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AMD launches Kabini APUs for thin and light laptops

Tom Morgan
23 May 2013

Page 2 of 2AMD launches Kabini APUs for thin and light laptops

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We take a close look at the first public showing of AMD’s Kabini APUs, with hands-on impressions and benchmark scores – this could be the new benchmark for entry-level performance

KABINI IN ACTION
Based on presentations and press releases, Kabini looks promising, but there's only one way to properly put it to the test - run it through our labs. AMD provided us with a Kabini A4-5000 powered laptop for the purpose of this preview, which won't be going into full production and as such we won't be giving it a star rating. Instead, we'll be deciding whether Kabini will be something to look out for when buying an entry-level laptop later this year. Keep in mind that it would cost $400 (roughly £300) at retail, so we'll be comparing it to similarly priced machines.

AMD Kabini Whitebook

The 14in chassis looks to be an Asus design, despite the absence of logos, and weighs 1.7kg. That's easily light enough to carry around, and competes directly with Intel's Ultrabook standard - you even get an internal optical drive, which is something of a rarity in modern ultra-portables. USB3, micro HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet and VGA ports are all welcome inclusions, considering most ultra-slim laptops have very few ports.

The internals are what matters though - the A4-5000 APU is paired with a single 4GB stick of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM and a 1TB mechanical hard disk. This is apparently representative of what to expect from manufacturers later in the year, but we're sure SSDs will be a possibility.

Running at 1.5GHz, the APU managed to score 25 overall in our 2013 multimedia benchmarks. Admittedly these tests aren't optimised for GPU-acceleration, but they are multi-threaded and will benefit from Kabini's four cores. As expected, it comfortably outperformed an Intel Celeron laptop (Packard Bell's EasyNote TE11HC) - in terms of price, the A4-5000 will compete with Intel’s Pentium 2117u, but the only real difference between it and the Celeron is the manufacturing process.

AMD Kabini Whitebook

We aren't expecting many retail Kabini laptops to keep the 1080p screen resolution of our reference model - although it demonstrates the chip is capable of playing Full HD video, we almost take that for granted now. It's a mismatch when it comes to games, as the Radeon HD 3330 will struggle beyond 720p. We set our gaming benchmarks accordingly, to get a better idea of whether Kabini is the low-cost gaming system we've been waiting for.

AMD Kabini Whitebook

The answer, it seems, depends on your game of choice. We could only manage 16.8fps in Dirt Showdown at high settings and screen resolution set to 720p - this is admittedly higher than almost every current generation Intel CPU with integrated graphics, but less than optimal. Dropping the details down to Medium bumps the frame rate up to the mid-twenties and reducing again to Low finally tips things over into playable territory at 40.5fps. However, compared to our Intel-powered Packard Bell laptop, it scored much higher - the Celeron could still only manage 24fps once we'd dropped everything to Ultra Low quality settings.

As expected, Crysis 2 is simply too much to ask at our punishing 1080p settings - Kabini could only manage 4fps. Switching to a more realistic 720p and dropping the details down to high resulted in a 15.3fps average - still jerky, but a definite improvement.

Synthetic benchmarks, such as 3DMark, produced low scores but Kabini was again faster than its comparable Intel rival - 316 in the demanding DirectX 11 Fire Storm test is roughly 100 points faster.

However, fighting game Street Fighter IV was playable at 720p as long as we disabled anti-aliasing - a consistent 60fps frame rate is required here in order to pull off the flashy combos and super moves the series is known for, and we can report that Kabini copes admirably.

Strategy games like the incredibly popular Starcraft series were also playable at 720p, although we had to turn down some of the more advanced detail settings. It's also worth pointing out that our pitiful Protoss skills meant there wasn't as much action on-screen as there would be during a high-level competitive match.

AMD Kabini Whitebook

Real world battery testing suggests Kabini is a definite improvement over the current generation Brazos 2.0, with our reference laptop lasting 6 hours 41 minutes in our light-use test. It's still not the 10+ hours we were hoping for, but smaller systems with 720p screens, SSDs and larger batteries will almost certainly see an improvement.

THE STORY STARTS HERE
Based on what we've seen, AMD could be on to a winner with Kabini. For entry-level laptops, it's going to be difficult to find a better balance between 2D performance, 3D graphics and battery life elsewhere. With Kabini already in the hands of OEMs, it's only a matter of time before we start seeing tablets and laptops on sale here in the UK.

However, the major battle will be with Intel's upcoming Haswell processors - Intel will almost certainly have the edge in terms of 2D performance, and has made big gains with its integrated GPUs too. Even so, Intel usually staggers its launches so it could be some time until a direct entry-level competitor for Kabini goes on sale.

We're expecting manufacturers to be showing off some of their designs in the run up to the Computex trade show in June, so if your interest has been piqued you'll soon be able to see the laptops you'll be able to buy later in the year.

Page 2 of 2AMD launches Kabini APUs for thin and light laptops