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AMD takes on the mid-range laptop market with new Carrizo APUs

Michael Passingham
3 Jun 2015
AMD Carrizo chips logo
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Firm continues to steer clear of the top-end but promises fanless laptops are on the way

AMD has side-stepped the high-end laptop market, launching a new range of sixth-generation A-Series processors - known collectively as "Carrizo", targeting what the company claims is an area of the laptop market that isn't being being properly served.

AMD is centering the Carrizo range around three aims. It wants buyers to be able to efficiently stream video and play less taxing 3D games on laptops costing between $400 (£260 ex VAT) and $700 (£468 ex VAT), while simultaneously improving battery life.


AMD notebook processor generations

All three chips have thermal design power (TDP) ratings of between 12W and 35W, with laptop manufacturers able to choose how much power the chips are allowed to use. The more power, the more cooling required, so it'll be interesting to see what manufacturers settle on when producing mid-range laptops with these APUs.

Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba and HP are producing laptops with Carrizo chips on board, with late summer launch dates expected.

Model

TDP range

CPU cores

Base clock speed (GHz)

Maximum Boost speed (GHz)

GPU/, # of cores

GPU clock (MHz)

FX-8800P

12-35W

4

2.1

3.4

Radeon R7, 8 cores

800

A10-8700P

15-35W

4

1.8

3.2

Radeon R6, 6 cores

800

A8-8600P

12-35W

4

1.6

3

Radeon R6, 6 cores

720

The Carrizo line of processors will have dedicated hardware for decoding H264 and H265-encoded video (otherwise known as HEVC), the latter of which is crucial for 4K video streaming services such as Netflix. AMD claims the new chips will be able to play back 4K H265 content without lag or stuttering, although how useful this will be on the cheap laptops AMD is targeting remains to be seen; a $700 laptop with a 4K-capable display doesn't look likely at the moment.

Perhaps more useful is AMD's claim of having more than halved the power consumption of its chips when playing video; its internal tests saw an average 10W power consumption when playing a Full HD HEVC-encoded video using a new FX-8800P compared to an FX-7600, which averaged 26.7W. The firm didn't detail any lab results with Intel chips, however, so it's hard to know how the two compare.


AMD Carrizo graphics performance

Gaming performance is another area AMD is keen to emphasise. It AMD's own tests, the A8-8600P chip with six Radeon R6 graphics cores was able to run CounterStrike: Global Offensive at Full HD resolution and maximum settings at just under 40fps. If this chip finds its way into mid-range laptops, this could be a crucial selling point for gamers on a tight budget.

Sample laptops were available at the event, demonstrating the various claims made by AMD. 4K video did indeed run smoothly and the example game, Codemasters' Dirt Rally, ran impressively smoothly at Full HD resolution, although it appeared to be running at Low graphics settings and the card on board the laptop wasn't disclosed.

Steering clear of the high-end

 At an event in Munich detailing the new chips, the firm's senior director for AMD Client Products  Kevin Lensing said that the company was trying hard to get laptop manufacturers to tackle the mid-range part of the market with AMD chips. "The mainstream segment is the biggest sector in the market; there's money to be made here," he said.

AMD has conspicuously avoided pitching any processors for the top-end of the market;  fanless ultraportables are all still absent from AMD's roster, while Intel continues to impress with low-power, super-thin laptops with Core M processor on board, including the Asus Zenbook UX305 and 12in MacBook. "We choose not to attack the very high-end designs because the market opportunity is not large enough for us to make a return on this investment. The fanless notebook is coming. Right now, the trade-off between cost and performance is not good enough," he concluded.

AMD has been dogged by a branding issue that would appear to be out of its control; many AMD-powered notebooks appear at the bottom end of the market, meaning that it's rare to see a sleek, well-configured laptop powered by an AMD APU. With this announcement, thinner and lighter laptops with better screens may now be possible, and with five big laptop firms on board, AMD should now be able to properly attack the mid-range laptop market and take on Intel with a higher quality brand of laptops.

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