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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  • ncsaephanh - Monday, February 8, 2016 - link

    Can you guys do a podcast on this article? Would love to hear you guys discuss it and also answer questions/comments on the article.
  • ET - Monday, February 8, 2016 - link

    Nice to see a Carrizo article finally, although it's rather disappointing, for example because only single channel was tested.

    You talked about solutions, here's how I see what AMD and publications like Anandtech need to do (I'm using Carrizo as an example, but it's a lesson for the future):

    AMD: When Carrizo is available in a laptop, send one to Anandtech. Immediately. If you have a prototype before that, send that. We want to learn about the chip as quickly as possible, not have to wait months looking for nuggets of information on the web.

    Anandtech: Benchmark the hell out of the laptop. If there's single channel with a dual channel option, show a comparative benchmark, but concentrate on dual. We're enthusiasts, we'll install a second DIMM to get better performance. For benchmarks, basic system performance and a plethora of games, and comparison to Intel, plus battery life. Deep dives are nice, but I'd rather have a quick overview of what the system is suitable for, and what kind of gaming it can achieve.

    AMD: Desktop first! I know that laptops are where the money is, but desktop is where the enthusiasts are, and if your chip is worth anything, fans and publications like Anandtech will pair it with the fastest memory, configure it with the best TDP, and see what it's really capable of. OEM limitations will not get in the way.

    AMD: Fans first! That's pretty much a repeat of the previous point, but AMD, you still have fans, and they are your best customers, not the OEM's or the clueless general public. If you make something that you think is good and you let your fans learn of it and get hold of it, they will tell you what they think and they will tell others. If you leave them in the dark, they will end up losing their enthusiasm.

    Anandtech: Follow up on AMD stuff. It may be hard to get the latest AMD chips if AMD isn't helping, but at least let us know you're on it. An occasional news item telling us that you've tried to get some laptops for testing or whatnot will tell us that you're on it, and hopefully shame AMD and the OEM's enough to get a move on.

    Personally, I would likely have bought a Carrizo system if there was one of similar size to my old Thinkpad X120e (which I still use, even if I'm not that happy with its speed). I might have bought a Carrizo for my HTPC if I could and I knew it provided decent enough performance.
  • sofocle10000 - Monday, February 8, 2016 - link

    I just signed in to state that Asus had nice business/multimedia notebooks (I used N60DP/N56DP and I actually use an N551ZU - all based on AMD), and although my actual N551ZU is only based on the top of the line Kaveri, it is an exceptional machine for normal use/light gaming...

    Customers play a big part in the AMD problem, but if there were more incentives (take my current N551ZU, which is a great notebook for ~750-850 $, and if configured with an SSD, you could hardly tell it apart most of the time from the Intel i5H/i7QH + GTX 950M variants), not only a great price, but a better build quality, display, sound system the the market average, some of them would actually pay more attention to the AMD.

    The OEM's should have a more defined bottom line for the AMD notebooks - were dual channel memory and a better display, a hybrid SSHD or a SSD are a must, especially for the models in the upper part of the price range 400-700 $...
  • dragosmp - Monday, February 8, 2016 - link

    @Ian - great article, really a good example of investigative journalism. I'm happy this kind of articles are being revived, but being a reader of Tom's I see where this may be coming from.

    As the "guy that says what laptop/phone to buy" to my family and friends I have to say your findings and conclusions speak to me very clearly - AMD has a system-problem, not so much a CPU-problem (though some may argue differently). AMD chips are fed into cheap looking/feeling PCs with far too many corners cut, but this is how under 700$ market looks like. Could AMD's OEMs sell a 600$ 13" PC to compete with the CoreM UX305? I think not, simply because AMD's CPUs (who consume more) need thicker chassis with stronger cooling and a beefier battery and that costs money - so there's less available for the UX; even if the OEM accepted lower margins on the AMD PC, or AMD to sell the CPU at bargain prices, that design compared to the UX305 would be thicker and likely noisier.

