AMD A8-7600 Kaveri APU

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AMD A8-7600 Kaveri APU

February 19, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Product
AMD A8-7600 FM2+ Processor
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$120

AMD's acquisition of ATI in 2006 paved the way for the Fusion microprocessor (now dubbed APU or accelerated processing unit), which combined both the CPU and GPU onto a single a chip. The move simplified chipset design while also making data transfer between the various components quicker, and cutting down manufacturing costs and power consumption. AMD had secondary motive though, to build toward a future where general purpose software would be written to utilize the hardware in the GPU portion of the chip in order to increase performance. Up until then, only games and CAD applications really took advantage of this extra processing capability. More often than not, most of those additional transistors sat idle most of the time — back then, even GPU-accelerated video playback was in its infancy.

The latest APU microarchitecture, codename Kaveri, is a showcase for Heterogeneous Systems Architecture (HSA). Kaveri was built to incorporate HSA, a system architecture designed to better mine the potential of APUs and System-on-Chips. For Kaveri, this meant bonding the CPU and GPU counterparts tighter than ever before so they could interact with fewer go-betweens. The two components have links that allow them share memory, caches, data queues, and other resources without stepping on each others toes. Work is scheduled and synchronized in a a more seamless fashion, taking the platform closer to true parallel computing. HSA can be found today in many ARM-based devices (tablets, phones, etc.) but AMD believes to belong on the desktop as well. Like AMD's previous GPGPU (general purpose computing on GPUs) efforts, the problem is getting developers on board. For AMD's vision to become reality, it needs mass adoption of this framework. To date, they've released four generations of this product line, with each boasting more of these features and new software titles capable of harnessing such capabilities but the library is still quite bare. It's a long uphill battle with no end in sight.

The CPU-GPU landscape may eventually change, but until then we can still evaluate Kaveri on more traditional terms. Both the CPU and GPU portion of the new APU have received upgrades compared to its predecessor. Kaveri is the first to sport Steamroller CPU cores (the follow-up to Piledriver) which have two CPU modules with their own integer cores and a shared floating-point unit. Steamroller is manufactured using a new 28nm process which allows for higher transistor densities with lower switching speeds. This fabrication technology limits maximum frequency but it should more than make up for it in work per cycle and improved energy efficiency. The die size is almost identical to Richland but it sports an additional 1.1 billion transistors, with almost half of the die dedicated to the graphics processor which is now based on GCN (Graphics Core Next). It's the same architecture found in the new Radeon Rx 200 line of discrete video cards, but new does not necessarily equate to better or faster. This version has but 6 or 8 compute units (depending on the model), not enough to propel it beyond entry-level performance.

Kaveri also brings PCI Express 3.0 to the table, though to really take advantage of that extra bandwidth multiple high-end cards are needed, which might be bottlenecked somewhat by the CPU power of a budget APU. In addition, AMD has added a TrueAudio DSP, dedicated hardware capable of offloading audio processing for various things like spatial effects and channel mixing. Like HSA, the benefit of TrueAudio will be solely determined by software developers — it's a new piece of gear seeking adoption. AMD has a history of paying attention to sound, most notably for supporting HDMI audio and bitstreaming of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-MA audio on their graphics cards before their rival NVIDIA. HTPC enthusiasts were particularly appreciative of this and undoubtedly will also be grateful for Kaveri's support for 4K resolutions, at 30 Hz over HDMI, and 60 Hz over DisplayPort.


The FM2+ socket.

The new design requires a new FM2+ socket which has two more pins than FM2, making Kaveri chips incompatible with older motherboards. You can drop a Trinity/Richland FM2 APU into a FM2+ board but this type of backwards compatibility is less desirable than the other way around. Upgrading the processor is obviously a much easier task and is typically more beneficial as well — this is doubly true if you're currently running a Trinity/Richland system as the new motherboards don't offer any added benefit as far as we can tell. AMD has been surprisingly hush on the new flagship A88X chipset, but from what we can gather from specifications of various A88X boards, nothing has changed from A85X.


The ASRock FM2A88X-ITX+.

For our review, we've been provided with a mini-ITX FM2+ motherboard made by ASRock, the FM2A88X-ITX+. This US$100 model is notable for having six SATA 6 Gbps ports, a headset amplifier chip, and a wireless 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0 adapter (mini PCI-E).


The A8-7600.
Kaveri Desktop APU Comparison
Model
A10-7850K
A10-7700K
A8-7600 (65W)
A8-7600 (45W)
CPU Cores
4
CPU Clock (Base/Turbo)
3.7 / 4.0 GHz
3.4 / 3.8 GHz
3.3 / 3.8 GHz
3.1 / 3.3 GHz
Total L2 Cache
4MB
Unlocked Multiplier
Yes
No
GPU Compute Units
8
6
Radeon Cores
512
384
GPU Clock
720 MHz
TDP
95W
95W
65W
45W
Price (USD)
$173
$152
$119
$119

AMD graciously sent us a single new APU for evaluation, the A8-7600, which occupies the bottom rung of AMD's opening Kaveri salvo. The most interesting aspect of this chip is its adjustable TDP — it can be set to either 45W or 65W in the BIOS. Obviously users can achieve a similar effect by changing the CPU multiplier but you'd have to play around with it awhile to determine exactly how much power is being used. The TDP setting has the additional benefit of keeping the GPU within the same power envelope. All three launch models have 4MB of L2 cache and what AMD simply calls "R7" graphics with the premium A10-7850K sporting an extra two GPU compute units and 128 more cores. As usual, the K series has an unlocked multiplier for easier overclocking.


* EOL. Price of closet current comparative used.

When considering the cost of a system, the CPU is only part of the equation as the price of motherboards varies greatly from platform to platform. In the chart above, we added the price of the chips compared today to those of an average compatible motherboard from Newegg. The following criteria were used for the motherboards: retail versions, Asus, Intel (ASRock for AMD), Gigabyte, or MSI branded, microATX or ATX form factor, SATA 6 Gbps and USB 3.0 support in some form, and only reasonably priced models were included. The average motherboard price turned out to be US$98 for LGA1155, US$81 for FM2+ (Kaveri), and US$80 for FM2/FM2+ (Trinity/Richland).

At US$200, the A8-7600 configuration is one of the most affordable combinations compared. At the other end of the scale are a couple of Intel Sandy Bridge chips, the venerable i5-2500K and the low power i5-2400S. As these two chips are no longer being produced, we used the average street prices of their closest current comparatives.



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