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AMD's Low Power Fusion APU: Zacate Unveiled
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Date: Nov 09, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Dave Altavilla
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An Introduction To Zacate
"Fusion." We've heard that word from the good folks at AMD for what seems like an eternity, to be perfectly honest.  Fusion is AMD's marketing moniker for the company's next generation of integrated processors with on-board graphics -- a "fusion" of the CPU along with the GPU into what AMD now affectionately calls an "APU" or Accelerated Processing Unit.  Fusion has been a long time coming for AMD but it looks as if they may well have chosen the perfect entry point to release their first generation APU from the starting block.  The market is currently in what seems like a complete frenzy for anything to do with ultra-portable computing, from ultra thin and light notebooks, to netbooks and tablet PCs.  Consumers can't seem to get enough of the thin and sexy stuff and with AMD's first Fusion release, they've certainly chosen the right product segment to attack with a new low power processor.

Back in the September time frame, we gave you a quick look at AMD's upcoming processor codenamed Zacate.  Targeted at light mobile platforms, Zacate is a dual core processor with an on board DX11 capable graphics core and from the early look we got back then, it was shaping up to make a splash.  More recently, AMD invited us down to their Austin Texas facility to spend some quality hands-on time with Zacate.  Though we can't quite share performance details with you yet (still under NDA lock and key), we can give you a bit more detail and a first hand look at Zacate, its even lower-power sibling "Ontario" and the hyper-mobile platform that accommodates these new AMD processors that goes by the codename "Brazos."


Far Left: AMD's Zacate E-350 APU
Middle and Right: AMD's Previous Generation V105 Geneva Discrete Solution


At first glance of AMD's new silicon, you can see that Zacate is a single, monolithic die that is actually quite small when you consider the size of AMD's previous generation discrete processor architecture.  What you see here is an AMD E-350 dual core Zacate processor with a die size of 75mm2.  The chip is built on TSMC's 40nm process technology and it's actually smaller than a dual core Intel Atom processor, which measure at 83mm2.







These were part of the slide deck that AMD presented to us the day we paid a visit to their Austin Lone Star location.  As you can see, the Brazos platform will be home to both AMD E-Series and C-Series APUs.  Zacate, or the E-Series that we tested that day, is an 18 Watt TDP (thermal design power) chip and Ontario, or the C-Series, operates in a 9 Watt power envelope, if you can believe that.  As you'll also note here, Zacate is targeted to compete with Intel's low power CULV processors for thin and light notebooks, while Ontario is targeted at competing versus Celeron and Atom designs.  The kicker here is that AMD is claiming a "more balanced" architecture with a more robust graphics engine versus current Intel solutions on the market.

Additionally, we also see where AMD's product segmentation will fall in both the notebook and desktop space.  Sabine will be the next platform to incorporate AMD's Fusion-based Llano integrated APU and it is targeted to compete with Intel's Core i3,5, and 7 lineup of Arrandale processors with integrated graphics. Again the suggestion here is that with AMD's more robust DX11 graphics core under the hood, a stronger multimedia experience can be delivered.   Obviously, until we have product in hand, that remains to be seen.  Finally, we see Llano-based APUs for the desktop and, of course, Bulldozer showing up in the Scorpus platform, which will be AMD's next big iron processor for the high end.

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Zacate CPU and Platform Details
Though we're generally of the opinion that one needs to be careful not to drink too deeply from the company Kool-Aid, AMD's positioning for Zacate and the Brazos platform is something that makes a bit of sense to us.  In the ultra-mobile space, we've all been craving better graphics performance for some time now. 



NVIDIA capitalized on Intel's shortcomings in this area with their Ion series of graphics cores for Intel Atom and CULV designs.  With both a strong CPU and GPU core architecture in house, it would certainly appear that AMD has all the tools in place to setup Zacate to deliver on their claim of a more balanced computing experience.





In the high level block diagram and spec list above, you'll note that Zacate and Ontario share a common chip and system-level architecture.  Highlights are a dual-core X86-64 processor with a 64-bit FPU and 1MB of on-chip L2 cache.  Zacate and Ontario will have a full out-of-order execution and load-store architecture with an advanced branch predictor and secure virtualization capability.  

On the graphics side of the chip, there is are a pair of SIMD engines that are DX11 capable and are comprised of 80 AMD Vision Engine nanocores each.  Finally, the Unified Video Decoder that is found on both Zacate and Ontario is that same UVD3 block found on AMD's latest generation of Radeon HD 6800 series GPUs.  Add a single channel DDR3-1066 memory controller to the mix and AMD's serial UMI interface to their Hudson Southbridge IO hub and you have Zacate or Ontario, both of which come in dual and single core variants. 

Here's a listing of the various AMD Zacate and Ontario processor models and configurations for easier digestion:

“Zacate” (18W max)

  • AMD E-350 with AMD Radeon™ HD 6310 Graphics
    (dual-core CPU @ 1.6GHz & dual DX-11 SIMDs @ 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 @ 1.5GHz & dual DX-11 SIMDs @ 500MHz)

“Ontario” (9W max)

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





The build-outs with Zacate and Ontario will be pretty straight-forward. Certain Zacate builds will even have the option for additional discrete graphics connectivity.
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Zacate On The Test Bench and Retail Notebook
At the end of our PowerPoint tour of the Brazos platform, AMD took us to our own private little make-shift test lab in a back conference room, so that we could experience the E-350 Zacate processor first-hand and run our full suite of custom and standard benchmarks that we run here at HotHardware.com.  Below is a quick photo slide show of the system in detail.  Click any image for a high res view.





AMD setup a machine in the conference room they briefed us in and had a demo of Zacate running a full 1080p HD video clip while taxing the CPU with an instance of Hyper Pi set to 32 million places.  As you can see the CPU meter was pegged at 100% but we can offer that the HD video clip being played was fluid and smooth with zero dropped frames.



Zacate's cooler was a small active fan sink that sometimes didn't even spin up until we really taxed it.  Here the infrared temp gun shows a rather brisk 90ºF under full load.





Various and sundry different component-level devices can be seen here including Broadcom's Gigabit Ethernet solution as well as an NEC USB3 chip.
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A Glimpe of Retail Product The Wrap-up
Finally, we got a quick glimpse of an MSI thin-and-light notebook built around AMD's Zacate E-350 series processor.  With razor sharp lines, a svelte demeanor and sleek good-looks, we'd say this could very well be a common incarnation of AMD Zacate at the retail level.






AMD's test platform, more humble than the notebook but easier to sink our teeth into.

We'll close this small preview out with an apology of sorts for the tease we've put you through here.  AMD has us holding off on performance metrics with their new CPU for a little while longer.  And so, we'll be making a return to the Brazos and Zacate rivers of low power techno-goodness (we'll let you look Google those names), in the weeks ahead.  So stay tuned.  Ultra-light mobile PC aficionados may just have something to get excited about here.


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