AMD A10-4600M Review: Mobile Trinity Gets Tested

AMD steps up to the plate with an all-new processor. Armed with the updated Piledriver CPU core and VLIW4 graphics architecture, the Trinity APU represents an impressive improvement over the Llano generation. But can it stand up to Intel's best efforts?

AMD launched its Llano-based desktop APUs almost one year ago, and we reviewed the then-flagship in AMD A8-3850 Review: Llano Rocks Entry-Level Desktops. While the term “desktop-class” is useful to imply a certain expectation of performance, this product shines brightest in a laptop. We’re still impressed with its powerful integrated graphics engine and excellent battery life, and we don’t doubt that Llano is one of the reasons AMD is capturing notebook market share from Intel.

When you look at the breakdown since 2011, though, the change isn’t as dramatic as you might think: according to IDC, AMD powered about 16 percent of all laptops sold over the last year, representing an increase of about 2.5% since the APU’s introduction. Intel continues to dominate, with about 84% of the mobile segment. Of the 564 laptop models for sale on Newegg, 108 are AMD-based (19%) and 456 employ Intel platforms (81%). If Llano is so great, why hasn’t it captured a greater number of sales?  

Clearly, the APU initiative is gaining momentum in the mobile marketplace. However, it takes time to change the status quo and compel changes in the way software is written—we saw the same resistance when single-core CPUs started giving way to two- and four-core designs. Aside from that, Llano’s weakness is the performance of its x86 cores. Intel simply outmaneuvers AMD in a great many real-world benchmarks. To reiterate the final sentence of our Llano review: “…we’ll have to wait for Trinity to see if AMD can come up with an APU that can simultaneously challenge Intel’s processing capabilities as it wipes the floor with its on-die graphics. A no-compromise part would almost certainly guarantee more success than the give-and-take that is Llano.”

Well, the wait is over. Trinity is here today, and while we expect that it’ll maintain a lead over Intel’s best effort in the graphics department, we’re most curious to see how AMD improved the performance of its x86 cores. Trinity’s CPU architecture centers on Piledriver, the follow-up to the FX family’s maligned Bulldozer design. As we discovered in AMD Bulldozer Review: FX-8150 Gets Tested, the company’s theoretically-sensible module concept came up short against Sandy Bridge-based chips, which have since been replaced by Ivy Bridge. Already knowing some of the steps AMD planned to take in improving Bulldozer, it seems unlikely that it’ll make up the difference between Intel’s most recent efforts.

When we attended the Trinity Tech Day in Austin last month, AMD provided a different perspective, though. Naturally, the company’s message is going to be spun in such a way to make its deficiencies seem less impactful. But this author still saw sense in what the AMD’s marketing representatives were saying: benchmarks don’t tell the whole story.

Now, it’s no surprise that the company selling the processors that struggle to keep up with the competition in many of the tests we run would say this sort of thing. And I certainly don’t buy in to the suggestion that objective data comparisons aren’t important; they should always be at the heart of every good review. But I did take a few thoughts away from the presentation: first, if a feature isn’t benchmarkable in the traditional sense, it may not get much attention, no matter how impactful it might be. Second, it’s probably a good idea to consider how people spend their time on computers when we draw conclusions for a review.

I think that both of those are ideas that any hardware reviewer can adopt. They’re certainly not biased toward a specific manufacturer, and we’ll see if AMD’s message helps or hinders its newest APU in our conclusion.

Now, let’s have a closer look at the hardware you’re probably most interested in: AMD’s new Piledriver-based cores.

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    Hope its only the beginning of much more
  • Recently Charlie at semiaccurate (a massive amd fanboy) hinting an upcoming apple products, then I saw an article in thg that tells an upcoming mbp will using retina display... 15 inch retina will require huge gpu horsepower, my wild guess is mbp will use trinity as it's CPU.
  • Based on this, gaming is much better than old i5, but everything else including application performance is still better on the old Sandy architecture. I'm not really sure why I would buy a Trinity other than for a casual gaming laptop. Unfortunately, budget says that my laptops have to be used for business first, play time later.
  • beenthere
    Nice to see that Trinity and AMD have delivered the goods. I want a Trinity powered Ultrathin. Intel can stick their crap where the Sun don't shine.

