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AMD Trinity A10-4600M Processor Review
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Date: May 15, 2012
Section:Mobile
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introductions and Specifications

We won't burn up too much of your bandwidth setting the stage here.  AMD's second-generation Bulldozer core processor microarchitecture, codenamed Piledriver, has made headlines at HotHardware many times in the past few months, including our CES sneak peek of the chip that AMD is launching today for the mobile market, codenamed Trinity.  What this launch is all about is AMD's answer to Intel's Ivy Bridge-based Core series processors for notebooks.  It's that straightforward, though we'll start by level-setting expectations based on how both companies and their respective architectures approach computing workloads.

There's little debate that Intel's strength lies in their base x86 CPU architecture, which has held a significant advantage over AMD for several generations of product now, both in desktop and mobile flavors.  AMD has been left to compete on cost more than anything else (and in some recent products, low power) and when you consider Intel's clear advantage in leading-edge silicon manufacturing process, that's a thin line to walk.

Conversely, AMD enjoys a distinct advantage over Intel with their Radeon graphics engine, in terms of the integrated solutions they've brought to market in the mobile and desktop spaces and in its software support.  The dividing lines are fairly plain to see, with a quick examination of how each company partitions silicon resources.  Intel spends a disproportionate about of silicon area on x86 CPU and memory resources, whereas, even within Trinity, AMD carves out more area for the GPU.  Regardless, Ivy Bridge brought Intel's graphics game up significantly, as you're aware if you've been keeping up on our coverage here, with a fully DX11 capable graphics engine, along with a demonstrated up to 2X performance boost over Sandy Bridge's graphics engine, not to mention the traditional IPC kicker Intel engineered into their 3rd generation Core CPU cores.

For AMD, Trinity has also been reported as offering much-needed performance enhancements in IPC (Instructions Per Cycle) but also more of the same strength in gaming and multimedia horsepower, with an enhanced second generation Radeon HD graphics engine.  In the pages ahead, we'll dive into AMD's new Trinity architecture and AMD's new A10 series APU, along with lots of benchmark data looking at the results of AMD's recent efforts from a number of angles.


AMD Trinity A10 APU Die - 1.303B Transistors, 32nm - 246mm2

AMD A-Series Trinity APU
Specifications & Features

  • Die size: 246mm2
  • 1.303B transistors
  • Process: 32nm SOI
  • 2.09W MobileMark 07 power consumption
  • 1.08W idle power
  • Power reduction during HD media playback
  • Unified Northbridge (UNB)
  • Quad-core and Dual-core configurations
  • Updated AMD Radeon™ DirectX®11 GPU
  • 3 dedicated display outputs
  • 4 independent display controllers
  • DisplayPort 1.2 with symbol rates of 1.62, 2.7 and 5.4 Gbit/s
  • UVD and AMD Accelerated Video Converter
  • IOMMU v2  (Input/Output Memory Management)

AMD A-Series Trinity Processors (click for high res)

In the game of high-end semiconductor manufacturing, process technology is King.  Here AMD's noted that Trinity is comprised of a little over 1.3B transistors with a die size of 246mm2.  Conversely, Intel's Ivy Bridge processor is roughly 1.4B transistors at ~160mm2.  That's the difference between 22nm and 32nm technology, with AMD still riding a full process generation behind currently.  And though die size is directly proportional to cost, power consumption may or may not be, depending the power gating technologies and leakage at play.

As you can see, Trinity sips barely over 1W of power at idle and the current top-end A10 chip has a 35W TDP with a max clock speed of 3.2GHz, versus the Core i7-3720QM we tested not long ago at 45W.  Beyond that, you can see that AMD is bringing out several versions of their Trinity architecture, with both dual-core and quad-core variants, along with various Radeon HD 7000 series integrated GPUs on board, clocked at different speeds. 

AMD's lowest power chip is the A6-4455M, which is a dual-core CPU with a Radeon HD 7500G graphics engine on board consisting of 256 Radeon cores.  Today we'll be showing performance of the A10-4600M Trinity processor--a quad-core design with on-board Radeon HD 7660G graphics comprised of 384 Radeon cores, running at a peak clock speed of 686MHz for the GPU and 3.2GHz on the CPU.  First, let's look under the hood a bit with Trinity.
 
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A-Series Trinity Architecture and Pildriver Cores
As we noted, AMD has either tweaked or revamped many of the primary functional blocks in their new Trinity mobile architecture.  From the new Piledriver-based CPU cores themselves to the Northern Islands-based GPU core, Trinity offers performance improvements and additional features in a number of areas.





