Cooking Up A Killer Kaveri Rig (Part 3)

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APUs like KAVERI are the future for AMD, Reckons Jeremy Laird, and there are already plenty of compatible motherboards to choose from.

In some ways, that makes sense. After all, as more and more features migrate onto the CPU or onto the APU die itself, the chipset becomes less critical. For example, with an APU based AMD rig, it’s the APU that houses the PCI express controller. Still, digging up any information on Kaveri supporting chipsets is difficult to say the least. They simply don’t appear on the main AMD chipset web page.

But we’ve managed to unearth some interesting information. Kaveri chips themselves sport PCI express 3.0 support with up to 24 lanes, so there’s bags of external bandwidth on offer. Also, the integrated Radeon R7 branded GPU is pretty cool and there’s support for 4K resolutions at 60Hz via DisplayPort 1.2 as well as dual-link DvI capability. Therefore, you can run a high-end desktop experience, barring 3D performance, with Kaveri’s integrated graphics.

AMD Radeon™ R7 series GPUs offer extraordinary performance and spectacular efficiency.

The most fully featured Kaveri-supporting chipset – and the one on which our test boards are based – is A88X. It’s essentially a PCH chip that is codenamed Bolton D-4 and natively supports a maximum of eight SATA 6Gbps ports and four USB 3.0 sockets. There’s also rAID support, gigabit ethernet and up to three old school PCI interfaces. It’s a relatively up-to-date chipset, then, that ticks most of the boxes that matter. And that really only adds to the appeal. In other words, you can have a Kaveri-based system without compromising on features and functionality. On that note, it’s time to check out some of the best Kaveri-compatible boards that money can buy.

The ‘Bolton D4’ A88X chipset features upto eight SATA 6 Gbps ports

Console on a chip? With both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 now based on AMD CPUs cores and AMD GCN graphics, there’s a comparison begging with the Kaveri APU. You can buy Kaveri for a fraction of the price of those consoles, even factoring in the cost of a new motherboard, memory and storage.

The easiest comparison to make involves graphics. The top-spec Kaveri is sporting 512 AMD GCN cores to the Xbox One’s 768 cores and the PS4’s 1,152 cores. Kaveri, meanwhile, clocks at 720MHz max as standard, compared to around 800MHz for the consoles. Of course, clocking up a Kaveri is easy enough, and 1,000MHz or so is definitely possible.

Suddenly, you’re looking at a cheap APU with roughly the same shader power as a next-gen console. Very interesting. In reality, however, the comparison starts to look less rosy if you dig a bit deeper. In terms of ROPs and texture units, Kaveri scores eight and 32 to Xbox One’s 16 and 48 and PS4’s 32 and 72, but arguably the biggest snag here is main memory bandwidth.

Kaveri shares at most around 20GB/s for both CPU and graphics thanks to its dual-channel 64-bit DDR3 memory bus. It’s the weakest part of the Kaveri package and frankly not up to supporting a proper gaming graphics core. As for how much bandwidth the two consoles have, much depends on how you do your measuring. But by any sane metric, both have at least five times the bandwidth of the Kaveri and the PS4 might be closer to 10.

The harsh truth then is that Kaveri is neither a console killer nor a console-on-the-cheap. It’s notably off the pace, but the fact that it is not a million miles away by a few key metrics is still promising. It’s not hard to imagine a next-gen AMD APU that closes much of the gap regarding ROPs, texture and memory bandwidth as well as offering comparable shader power at stock clock speeds.

Kaveri is neither a console killer nor a console-on-the-cheap.

In the old days, it was a question of when a high end PC would spank any given generation of consoles. If a cheap APU can do it, that really would be something.



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