    BTW, Charlie @ SemiAccurate is not an AMD fanbois IME. He just calls it like it is. Reality bites sometimes be it Nvidia, AMD or Intel's problems. Denial never changes reality. It is what it is.
  • cleeve
    duckwithnukesWhere is the Intel HD 4000 vs. AMD Trinity comparison? Lazy reviewing at its finest.

    A10-4600M laptops will be int eh $600-$700 neighborhood, and we're still waiting for Ivy bridge Core i5 to arrive in this price range.

    We go over this. We also talk about how we'll do a follow up as soon as an appropriate product is available.

    You need to read for it to make sense.
  • FlippyFlap, Apple doesn't use AMD and an HD4000 can power a retina display. I'm sure Apple has worked with Intel engineers to get the drivers right for retina displays which is HD4000's problem. HD4000 is still lacking in terms of driver support (one can see that from the OpenCL benches around the net where only 1/2 get acclerated on HD4000). When the drivers work right, there isn't much difference between Ivy and Trinity.
  • I agree with Cleeve and I personally hate comparing a reference system to a selling system anyway. Review 2 actual selling systems with similar parts and that gives you the benchmark.
  • DRosencraft
    This looks like a very nice effort from AMD. I really, really need to replace my notebook. It's a six year old Toshiba Satelite with an AMD 1.9 GHz Turion 64 X2 with intergrated X2100 graphics.... yeah. Ancient now, I know. I've been trying to figure out a sweet spot in power since my needs are kind of complex. Typically I don't need it to do much more than handle MSOffice and web surfing. But I also tend to use it for video gaming when am interesting game comes around and some work in PaintShop when I'm out of the house, or don't feel like sitting at my desktop. This may be a little closer to what I'd like. It would be nice to get a notebook that combines this with a really good discrete card (sort of like how some MacBook Pros have their dual graphics setup). Nevertheless, Trinity looks to be just about enough power and performance, but the question is price. If tradition holds, it should be a good price competitor with Intel, which is the most important part, otherwise I'd just buy a core I7 already.

    In a related question, does Trinity's details and specs lead to any conclusions about what Piledriver desktop processors will be like?
  • neoverdugo
    So this means that AMD can kick Intel's ass in the gpu department for the moment while AMD suffers greatly in the CPU portion of the apu battle. Didn't I said before that Intel is trying to make an (proprietary) Intel only PC with no third party strings attached? We all know that there is no competition in the CPU battle when it comes to Intel. Still, i would like to see that the morons of intel to drop the price of their hardware for once and for all and drop ridiculously low end hardware out of production.
  • dgingeri
    No WoW benchmarks this time? I was wondering if this might make a good laptop for WoW, but you guys failed me. :(
  • fazers_on_stun
    ^ ^ Anandtech reviewed the A10-4660M with its HD7660G igp vs. the i7-3720QM with its HD4K igp and over a total of 15 games, the 7660G averaged 20% faster than the HD4K. Against the Llano 6620G igp, it was just short of 20% faster. Against the HD3K (Sandy Bridge igp), it was a whopping 80% faster. So, the conclusion is that if you want mobile gaming on a budget laptop, Trinity is the way to go...
  • blazorthon
    AMD is stuck with~1333MT/s for this, so they get screwed over in the reviews because they are stuck with lower frequency RAM... Hopefully, this problem will be fixed and they will be able to use 1600MT/s and 1866MT/s with the notebooks that hit the markets. Honestly, I'm a little under-whelmed by Trinity... I was hoping for more. Granted, it is on the same process, so that it is significantly faster and uses less power than it's predecessor that uses the same process is a pretty substantial gain, but still... I was expecting a little more. It might just be the memory frequency problem.
  • neoverdugo

    just a side note, what you described is not an apu, it's a cpu with on die gfx. AMD's apu have not hit their full stride yet, once we have mature implementation of gpu assisted processing (opencl directcl et al) then the disparity may become significantly less, AMD strategy was always to leverage the massive computing power of the gfx core to bolster cpu performance in areas other than gaming unfortunately there was a fragmentation of the market with competing standards, once all that mess gets sorted out AMD can really flex the power of the apu
  • cleeve
    412399 said:
    AMD is stuck with~1333MT/s for this, so they get screwed over in the reviews because they are stuck with lower frequency RAM...

