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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  • chris471 - Friday, February 5, 2016 - link

    What do you do with all those split hares? Are they any good barbecued?
    ("Octane splits hares between the Kaveri ...")
  • Ian Cutress - Friday, February 5, 2016 - link

    Lightly roasted for me :) Edited, thanks!
  • maglito - Friday, February 5, 2016 - link

    Were you able to test 18Gbps HDMI? The ability to drive an external display with 2160p 4:2:2 @ 60Hz? I guess the lack of a 10bit accelerated video decoder almost makes the point moot for future 2160p content though....

    Otherwise, fantastic article!
  • MonkeyPaw - Friday, February 5, 2016 - link

    Last time I shopped for a laptop (which was recently), I was considering an A10-based HP with a 1080p screen. The problem I saw was in reviews the battery life was really poor. It looked like HP put a small battery in it, making the thing only worthy as a DTR. I ended up going with a Lenovo with an i3. I guess part of the problem is that there are so many variants of laptops that finding a review of a specific model is impossible, and all you have to go on are things like Amazon or Best Buy ussr reviews, which can be extremely painful to read.
  • Lolimaster - Friday, February 5, 2016 - link

    HP sometimes release near "nice" AMD laptops but always cripples it with laughable battery capacities, same models intel inside dont get the nerfs.
  • euskalzabe - Friday, February 5, 2016 - link

    That was a wonderful article that I thoroughly enjoyed reading to start my Friday. Long story short, you perfectly define my laptop buying rationale with "SSD, dual channel memory, 8 hours+ light battery, under 2kg, Full HD IPS panel".

    That's why I bought an i5 UX305. I wanted an AMD machine because I plain like the company and would like them to succeed to bring more competition to Intel, but I found NOTHING even close to the specs you mentioned. The UX305 fit the description perfectly and cost me $750. It was an immediate purchase for me. If AMD managed the OEM relationship to create such a machine, it would be an insta-buy for me. Also, Zenbooks with Zen APUs oculd be a great marketing strategy :)
  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, February 5, 2016 - link

    AMD is a company that shoots itself in the foot at every opportunity. I am truly perplexed. Their cat cores shouldnt even exist. But not only do those crippled parts exist, they crippled their premium parts by combining the two platforms! WHY? How could they not see that every notebook would be single channel? They wasted the entirety of their ATI purchase, as you can see with the Rocket League results vs Intel. This is a disgrace.

    AMD needs to realize that it IS AMD who controls the User experience. Look at the Mackbook Air. Look at the Surface Pro. Look at the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. All of these platforms have a set minimum level of performance. Sure they might be more expensive than a $300 atom clunker, but at least the user will not throw the thing out the window after pulling their hair out.

    AMD needs to put a floor under their products. 4 cores. 8GB of unified HBM. 512 cores GPU. This is the SoC that they need. Sure they can fuse off a core or whatever to harvest bad dies, but this is the minimum die they should be making. Ideally within 2 years they will move to a 4 core, 16GB HBM, and they will replace one stack of HBM with 128GB of HBF. They need to control the memory bandwidth of their SoC. Take away the ability of the OEMs to cripple performance. Use HBF to take away the ability for OEMs to cripple storage performance also. Do this, and every AMD system will be fast. And it will get design wins.
  • t.s - Friday, February 5, 2016 - link

    If you read the article: AMD not crippled their premium parts. It was OEM. If only OEM create mobos that have dual channel mems.
  • xthetenth - Friday, February 5, 2016 - link

    OEMs shaving pennies is as universal a phenomenon as gravity, and designs should be made as such.
  • t.s - Thursday, February 11, 2016 - link

    hence the title, "who controls user experience" :)

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