The GPU engine on board Trinity is based on AMD's previous-generation Northern Islands family of GPU cores.  You can loosely think of these as Radeon HD 6400 class GPUs, though the company is re-branding them as integrated Radeon HD 7600 and 7500 family cores. The GPU has an improved hardware tesselator over the previous gen Llano APU. In addition, it's VLIW4 design offers balanced stream processor cluster wit each of the four SPUs offering equal capability and more simplified scheduling, versus the VLIW5 design used in older Radeon HD series GPUs, for example.  For a mobile architecture, this seemed like a reasonable low-risk path for AMD with good performance.


As part of the GPU block, AMD has also incorporated an updated version of their HD Media Accelerator with enhanced UVD (Unified Video Decoder) and AVC (Accelerated Video Converter blocks).  The UVD block offers hardware offload for Blu-ray 3D, MPEG-4/DivX, and Picture-in-Picture with dual HD streams. In addition, within the HD Media Accelerator engine, A series APUs also offer AMD Quick Stream video streaming technology for prioritizing video stream packet data for uninterrupted video streaming.


And of course many software ISVs will be offering optimized versions of their applications to take advantage AMD's A-series video acceleration and conversion technologies.

The other major design advancement is AMD's new Piledriver compute cores...



Piledriver is an optimization of AMD's Bulldozer core that shares the same high-level architecture as Bulldozer, but with a number of critical enhancements.  The same shared fetch, decode, floating point and L2 cache resources per pair of integer units is here, however AMD has improved their branch prediction along with better L2 efficiency and improved hardware prefetch.  Piledriver cores also have a larger L1 TLB or Translation Look-aside Buffer.  All told AMD is claiming a combined performance increase of ~14% on the desktop versus their Bulldozer architecture, 25% better performance on mobile platforms versus Bulldozer, along with a 50% increase in GPU perf, clock-for-clock.  However, as the slide shows, over their previous gen Husky CPU microarchitecture A-series APUs, along with Turbo Core 3.0 speed boosts, AMD is claiming larger aggregate performance gains in both desktop and mobile platforms.

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Turbo Core 3.0, UNB and Memory Controller
Trinity also incorporates an updated DDR3 memory controller that now supports new low power 1.25V DDR3 memory, incorporated with in a new UNB or Unified Northbridge design.



It's interesting to note that PCI Express now replaces HyperTransport for serial connectivity to downstream I/O devices in Trinity and it makes sense, given the obvious mass adoption of PCIe serial interfaces across platform and chip-level interconnects.  The Radeon Memory Bus or RMB offers a full bandwidth path for the GPU engine to system memory that bypasses cache coherency mechanisms for lower latency access. 



Finally, AMD's Turbo Core 3.0 technology offers more aggressive clock gating and over-clocking, with up to a 20% increase in top-end GPU clock speed, 19% in single core CPU clock speed and an 8% boost in multithreaded CPU performance.  Specifically, the A10-4600M that we'll be running through its paces next, scales up to 3.2GHz in single-threaded applications on the CPU, but has a base clock of 2.3GHz with dynamic scaling as needed in multithreaded workloads.  The GPU scales from a base of 496MHz to 685MHz under heavy 3D rendering requirements.
 
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AMD Trinity Whitebook Showcase
We thought it made sense to give you a quick look at the demonstration vehicle AMD chose to showcase their new APU technology.  It's a pretty standard 14-inch build, nothing super sleek or thin but setup to bring out all of the features of the new 2nd Generation A-series processors.
AMD's Trinity Prototype - We left the skins on and didn't tear it down, yet.  There's still time.

   
   

AMD was quick to point out that this notebook was built for AMD by an ODM and it would not be available as a retail product.  However, you'll note here that the machine sports a pair of USB 3.0 ports, which are native to the A-series chipset platform, an HDMI port, VGA, eSATA, standard USB, a Flash card reader, a Blu-ray player and a Gigabit Ethernet port. 

Beyond these IO options in our Trinity prototype notebook, the new 2nd Generation A-series architecture also supports DisplayPort 1.2 and AMD Eyefinity technology with up to 4 independent displays and 4 independent 7.1 channel surround sound audio streams over HDMI or DP.

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Test Methodology, HD Video Playback and Transcoding
Test Methodology: As you'll note in the following pages of benchmarks, we've compared the AMD Trinity notebook  to a few different machines, both standard notebooks and in some cases Ultrabook class products.  In every test case, we tried to leave each notebook as delivered to us from the manufacturers. This meant, after any pending Windows updates were installed, we disabled Windows update and also disabled any virus scanning software that may have been installed, so it wouldn't kick in during benchmark runs. 

