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AMD's Kabini: Jaguar And GCN Come Together In A 15 W APU

The Kabini-Based A4-5000: Mediocre Performance, But Great Efficiency

Before we try to reach any conclusions, check out the following chart summarizing performance in each of our benchmarks. Pay particular attention to those orange bars, which represent power efficiency. This is the relationship between each platform's power draw and average performance.

On one hand, the Kabini-based A4-5000 doesn't fare very well when it comes to charting frame rates in games and the time it takes to complete our wide range of desktop workloads. It gets beaten by the dual-core Pentium B960 in every discipline except gaming. But the efficiency bar tells a very different story. Even if you can get Pentium B960-based notebooks fairly inexpensively, you certainly cannot expect them to deliver great battery life with that 35 W processor in there.

So what about the Core i3-3217U, a 17 W processor? Surely that one is a more virile competitor, and not much more expensive than the Pentium. Core i3's on-die HD Graphics 4000 engine with its 16 EUs stomps all over the A4's 128 ALUs, despite the backing of AMD's capable Graphics Core Next architecture. Now, AMD claims that Kabini isn't meant to go up against Core i3. But we found notebooks with this exact CPU selling for as little as $360 on Newegg. It may turn out that the free market doesn't let AMD choose which Intel-based platforms its Kabini-based APUs contend with. 

Fortunately, the A4-5000 roughly matched the Core i3-3217U's efficiency. More than likely the A4 is going to give you slightly better battery life at the expense of performance. The bad news for AMD is that 17 W CPUs from Intel already pin Kabini into the budget notebook space, and that's before an onslaught of Haswell-based parts from the top and Silvermont-based options down below.

Truth be told, though Kabini isn't the solution that has us most interested. Sure, it's great to see some compelling hardware from AMD up into the 25 W range. However, we really want to get our hands on Temash. AMD needs to work with OEMs to enable compelling form factors that change the way we work. We have several Atom Z2760-based tablets in the lab. It's great to have x86 compatibility on a handheld device with a full copy of Windows 8, but the build quality of those things frankly sucks. We're talking bending, flexing, intermittent dock connections, and cheap plastic. That's no way to tackle the tablet space. Oh, and we'd really like the flexibility to play something other than Angry Birds, too (though, based on the lackluster gaming numbers in the 15 W range, consider our expectations tempered down at 8 W). 

At the end of the day, AMD's next-gen APUs likely have the best chance of success in well-built Windows 8 tablets at the right price. Given a choice between something running Android, an iPad with iOS, or a Surface with Windows RT, the hamstrung Microsoft option seems to get beat up on pretty savagely. But show me an unconstrained Windows 8 device for $100 more and I'll pull my wallet out for you. It's really a shame that AMD talked up what it has planned in this quickly-maturing space and then sent over a notebook that was outgunned in a segment Intel already has saturated with options. 

Lastly, it's a bit of a bummer that neither Temash nor Kabini incorporate AMD's heterogeneous unified memory access (hUMA). This is the feature that will allow the GPU and CPU to share system memory without copying it back and forth, eliminating a massive source of latency in today's APUs. This is where we expect the company's SoCs to stand apart from some of the other highly-integrated processors being designed. Unfortunately, we won't see hUMA in a shipping APU until Kaveri is released later this year.