AMD announced its Bristol Ridge and Stony Ridge 7th-Generation A-Series processors at Computex 2016. The company touts these as offering more performance with lower power consumption in a wide variety of mobile applications. But despite the naming and generation increment, these are a continuation of, and improvement upon Carrizo and Excavator.
AMD 7th-Generation A-Series APU
AMD separated the A-Series APUs into Bristol Ridge and Stony Ridge categories, which service the high end and mainstream/value market segments, respectively. AMD focused on improving performance for both standard compute and graphics processing, and also strived to reduce power consumption significantly to meet its "25x20" initiative (which seeks to improve energy efficiency 25x by the year 2020). AMD claims to be well underway to meeting its goals, and cites a 41 percent reduction in energy consumption during video playback in comparison to its previous-generation A-Series APUs.
AMD also provided a comparison chart to illustrate that it is providing a more rapid pace of generation-over-generation CPU performance improvements than Intel, but we caution readers that all of the test results in this article reflect AMD's own internal testing. AMD was candid and admitted that it needed to improve its performance rapidly to catch up with, and eventually overtake, Intel.
AMD claimed that it increased performance with 15W processors by 56 percent over the previous two years (which spans three generations of AMD and Intel products) in comparison to Intel's 25 percent increase. AMD conducted the test with Cinebench R15 and employed the Kaveri and Haswell i5-4200U processors as the baseline, but it is worth noting that the use of one benchmark is hardly enough to provide a broad indication of overall CPU performance.
|7th-Generation Bristol Ridge A-Series||FX 9830P||FX 9800P||A12-9730P||A12-9700P||A10-9630P||A10-9600P|
|Radeon Graphics||R7 Graphics||R7 Graphics||R7 Graphics||R7 Graphics||R5 Graphics||R5 Graphics|
|Max/Base CPU Frequency (GHz)||3.7 / 3.0||3.6 / 2.7||3.5 / 2.8||3.4 / 2.5||3.3 / 2.6||3.3 / 2.4|
|DDR4 Dual Channel Memory Support ||2400 MHz||2400 MHz||2400 MHz||2400 MHz||2400 MHz||2400 MHz|
|Configurable TDP Range||25-45||12-15||25-45||12-15||25-45||12-15|
AMD based the Bristol Ridge product stack upon the same architecture as the sixth-generation Carrizo APU, which means that it employs the same 28nm process, Excavator CPU and GCN (Graphics Core Next) cores. AMD optimized the 28nm process to speed up the transistors, thus boosting performance and reducing power consumption. The Bristol Ridge products also feature a dual-channel memory configuration, whereas the Stony Ridge variants are single channel, but both add support for up to DDR4 2400 MHz RAM (in comparison to the DDR3 2133 MHz RAM supported with Carrizo).
AMD APUs provide a configurable TDP range so that OEMs can tailor the device to fit within specific thermal and power consumption envelopes. Unfortunately, the Carrizo series featured a wide TDP range, which made it hard for users to ascertain the actual performance of the underlying APU (vendors are not required to disclose the setting). AMD responded to customer feedback and tightened the allowable TDP adjustment range to avoid the problem in the future.
Carrizo employed 10 Automated Voltage Frequency Scaling (AVFS) modules per Excavator core to improve energy efficiency, and the company optimized the Bristol Ridge implementation to extract more efficiency from the processor. The company also included software optimizations for Windows 10, video playback and offloading, along with driver improvements.
The optimizations to the actual architecture are limited, but AMD claims to offer impressive performance improvements, such as 53 percent more graphics performance than Core i7 with the top-binned Bristol Ridge SKU (though the company did not quantify how it derived the measurement). AMD also touted that the proven and stable architecture eases the OEM qualification process.
The AMD deck included a specific performance breakout of the new Bristol Ridge A12 flagship model in comparison to the previous-generation Carrizo A10-8700P. AMD's test results indicate an appreciable increase in both 3DMark 11 and Cinebench R15 test results.
|6th-Generation Carrizo A-Series||A9-9410||A6-9210||E2-9010|
|Radeon Graphics||R5 Graphics||R4 Graphics||R2 Graphics|
|Max/Base CPU Frequency (GHz)||3.5 / 2.9||2.8 / 2.4||2.2 / 2.0|
|DDR4 Single Channel Memory Support ||2400 MHz||2400 MHz||2400 MHz|
|Configurable TDP Range||10-25||10-15||10-15|
The Stony Ridge products address the value segment of the market and displace the Carrizo-L offerings. Stony Ridge received the biggest upgrades in terms of actual silicon enhancements. AMD swapped the CPU from the Jaguar core to the more-powerful Excavator core. This reduced the core count from four to two, but the new design provides more performance than the previous generation. AMD claims the improvements bring the Stony Ridge products into competitive range of the Intel i3 and i5 products.
The removal of two cores created enough spare real estate on the die to allow AMD to add a fifth GPU core to the Stony Ridge products. The company also expanded its support for a wide range of video codecs (and 4K video support) for the entire value stack, as well as improving its Unified Video Decoder (UVD) and Video Coding Engine (VCE).
The upgrades are important to further AMD's long running objective to provide the latest codecs and increase power efficiency during video playback, as industry trends illuminate a sharp rise in video traffic (especially with more demanding HD and 4K video streams). AMD shared performance data comparing the Carrizo A9 to the A8-7410, which highlights an impressive 52 percent jump in CPU processing with Cinebench R15, and a 36 percent increase in 3D Mark 11.
Bundled Games And HP Envy x360
AMD aligns its graphics branding across its entire product stack, which means that an APU-powered system with a Radeon R5 graphics rating will provide similar performance to a discreet Radeon R5 graphics card. AMD offers game bundles with participating partners, and targets the free games to the capabilities of the underlying APU.
AMD On The Move
AMD has its work cut out, having slowly bled market share over the years, leaving Intel with a dominant position in the PC market. Simultaneously, both companies are suffering from the rapidly receding desktop PC market, which experienced a sharp 10.6 percent decline in 2015 (contributing to the lowest PC sales since 2007). AMD has precious little room for mistakes.
The company pointed out during press briefings that it is focused on the PC market, and it also took a casual swipe at Intel and Nvidia by stating that it is not pulling back from the PC market and is not distracted by other pursuits, such as drones or automobiles, alluding to Intel's ongoing restructuring initiative and Nvidia's automobile efforts. But it is notable that AMD is also working to diversify its business as a reaction to the declining PC market.
There are several bright signs on the horizon for AMD, including the lucrative APU business that is propelled (in part) by design wins in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The company also recently licensed its x86 processor technology to a China-based joint venture with Tainjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment Co (THATIC), which will manufacture processors specifically for the China market. After AMD announced the deal in mid-April it spurred a sharp rise in AMD's stock price, which is currently trading at its highest level since 2012, and still climbing.
AMD's forthcoming Zen CPU, which the company claims provides a 40 percent IPC improvement over its previous generation CPU, also appears to be promising.
But Carrizo saw its fits and starts with OEMs and end customer wins, so Bristol Ridge and Stony Ridge will be important tests of AMD's resilience in the mobile arena. The company wants to deliver a big performance increase in this growing value segment, but OEM design wins will be the deciding factor for Bristol Ridge and Stony Ridge A-Series APUs.