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Armed with improved battery life, CPU performance, and GPU performance AMD APU proves able in a close race

Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) today made the launch of Trinity official.  Branded as new A-series advanced processing units, the new AMD chips are the third major accelerated processing unit (APU), following in the footsteps of Brazos, but particularly June 2011's Llano.

I. Overview

AMD hints that the chip underwent radical internal changes.  While the die size increase (228 to 246 sq. mm) and transistor count increase (1.178b to 1.303b) from Llano are subtle, AMD slides indicate that 5,500 patents/patent pending innovations were incorporated into the new core.  With APUs increasingly driving AMD's revenue, this is a money chip, and AMD put a very determined effort into overhauling its products.

Reviews of the new chip have trickled in from various corners of the web:
Trinity Prototype
A Trinity prototype laptop.  Similar models are expected to ship from major manufacturers in June. [Image Source: Anandtech]

Here's a break-down of the five dual- and quad-core chips in the Trinity family that were announced today:
Trinity chips
(Click to enlarge)

II. Battery Life, CPU, and GPU 

All of the reviews, for better or worse, focus on Trinity's CPU cores.  AMD has swapped out Llano's 2-4 32 nm x86 Stars cores (K10.5 based) for 2-4 32 nm x86 Piledriver cores.  Piledriver shares much Bulldozer's computing limitations, compared to Intel Corp.'s (INTC) rival Sandy Bridge (32 nm) and Intel's latest and greates Ivy Bridge (22 nm).  Bulldozer/Piledriver try to compensate for less decoding units with higher efficiency logic blocks.  The result is that AMD's lightly thread workloads are often dramatically worse than Intel's.

Still Piledriver contains some nice refinements that help improvement computing power.  And it swaps leaky soft-edge flip-flops for smaller hard-edge flip-flops, saving between 10 to 20 percent on power consumption.

Trinity CPU
Trinity's biggest gains come on the CPU front. [Image Source: AMD]

In CPU performance Trinity blows away its predecessor's pre-Bulldozer architecture, offering 20-30 percent gains.  But that still leaves it 25 percent behind Intel's last generation chip -- Sandy Bridge.  And of course Ivy Bridge blows both chips away.

Battery life, according to extensive testing by Anandtech, is generally in the ballpark of the lone Ivy Bridge design tested.  While Trinity offers a noticeable improvement over Llano in these tests, overall whether a Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge laptop performs better or worse than the new AMD chip appears to be inconclusive -- likely heavily a product of the laptop build.  

With factors like hard drive selection making a big difference in results, it's best to make no assumptions about where AMD and Intel land in the battery life war, other than to acknowledge that there's no clear winner.  Intel appears to enjoy a narrow lead in some tests -- like internet browsing, but again, the great unknown is how much of this is the chip and how much of it is the laptop.

Gaming wise, Trinity, equipped with new Northern Islands cores offers small gains over its predecessor.  While not as dramatic as the CPU improvement, it's enough to keep Trinity far ahead of Sandy Bridge and a bit ahead of Ivy Bridge in integrated GPU (iGPU) performance.  The results are not dramatic, but AMD is the winner when it comes to integrated graphics.

When looking at battery life, CPU performance, and GPU performance, a seeming tie emerges between Intel (CPU victor) and AMD (GPU victor).  But, then is CPU performance all that meaningful to the everday user?  Anandtech argues, "A 25% lead for Intel is pretty big, but what you don’t necessarily get from the charts is that for many users, it just doesn’t matter."

III. Price Makes This a Two-Chip Race

But those numbers neglect a core third pillar -- price.  AMD's chips are aimed at $600 USD laptop designs.  Ah, so AMD is the winner then?

Well, not quite.  Intel's Sandy Bridge ironically is increasingly looking like Intel's best chip.  Best, not because of CPU performance where it is dominated by Ivy Bridge or GPU performance, where it is ravaged even worse.  But best, in terms of price versus value.

Ivy Bridge is estimated to cost $300 USD for the chip alone, plus require a more expensive chipset.  So to those who think it should be the same price as Sandy Bridge, there is some bad news -- it's not.  Ivy Bridge notebooks will have trouble breaking the $900 barrier.  Meanwhile Sandy Bridge designs like the Vostro V131 from Dell, Inc. (DELL) are about the same price as Trinity books -- $600.