    Hey Blaze:

    Llano's BIOS was uncooperative and limited the memory to 1333, but Trinity was benched at 1600 MHz. :)

    - Cleeve
  • Wisecracker
    CleeveA10-4600M laptops will be int eh $600-$700 neighborhood, and we're still waiting for Ivy bridge Core i5 to arrive in this price range.We go over this. We also talk about how we'll do a follow up as soon as an appropriate product is available.You need to read for it to make sense.

    I hope you are wrong :)

    A10-4600M laptops in $600-$700 neighborhood in dual graphics with a Radeon HD 7670M, please.
  • Actually just A10 get the 7660G igp, the rest of the line get reduced version like A8 with 7640G while all the ivy mobile version equipped with HD 4000. A review on shows that HD 4000 totally outperform 7640G. So if you want mobile gaming on amd laptop, A10 is the only way to go.
  • CaedenV
    So with HD3000 being ~1/2 the GPU horse power of Trinity, and HD4000 being ~2x as powerful as HD3000 I guess that Intel will be slightly behind Trinity on gaming, while still holding the crown for all other performance metrics. All that is left to be seen is what kind of premium you will have to pay for the new IB laptops compared to the Trinity ones. Can't wait to see a review of both platforms in a head-to-head competition! I'm still an Intel fan boy at heart, but I would love nothing more than for AMD to give Intel a run for their money again :)

    It is not hard to push high resolution displays for most things. People have been using extremely old Matrox GPUs (g450 and g550) to do 4 high res monitors for ~10 years now with no issues. the problem comes when you want to game on that high resolution screen, and honestly neither side has a good solution for that yet. But at the same time, Macs are really not made with games in mind (other than web content which I am sure both Trinity and HD4000 would be more than capable of displaying).

    AMD is absolutely right; there are uses of a product that cannot be measured by benchmarks. However, the more interesting thing to me is what we are seeing in the desktop game benchmarks, that is slowly reaching into other areas of processing (and what we have seen in media playback benchmarks for years... or rather why we no longer have media playback benchmarks), where there is a level of speed impracticality.
    For gaming on a 60FPS monitor, it no longer matters if you are running 61+FPS because you simply do not see it, and anything above 30FPS is generally considered 'acceptable'.
    For office work on an SSD it does not matter if it takes your computer .5sec to open Word on a 5 year old PC, or .2sec on a new PC because there is simply no time for the human mind to react so quickly to move from the mouse to the keyboard and start typing. And anything slower than an SSD will rely on the bottleneck of the HDD anyways, making the CPU a moot point.
    The same goes for browsing the web where your internet speed is so slow (even on 'fast' internet connections) that there is no practical/perceivable difference between running an old system vs a brand spanking new system (much less AMD vs Intel).
    Media playback is another area where so long as you reach the requisite 12-30fps (depending on the source material) it does not matter if you are running on an Atom, or a high end duel 2011 platform. there is simply no difference so long as you reach a specific threshold of 'good enough' for the specific application
    For larger projects of video editing, 3D design, mass data compression, etc. There is still a need for benchmarks, but the markets that need these high demand applications for everyday use are willing to shell out the money for whatever is fastest because the lost productivity time is much more expensive than the hardware investment (and 'the fastest' hardware is not expensive like it use to be for end-user workstations).
    The point is that we need to find a new way to benchmark that looks at threshold requirements like we do with gaming benchmarks where there is a threshold of usefulness, and a threshold of imperceptible performance gains, and then finding a way to compare the relative usefulness of 'unbenchmarkable' feature sets (Like the value of CUDA vs Direct Compute, hardware based acceleration for specific software titles, and proprietary features such as Intel's Lightpeak/Thunderbolt technology). I think it means an evolution of doing hardware-centric benchmarks to more use-centric benchmarks, and even specific title benchmarks.
    As an example: What does it look like to use Adobe premiere on an AMD or Intel platform of similar cost? What features are available on one platform over the other? What performance gains are made by adding an SSD/RAID or dedicated GPU to the system? And which platforms use these additions most effectively? What types of tasks run better or worse on each platform (Is one better at specific filters than others? Is one better for production use while the other is better at exporting a final product?)?
    We are getting to a point where what matters more is the feature set/limitations of the motherboard and platform, than the speed of any individual component on the platform when it comes to the final experience of the end user. There is still a need for specific part reviews, but AMD is right; the individual parts many times do not paint an accurate picture for the speed or usefulness of a platform, and it is a trend that will only become more pronounced with time.
  • blazorthon
    CleeveHey Blaze:Llano's BIOS was uncooperative and limited the memory to 1333, but Trinity was benched at 1600 MHz. - Cleeve

