Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Future of Netbooks: AMD Beats Intel to Market with Temash and Kabini

Before I start, I want to give a big thank-you to monstercameron, who alerted me to the existence of Temash long before I would've known about it otherwise.

Intel's Bay Trail is all fine and good, but it has one major problem.

It's not here yet.

Fortunately for netbook gamers, AMD's next generation of ultramobile processors is here, and improvements abound. More processing power, more CPU and GPU cores, faster memory controller, lower power consumption, you name it. If you're fed up with your old single-core netbook with crappy graphics, now is a great time to upgrade.

Temash: Quad Core at 8 Watts!

In my opinion, single-core processors in netbooks should disappear forever. AMD, it seems, agrees. Unlike Ontario with the C-30 before it, Temash shuns single-core processors intended for netbooks and tablets and only offers dual or quad-core CPU's. Good thing, too; multitasking on a single-core netbook is no fun at all. But more CPU cores aren't the only things that give AMD a leg up in the ultraportable market. Power consumption is another key element.
As you can see from this table from Liliputing, max power consumption for the two higher-end APU's has dropped to 8W, down a watt from the previous-gen Ontario. That doesn't sound like much, but when you factor in the DDR3L memory support (the L stands for 'low voltage'), it's a pretty big deal for road warriors. Even better is the A4-1200 APU, which has a TDP of 3.9W. A netbook/laptop with this APU would be perfect for a business professional that wants a cheap notebook with very long battery life (and functional graphics drivers).

AMD increased the number of integrated graphics cores in Temash (and Kabini) from 80 to 128. While newer games can take advantage of more cores, it's questionable whether or not a netbook can play these games anyway. After all, Temash's maximum memory bandwidth hasn't changed since Ontario, and neither has its pixel or texture fillrates. Fillrate is very important for older games that rely less on complex shaders and more on textures. For this reason, gaming bottlenecks might move from the CPU to the GPU. I shouldn't complain, though; Temash is faster than Ontario at a lower power consumption, and that's what counts.

Kabini: Skyrim on a Netbook is Now Enjoyable

Have you ever tried to play Skyrim on a netbook? There are videos on YouTube that say it's possible, but how much fun will you really get out of it? Most likely, not much. Kabini will change that. With fast quad-core and dual-core options, more memory bandwidth, and more performance per watt, Kabini will take netbook gaming to a whole new level.
Don't let the names of the new APU's fool you. The E1-2100 is not faster than the E1-1200. But with a TDP of 9W, it shouldn't be. The E1-2100 does a better job of replacing the C-50. Because of architectural changes, the CPU portions of Temash and Kabini are 22% at the same clock speed compared to their last-gen counterparts. Thus, the E1-2500 is 22% faster than the E1-1200, and the E2-3000 is 15% faster than the E2-2000. More exciting are the quad-core options. The A6-5200 should be faster than AMD's own Phenom X3 8650, which was released in mid-2008. To be able to get better performance in a small laptop than a 95W desktop processor is impressive, even if the latter is 5 years old. This new CPU performance is critical for newer games like Skyrim and Rift, and should give those 48 additional GPU cores something to do.

Desktop Equivalents

Since games cite desktop parts in their system requirements, I thought it would be a good idea to compare these new APU's with said desktop parts.

CPU portion:

A4-1200, A4-1250, & E1-2100 = Athlon 64 3500+ (early 2007)
A6-1450 = Athlon 64 X2 4200+ (2007) (can go faster if thermals allow)
E1-2500 = Athlon X2 3250e (late 2008)
E2-3000 = between Athlon X2 3250e and 4050e (mid-late 2008)
A4-5000 = faster than Athlon X2 7550 (late-2008)
A6-5200 = Phenom X3 8650 (mid-2008)

The GPU portion of the APU will perform between a Radeon HD 8350 and a desktop Radeon HD 8400 at the same clock speed. The HD 8180 will be significantly slower than the HD 8350, while the mobile HD 8400 will be only slightly slower than the desktop HD 8400.

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