Curiously Hewlett-Packard Comp. (HPQ) is pricing Sandy Bridge notebooks higher than Trinity ones -- but Anandtech hints that this may be a discrepancy, as Dell and others are expected to pony up $600 USD.

With battery life and price a tie, Sandy Bridge vs. Trinity is an intriguing dilemma.  If you want sportier GPU performance, Trinity is the clear pick.  If you want slightly sportier CPU performance, Sandy Bridge is the clear pick.  Ultimately, given the average use case -- GPU-accelerate browsing, casual gaming, video watching, etc., GPU would seem to be slightly more important, particularly given that Trinity wins bigger GPU-wise than Sandy Bridge wins CPU-wise.  Then again, Sandy Bridge is likely going to be more available than Trinity, thus it may win through ubiquity in this close race.

Trinity die shot
AMD's Trinity is primarily competing with Intel's 32 nm Sandy Bridge, and the competition is surprisingly close. [Image Source: AMD]

But if there's one thing that's clear, it's that the supposed competition between the premium-priced Ivy Bridge and Trinity is largely a myth -- the real race is between AMD's APU and Intel's last-generation system on a chip -- both 32 nm designs.  And that race is remarkably close, perhaps too close to call without risking cries of bias.  Fortunately the benchmarks have offered up their two sense, so you can be sure to read opinions in both directions and decide for yourself as more Sandy Bridge and Trinity laptops trickle out to the market.

Source: AMD

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IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By Amiga500 on 5/15/2012 5:35:03 PM , Rating: -1
It needed to kill Intel on graphics to offer a real alternative to CPU + discrete GPU.

It failed to do so.

I think its a bit of a step backward from Llano (in the context of the competitive landscape).

RE: IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By autoboy on 5/15/2012 5:51:36 PM , Rating: 3
It is definately not a step backwards from Llano. It beats Llano on almost every benchmark, from GPU, to CPU, to power. But losing any gaming benchmark to HD4000 is a huge disappointment for me. Still, it will make a well rounded laptop for most shoppers out there.

RE: IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By Pneumothorax on 5/15/2012 7:08:15 PM , Rating: 3
Surprised at how well the HD4000 keeps up. Jury is definitely out on how well Intel's driver team will keep up with new game releases. If IB laptop's are going to be >$900 than Trinity will be a no-brainer in the $600 range. However, AMD has their work cut out for them if Haswell really has 2x the performance of HD4000.

RE: IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By Shadowmage on 5/15/2012 9:01:16 PM , Rating: 3
FYI, you're comparing a 45W part (HD4000 is only available on the 45W Ivy Bridge mobile part) to a 35W part.

RE: IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By corduroygt on 5/15/2012 11:08:07 PM , Rating: 2
That's only temporary because IB chips are quad core only at the moment. 35W dual cores will follow with HD4000 for laptops.

I agree with the OP, Trinity is not bad but Intel has made HUGE improvements with HD4000 so that Trinity laptops have to be really cheap to be recommended over IB.

RE: IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By Targon on 5/16/2012 3:58:33 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with Intel GPU technology is that the quality of the drivers is fairly horrible. Remember all the cries of cheating when either ATI or NVIDIA would have degraded graphics while showing higher framerates? If Intel GPU drivers are still providing rendering errors, no matter what the framerates may be, that means people should still avoid that garbage.

RE: IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By vignyan on 5/17/2012 12:41:44 AM , Rating: 2
17 watt ulv also have HD 4000... scheduled for later.

RE: IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By Amiga500 on 5/16/2012 2:46:32 AM , Rating: 2
It is definately not a step backwards from Llano. It beats Llano on almost every benchmark, from GPU, to CPU, to power. But losing any gaming benchmark to HD4000 is a huge disappointment for me.

As I said, it is a step backward from Llano in the context of the competitive landscape.

How many gaming benchmarks did Llano lose to Sandy-Bridge?

RE: IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By Beenthere on 5/16/2012 9:46:15 AM , Rating: 1
Trinity is most definitely NOT a step backwards compared to Llano or anything else.

