AMD's last processor launch,
the FX chip
, turned out to be a bit of a damp squib for desktops. But the company is hoping that the CPU architecture behind it will be more of a success on laptops. Today it's launching an updated version of its hybrid GPU/CPU A-series processor, codenamed Trinity, which uses a revamped Bulldozer core to offer twice the performance per watt of its predecessor, Llano. Or that's what AMD says, anyway.
Further claims include the ability to build thinner laptops with longer battery life than their Intel equivalents, and that the integrated Northern Isles GPU has three times the graphics performance of the Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU in Sandy Bridge. Trinity's launch was accompanied by a bold claim by the firm's Sasa Marinkovic:
“I don't want you too see Trinity as competing against Ivy Bridge, I want you to see how we're leading.”
Bold indeed, but also hard to verify since review samples are somewhat scarce. AMD reckons the desktop chip will hit the stores by 3rd June, but laptops featuring Trinity won't arrive until after the summer.
In the meantime, we're left with a lot of specs to chew over. The CPU part of Trinity uses a core codenamed 'Piledriver', which is almost identical to the Bulldozer core of the FX desktop chips but with better clock for clock performance and lower power consumption. It features one or two of the dual execution core modules, which gives AMD calls dual or quad core processors (whether they are or not is a discussion for another day). It looks like the power efficiency claims are good, though: the highest specced A10-4600M runs at 3.2GHz and consumes just 35W at peak.
That's 10W less than a four core Ivy Bridge CPU, although it's worth pointing out that to date AMD's quad cores have struggled to compete with Intel's duals, which are also 35W chips.
What's more interesting about Trinity, however, is the graphics half of the processor. Although these carry Radeon HD 7000 code numbers, they're actually built around the older HD 6000 (Northern Islands) design – except for the video processing engine, which is from Southern Islands architecture and includes features like one touch motion stabilisation for video editing.
They're a generation ahead of the Llano chips, though, and AMD reckons it'll get 50% better gaming performance from Trinity. Compared to Ivy Bridge, it's claiming framerates of up to one and a half times more in games at 1920x1080 resolutions. What this means, potentially, is reasonable gaming framerates on an integrated graphics chip - something hitherto unheard of.
There are even better performance enhancement claims when it comes to accelerating video and applications which draw on OpenCl for speeding up photo editing and the like.
Just like its predecessor, Trinity will also be able to combine its graphics processor output with that of a discrete chip from the lower echelons of the HD7000 series. In truth, this is the set-up I'm really keen to test as soon as possible. An A8-3870K Llano processor paired with a £50 HD6570 provides for playable framerates in a lot of games, so long as you don't mind turning off a few image quality options. Asynchronous Crossfire with Trinity could be a perfect budget option for gamers.
Trinity does look like a promising chip. It's unlikely to offer the same raw CPU performance as an equivalent from Intel, but the relative disappointment of HD Graphics 4000 in Ivy Bridge has left a gap around budget games rigs and low cost laptops where AMD could clean up. Llano-powered laptops have been the one sunny horizon for AMD lately, hitting their traditional strengths of being cheaper and faster than Intel equivalents. I want a games-ready ultrabook, and Trinity looks like the best shot at that yet.
Unfortunately until I actually see one in my hand it's impossible to pass judgement, and this is a major problem for AMD. Just a few days ago its share price fell on rumours that Trinity would be late to launch. Now its official timetable puts laptops touting the chip several months away – which analysts won't like at all. The official excuse is that the release dates don't coincide with laptop manufacturers' product refresh cycles. The =