AMD today announced the launch of a new socket, AM1, purpose-built for their Kabini desktop processor lineup. This is AMD’s second low-cost APU offering following the release of Bobcat back in 2011, but many Bobcat chips weren’t a complete system-on-chip (SOC) and came soldered onto motherboards, limiting the flexibility that a low-cost platform should have when upgrading certain components. Fifteen motherboards from ASRock, ASUS, Biostar, Gigabyte, ECS and MSI are being readied and most target the micro-ATX form factor. Hit the jump for more info!
The Kabini family is based on the Jaguar microarchitecture, which is also found in the Playstation 4, the Xbox One and a handful of laptops that have been built with Kabini hardware inside. Kabini will include up to two Jaguar modules of two cores each and two shader modules consisting of 64 Graphics Core Next-based shaders each. According to AMD’s recent change in naming conventions, the CPU and GPU modules are referred to as “Compute Units” and this means that Kabini has up to four of them.
As with the rest of AMD’s APU lineup, these processors are capable of using the built-in graphics to accelerate applications running OpenCL. Sadly, AMD has no plans to enable dual graphics capability on these systems as the limited PCI-Express bandwidth available would cripple all but the cheapest GPUs.
Although AMD is launching the socket AM1 platform today, the hardware will only be available in the retail channel from the beginning of April 2014.
According to a recently leaked SKU list by VR-Zone China the Kabini family will focus on six APU offerings. Although the exact clock speeds and GPU model numbers are subject to change, the entire family will duck in under the 25W TDP. Dual and quad-core variants will be available and the only real difference between some of the chips are minor clock speed bumps.
VR-Zone’s information is usually accurate, but I’m willing to bet that the L2 cache stats for the E1-2500 are incorrect, as it only sports a single Jaguar compute unit and is clocked lower than the E1-2650.
Why would anyone consider the AM1 platform? Its the first socketed system-on-chip, which means that all the critical hardware for graphics, the memory controller, the chipset and other logic commonly found on the motherboard is instead housed inside the APU. This means that not only can AMD retain the socket AM1 design for at least another generation, upgrading systems on older motherboards with better video and audio processing is much simpler. If you purchase a E1-2500 with a compatible motherboard and later on decide to get the A6-5350 instead, there’s no hassle to do so because only one component needs to be swapped out.
Likewise, if AMD retains socket AM1 for another generation or two, it’s possible to upgrade to Jaguar’s successor and GCN 2.0 graphics with just the chip replacement. This is what AMD set out all those years to do – unite the CPU and GPU into a single, self-contained package that consumers could buy and upgrade at will. “The Future is Fusion” may have some merit after all.
AMD’s target market for these systems are countries that are not only getting smarter about electricity use, they’re also not looking to spend a small fortune on a computer that will fulfill basic needs. AMD specifically mentions Chile as an example, where most households earn an average of $11,039 per annum (less than R120,000 per year).
AMD notes that many of the lost-cost computers sold in these countries are not upgradeable, with much of the existing hardware unable to take advantage of software and features in newer versions of Microsoft Windows. This is a good idea but worryingly, they don’t seem to identify South Africa as such a market in need of the same assistance. Damnit!
Compared to Intel’s Bay Trail, which is Kabini’s main competition at this point, AMD seems to have a leg up on Intel. It supports a wider range of operating systems including Windows XP, maximum memory support is bumped up to 16GB (yay, more RAM Disks for everyone) and higher memory speeds along with an upgradeable socket fill it out nicely.
According to Anandtech, who digged deeper, Kabini’s memory controller is only single-channel 64-bit, which limits the GPU peformance quite a bit. With DDR3-1600 memory, performance for the GPU will be roughly equivalent to the Radeon HD6540. Should you elect to use a larger, GCN-packing discrete chip, performance may be stifled a bit due to the fact that only four PCI-E 2.0 lanes are available for discrete GPUs, relegating most to be stuck to something like the Radeon R7-240 with DDR3.
What could prices be like when the APUs and boards arrive on our shores? I’d say it’ll be possible to score a micr0-ATX motherboard and the A6-5350 for under R1200 altogether, which would be a lot cheaper than the cheapest socket FM2 motherboard and the A6-6400K, but given how things have been going with local prices thus far, I don’t have much hope that it will reach those prices on launch.