In Q2 of 2015, AMD officially launched Carrizo, their new APU aimed at mobile devices such as laptops and portable all-in-ones that normally accommodate 15W-35W processors. Quoted in the media as 'the biggest change to Bulldozer since Bulldozer itself', the marketing arm of AMD released information regarding the Excavator architecture of the new processor, and which contained a long list of fluid and dynamic implementations on improving the Bulldozer based architecture over the previous iteration of Steamroller (Kaveri). Despite this, AMDs target market for the Carrizo platform has not been receptive to AMDs product stack in recent generations due to issues surrounding performance, battery life and designs. AMD believes to have solved the first two of those matters with Carrizo, whereas the third is out of their hands and up to the OEMs to embrace AMDs platform. We wondered if the OEM’s concerns were well placed, and organized some special testing to confirm AMD’s claims about Carrizo.

Who Controls the User Experience: AMD’s Carrizo Tested

Back in early 2015, we performed a long analysis on Intel’s Core M platform, featuring 4.5W processors under the Broadwell microarchitecture. The purpose of that piece was to test several designs using that line of processors, and examining how the design of the chassis and features of the platform directly affected both performance and user experience. For Brett and I at the time, it was an eye opening endeavor, showing just how the slowest processor in a stack in the right notebook chassis can outperform the fastest, most expensive processor in a bad chassis that is wholly un-optimized.

This review is along similar lines, but instead we are testing AMD’s latest Carrizo platform, which is focused on 15W mobile parts in the $400 to $700 market. We approached AMD after the Carrizo Tech Day back in May with a proposal – to speak to engineers and to test the claims made about the platform. Typically sourcing AMD laptops, at least over the past few years, has been a veritable minefield as they are seemingly never promoted by OEM partners as review samples, or as one senior member put it, ‘Some sales people only seem to offer AMD devices if people specifically ask for them’. Our proposal involved sourcing a number of Carrizo laptops when they were launched and tackling them head on, to see how many of the claims made on the Tech Day were testable but also noticeable and true. The issue AMD and OEMs have is that everyone in the AMD-to-OEM-to-retailer chain is invested in selling the platform, so there needs to be a source of third-party testing for people who don’t trust that chain.

Over the course of a few months, our proposal changed and merged with ideas to speak with AMD’s VPs and engineers, with a number of meetings and discussions. It emerged the best way to do this was to fly to AMD’s HQ in Austin, Texas for a week and get hands on time in the labs. We agreed, as speaking to engineers and learning what is going on behind the scenes at AMD is always a good thing, but on the condition that we were free to setup, test and report without any predisposition to the results. There is an added benefit of having engineers only a floor or two away if a problem was to arise. There have been similar events in the past where media have been invited on-site for canned testing, but we made sure this wasn’t going to be the case before we arrived. For example, Qualcomm has invited select media to in-hand, temporary Snapdragon testing on a couple of occasions, with media free to test and report whatever results.

 

The Testing

We had four Carrizo devices on hand to test for a week, along with a single Kaveri system. These devices were sourced by AMD, and I put in requests for a variety of price points, hardware configurations and styles, along with some specific testing equipment to which we don’t have access. While it wasn’t possible to get everything on hand due to timing issues, the arrangement at least captured a number of areas we planned on testing.

The testing aimed to cover the devices as units, the underlying hardware, as well as the Tech Day claims. Some of this piece will read like a regular review, some of it similar to our Core M testing regarding performance, power and temperature, but a large part is reserved for discussing both the results and the market. When building a platform like Carrizo, a lot of binary decisions are made that can be good or bad for the processor manufacturer, the OEM or the user. We discuss these in detail as a result of our findings. 