    Well, that's even worse. Trinity just doesn't seem like a good enough leap over Llano.
  • blazorthon
    The noobActually just A10 get the 7660G igp, the rest of the line get reduced version like A8 with 7640G while all the ivy mobile version equipped with HD 4000. A review on shows that HD 4000 totally outperform 7640G. So if you want mobile gaming on amd laptop, A10 is the only way to go.

    Intel's graphics gets weaker on lower end models... For example, the HD 3000 on the i7s is FAR faster than the HD 3000 on the i3s and is considerably faster than the HD 3000 on the i5s (although even within each family, there can be differences, all of this is because although they have the same graphics hardware, the clock frequency of the IGP differs). The same is probably true for the HD 4000. The cheaper i5s and i3s will probably have weaker graphics performance than the top i5s and the i7s do.
  • deanjo
    and the x264 front-end HandBrake are all able to take advantage of AMD’s programmable shader hardware and fixed-function VCE logic for accelerated video transcoding.

    Ummm, no it can't. Handbrake is 100% cpu.
  • eddieroolz
    The productivity benchmark is a breath of fresh air, because for once we're not seeing the AMD architecture drop the ball test after test. The A10 is a very good effort on AMD's part and I think I wouldn't have any problems recommending this to people when they ask me for a comparison.
  • jdwii
    Looks like on average its 17-20% slower then the I5 sandy while being 50% faster on graphics. then compared to IVY its 30-40% slower on the CPU and only 20% faster on the graphics. If this is going to be a great product the A10 needs to be priced at LOW-END I5's and I3's. A8 should be priced at Mid-range I3's or lower and the A4 needs to be priced at the Mid range Pentiums and the rest of their products needs to be priced below that.

    Still for laptops priced above 650$ Amd does not have a solution yet!

    Now lets look at Piledriver i must say i'm REALLY IMPRESSED sure it doesn't beat sandy but it does beat llano in every test which is surprising when the Bulldozer could not beat the Phenom(while clocked higher). If Amd can get a 8 core Piledriver out at a CPU clock of 4.2Ghz with L3 cache and price it at the I5 not higher i'm in!
  • wrazor
    Am I the only one mightyly impressed with pile-driver cores? They have cut the difference from Llano & SB to half. That is quite impressive. This is a big hope, that the pile-driver might just get the better of SB, though not of IB. But still, AMD, might just get back in the desktop market, I believe with piledriver.
  • bobafert
    Nice article. I am hoping there is a comparison of crossfired laptops to see if there are any gains in how the APU's graphics crossfires with the descrete unit. Essentially I'm wondering if and how much faster an AMD APU X'ed with a given AMD card is compared to a given Intel CPU with the same card. That would be an interesting comparison IMO.