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After years of waiting, AMD finally unveiled its Llano APU platform fifteen months ago. The APU promise was a new world where CPUs and GPUs would live in harmony on a single, monolithic die. Delivering the best of two very different computing architectures would hopefully pave the way for a completely new class of applications. That future is still distant, but today we're at least at the point where you can pretty much take for granted that if you buy a modern CPU it's going to ship with a GPU attached to it.

Four months ago AMD took the wraps off of its new Trinity APU: a 32nm SoC with up to four Piledriver cores and a Cayman based GPU. Given AMD's new mobile-first focus, Trinity launched as a notebook platform. The desktop PC market is far from dead, just deprioritized. Today we have the first half of the Trinity desktop launch. Widespread APU availability won't be until next month, but AMD gave us the green light to begin sharing some details including GPU performance starting today.


AMD's Trinity APU, 2 Piledriver modules (4 cores)

We've already gone over the Trinity APU architecture in our notebook post earlier this year. As a recap, Piledriver helped get Bulldozer's power consumption under control, while the Cayman GPU's VLIW4 architecture improved efficiency on the graphics side. Compared to Llano this is a fairly big departure with fairly different CPU and GPU architectures. Given that we're still talking about the same 32nm process node, there's not a huge amount of room for performance improvements without ballooning die area but through architecture changes and some more transistors AMD was able to deliver something distinctly faster.

Trinity Physical Comparison
  Manufacturing Process Die Size Transistor Count
AMD Llano 32nm 228mm2 1.178B
AMD Trinity 32nm 246mm2 1.303B
Intel Sandy Bridge (4C) 32nm 216mm2 1.16B
Intel Ivy Bridge (4C) 22nm 160mm2 1.4B

On the desktop Trinity gets the benefit of much higher TDPs and thus higher clock speeds. The full lineup, sans pricing, is below:

Remember the CPU cores we're counting here are integer cores, FP resources are shared between every two cores. Clock speeds are obviously higher compared to Llano, but Bulldozer/Piledriver did see some IPC regression compared to the earlier core design. You'll notice a decrease in GPU cores compared to Llano as well (384 vs. 400 for the top end part), but core efficiency should be much higher in Trinity.

Again AMD isn't talking pricing today, other than to say that it expects Trinity APUs to be priced similarly to Intel's Core i3 parts. Looking at Intel's price list that gives AMD a range of up to $134. We'll find out more on October 2nd, but for now the specs will have to be enough.

Socket-FM2 & A85X Chipset

The desktop Trinity APUs plug into a new socket: FM2. To reassure early adopters of Llano's Socket-FM1 that they won't get burned again, AMD is committing to one more generation beyond Trinity for the FM2 platform.

The FM2 socket itself is very similar to FM1, but keyed differently so there's no danger of embarrassingly plugging a Llano into your new FM2 motherboard.


Socket-FM1 (left) vs. Socket-FM2 (Right)

AMD both borrows from Llano as well as expands when it comes to FM2 chipset support. The A55 and A75 chipsets make another appearance here on new FM2 motherboards, but they're joined by a new high-end option: the A85X chipset.

The big differentiators are the number of 6Gbps SATA and USB 3.0 ports. On the A85X you also get the ability to support two discrete AMD GPUs in CrossFire although obviously there's a fairly competent GPU on the Trinity APU die itself.

The Terms of Engagement

As I mentioned earlier, AMD is letting us go live with some Trinity data earlier than its official launch. The only stipulation? Today's preview can only focus on GPU performance. We can't talk about pricing, overclocking and aren't allowed to show any x86 CPU performance either. Obviously x86 CPU performance hasn't been a major focus of AMD's as of late, it's understandable that AMD would want to put its best foot forward for these early previews. Internally AMD is also concerned that that any advantages it may have in the GPU department are overshadowed by their x86 story. AMD's recent re-hire of Jim Keller was designed to help address the company's long-term CPU roadmap, however until then AMD is still in the difficult position of trying to sell a great GPU attached to a bunch of CPU cores that don't land at the top of the x86 performance charts.

It's a bold move by AMD, to tie a partial NDA to only representing certain results. We've seen embargoes like this in the past, allowing only a subset of tests to be used in a preview. AMD had no influence on what specifics benchmarks we chose, just that we limit the first part of our review to looking at the GPU alone. Honestly with some of the other stuff we're working on I don't mind so much as I wouldn't be able to have a full review ready for you today anyway. Our hands are tied, so what we've got here is the first part of a two part look at the desktop Trinity APU. If you want to get some idea of Trinity CPU performance feel free to check out our review of the notebook APU. You won't get a perfect idea of how Piledriver does against Ivy Bridge on the desktop, but you'll have some clue. From my perspective, Piledriver seemed more about getting power under control - Steamroller on the other hand appears to address more on the performance side.

We'll get to the rest of the story on October 2nd, but until then we're left with the not insignificant task of analyzing the performance of the graphics side of AMD's Trinity APU on the desktop.

The Motherboard

AMD sent over a Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4 motherboard along with an A10-5800K and A8-5600K. The board worked flawlessly in our testing, and it also gave us access to AMD's new memory profiles. A while ago AMD partnered up with Patriot to bring AMD branded memory to market. AMD's Performance line of memory includes support for AMD's memory profiles, which lets you automatically set frequency, voltage and timings with a single BIOS setting.

We've always done these processor graphics performance comparisons using DDR3-1866, so there's no difference for this review. The only change is we only had to set a single option to configure the platform for stable 1866MHz operation.

Processor graphics performance scales really well with additional memory bandwidth, making this an obvious fit. There's nothing new about memory profiles, this is just something new for AMD's APU platform.

