AMD’s APU13 developers conference is well under way and the news continues to flow thick and fast. AMD it seems has its own technological revolution underway, a revolution that began with consoles adopting PC technology. A revolution that is now taking over the PC world with technology perfected within the PS4.
With the release of the next generation consoles out of the way AMD is now free to introduce this technology to the PC. Technology that includes hUMA memory architecture, TrueAudio DSP’s and Mantle compatible next generation GPU cores.
The first of these next generation PC products will be the Kaveri desktop APU, to be followed shortly after by the ultra low power APU’s Beema and Mullins. AMD’s recently demonstrated Project Discovery tablet is based on the Mullins APU. All of which will be on show at the highly anticipated CES conference, January 2014.
Kaveri for Tablets and Project Discovery
AMD moves in on mobile with the release of Beema and Mullins APU’s, the tablet enabled Kaveri APU’s designed to run on less power. Beema and Mullins contain all of AMD’s latest technology just as Kaveri will; hUMA, TrueAudio and Mantle are all present. The CPU cores however will not be Steamroller cores as used by the Kaveri, instead upgraded Jaguar cores (Puma) will be used. According to AMD all of these changes add up to a doubling of performance per watt.
Beema is designed for compact laptops and low power desktops and will consume between 10 and 25 watts while Mullins is the miser of the pair consuming as little as 2W. A substantial improvement over the previous generation Temash APU that drew 3 to 4Watts.
AMD’s new tablet chips will appear with 2 or 4 cores in the first 6 months of 2014 and should be efficient enough to allow fanless tablets and laptops.
Demonstrating the gaming power of the new silicon AMD has recently been showing off their Project Discovery gaming tablet, the first example of a Mullins chipset in action. The tablet has already been awarded a CES Innovation Award, expect the tablet to be front and centre during the convention in January. The tablet has also been doing the media rounds recently, demonstrated running Battlefield 4 at 30 frames per second on medium settings, a very playable speed.
The 10 inch tablet is of course an x86 slab that runs the full blown Windows 8.1, and associated games and apps. AMD have some lofty aspirations for their Discovery, the clean compact design is just half of equation. The accessories being the other part, two types of docking station have been developed alongside the tablet. A very gaming centric game grip dock adds analogue controllers, d-pads and a speaker bar running along the bottom of the unit. The second dock is a more standard desktop docking station that includes 5 USB ports, DisplayPort and Ethernet.
Sadly Project Discover y is an OEM design solution only at the moment, AMD is steadfastly holding to the decision not to manufacture and sell the tablet themselves. If there is anything AMD can learn from Apple and more recently Microsoft it is that you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty manufacturing and selling your own hardware.
Hitting the metal is an old programming style that involves programming the CPU or GPU directly, a practice not often used when programming a modern operating system. The advent of common programming models, API’s (application programming interfaces) and the many layers of the operating system itself has seriously limited the amount of hardware exposed to program directly.
AMD’s Mantle API is designed to give the best of both worlds for AMD Radeon equipped PC’s; providing a common interface and pre-built libraries to program with, as well as coding directly on graphics hardware, the metal. A combination that AMD claims is 9 times faster than current programming techniques.
In the short time since AMD’s introduction of Mantle a number of games dev companies have signed up; Cloud Imperium Games, Eidos-Montreal, Oxide Games and Rebellion Entertainment are all on board.
True Audio Technology, integrated DSP technology
Audio on the PC has been in a sad state since Windows Vista shifted the audio processing tasks from external hardware (sound cards) to software executed on the CPU. AMD’s TrueAudio see’s the return of the DSP for audio processing. Integrating DSP hardware into the GPU design has finally seen the audio hardware placed where it should have been all along.
TrueAudio technology is currently integrated in 260X, 270X, 280X, 290X and the Kaveri generation of APU’s. It has also been revealed recently that the PS4 uses TrueAudio while the X-Box One doesn’t.
The integrated DSP are responsible for processing 3D and reverb audio effects but contain no analogue conversion hardware so the signal must be passed to an audio playback device. This can include HDMI output, audio card or USB audio device.
While all PS4 games will be using TrueAudio to varying degrees only Thief on the PC has officially announced they will be using TrueAudio.
Kaveri details become clear
Kaveri, AMD’s first high performance APU has been on everybody’s minds for quite some time, now as its release (Jan 14) draws near the details have become clear.
Kaveri will include between 2 or 4 Steamroller High Performance cores, depending on the model. The flagship APU model for this new generation will be the A10-7850K and will feature 4 Steamroller cores running at 3.7GHz base speed and will Turbo up to 4GHz. The GPU will consist of 8 compute units featuring a total of 512 stream processors. Based on the latest GCN 1.1 technology the chip will be clocked at 720 MHz, providing 856 GFLOPs of combined processing power.
Kaveri, is the first APU to truly blend AMD’s CPU technology integrating all of AMD’s latest technology; hUMA, TrueAudio and Mantle API compatibility will all be present. Think of it as the first PC fruits of AMDs console labours.
Server APU’s Appear
AMD’s Berlin (Opteron X-Series) CPU is AMD’s Kaveri for the serve world and is launching at the moment, these chips stand to offer incredible performance improvements for server farms.
As with all things in the world of computers the hardware is only part of the equation. Berlin is no expectation, developers tools need to be optimized and libraries updated. To this end AMD is working with many technology partners to prepare for Berlin. Oracle, Suse, AccelerEyes and CodeXL are already working on hUMA optimizations.
Has AMD cleverly decided to use gaming as their hook, their thing? Are they using consoles as a stepping stone to PC domination or have they simply finally worked out how to make money? Give the people what they want.
We all know that CPU performance accelerated past user requirements a decade ago; currently it is everything that surrounds the CPU that has been evolving. Radios, graphics chips and input devices are now driving the evolution of computing.
While Intel may hold the absolute performance crown with its Extreme Edition CPU’s their technology has grown old and stale, while the relevance in the consumer market has eroded. Many may even argue that ARM is in fact now the leading CPU developer in the world.
AMD however has the technology jump on both Intel and ARM. The features provided by AMD’s new APU’s are a generation ahead of the pack. hUMA memory architecture, TrueAudio and Mantle represent the largest architectural shift since the memory controller was moved onto the CPU over a decade ago.
Expect AMD to demonstrate its technological tour de force at January’s CES conference in Las Vegas. With the Project Discovery tablets front and centre AMD will hope to rock the show. A CES that will see the battle of the next generation come to life.
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