AMD launched the first APU in 2011, taking the innovative step of pushing both CPU and high-end GPU architecture onto the same die. Originally making use of their K10 CPU and Evergreen GPU architecture, the Llano APU pushed mainboard-only graphics performance to new heights.
Since then AMD have gradually introduced new CPU and GPU architectures into their APU stack, as well as tailor to newer markets including low-power and performance desktop segments. Value has ever been their primary concern - the essence of the APU is that you're able to dispense with a discrete GPU for many common tasks (including budget gaming) without compromising pure CPU performance. Both their high-end Steamroller CPU architecture (3rd Gen. Bulldozer) and GCN GPU architecture (present in the Rx 200-series of desktop graphics) have been integrated into the new designs over time, bringing all of AMD's current cutting-edge technology into one die.
The latest iteration, launched and available from today, has been internally (and externally) known as Godavari, but in essence it's a refresh of 2014's Kaveri APU lineup. Nonetheless a matured manufacturing process which has allowed AMD to squeeze just a little more from the unassuming die, unlocking meaningful performance improvements that represent great value at an affordable price point.
The Flagship: AMD's A10-7870K
At the top of the refreshed 7000-series APU line-up is the A10-7870K, which effectively replaces the A10-7850K, and is AMD's first Teraflop APU. Reaching a Teraflop of compute power is an important milestone for AMD's APU program as we approach the release of their first fully Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA)-compliant platform later this year. Godavari itself isn't fully HSA-compliant, but the integration of a number of HSA features means that compatible applications can take advantage of the performance benefits granted by access to both CPU and GPU on one die and with shared memory access.
Compared to the 7850K, the A10-7870K holds few surprises. It's still a 12 Compute Unit part, featuring four CPU and eight GPU units (i.e. 512 GCN shaders, 64 per CU), and is compatible with all FM2+ motherboards after a BIOS update. Even so, a more mature manufacturing process means more stable voltages, allowing both CPU and GPU parts to be clocked more highly than the SKU it replaces. With a bump of 200MHz on the base clock, 100MHz on the Maximum Turbo clock and 146MHz on the GPU it's by margin a step up in performance. Despite a performance bump the A10-7870K remains within the 95W TDP envelope, requiring no upgrade in cooling solution.
The performance bump for the new flagship brings with it tangible benefits in real-world productivity as well as synthetic benchmarks. Showing a marked performance gap even when compared to the more expensive Intel Core i3 4370 + NVIDIA GT 740 solution, whether it be 5% in Bitlocker or a huge ~45% when using Photoshops Unsharpen tool, the latest Kaveri has enormous potential in applications which support its features. Even compared to the A10-7850K improvements of 5-15% are cited; meaningful steps forward even as the underlying architecture remains the same.
Of course, budget gaming is also key to the APU marketplace, and it's perhaps here where the A10-7870K makes the biggest splash. Playable frame-rates for games such as Starcraft 2 and DOTA 2, at 1080p mind you, aren't easy to achieve, but in reaching that far you cater to games played by over 75 million people every week. That's a massive figure, all of whom can play without breaking the bank on expensive CPU and discrete graphics configurations.
Perhaps most interestingly of all is Dirt Rally, the latest Dirt title from Codemasters and part of AMD's Gaming Evolved stable of games. Even though it's still on Early Access it's been possible to squeeze almost 40fps out of a single A10-7870K on 1080p/Medium settings, or 45fps at 1080p/High when combined with a Radeon R7 250 GPU in AMD Dual Graphics Mode. Impressive, given the game is still technically in Beta.
All this adds up to a pretty compelling product if you're in the market for a budget gaming/home office system, with flexibility to add additional graphics later on. But that's not the end of the story.
As soon as you say 'Kaveri is powered by GCN graphics' you expect to see some of the features present on high-end AMD desktop graphics. Performance is all well and good, but only part of a much larger equation. With the release of the Kaveri refresh AMD are also continuing to support core technologies introduced just this year which have had a great reception in the desktop market.
The headline is certainly FreeSync. AMD's core monitor refresh rate syncing technology, developed in conjunction with and conforming to VESA's Adaptive Sync extension to DisplayPort's 1.2a specification, has only been around for scant months but already impressed us. Smooth, tearing- and stutter-free gameplay is a game-changer, but with AMD Kaveri APU technology and a monitor lineup that encompasses 1080p through to 4K you have huge selection and affordability unmatched by the competition. As yet Intel do not support Adaptive Sync, and until they do AMD is your only affordable option.
Virtual Super Resolution (VSR) by contrast is a much more niche feature for APUs. Discrete high-end desktop GPUs often have performance to spare with some of the most popular titles, and so rendering at higher resolutions and scaling down to a lower resolution makes a whole lot of sense. APUs are more performance-constrained and at 1080p the impact on frame rates will be more detrimental. Instead AMD envision that those running <1080p resolution monitors would find the most value from APU VSR, using it in place of computationally expensive 4x/8xMSAA. As few in number as these users might be, it's certainly an innovative use of what could be thought of as a performance-level feature.
A future use for AMD's APUs will be possible with the release of Windows 10 and DirectX 12. Asymmetric Rendering, a feature of both DirectX 12 and AMD's own Mantle API, allows unmatched graphics adapters to be pooled as a resource for a game to leverage; for example an A10-7870K's GPU could be used in conjunction with a Radeon R9 290X to render a scene, rather than one or the other.
Asymmectric Rendering was shown off at GDC this past year on just such a configuration. Demonstrated in Ashes of the Singularity, an upcoming DirectX 12 title from Stardock, it could be a major boon to performance desktop gaming on AMD's platform. The technology is still in development, and does require explicit support implemented in software (game or otherwise).
Finally, performance users should note that the A10-7870K supports both overclocking and PCI-Express 3.0. Not all Kaveri Refresh SKUs are capable of overclocking so keep a look out for the 'K' suffix on individual parts. Also, be aware that unlike the A10-7850K the 7870K does not support configurable TDP technology.
APUs make extensive use of system memory, and so it's no surprise that high-performance RAM is of particular importance to getting the best from your Kaveri APU. The A10-7870K supports DDR3-2133MHz DIMMs in dual-channel mode right out of the box, offering over 1.8x the a single-channel 1600MHz solution in a variety of use cases.
Control over both the platform and their own line of performance RAM has allowed AMD to offer exclusive DDR3-2400MHz AMD Memory Profiles. Available on R9 Gamer Series DDR3-2400MHz RAM, it takes things to a new level in a configuration which is validated by AMD themselves.
Availability and Support
The AMD A10-7870K is available worldwide today (28th May) and has a suggested price of $137, staying under the all important <$150 barrier. Furthermore the A10-7870K will ship with an larger HSF for quieter overall operation, a key request following the release of the original Kaveri lineup. The comprehensive refreshed lineup brings performance improvements throughout the market, typically focusing on bumping GPU clock speeds.
Kaveri Refresh CPUs will also be available to OEM partners as the 8000-series.
For more information on the Kaveri APU series, as well as other APUs, CPUs and performance graphics options, visit AMD.com.