's best effort.

When we wrote AMD's Kabini: Jaguar And GCN Come Together In A 15 W APU almost one year ago, AMD told me that it hoped that its Kabini and Temash APUs would bridge the gap between low-power ARM-based tablets and higher-performance notebooks. While the SoCs arguably achieved their goal, the most popular x86 tablets (Lenovo's ThinkPad, and Dell's Latitude and Venue Pro) employ Intel's Atom platform. The Temash APU never delivered a sub-4 W sweet spot the way Bay Trail did, and the Atom Z3770/D and Z3740/D became the weapon of choice for Windows-based tablets for good reason.

That's not to say AMD's Jaguar architecture isn't perfectly capable (both Microsoft and Sony would argue it is). And at higher thermal ceilings, I'd even suggest that the desktop-oriented version of Kabini is superior to the Bay Trail-D design. But to be truly competitive in the mobile space, AMD needs to do more with less power.

And that was the company's mantra as it created the Mullins and Beema APUs, both low-power SoCs destined to replace the Temash and Kabini solutions.

In presenting its two newest processors, AMD makes some bold claims. For instance, the company says that Mullins boasts two times the graphics performance per watt, and twice the system productivity per watt, compared to Temash. Beema is purported to offer a greater-than 10% graphics performance improvement over Kabini at a TDP that's 40% lower. And compared to its competition, AMD says that Beema serves up better graphics performance than both Bay Trail-T and Haswell-Y. The recurring theme is significantly lower power consumption and more speed. Exactly what kind of magic is involved in bringing these APUs to life?

Perhaps it makes the most sense to talk about what doesn't change. Beema and Mullins are manufactured on a 28 nm node, just like Kabini and Temash. As for the underlying architecture, it turns out that Puma+ offers the same IPC as Jaguar, the design that precedes it. Despite the nomenclature change, cores, caches, and schedulers remain the same. The graphics complex is also similar to the previous generation; the newest APUs similarly sport 128 GCN-based shaders.

Put simply, if you run the Beema/Mullins chips at the same frequencies as Kabini/Temash, you get identical performance.

Of course, that means speed increases must come from higher clock rates. How can that be, when we're talking about lower power and the same manufacturing process, all in the same breath? Fortunately, AMD has a lot to talk about on the subject. 

The bummer is that it won't tell us where its newest parts are being etched. What we can relay are boasts of impressive process improvements yielding up to 38% lower leakage from the graphics transistors and 19% less leakage from the CPU cores. Company representatives also cite significant power savings attributable to I/O enhancements like an optimized DDR3L-1333 interface, which is responsible for a 500 mW reduction in draw. There's also a 200 mW savings that comes from a more efficient display engine.

Additionally, system-aware power management reportedly enables up to 50% more frequency at nearly half the TDP of AMD's Temash and Kabini APUs. Indeed, the top-of-the-line Mullins A10 Micro-6700T has a maximum 2.2 GHz clock rate and a 4.5 W TDP. Compare that to the fastest Temash-based A6-1450, which capped out at 1.4 GHz with an 8 W TDP. Of course, real-world frequencies are going to depend on the workload you're running. But AMD's saying it's better able to balance between high clock rates in single-threaded apps and lower frequencies in more parallelized tasks. The 15 W Beema-based A6-6310 tops out at 2.4 GHz, compared to the 25 W Kabini A6-5200 at 2 GHz.

As far as graphics go, the highest-clocked Beema and Mullins APUs run as fast as 800 and 500 MHz, respectively. Kabini and Temash topped out at 600 and 400 MHz.

If all of this sounds too good to be true, note that AMD is listing the highest possible clocks for Mullins and Beema, not their base frequencies. That'd be like Intel rating its processors at their peak Turbo Boost settings, or Nvidia marketing graphics cards at their typical GPU Boost figures. This isn't a new behavior from AMD though, which already takes the same approach with some of its newer graphics and general-purpose processing products.

