AMD Beema and Mullins APU
During CES 2014, AMD announced their development of their next generation low powered APUs being designed for tablets, notebooks and small form factor systems. Detailed information is finally available for their new "Beema" and "Mullins" APUs. Beema is being targeted at the notebook, ultrabook and small form factor type systems, while Mullins is geared towards tablet usage. For this generation of APU, AMD has achieved integrating an ARM Cortex A5 for platform security processor, quad Puma+ GPU cores, lowering power usage for CPU, GPU and I/O, increasing the frequency, and increasing the memory bandwidth. In April 2014, AMD invited Legit Reviews to their corporate office to have some hands-on time with their Mullins APU. Before we take a look at what we found, let's get some background on the the APUs.
The AMD APU based on the Temash chipset was released in Summer 2013 for tablet and ultra-low powered systems, less than a year later a new generation, Mullins, is now being announced. The Temash chipset was the first x86 quad-core SOC APU for tablets and also included AMD’s Graphics Core Next instruction set. Mullins expands those features and doubles the performance per watt when compared to similar processors. Intel is just beginning to enter this market with their Baytrail solution.
AMD includes many added features to enhance the user experience. The Mullins APU includes AMD Quick Stream which will prioritize the network bandwith over other network streams from the device to make sure the desired experience is smooth and uninterrupted. Their Picture Perfect makes streaming video better by reducing shaking, dynamically increasing the resolution to improve the overall quality. For the user interface, they have accelerated gesture control and facial login. AMD has also partnered with BlueStacks to provide a sandbox for Android applications, allowing your Android applications to run as if they were on your Android based mobile device.
AMD Mullins APU Features
The Mullins APU includes four x86 PUMA+ cores, the successor to their Jaguar core which powers the XBox One and PS4, for streaming video and graphics which includes compatibility with the GCN architecture and Mantle. Integrated into the APU is an ARM Cortex A5 for a secured environment for hardware security. It is a dedicated co-processor to support cryptographic acceleration, it uses industry standard TPM API’s to secure the hardware. AMD has also increased the memory capabilities of the Mullin’s APU by integrating support for up to low powered DDR3-1866. The system aware power management, allows the APU to know what is going at the platform level to automatically adjust itself to keep thermal limitations in line. In addition, it can provide a higher frequency relative to previous generation, which is important for passively cooled designs in tablets.
Industry trends are necessitating the integration of hardware based security. As users move away from a traditional desktop environment for their data, into a mobile world including Smartphones and Tablets, they want to access and protect their data anywhere they might be, which makes the securing of that data more difficult. “Bring Your Own Device” is a recent trend in the corporate world where users want to use their device within the corporate environment, hardware based security helps to ensure that data is protected not only on the server but also in the transmission of the data.
Rather than develop another proprietary system, AMD Beema and Mullins utilizes the open standards based architecture on x86 processors utilizing ARM Trust Zone security solutions. Trust Zone uses standard API’s and common interface across platforms. An ARM Cortex A5 microprocessor has been integrated into the APU with a dedicated cryptographic co-processor. Utilizing a Trusted Execution Environment, this enabled the ARM Trust Zone to secure the system at boot by authenticating the hardware at boot, this allows the system to move beyond just passwords into Biometrics and you can expect to see new approaches to anti-virus, anti-malware and data protection. It will also enable more secure web interactions such as video streaming, e-banking and digital wallets. This provides enterprise class security on all Beema and Mullins based devices.
Power consumption has been lowered by up to 20% compared to previous AMD chipsets providing longer battery life (or similar battery life on a smaller battery). For the Discovery tablets, based on the A10 Micro-6700T, the average power usage is around 2.8W. With their innovative Skin Temperature aware power management system, they will constantly evaluate the temperature of the system and will dynamically boost performance when the temperature allows it, and will lower the system performance once the system temperature rises. This will be able to keep the shell of the tablet to a manageable temperature so users do not experience hot zones. AMD claims this will boost performance most of the time as the need is generally short lived. The High Boost speed is beneficial to provide users the feel of extreme responsiveness where applications open fast, doing what the user wants quickly, retrieving email, opening documents, starting applications, and loading web pages.
In addition to the temperature monitoring, AMD Beema and Mullins APU will be able to boost specific applications, which saves power and boost capability for those applications that need it. This will extend the battery life and keep the system cool. This is all done automatically, by the system evaluating the workload and determining whether the boost benefits the application; if the application is determined not to need the increased APU frequency, the Intelligent Boost will not boost the performance; saving the battery power. This process saves power, but at the same time increases performance in most use cases.
