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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  • LarsBars - Friday, February 5, 2016 - link

    I am really surprised that with AMD's current objectives, and strength in graphics, they didn't make the decision to have the cat cores use dual-channel memory controllers. Intel Atom x7 uses a dual-channel controller.

    I am really happy to see AMD's long-term decision making. I've read them saying things like "Going forward, we don't want to be regarded as the ultra-low cost option." Which hopefully means the end of articles like this one.

    GREAT article, Ian.
  • bluevaping - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link

    Zen-L with single channel memory? I hope for none...
  • leopard_jumps - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link

    I expected much more from AMD ! Very disappointed .
  • mdriftmeyer - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link

    What's up with POV-Ray 3.7 Beta? POV-Ray 3.7 was released in November 3, 2013.
  • MUSON - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link tested the HP Elitebook 745 G3 with a dual channel setup. Performance gains range anywhere between 40% and 50% with gaming.
  • leopard_jumps - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link

    Good find ! Yet the performance is insufficient . GT 940M is the better choice
  • leopard_jumps - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link

    They call it Geforce 940M instead of GT 940M . Interesting why ?
  • extide - Thursday, March 24, 2016 - link

    Both are somewhat incorrect, the proper name is Geforce GT 940M
  • zodiacfml - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link

    I love the graphs and detail. In the end there's one simple fact which is giving AMD the problem. It is Chipzilla's cash and capability in process nodes. Since you had the good point of mentioning that, most of the time, the SoC didn't mattered to consumers as probably because of good enough performance, AMD's simple goal is to achieve Intel's same process advantage for its known values.

    AMD's chips are too big now with half the price of Intel's chips. They are selling near costs and is fighting for survival only. AMD's team is probably excited with their partnership with Samsung as this will put them again close to Intel in terms of process node advantage.

    I believe, it didn't matter for AMD with the shortcomings of available devices as their goal seems to be surviving while continue research and development for future products and process nodes and put them back in the game.

  • zodiacfml - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - link

    I just saw some benchmarks with dual-channel memory and they are pretty impressive for entry level gaming on a 1366x768. I could have bought this versus an i5-5200 laptop I bought last year. But then, I haven't seen any Carrizo in the local market yet.

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