The company claims that intelligent power control avoids waste by boosting only the applications that benefit from it, tying in with thermal management. In the case of the platform AMD gave us to play with, we saw the A10 Micro-6700T bounce between 1 GHz and a maximum 2.2 GHz clock rate. I fired up a single thread of Prime95 and recorded a 2.2 GHz frequency. Repeating the experiment with two, three, and four threads, we came up with 1.6, 1.4, and 1.2 GHz ceilings. As the SoC heated up, even those settings slid, though.

AMD also spoke to us at length about Skin Temperature Aware Power Management, or STAPM. The thermal limit of a tablet is often constrained by the temperature of its chassis, rather than the SoC's ceiling, since a piece of silicon withstands higher heat levels than your lap. Most devices are bound by the highest clock rate a processor can sustain without pushing the skin temperature beyond the user's sensitivity limit. Using STAPM, an APU ramps up aggressively until its host device's enclosure reaches a defined maximum, allowing higher performance for brief periods. Since many mobile applications involve holding onto a tablet for short durations, it's easier to get a speedier experience this way.

Finally, memory support evolves, allowing the top-end Beema APU to handle DDR3L-1866. Previously, the top-end mobile Kabini APU peaked at DDR3L-1600. 

But before we tackle the performance implications of AMD's adjustments, let's take a closer look at the new on-die Platform Security Processor and the specific models planned for introduction.

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  • -1 Hide
    Nintendo Maniac 64 , April 28, 2014 11:16 PM
    ...yeah, I don't think intending to benchmark full-on PC games that aren't even a year old on what is essentially a tablet APU was one of the wisest decisions you guys have made.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , April 28, 2014 11:21 PM
    Quote:
    ...yeah, I don't think intending to benchmark full-on PC games that aren't even a year old on what is essentially a tablet APU was one of the wisest decisions you guys have made.


    Actually, both Dota2 and Grid2 are well known for having low system requirements, and they represented a great opportunity to compare results to the desktop bay trail and kabini platforms. We would have tested these games regardless, but we would have added more, less demanding titles if we had more time.

  • 0 Hide
    Nintendo Maniac 64 , April 28, 2014 11:21 PM
    Hmmm, sounds like an AMD equivalent of an Intel "tick", especially considering that the IPC between Puma+ and Jaguar is unchanged.

    Interestingly enough, this would mean that the PS4 and Xbone could use Puma+ cores in the future (with turbo disabled obviously).

  • 0 Hide
    PreferLinux , April 28, 2014 11:31 PM
    OK, so where are the power measurements? That is about the most important part of the chip, and is also the part that is missing.
  • 0 Hide
    kyuuketsuki , April 28, 2014 11:57 PM
    I'm not sure why you decided to benchmark Dota at 1920x1080 instead of 1200x800. You lost the ability to compare against the Venue 8 Pro *and* the results might have been something resembling playable. I'm always of the opinion that game benchmarking should focus around what the product in question (and its competitors) can actually, y'know, play. Seeing graphs of everything being in a range of 1-10 FPS just isn't interesting or particularly useful.

    But yeah, I understand the limited time and environment, and the look at Beema and Mullins is greatly appreciated. I'm *still* looking forward to a commercially-available tablet with an AMD SoC in it, since one never materialized with Temash. That Vizio tablet that used AMD was actually pretty nifty, except for using the Z-60(?) which just wasn't up to scratch. It's too bad Vizio seems to be deprecating its tablet efforts, since an update of that tablet with Mullins in it would be worth looking at.
  • 0 Hide
    NoClue_87 , April 29, 2014 12:04 AM
    Dota2 is very cpu intensive. It's a shame Valve aint interested in suporting mantle for dota 2.
  • 0 Hide
    CaptainTom , April 29, 2014 12:17 AM
    I seriously cannot wait when 5 years from now I can get mid-range PC gaming in a tablet... The future cannot come soon enough...
  • 1 Hide
    tigger888 , April 29, 2014 12:47 AM
    HOW is the author of this article NOT amazed that the apu is pushing NEAR 30 frames per second! With the competition only having half... Who pays these guys to write articles..
  • 0 Hide
    de5_Roy , April 29, 2014 2:05 AM
    looks quite promising. these socs will be in media consumption devices, so i hope you'll include various media playback benches in the review.

    the tskin temp and tjmax temp look a bit low for outside use. i wonder if it'll be enough to prevent throttling in actual devices.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , April 29, 2014 3:18 AM
    Quote:
    HOW is the author of this article NOT amazed that the apu is pushing NEAR 30 frames per second! With the competition only having half... Who pays these guys to write articles..