AMD Mullins APU Benchmarks
While the AMD provided tablets were engineered by AMD and will never be available, we did have the opportunity to run some benchmarks on the Mullins APU.
|AMD Engineered Mullins Tablet Specifications|
|CPU||AMD A10 Micro-6700T|
|CPU Speed||1.2GHz - 2.2GHz|
|Graphics Chipset||AMD Radeon R4 Graphics|
|OS||Windows 8.1 with Update 1|
|Resolution||1920 x 1080|
Having benchmarks is great, however what to compare it to. Thankfully, we have been able to obtain an HP Elitepad 1000 G2 to compare the Mullins APU to.
|HP Elitepad 1000 G2|
|CPU||Intel Atom Z3795|
|CPU Speed||1.6GHz - 2.4GHz|
|Graphics Chipset||Intel HD Graphics|
|OS||Windows 8.1 with Update 1|
|Resolution||1920 x 1080|
On the surface, the HP Elitepad running the Intel Atom CPU appears to have the edge. We will be running the following benchmarks to evaluate the performance difference between the two tablets. As is standard practice, each of the benchmarks will be run multiple times, from the desktop with no additional software being run. Between each run of the benchmark, the tablets will be rebooted. The average score of these runs will be providedIn some cases, we will also provide a screen shot of one of the benchmark runs.
- 3DMark 11
- PCMark 8 - Work Benchmark
- Performance Test 8
- Gaming - Dirt Showdown
During the presentation, AMD provided a glimpse of what we can expect from the Mullins APU in a couple different benchmarks. Unfortunately, AMD used the A4 Micro-6400T APU for their numbers, however the Discovery tablets used the A10 Micro-6700T. Also, the HP Elitepad 1000 G2 tablet uses the Intel Atom Z3795, while AMD compares their new APU against the Intel Atom Z3770. We'll see how well these two different APUs compare in the upcoming benchmarks.
Taking a look at the combined score, the AMD Discovery tablet more than doubled the score of the HP Atom Z3795 tablet.
The individual graphics benchmarks, across the four tests, the AMD Mullins A10-6700T APU scored 270 points, which is again, more than double the score received by the HP Atom tablet.
The HP Atom Z3795 takes a small lead for the physics test, surpassing the AMD APU by close to 25%.
PCMark 8 - Work Benchmark
PCMark is another benchmark by Futuremark, while 3DMark focuses on the graphics side of the system, PCMark looks at the system from an overall perspective. PCMark has six built-in scenario tests evaluating the system from different viewpoints. We will take a look at the Work test, that uses simple office tasks to evaluate the system. These tasks are some that many will use tablets for such as Web Browsing, Video Chat and opening documents. Like 3DMark, PCMark provides an overall score which we can take a closer look at to see specific test results.
The overall score the AMD Discovery tablets take an early lead, by about 6%. That's not a significant difference in overall scores, taking a look at the details, the Video Chat encoding and Writing is nearly identical with less than 1% difference in scores, so those do not impact the overall score very much.
When using MS Excel for the Spreadsheet test, the Mullins based APU was about 15% faster than the Atom CPU. For many at home, this probably won't impact their daily lives, however if you were to look at it from a business perspective, Spreadsheet usage is a necessity and could make an impact.
Web Browsing is something that everybody will do on their tablets, while we are looking at a fraction of a second difference between the two tablets, it does come to a 12% difference in timings with the AMD Discovery Mullins tablet being able to process web pages faster in PCMark 8.
Performance Test 8 Benchmark
Passmark Performance Test 8 is a simple one click benchmark that uses a variety of different tests to provide an overall score and providing scores in five different areas; 2D Graphics, 3D Graphics, Memory, Disk and CPU. These scores are then compared to other systems to provide an idea of where it lands for performance.
The AMD Mullins based tablet received a much higher overall score compared to the HP Atom tablet. With just over 200 points difference between these APU's we should take a look at the individual scores to see exactly where the difference lies.
Taking a look at the individual scores, we can see the at the AMD Discovery tablets do better in pretty much every category, the exception being Memory. Here the HP Elitepad 1000 G2 takes the lead. It is obvious where the AMD Discovery Mullins tablet's do much better, that being the Disk, 3D Graphics, and to a certain extent the CPU. The CPU scores are probably the most interesting, AMD takes the lead over the Atom, however it doesn't appear to be a huge difference in CPU performance. The Disk used in the AMD Discovery tablets is obviously much faster than the one that HP decided to use in their Atom based Elitepad.
CrystalDiskMark 3.0.3 x64
The AMD Discovery tablet using the Mullins chipset scored much better than the HP Elitepad 1000 running an Intel Atom processor. When looking at the difference, the HP Atom tablet is using a Sandisk SEM128, which has a maximum Read/Write of 150/50MB/s so the scores really doesn't surprise me; AMD obviously opted to use faster storage in their Discovery tablets.
The Mullins APU scored 421.8MB/s in the sequential read test, and 150MB/s in the sequential write test. While those aren't incredible scores for a desktop, coming from a tablet, they are pretty respectable.