By Amiga500 on 5/17/2012 2:21:40 AM , Rating: 2
I guess its too complex for you folks to grasp. I thought it was quite straightforward but there you go.

Did Llano hammer Sandy bridge in every GPU benchmark? Yes.

Does Trinity hammer Ivy bridge in every GPU benchmark? No, it even loses some.

Therefore Trinity is a step backward from Llano in the context of the competitive landscape.

It is not difficult!

RE: IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By erple2 on 5/16/2012 10:16:25 AM , Rating: 2
As I said, it is a step backward from Llano in the context of the competitive landscape.

In all cases, Trinity is actually better than Llano, plus it competes more closely with its new "rival", Ivy Bridge better than Llano competed with its rival, Sandy Bridge. The cost issue "should" be at least as good as the cost difference between Llano and Sandy Bridge (when Llano came out), plus its performance is closer to its competitor (at least in CPU related things) than Llano was. GPU benchmarks never really told the whole story, either, as I recall (somehow) the HD3000 posting reasonable numbers compared with Llano. The experience, however, with Llano was vastly better than what you got with Sandy Bridge, primarily due to (as mentioned previously) poor (though slowly improving) driver support from Intel.

Given that fact, and given that gaming (for what it was intended to do) works fine on Trinity (everywhere, as opposed to "spotty at best" on HD3000/HD4000), it sounds like the experience (and therefore the competitive landscape) is therefore at least as good for Trinity as it was for Llano.

Throw in more competitive better battery life (Ivy Bridge is a little bit better than Sandy Bridge, though I've only seen benchmarks of the quad core Ivy Bridge - however I understand that gating in IVB should be able to make that "irrelevant") and I'm not sure that Trinity really is a step backwards from Llano.

By Beenthere on 5/16/2012 1:30:50 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. Trinity is by far a significant step forward in all areas and a great win for consumers. There is no step backwards compared to Llano. That is simply an ignorant statement.

IB isn't a significant bump for Intel so they are definitely a whole generation behind in laptop compared to AMD's Trinity.

It's good for all except for Intel.

RE: IMO Trinity has missed the mark
By Amiga500 on 5/17/2012 2:51:50 AM , Rating: 2
In all cases, Trinity is actually better than Llano, plus it competes more closely with its new "rival", Ivy Bridge better than Llano competed with its rival, Sandy Bridge.

Please explain how you conclude this?

Llano and Trinity both get whipped silly on the CPU side, but Llano hammered Sandy on the GPU side. Trinity scores a mere win over Ivy on the GPU side.

Put like this - I would (and did) recommend Llano over Sandy ever day to people looking a low or mid laptop. Conversely, this gen, Ivy will be recommended for a mid laptop, possibly even low-end too when dual cores come out.

Per mm^2, relative to the competition, Trinity is a clear step backward. (for those a bit slow - compare Llano v Sandy per mm^2 and then compare Trinity v Ivy per mm^2)

By Beenthere on 5/17/2012 12:38:20 PM , Rating: 2
What a moronic comment... Trinity is a step backwards to Llano in "mm2". There are some desperate people trying to twist reality to suit their agenda but it's NOT working. look up the definition of DENIAL .

Trinity is a big step forward in ALL areas that MATTER to consumers . CPU performance is up 20+%, IGP is up 40+% and the combined performance in normal apps is up like 35+% over Llano. Unless the only thing you do with your laptop is crunch numbers, Trinity will provide a FAR better experience than SB or IB with HD 4000 IGP .

When people go off on Trinity's CPU power it's like saying that your desktop PC is lacking capability because it doesn't have the latest over-priced trick of the week discrete Intel CPU . NOTHING could be farther from reality.

Few people actually NEED the fastest CPU performance on the planet. If they are willing to be exploited by Intel then that is precisely what they should buy. People with more wisdom buy the PC that delivers the performance they want/need at the best price and in laptops that is most definitely Trinity.

Stop living by benches and get in touch with reality and the laptops actual performance and user experience - which is much better with Trinity compared to any comparably priced Intel powered laptop.

Money talks and the fools spew hate.

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith

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