    If Zen is good, I could see it in a Mac as Apple has a history of doing good software. Or AMD should build their own surface line and set an example of what can be done.
  • Gunbuster - Monday, February 8, 2016 - link

    People buy the cheapest $300 laptop they can get or something premium. Who are they targeting with these mid-rangers?
  • farmergann - Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - link

    Wife uses her Y700 for school and a few hours of photo editing every week. Exactly what she wanted. This article did a worthless job of representing the actual Y700 w/fx8800p you can pick up at Best Buy for $665-830. Everything is fantastic about it save for the TB HDD which I immediately replaced with a Samsung 850 Pro I had laying around.

    Somehow, this "investigative" nonsense missed the fact the U.S. Y700 has a superb little IPS screen with Freesync to go along with a surprisingly (truly) good sound system and -despite the author's claim- dual channel ram. Just for grins I've played BF3 and a few other games - none of which had issues. Great low/mid-range laptop with plenty of chops.
  • every1hasaids - Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - link

    Nope, the US model is absolute garbage. They skimped on the VRMs and the laptop subsequently throttles in moderately intensive CPU tasks. Example, try running Cities: Skylines with a decent sized city and tell me that it doesn't stutter after about 20 seconds of play and every 5 seconds or so after that. The stutters which coincide with the CPU being utilized near 100% and the frequency dropping per resource monitor and Afterburner all the way down to 1.6ghz... Also I don't know what you're talking about with the Freesync capability, I could not get it to work after reading elsewhere that it may be possible.

    The main issue with a product like the Y700 is that the intel variant is only a couple hundred bucks more and you get a genuine quad core with HT, dual channel DDR4-2133 and comparable discreet graphics. Oh, and it has no trouble with voltage supply. Not to mention that the m.2 interface is PCI-E as opposed to SATA on the AMD model. It just doesn't make sense to purchase a far inferior product for only $200 less at the price point these models occupy.
  • farmergann - Thursday, February 11, 2016 - link

    Cities: Skylines? LOL, that's about as rich as whining about Starcraft 2 performance on an FX Octacore - what were you expecting exactly? For people not looking to shove a laughably CPU bound title down a 35W laptop's throat, the FX8800p with user installed SSD is a far better choice, sorry guy.
  • Peichen - Monday, February 8, 2016 - link

    Wow, that's wasting a lot of time and words reviewing a product no one will buy. AMD needs to exist to keep the cheap Intel stuff dirt cheap but I don't feel anyone should waste time reviewing AMD CPU products. 10 years of marketing hype and under-delivery means AMD is actually slower than ever compares with Intel.

    I bought 2 AMD CPU over the last 6/7 years and frankly I wish I spend more buying Intel because I wouldn't have to spend time and money as often upgrading the CPU.
  • Danvelopment - Monday, February 8, 2016 - link

    The way I see it, AMD needs to stop comparing themselves with themselves and needs to compare themselves with the competition. People don't understand the improvements if they aren't involved with the predecessor.

    They produce a reasonable product that performs at 60-80% of the competition at 50% of the price.

    Good designs are produced for the competition, that could fundamentally have their parts, and they're losing on the design front.

    And strangely, for similar products the AMD machines are the same cost, even though the difference is the chip (at halfish the price).

    Can they not work to develop an easier transition method for OEM's to produce this-or-that designs that allow end users to pick AMD or Intel during the selection process. Tier them like Dell does for the various Intel processors but have them consistently show up as the cheapest option $100 off a $500 laptop is a decent drop and if the chip and PCB is $150 cheaper to produce the OEM still wins).

    Differentiating the product creates too many variables people don't understand, and creates the issue above, CPU brand aversion on entire product stacks with no common ground.

    I'd say take a long, hard look at current machines, and develop a method of getting their chips into them as an option, without OEMs designing a product from the ground up.

    I'd certainly consider AMD if I could just select it as an option that knocks $100 off on the low cost tier laptop in my workplace.

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