That said, it's virtually impossible to ensure identical system configurations between notebooks; so we'll caution you that reference scores from the various test systems are listed in order to give you a general feel for performance between these similar class of machines and not for direct, apples-to-apples comparisons.

HD Media Playback and Video Convserion
Preliminary Tests with Intel HD 4000 Graphics and HD Video

As a quick sanity check on CPU utilization during multimedia playback, we first fired up a 1080p QuickTime video clip from the Apple QuickTime Movie Trailer gallery.  Here we've captured a scene from the movie trailer for I am Legend so you can get a look at how AMD's new Trinity A10-4600M handles HD video decoding workloads.

1080p H.264 Encoded QuickTime Trailer Playback

Windows Task Manager's Performance monitor shows the new quad-core chip is oscillating between 0 - 5% CPU utilization, which is a little lower actually than what we saw with Intel's Ivy Bridge mobile chip.  Apparently AMD's new HD Media Accelerator engine is no joke in Trinity, at least with respect to H.264-based video decode and playback.

Cyberlink MediaEspresso
1080p AVCHD to 720p H.264 Transcoding and Compression
Cyberlink's MediaEspresso is a video conversion tool that imports various video media files types and converts them to other standard video types for publication, portability and streaming.  In this test, we take a 224MB high definition 1080p AVCHD video clip and convert it to a 720p H.264-encoded video file.  Here we're going to look directly at AMD's HD Media Accelerator in the new A10 APU and compare it to Intel's previous generation Sandy Bridge Quick Sync engine, Ivy Bridge's new Quick Sync engine, and competitive CPU-based solutions as well. 


MediaEspresso in action with 61% CPU utilization running on Trinity

Times are measured in minutes:seconds with lower times representing faster throughput in the video conversion process.



There's not a lot more to say here than what the benchmark numbers don't speak clearly.  We tested the AMD optimized version of this app that takes advantage of AMD's AVC engine for hardware accelerated video conversion from AVCHD to H.264.  Though it certainly knocked a bunch of time off the software only, unaccelerated test, AMD's Accelerated Video Converter technology couldn't even begin to compete with Intel Quick Sync.  In addition, as you can see in the screen shot of the app above this graph, Trinity is reporting over 60% CPU utilization whereas Ivy Bridge reported 12% utilization when transcoding this video workload.
 
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Rendering and Media Encoding: Cinebench and LAME MT

Cinebench R11.5 is a 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.

Cinebench R11.5
3D Rendering on The CPU and IGP
This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a photorealistic 3D scene (from the viral "No Keyframes" animation by AixSponza). This scene makes use of various algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.


Cinebench highlights AMD's design philosophy perfectly. As you can see, the Trinity A10 APU offers excellent performance in Cinebench's GPU-dependant OpenGL test, surpassing any other integrated solution by a wide margin. Cinebench's CPU test, however, paints a totally different picture. Even Intel's much older Arrandale-based Core i5 is able to outpace the Trinity A10 APU here.

LAME MT Audio Media Encoding
Multithreaded Audio Transcode
In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content. LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.  In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file and convert it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.



The new AMD A10-4600M takes a pounding in our LAME MT benchmark. In both the single and multi-threaded tests, the AMD A10-4600M gets beat by every reference system, including an aging Core 2 Duo based machine.
 
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SiSoftware SANDRA and PCMark 7
We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2011, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2012 suite (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Cache and Memory Latency and Memory Bandwidth).

SiSoftware SANDRA 2012
Synthetic Processor and Memory Bandwidth Performance

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SANDRA Processor Arithmetic and Multimedia Tests

 
SANDRA Cache and Memory Latency and Memory Bandwidth Tests

In the various CPU-centric SiSoft SANDRA tests we ran, the AMD A10-4600M competes favorably with Intel's Core i3 and Core i5 mobile processors in the reference database, save for the floating-point portion of the Multimedia benchmark where Trinity falls a bit short. In the memory bandwidth benchmark, the Trinity-based A10-4600M offers up about 11GB/s of memory bandwidth, which is slightly better than Arrandale, but somewhat lower than Sandy and Ivy Bridge.

Futuremark PCMark 7
General Application and Multimedia Performance
Next up, we ran our test systems through Futuremark’s total-system performance evaluation tool, PCMark 7. PCMark 7 runs through a host of usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads, including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity.
 