    How did you not read the commentary, yet decide comment on it?

    The article is very complimentary to the new APU's game performance. What exactly did you expect? Did you want me to write that its the "SUPERBEST GAMING APU EVAR"?

  • 0 Hide
    renz496 , April 29, 2014 3:45 AM
    Quote:
    OK, so where are the power measurements? That is about the most important part of the chip, and is also the part that is missing.


    if you check other tech site that covering this new APU there is not much detail on power consumption.

    Quote:
    I was allowed to spend a few hours benchmarking AMD’s Discovery Tablet. Unfortunately the device wasn’t instrumented for power testing, nor was there enough time to run any battery life tests on it, so the usefulness of these numbers is limited. We already know that AMD’s idle power isn’t as good as smartphone silicon, but for some of these value Windows 8.1 devices it may still be good enough.


    http://www.anandtech.com/show/7974/amd-beema-mullins-architecture-a10-micro-6700t-performance-preview/3

    it seems AMD only allow reviewer to do some benchmark on it and then take it back
  • 0 Hide
    renz496 , April 29, 2014 3:49 AM
    Quote:
    Dota2 is very cpu intensive. It's a shame Valve aint interested in suporting mantle for dota 2.


    maybe because Mantle only works on GCN based card. not even 6k or 5k series support mantle. we might see Dota 2 having Mantle support if AMD pays Valve to use Mantle.
  • 0 Hide
    de5_Roy , April 29, 2014 3:53 AM
    Quote:

    maybe because Mantle only works on GCN based card. not even 6k or 5k series support mantle. we might see Dota 2 having Mantle support if AMD pays Valve to use Mantle.

    mantle would be great gaming performance booster for processors like beema playing games like these.
  • 0 Hide
    renz496 , April 29, 2014 4:15 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:

    maybe because Mantle only works on GCN based card. not even 6k or 5k series support mantle. we might see Dota 2 having Mantle support if AMD pays Valve to use Mantle.

    mantle would be great gaming performance booster for processors like beema playing games like these.


    the question is will valve care to spend extra resource (out of their own pocket) on enhancement that can only benefit some of their user? yes mantle will be a great help for SoC like this but in the end it is still up to developer to use mantle or not.
  • 3 Hide
    cleeve , April 29, 2014 5:46 AM
    Quote:
    OK, so where are the power measurements? That is about the most important part of the chip, and is also the part that is missing.


    There was no way to measure it. The CPU is too new to be recognized by the thermal and power measurement software that I tried.

    We'll have to wait a bit for the details, unfortunately. Having said that, the TDP gives us a reliable range.

  • 0 Hide
    rajangel , April 29, 2014 6:55 AM
    More trolling and baiting from Toms Hardware authors, sigh.
  • 0 Hide
    renz496 , April 29, 2014 7:11 AM
    Quote:
    More trolling and baiting from Toms Hardware authors, sigh.


    i take that you are the one trolling here
  • 1 Hide
    ykki , April 29, 2014 7:38 AM
    nice to see some progress from AMD in the tablet segment. who knows what's next? (maybe smartphone processors :)  )
  • 0 Hide
    harly2 , April 29, 2014 9:16 AM
    Toms is very apprehensive to be positive on AMD, just can't give props. There are things to be excited about, but not to excited in this case because its straddled to the windows platform for tablets. It's faster then a K1, Intel mobile everything, A7, and snapdragon 801 but only for high end windows tablets....meh. Beema will be a money maker for them though.
  • 0 Hide
    xenol , April 29, 2014 9:25 AM
    I like that AMD is getting into the SoC business, which hopefully spells competition in the area... but I don't really care for their emphasis on gaming. I'm not going to game on a tablet, and if I do, it's going to be simple games.

    The tablet for me is more for having a lightweight internet connected device than something I game on. I already portable consoles and a high performance laptop for that.
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