AMD “Zacate” APU First Look: Hands On with the Brazos Platform

by Reads (27,047)

Last week AMD officially unveiled the first mobile Accelerated Processing Units (APUs) designed for budget notebooks and netbooks coming in early 2011. The “Brazos” platform consists of two categories of APUs: “Ontario” is the codename for the C-series low-voltage APUs running at 9W or less power which are designed to compete with Intel’s Atom processor in netbooks. “Zacate” is the codename for the E-series 18W APUs designed for greater computational and multimedia performance.

For those who might of missed our coverage of the announcement last week, an APU is essentially the combination of a central processing unit (CPU) and a graphics processing unit (GPU) onto a single processor die. Both AMD and Intel are moving in this direction because if you can combine the serial processing power of a CPU and the parallel processing power of a GPU onto a single piece of silicon then you should ultimately get faster performance and less power consumption packed into a fraction of the space needed for a standard CPU and stand-alone GPU.

AMD was kind enough to invite me and several other journalists from around the globe to spend some time with testbed systems of the AMD Zacate E-350 APU. These testbed machines use engineering samples of the APUs and are used by AMD and various notebook manufacturers to develop drivers, components and software for the new platform. As such, please keep in mind that the performance benchmarks shown here may not accurately reflect the performance of production-level notebooks when they arrive in early 2011.

AMD engineers were developing daily driver updates for each APU during the time I was there, and since leaving the AMD facility (on November 2, 2010) I’ve been informed by AMD that newer drivers are showing improved performance and lower power consumption than what I saw during my visit. Still, considering that this is the first mobile APU to hit the market, we wanted to give you a first look at what you can expect from AMD’s latest technology.

Reality Check: What Should You Expect?
Before we jump straight into our performance tests with the E-350 APU testbed, it’s important to understand what this silicon was designed to do … and the type of laptops for which it was designed.

The new Zacate and Ontario APUs in the Brazos platform are designed specifically to be low-voltage CPUs/GPUs for notebooks and netbooks priced at $500 or less. Translation: these chips are going to be used inside entry-level laptops at entry-level prices. If you’re reading this article expecting to see the fastest multi-core microprocessor and the most powerful GPU on the planet then you should stop reading now.

Although AMD is targeting budget-conscious consumers with the first mobile APUs on the market, there are still plenty of reasons to be impressed. Some of the common criticisms our editors have with budget ultraportables and netbooks are related to low-performance CPUs (slow Windows interface response and slow switching between applications when multitasking) and low-performance GPUs (stuttering video and inability to play modern games). We generally accept these problems as a necessary tradeoff for a low-cost laptop, but the AMD E-350 might just change that.

“Zacate” (18W max)

  • AMD E-350 with AMD Radeon HD 6310 Graphics  (dual-core CPU at 1.6GHz and dual DX-11 SIMDs at 500MHz)  (NOTE:  SIMD = 80x total Vision Engine nanocores for parallel computer capability and graphics)
  • AMD E-240 with AMD Radeon HD 6310 Graphics  (single-core CPU at 1.5GHz and dual DX-11 SIMDs at 500MHz)

“Ontario” (9W max)

  • AMD C-50  with AMD Radeon HD 6250 Graphics  (dual-core CPU at 1.0GHz and dual DX-11 SIMDs at 280MHz)
  • AMD C-30 with AMD Radeon HD 6250 Graphics  (single-core CPU at 1.2GHz and dual DX-11 SIMDs at 280MHz)

 

While these APU specs might look interesting to some of you, AMD’s internal market research suggests that the overwhelming majority of PC shoppers don’t care about the specific processor inside their laptop. AMD claims those consumers outnumber processor-aware consumers by 15 to one. Based on that information AMD has used the “VISION” marketing strategy since 2009.

AMD’s VISION is focused on dividing their CPU, GPU and now APU products into four categories (Vision, Vision Premium, Vision Ultimate, and Vision Black) based on what the consumer wants to do and what the hardware is capable of doing. A standard VISION laptop (also called “Vision Basic”) is designed for media consumption–listening to music, viewing photos, watching DVDs, watching downloaded movies and online videos, surfing the Internet, using email and light gaming. The new Zacate APUs are designed for notebooks in the Vision Basic category.

The lower-voltage Ontario APUs are part of a new category in the VISION hierarchy called “HD Internet.” This category is designed to deliver extremely low-cost computing solutions with low power consumption that are also capable of handling HD video playback online whether you’re watching YouTube HD or the Netflix Watch Instantly service.



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