Gaming Performance - Dirt
Dirt Showdown is a game developed and published by Codemasters for Windows, X-box 360 and Playstation 3. Originally released in June 2012, it is a part of the Colin McRae Rally game series and uses the EGO gaming engine developed by Codemasters and Sony. The Ego engine allows rendering of highly detailed damage, large scale environments and more realistic physics. The player is placed in a series of events that offer a wide range of racing tournaments across different tracks. As events are won, the player is provided game money to purchase additional cars or upgrades to their existing cars. Codemasters has done a nice job at integrating a static benchmark, allowing us to get a good picture of the gaming performance. As this is going to be used to benchmark tablets, we will utilize the Low graphic settings for the test, while keeping the resolution at 1920x1080.
The previous graphics tests showed the AMD Discovery tablet having a huge advantage over the HP Atom tablet, Dirt Showdown shows a difference, however the difference comes across as 1 FPS, that comes to 6.2% difference in performance in Dirt Showdown.
While AMD envisions different accessories to go along with tablets, one is a gaming add-on. Here the tablet can slide into the cradle giving the user multiple controls that most are familiar with already from the console world; additional trigger buttons are located above the joysticks, like they are on modern console controllers.
The gaming controller accessory isn't the only one that AMD envisions, they also see the need for a docking station to provide video output up to 4K resolutions at 30Hz, ethernet connectivity, and USB ports. A top mounted web camera is also a possibility, allowing the tablet to lay flat and still utilize the web camera; this seems to be un-necessary as a front and rear camera could provide the same functionality (obviously without being able to be laid flat).
AMD Beema Performance (Provided by AMD)
While AMD was focusing on the Mullins APU, they also provided some performance information on their upcoming Beema chipset. This chipset is designed to compete with Intel's Atom and Celeron processors in the laptop, netbook and ultra-low powered system market. An engineering reference unit was not on hand for us to take a look at or run any benchmarks on, so for the time being, we will just take a look at what AMD claims.
While we expect Beema to have a performance increase when compared to previous AMD APU's, AMD states that this gap is over 10% graphics performance increase while lowering the power utilization by 40%. When compared to the competitors, AMD shows us that the Beema chipset will be able to compete by at least meeting graphics performance of similar chipsets, and often times surpassing them by both CPU and GPU performance. The benchmark numbers shown on the slide does provide an idea of what we can expect from the Beema APU. However, as we stated before, these have not been verified by us, so you can either take AMD at their word or wait until we can get our hands on a Beema based system.
Final Thoughts and Conclusions
It was nice of AMD to provide us some private hand-on time with their Mullins based Discovery tablets. While AMD is not going to get into the manufacturing of tablets, they did design and develop the tablets in house. Once Mullins is released you can expect to see different manufacturers release tablets in various sizes and features.
The Mullins APU supports every feature you can want in a tablet. From external storage solutions which include SuperSpeed USB 3.0 to Micro-SDHC cards. Networking is also a breeze as it can support all the modern WIFI types, including AC; not to forget cellular broadband, it can support that as well. These options will be determined by the manufacturers and not AMD. Due to various agreements, AMD was unable to provide a list of which manufacturers are planning on implementing Beema and Mullins APU into their lineup, however Lenovo jumped the gun and has already announced several systems based on Beema. Likewise, AMD wasn't able to provide an estimation of the cost for Mullins based tablets, again stating that will be determined by the manufacturers.
In our limited time with the AMD Discovery tablets, we were impressed by how they ran. Having experience with high end Intel i5 tablets from Lenovo (such as the Lenovo Helix), these can not compare in performance; that's not the target audience either. Looking at the Atom based tablets, the Mullins APU seems to outperform them on every level; this is the target audience that AMD is aiming for. Applications started fairly quick, web browsing was mostly smooth and video playback did not cause any issues.
While we said that web browsing was mostly smooth, we did run into one situation that it did not perform as expected. When streaming 1080p content from YouTube and we ran into problems. While the video would be fully buffered, it would skip frames and have severe stuttering. When we talked to AMD about this, their response was the video driver had a flaw that was being actively worked on. On the other hand, in another room, AMD had a movie playing off the tablet onto a big screen, running at 1920x1080 and there was no stuttering or issues, just a flawless experience.
If you want to use a tablet for gaming, the Mullins APU looks to have enough power to provide a good casual experience. When testing Dirt Showdown, we ran it at its maximum resolution of 1920x1080, and all settings on low. It's FPS was pretty low averaging around 16FPS in the benchmark; this really isn't a playable framerate. Lowering the resolution would resolve this while keeping the graphics nice and crisp. Do we really need to play a game at 1080p resolution on a 10" or smaller tablet? I personally don't think so, 720p should be sufficient, however as time ran short we were not able to retest Dirt Showdown at the lower resolution.
Legit Bottom Line: While Beema and Mullins based hardware is still several months away, if a low powered system works within your environment, these new APU's are worth taking a look at. For those that demand the highest level of performance in a tablet, expect to pay a significant amount more for an Intel i5 tablet.