The Devices: #1 The HP Elitebook 745 G2 (Kaveri, A10 PRO-7350B)
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  • basicmath - Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - link

    No it's really not, this laptop came from the factory with dual channel capability but that capability was not utilised because that would have shown the platform in a much better light, he even states that he checked the chips in the G2 to confirm that it was single channel. Upgrading the RAM on a laptop is a simple process that any end user can perform. The only discernible difference between the APU in the G2 & G3 is the number of GPU cores so why did he even bother testing the G3 without using dual channel configuration? Reply
  • Intel999 - Sunday, February 7, 2016 - link

    @Ian

    I look forward to that R-series test as it will provide a sneak peek at how much DDR4 relieves the bottleneck on integrated graphics when Bristol Ridge comes out.

    That $70 Athlon X4 845 is intriguing as well.
    Reply
  • AS118 - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link

    Good article (although to be fair, I mostly skimmed it), and I agree with the conclusions. AMD should try harder to make sure their high-end products are paired with good components. Single-channel ram, bad screens, and slow hard drives with an A10 or mobile FX defeats the purpose of having those higher end APU's.

    Plus, people will get a bad impression of AMD if a lot of them have poor trackpads, etc. I wish they'd make their own "signature" brand of laptops, and find someone to help make them a thing.
    Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, February 11, 2016 - link

    Both clevo and MSI have treated AMD well before, Im sure either would love to have exclusive rights to the high end AMD notebook.

    That being said, I doubt AMD has the intelligence to pull it off. They seem to be run by monkeys 90% of the time.
    Reply
  • Cryio - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link

    I'm really sorry for AMD. Kaveri and Carizzo on mobile, when configured to the proper ram, cooling and when using the highest performing part ... would've provided awesome performance, compared to Haswell and Broadwell. But no one bothered.

    Bristol Ridge will basically be Carizzo with DDR4 support and since it will be even better binned 28 nm CPUs, maybe we'll get even higher frequency out of Excavator. As for GCN 2.0 GPUs ... it will be interesting to see.

    I love my Surface Pro 4, even given the disaster that is Skylake drivers and Windows 10 horrible efficiency compared to W8.1. But MAN. I would've loved a proper Carrizo based Surface Pro/Book.
    Reply
  • Gadgety - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link

    A confirmation, with in depth detail. Nice write up. Reply
  • Khenglish - Sunday, February 7, 2016 - link

    I would have really liked to see some dual channel results, or at least pulling a memory stick from the Kaveri and Intel systems to get a fair comparison. AMD says Zen brings a 40% IPC improvement. It'd be great to have a baseline to see if that 40% improvement is enough. In the dual channel intel to single channel AMD comparisons it does not appear to be enough, but we don't know how big of a factor memory was. Reply
  • Jon Irenicus - Sunday, February 7, 2016 - link

    I want to buy an amd part for my next notebook but as was mentioned in the article, oems only choose bargain basement platforms to put the amd inside. The elitebook is the one exception, along with the lenovo if you don't mind the bulk.

    But the elitebooks are super overpriced for what you get. They need to release an hp spectre version of a notebook with a zen apu, a dell xps notebook variant with an apu. Ideally, the models that include a discreet gpu should allow the apu to work in tandem.

    In 2017 dx12 will be in full effect with games, and having two gpus working together by default could give a lot of amd equipped systems a larger edge, especially if the oversized ipc deficits between excavator and intel parts is minimized with zen.

    The future really does rest on Zen, amd needs to laser focus on performance per watt and ipc, and equip the 2017 apus with polaris gpu parts or vega or whatever the first iterations will be called. That has to be the minimum. Put those in nice chassis with solid battery life and that is all they need.
    Reply
  • Intel999 - Sunday, February 7, 2016 - link

    In DX12 dual graphics will be automatic. Even an Intel Igpu combined with a discrete Nvidia or AMD GPU will "merge" the graphic capabilities in the laptop.

    Theoretically, an AMD APU combined with an AMD GPU might have an advantage as all graphics would be from the same underlying graphic architecture. Time will tell if this bares out.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, February 8, 2016 - link

    Note that it's only going to be as automatic as the game developer makes it, as devs will be responsible for implementing it. For the moment game devs are going to be the wildcard. Reply

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