Our Trinity-based AMD whitebook falls somewhere in the middle of the pack according to PCMark 7. The machine was able to outpace a couple of Intel Core i3 and i5-based systems, but trailed the Core i7s, which is sort of where AMD is positioning the A10 APU in the first place.
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DX11 Gaming Benchmark: 3DMark 11
FutureMark 3DMark 11
Synthetic DX11 Gaming Benchmark

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark11, is specifically bound to Windows Vista and 7-based systems because it uses the advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 11, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows. 3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though. With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test. We tested the new Ivy Bridge-based Asus notebook with 3DMark11's Performance preset option.


 



In 3DMark 11 AMD's A10-4600M Trinity APU performed relatively well. The A10's on-die Radeon HD 7660G engine easily outpaced the Intel HD 4000 series graphics of Ivy Bridge in this test and even managed to outpace a couple of discrete mobile GPUs. The recently released GeForce GT 600 series mobile GPUs, however, finished the test well ahead of the Radeon HD 7660G.
 
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DX10 Gaming Performance: Just Cause 2 and Far Cry 2

Just Cause 2
DX10.1 Gaming Performance


Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 was released in March '10, from developers Avalanche Studios and Eidos Interactive. The game makes use of the Avalanche Engine 2.0, an updated version of the similarly named original. It is set on the fictional island of Panau in southeast Asia, and you play the role of Rico Rodriquez. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article using one of the built-in demo runs called Desert Sunrise. The test results shown here were run at various resolutions and settings. This game also supports a few CUDA-enabled features, but they were left disabled to keep the playing field level.



The Radeon HD 7660G graphics engine in the AMD A10-4600M Trinity APU easily outpaced Intel's integrated graphics in the Just Cause 2 benchmark. Even though Intel's HD 4000 series graphic engine, which debuted with Ivy Bridge, is the company's best integrated GPU to date, its performance doesn't come close to AMD's in this game engine.  This test shows roughly a 54% performance edge for Trinity.

Far Cry 2 
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance




FarCry 2
Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations. We benchmarked the test systems in this article with the FarCry 2 benchmark tool using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.



The Radeon HD 7660G within the AMD A10-4600M Trinity APU also performed well in our FarCry 2 tests. Once again, AMD's integrated graphics engine has no trouble outpacing Intel's best at both resolutions and trails only the higher-end discrete mobile GeForce GT GPUs from NVIDIA.  Trinity outpaces Ivy Bridge by about 30% here.
 
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DX11 Gaming: Metro 2033
Metro 2033
DX11 Gaming Performance
Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack there-of more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism.


The Radeon HD 7660G's performance in the Metro 2033 benchmark is somewhat of a mixed bag. When testing with the DirectX 10 code path, the Radeon HD 7660G in the AMD A10-4600M Trinity APU outpaced everything but the discrete GeForce GT 600 series parts. Using the Direct 11 code path, however, had a more significant impact on performance and even Intel's HD 4000 series graphics engine was able to pull ahead of the Radeon HD 7660G by the slimmest of margins.  There's a hint of driver immaturity here in DX11 mode perhaps for AMD, though admittedly the field is tightly grouped.
 
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DX11 Gaming: Batman Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance
Batman: Arkham City is a sequel to 2009’s Game of the Year winning Batman: Arkham Asylum. This recently released sequel, however, lives up to and even surpasses the original. The story takes place 18 months after the original game. Quincy Sharp, the onetime administrator of Arkham Asylum, has become mayor and convinced Gotham to create "Arkham City" by walling off the worst, most crime-ridden areas of the city and turning the area into a giant open-air prison. The game has DirectX 9 and 11 rendering paths, with support for tessellation, multi-view soft shadows, and ambient occlusion. We tested in DX11 mode with all in-game graphical options set to their maximum values, at various resolutions.




Batman: Arkham City proved to be somewhat of a stumbling block for the Radeon HD 7660G graphics engine. When running this test in both DX9 and DX11 modes, the Radeon HD 7660G trails the competition losing out to Intel's HD 4000 series graphics and NVIDIA's discrete GeForce GT 630 mobile GPU.  That said, the results here speak more to driver optimization (or like thereof perhaps) rather than GPU horsepower.  Again, when you consider the performance edge Trinity has over Ivy Bridge in 3DMark 11 and our older DX10 based Far Cry 2 and Just Cause 2 benchmarks, we're left with the notion that AMD isn't done wringing performance out of Trinity's graphics engine and its supporting driver package.
 
