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AMD’s Kaveri is an interesting option for a low budget

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Before this morning I was still optimistic about AMD’s chances of success with Kaveri. Mantle showed promise in Battlefield 4, they’re working on getting Dual Graphics frame pacing fixed and overall they’re pulling up their socks and finally getting to the level of real-world performance that was promised to enthusiasts not more than two years ago. But while Kaveri and the new socket FM2+ motherboards are a viable choice in the rest of the world, with many Americans enjoying the super-low pricing at Microcenter and Amazon, us South Africans aren’t so lucky.

Despite the much higher prices compared to the rest of the world as well as the lack of motherboard options for the moment, Kaveri seems to have some places where it can fit and, seeing that the chips and boards are available in limited quantities from today, I decided to run through some of those with you before you click on the “Checkout” button. 

A short price comparison

 Rebel Tech Wootware Titan-Ice LandmarkPC Sybaritic
A10-7850K  R2652
A10-7700K  R2411
A10-6800K  R2169  R2245  R2299  R2256  R2251
A8-6600K  R1565  R1621  R1649  R1629  R1624
Intel Core i3-4130  R1509  R1553  R1579  R1562  R1562
Intel Core i3-4330  R1723  R1769  R1829  R1788  R1784
Intel Core i5-4440  R2643  R2595  R2699  R2584  R2333
Intel Core i5-4670K  R3187  R3099  R3299  R3162  R3134

Compared to older siblings, Kaveri APUs are seeing a big price hike which makes them pretty unpopular for the most part. The A10-7850K, as it stands at Rebeltech, is just over R2600. Balk at the price, yes, but keep in mind that the offering here is significantly different from what an equivalent Intel setup would run you. You have five choices, really, taking motherboards out of the equation for the moment – the A10-7700K or a A10-6800K, or a Core i5-4440, or an Intel Ivy Bridge Celeron dual-core chip with a Radeon HD7700 or a Core i3 with a Radeon R7 250 1GB GDDR5.

The Celeron dual-core and HD7700 setup is a good option if you’re playing mostly older games and mix in some indie titles, Source-powered games and games using the Unreal 3 engine. You won’t need a lot of CPU horsepower for games like these so a better GPU is the best bet for raising the image quality. Full HD gaming with medium settings is possible with this setup, but it will run into a wall if you’re trying anything as taxing as Metro 2033 or Crysis 2, due to the fact that many modern games perform better with a quad-core processor.

The Core i3 with a Radeon R7 250 setup is less compromised in some ways. It offers the benefit of driving most games at a reasonable 30fps on 1080p with low settings, or 60fps with high settings at 720p. The Core i3’s four threads give you some leeway in games which are well-threaded and this means that you’ll see less lock-up in games like Crysis 3, Hitman: Absolution and the forthcoming Grand Theft Auto V (yes, let’s just face it, we’ve known all along that it’s coming to the PC) compared to the Celeron build. Overall it’s less compromised, but still requires a dip in graphics settings and a bit more money in your bank account.

AMD’s Richland-based A10-6800K is also worth consideration if you’re only going to game on the integrated GPU. For the moment it performs near-identically to the A10-7700K and this is down to driver optimisations and memory bandwidth restrictions. Once one or the other is fiddled with, there may be a big enough gap to make the A10-6800K seem less attractive but for now is is the third-best option.

The last option is using a Core i5-4440 with just the discrete graphics, which is another consideration I had. However, Intel’s HD4600 just doesn’t have the performance to stay with Kaveri at 720p, let alone 1080p and it’s not as sensitive to memory bandwidth as AMD’s offerings either. While it is possible to game on a HD4600 GPU (and for the most part it’ll be acceptable at 720p and low settings) it’s just not in the same ballpark as the Radeon graphics inside a Kaveri chip.

Where the systems differ…

I know that beating the HSA drum has been tiring, I’m getting pretty sick of it too. AMD and its partners are all talking about it and the capabilities of Mantle, OpenCL and HSA and the reality is that it will be what APUs are generally tailored for in the future – but only in the future. As things stand today, both offerings are more or less equal.

In terms of upgrades, though, they differ significantly. With Kaveri it’s possible to shove in a Radeon R7 250 with DDR3 memory and enjoy anything from a 50% to a 100% boost in frame rates – at least with AMD’s latest Catalyst beta drivers, this feature is now working properly. In addition, you’re also getting benefits like TrueAudio which have yet to be realised (Thief will be the first game to do so) but may have some merit to it.

If you’re going to be doing some compute at some point in time (video conversion, photo editing) there’s also some promise with HSA being able to use the onboard and any compatible discrete GPU as a single entity, as AMD now labels individual shader modules and processing cores as Compute Modules.

The point of this is…?

AMD vs Intel

Honestly, despite the severely high pricing for the APUs and the absurd gulf between the A10-7850K and the Core i3-4130, as well as the close proximity to the Core i5-4440, there’s still some value in picking up a Kaveri-based APU rather than an Intel processor. Its a niche situation, sure and it will be easily outclassed by a Core i3 processor with anything faster than a Radeon R7 250/HD7750. At least for the low-end, if you have around R5500 to spend on an entire rig, it’s a decent choice.

As with all things AMD at the moment, Kaveri’s value also depends on several other factors, including motherboard pricing. At the moment, the cheapest available socket FM2+ motherboard is the ASRock FM2A88X Extreme 6 which retails for around R1500. Its a beautiful board and very well made, but there aren’t enough cheaper boards to compete with low-end H81 and H87 motherboards from Intel. AMD’s vendors need to being their offerings into the country if they want to compete properly with Intel.

Additionally, because APUs rely on system memory for VRAM allocations, bandwidth becomes an issue. AMD’s recommendation is still DDR3-2133 for Kaveri but there’s a lot more leeway with an Intel build because you can use cheaper 1600MHz kits.  In the end you’ll have to decide what you need and what the system will ultimately be used for and whether or not the price difference is small enough for you.

Discuss this in the forums: Linky

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