AMD's Kaveri chips bring computing, graphics closer in function and name

AMD announces that its "Kaveri" CPUs with integrated graphics are now available for pre-order.

AMD said Monday that the two new members of its A-series "Kaveri" chips are now available for preorder, and launching January 14 in the US. But the biggest update to its new hybrid CPUs with integrated graphics may be one of terminology.

AMD also revealed a couple of surprises: the Discovery Project, a sleeve that designed to plug into and enhance AMD-based tablets, and an envelope-sized PC prototype that uses one of AMD's next-generation ultrabook chip, code-named "Mullins." AMD also announced three new mobile GPUs for notebooks, including the R9 290 GTX--which will be included in gaming machines from MSI, Alienware, and Gigabyte--and the R5 M230.

To date, AMD and its rivals have defined the combination of a CPU with an integrated graphics chip in terms of their respective computing elements: four or eight cores on the compute side, and a larger number of graphics cores for graphics rendering.

But with the Kaveri class of APUs, AMD is changing its practice: Inside the new A10-7700K and A10-7850K are 4 CPU cores and 8 Radeon R7 GPU cores. Now, however, AMD is simply referring to both as "compute cores," and failing to distinguish between the two, All told, both chips simply contain 12 "compute cores."

In part, that's a recognition that the lines between CPUs and GPUs are blurring, as specialized tasks once performed by high-end microprocessors are being passed over to more specialized GPUs serving as coprocessors; a substantial portion of the world's top 500 most powerful supercomputers, for example, use a coprocessor like the Xeon Phi.

By itself, Kaveri is an important entrant to AMD's lineup: So-called Accelerated Processing Units like Kaveri are becoming increasingly common. Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager, global business units, told an audience at the AMD press conference that the number of APUs is expected to grow to 160 million units by 2015, doubling in the last two years

Kaveri is the best and most powerful APU that AMD has ever put out there," Su said. As proof, Su showed a brief clip of what she said was last year's resource-intensive game title, Tomb Raider, running on Kaveri.

[More details:AMD's next-gen Kaveri chip due in January]

Kaveri will be the first AMD processor to support HSA, a way of designing software and hardware to take distribute computing tasks to both the CPU and GPU, to take advantage of the strengths of each. (Graphics processors, for example, excel at performing many calculations simultaneously.) Developers like LibreOffice and Oracle's Java team are rewriting code with HSA in mind, and the LibreOffie team is expected to announce that they saw an 8X improvement in their Calc spreadsheet calculation times with HSA enabled.

Su also announced some aggressive benchmarks (see above) with Intel in mind, as well, just hours after Intel's own press conference at CES.

All told, the new Kaveri chips should offer a total compute power of 856 gigaflops. Both chips will have support for AMD's TrueAudio technology, Graphics Core Next architecture with AMD's Mantle technology, and will be powered by AMD's Steamroller processor architecture.

To date, AMD has struggled to hold its ground against mighty Intel. Kaveri may just be the answer--or it might not.

Updated at 5:17 PM on Jan. 6 following AMD's presentation.

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