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Power Consumption and Battery Life
If you're shopping for a notebook you're likely very interested in what kind of battery life you can expect from a system, unless you're considering a desktop replacement machine.  Here we're put AMD's new Trinity architecture through its paces in our power consumption and battery tests.

Trinity A10-4600M Power Consumption and System Battery Life
System Power Consumption, Efficiency and Battery Life

The results below are from our combined Battery Eater Pro (worst case) and Web Browsing only (almost best case) tests. BEP beats on the CPU, GPU, disk and memory while it renders a 3D image and rotates it in real time on the screen. Our light duty, web browser test refreshes a web page of mixed text, graphics, HTML and Flash, every 3 minutes. Both tests are run with display brightness set to 50% with no sleep timers enabled. All other power plan options were left as delivered from the manufacturer.  We should note that all tests below were conducted on the integrated graphics core of the CPU in each notebook.



In our Battery Eater Pro and Web Browser battery drain test, AMD's Trinity prototype whitebook put up very respectable numbers falling just short of the ever-svelte Acer Aspire Ultrabook here.  We should also note that each machine's battery capacity is different and the AMD prototype is enabled with only a relatively modest 6-cell battery. 


Trinity A10-4600M APU Running Prime 95 Stress Test and Furmark Burn-in - 62 Watts Peak Draw

In our System Power Consumption test, at idle the Trinity prototype system drew about 11 Watts just sitting on the desktop.  This number was recorded with the battery fully charged, so it was straight system draw.  That's pretty darn nice.

Under full CPU load the system drew 53 Watts and under full CPU and GPU load combined (represented in the screen shot above), the entire system only drew about 62 Watts.  It's abundantly clear that AMD's claims of power-efficiency in Trinity are well-founded and fair.
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Performance Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary:  AMDs' new A10-4600M Trinity APU did well in the benchmarks with respect to gaming, as expected, though it did have a few performance anomalies under DX11 (Batman and Metro 2033).  We suspect driver maturity in these two game engines or possibly with DX11 in general could be an issue at this point.  In many gaming tests, Trinity showed a decisive lead on the order of 30 - 50+% over Intel's HD 4000 integrated graphics in the Ivy Bridge Core i7 chip we pit it against.  In terms of general CPU performance, AMD's new Piledriver-based Trinity offers respectable performance for a low power 35 Watt architecture, but it got blown out of the water by Intel's current generation Ivy Bridge Core i7 mobile CPU and it didn't even compete all that well versus Intel's previous generation dual-core Core i5 Sandy Bridge chip.

HP Envy Sleekbook Featuring AMD Second Generation A Series "Trinity" APU

Below is a chart of how AMD is positioning their line-up of Trinity architecture-based A-Series APUs versus competitive Intel Core series processors.  AMD positions the A10 series versus Intel's lower-end Core i7 family of CPUs and higher end Core i5s, while the new A8 competes with lower-end Core i5 and Core i3 processors.  The key to note here is the price point information listed on the vertical axis.  As you'll note, even a current AMD top-of-the-line A10 Trinity-based system should only have a retail price in the $699 range.



Price is once again is where AMD is going to have to compete with Intel's Ivy Bridge processor line-up.  There are just no two ways about it.  It's clear that AMD has a much stronger integrated graphics engine (though we're surprised AMD missed some DX11 performance optimizations in this early prototype seeding), the question is how important is that to the average consumer against the backdrop of Intel's blisteringly fast general compute throughput.

The answer to that question remains to be seen, but there's also a bright spot for AMD relative to power consumption.  Notebooks driven by AMD's new Trinity A-Series APUs will undoubtedly offer solid battery life performance, along with balanced CPU and Multimedia/Gaming performance, all at a price point that will again be attractive on retail shelves.  If HP's Envy Sleekbook shown here is any indication, there are some really nice thin and light options lining-up for not a lot of coin. Starting at $599, with AMD Radeon graphics and that "quad-core" CPU check box listed on its fact tag, you could see Best Buy and others moving quite a few of these machines.  It will be interesting to see AMD's follow-on SKUs to the A10-4600M we tested here today.  At least in the value segment, AMD's new A-Series Fusion APUs offer a compelling low power alternative in the market.

   
  • Solid graphics performance
  • Decent midrange CPU performance
  • Excellent low power consumption
  • 14-inch notebook prototype, only 62 Watts under full CPU/GPU load
  • Higher Turbo Core speeds
  • CPU performance doesn't keep pace with even Core i5
  • Immature graphics drivers in spots
  • Less than stellar video transcode compared to Intel Quick Sync


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