Crysis: Warhead & Metro 2033 Performance
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  • OCedHrt - Thursday, September 27, 2012 - link

    The Adobe suite is quite well GPU accelerated now. I'll admit Intel still wins on video encoding by far though. And we just saw how Trinity won at gaming, what are you saying? Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Thursday, September 27, 2012 - link

    Actually... The higher the resolution the smaller the increase in performance a processor provides as you quickly become GPU limited.

    I game at 5760x1080 and I noticed zero, I mean zero difference in games between a Phenom 2 x6 1090T and my current Core i7 3930K.
    Granted I use that CPU grunt for other things, but in gaming and at super high resolutions, the difference is absolutely negligible.
    I would have been better off using the $800 that I spent upgrading for another 2 graphics cards for Quad-Crossfire if the sole purpose was gaming.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Thursday, October 11, 2012 - link

    Don't you love it how with the amd HD7970 etc all their videocards, all we heard about was future proofing and having 2G+ 3G+ ram on board so that WHEN the time came and games were released the dear fanboy amd card could finally show it's unlocjked potential and futureproofiness !

    LMAO - now a crap trinity slug is all anyone will ever need.

    It's amazing what size brain farts the amd fanboy mind can flatulate.
    Reply
  • daos - Thursday, September 27, 2012 - link

    Not trying to knock AMD at all here either. I want to make that clear. I am simply saying that Intel is the performance king. Once can argue that power consumption is not a concern but performance is. Reply
  • tecknurd - Thursday, September 27, 2012 - link

    What blackmagnum means is back in the old days AMD suit the best price vs performance ratio.. These days AMD is not doing this. It nice to get a processor that is as powerful or fast as Intel high-end processor which is i7 for the price of an i5 or even an i3. This provides a good selling point. If user went with a lower end AMD processor, people will be paying less than a Pentium, but get the same performance as an i5 or an i3. It was like this in the past, but again it is not now. AMD's processors have a poor price to performance ratio that is making them more expensive than Intel's processors. Intel has the best price to performance ratio.

    If you do not believe me, an AMD K7 processor compared well against Intel Xeon processor. Also an AMD K8 processor compared well against Intel Xeon processor. The AMD K10 processor and now compared well against Intel low-end processors like the Pentium, but at a rip off price that is a few times more.

    It is already given that an SSD increases performance of a computer because the latency is less than a millisecond and throughput is more than 100 megabytes per second. A HDD latency is about 10 millisecond and throughput is average around 40 to 60 megabytes per second.
    Reply
  • vgray35@hotmail.com - Thursday, September 27, 2012 - link

    The bottom line here is graphics fusion onto the CPU chip is moving extremely slowly. AMD is now as slow or slower than Intel in moving the technology forward. The incremental improvements from one generation to the next are certainly not spectacular. Intel is slow as they traditionally are too conservative and GPU design has never been their forte. Now AMD is slow as big improvements will eat into their graphics cards business.

    AMD is backing itself into a corner that it may not ever recover from if it does not make big moves soon. My advise - skip 22nm lithography and go straight to 14nm to 18nm with 5 billion transistors, and increase graphics performance by at least 150% to 200%. Bite the bullet and move low to medium end discrete graphics onto the APU as originally promised. Intel will not be able to match this for at least 2 to 3 years (unless they buy NVidia). Forget power consumption beyond 65W.

    They do not need to beat Intel in CPU performance, but it is ridiculous to produce a chip with only 1.1 billion transistors that offers both CPU and GPU cores at this late stage of the game. When Intel moves to 14nm the state of AMD's development at that time will determine AMD's fate once and for all. They had better get a clue and skip one lithographic generation.

    I have always favored AMD for its agility in the past, but for years I have been sadly watching the death of this company. It's not too late, but 2 years is all they have left to provide a large incremental jump. It's now or never. The next generation on the new FM2 socket is just not going to cut it either, as the next chip should integrate the south bridge, as well as audio to create a true SoC offering.

    Can you believe a new platform that does not even offer PCI Express 3.0? Ridiculous really. Forget 3Gbps SATA. Forget USB 2.0 ports. Produce what we have all been waiting for - a SoC for the desktop, which is what fusion was all about in the first place. If it needs a new APU socket then just bite the bullet and introduce another one, and give it some spare pins for future growth.

    Time to get serious. before the money runs out.
    Reply
  • mikato - Monday, October 01, 2012 - link

    Well just wait until some of the bigger name applications out there start using the GPU a bit. Could be interesting. Hopefully it's sooner rather than later. They do have a way to go with sorting out the best ways to do this. Reply
  • jjj - Thursday, September 27, 2012 - link

    I had one question about desktop Trininty: how does it do at 1080p? and i guess i'll have to look for an answer elsewhre.
    It's a desktop part,you just can't not even try testing at 1080p.
    Bah!
    Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Thursday, September 27, 2012 - link

    I'm also disappointing in the lack of testing at 1080p. Many folks, myself included, are considering Trinity for a HTPC solution and needless to say, the vast majority of hooked to HDTVs, most of them being 1080p. Not to mention that 1080p screens for desktop PCs are quite inexpensive and pretty common nowadays.

    Also, shame on AMD for those shady marketing tactics. To me, it sounds like CPU performance and overclocking are poor and pricing will most likely depend on reaction to
    Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Thursday, September 27, 2012 - link

    Sorry about that, I meant to say in my last sentence:
    "To me, this marketing strategy from AMD is telling me that CPU performance and overclocking potential are most likely poor and that pricing will most likely depend on the reaction of the public and the PC industry after reading these so called "reviews"."
    Reply

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