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New MacBook Pro’s Dedicated AMD Graphics Chips Are ‘Significantly’ Faster and Support Dual 5K Displays

Apple dropped Intel’s integrated Iris Pro graphics in favor of dedicated AMD graphics across its entire new 15-inch MacBook Pro lineup, resulting in performance improvements over previous models. Perhaps more interestingly, the switch to AMD provides expanded external display support that desktop users have patiently waited for.

As Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica explains, AMD’s Polaris-based Radeon Pro 450, Radeon Pro 455, and built-to-order Radeon Pro 460 GPUs in the new 15-inch MacBook Pro support up to six displays, whereas Intel’s integrated GPUs affixed to the logic board can drive a total of three displays.

The expanded support enables the new MacBook Pro to drive two of Apple and LG’s new UltraFine 5K displays at 60Hz simultaneously. Intel’s GPUs can’t because, due to bandwidth limitations of the DisplayPort 1.2 spec, the two 5K displays technically function as four displays. This method is known as Multi-Stream Transport (MST).

When you hook one of LG’s 5K monitors to one of the new MacBook Pros, what you’re actually seeing on the screen is two pictures stitched together to make a single seamless image. This is because the version of the DisplayPort spec supported by Intel’s GPUs and almost all monitors these days—version 1.2—doesn’t have enough bandwidth to drive a 5K display at 60Hz all by itself. […] Apple is actually pushing two DisplayPort 1.2 streams to the monitor over the single Thunderbolt 3 cable.

There’s nothing wrong with this method, except that it cuts down on the number of external displays your computer can support. Intel’s integrated GPUs can drive a total of three displays, but you use up two of those three streams to drive one 5K monitor and one of them to drive the laptop’s internal display. AMD’s GPUs support up to six displays, so you can use two of those connections for one 5K monitor, two of them for the other 5K monitor, one for the laptop’s internal display, and still have one left over for yet another monitor if you really wanted to use one.

Apple could have used Nvidia’s faster Pascal-based GPUs, which support DisplayPort 1.3, but Thunderbolt 3 and most monitors do not support the higher-bandwidth spec yet. In the meantime, Nvidia’s GPUs can only drive up to three displays beyond the main MacBook Pro screen — not enough for dual 5K displays over MST.

Apple will have more flexibility again when DisplayPort 1.3 becomes more common. Those future laptops will be able to drive two 5K screens plus a laptop’s internal screen using just three DisplayPort streams instead of five. For now, though, if pushing two high-end 5K screens at once was a design goal for Apple, AMD was the only way to go.

In terms of performance improvements, Cunningham benchmarked the mid-range 2.7GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro with the Radeon Pro 455 graphics chip to determine just how much faster the notebook truly is compared to the 2016 12-inch MacBook and older MacBook Pros released over the past few years.

He found the Radeon Pro 455 to be a “significant boost” over the built-to-order dedicated GPUs available in the 2012-2015 MacBook Pro models, namely the Nvidia GeForce GTX 650M, Nvidia GeForce GTX 750M, and AMD Radeon R9 M370X respectively, but said the new MacBook Pro remains unsuitable for high-end gaming and VR.

Is it disappointing that Apple didn’t decide to push the envelope a little more? Sure. Is it too bad that performance and power efficiency were apparently sacrificed in the name of external display support? Yes. Are these midrange GPUs in any way inconsistent with any MacBook Pro released in the last decade? No.

Apple officially says the 15-inch MacBook Pro offers up to 130% faster graphics performance, and up to 2.5x more computing power per watt, compared to the previous-generation 15-inch MacBook Pro, but those stats are based on the built-to-order Radeon Pro 460 chip that costs between $100 and $200 extra.

Related Roundup: MacBook Pro
Tags: benchmarks, 5k displays, AMD
Buyer’s Guide: MacBook Pro (Buy Now)
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AMD ships its extra-efficient 7th-generation processors in PCs

While Intel is busy revamping its laptop processors, AMD is focused on the desktop side of personal computing. The chip designer has started shipping its 7th-generation A-series processors in desktop PCs, starting with machines from HP and Lenovo. The CPUs are based around as many as four Excavator cores, rather than the coveted Zen cores you’ve heard about lately, but that should still get you a lot of performance per watt. If you believe AMD, its 35- and 65-watt processors deliver the kind of speed that previously took over 90 watts — the A12-9800 is about as fast in a general computing benchmark (PCMark) as Intel’s Core i5-6500, and roughly twice as fast in graphics (3DMark) if you’re relying on integrated video.

As you might guess from the testing, visual performance plays a big role. On top of a newer DirectX 12-friendly graphics architecture, the new processors tout native video decoding for 4K video in both H.264 and H.265 formats, taking a large load off of your system while you’re watching Ultra HD movies.

The efficiency angle is a familiar one for AMD, and not surprising given that it’s the company’s main advantage. You’re still looking at higher-end Intel Core i5 and i7 chips if you’re focused on raw performance in a desktop. With that said, this may be worthwhile if you want a glimpse at AMD’s future. The 7th-gen A-series is the first processor line based on AMD’s new AM4 platform and the interfaces that come with it, including support for USB 3.1 and NVMe solid-state drives. At least some of the technology you see here will carry on for multiple hardware generations.

Via: VentureBeat

Source: AMD (1), (2)


Apple to Release New MacBook Pro and Air as Early as October, AMD iMacs and 5K Display With LG Also in Works

Apple is planning to refresh its Mac lineup, including the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, as early as October, according to Bloomberg. The report also claims Apple is working on a standalone 5K display in partnership with LG Electronics, while it plans to update iMac models with an option for new graphics chips from AMD.

The report reiterates that the new MacBook Pro will be thinner and include an OLED-based touchscreen strip along the top of the flatter keyboard, which will present functions that dynamically fit the current task or application, as well as integrate Touch ID to enable users to quickly log in using their fingerprint.

For example, if a user is on their desktop, the screen will show a virtual representation of the standard function row, which includes brightness and media controls. When in an application, the virtual row will show options specific to the task at hand, but volume controls and a switch to show the default functions will always be present.

Apple has reportedly named the feature “Dynamic Function Row” internally, but its official name may differ when announced.

The tweaked MacBook Air models, meanwhile, are said to include multipurpose USB-C ports, which makes the inclusion of Thunderbolt 3 a possibility. No other details were shared about the planned MacBook Air and iMac refreshes.

Apple’s plans to work with LG on a standalone 5K display surface two months after it discontinued the five-year-old Thunderbolt Display. It remains unclear if the monitor will be based upon the Retina 5K iMac, and it is also unclear if the report’s broad late 2016 timeframe for “some of the new Mac products” includes the display.

The report makes it nearly certain that the focus of Apple’s just-announced September 7 media event will be on the iPhone 7 and the second-generation Apple Watch, the latter of which has now been confirmed for the event. Apple will also provide updates about its software, including iOS 10, macOS Sierra, watchOS 3, and tvOS 10.

Related Roundups: iMac, MacBook Air, Thunderbolt Display, MacBook Pro
Tags:, LG, USB-C, AMD
Buyer’s Guide: iMac (Don’t Buy), MacBook Air (Don’t Buy), Displays (Don’t Buy), Retina MacBook Pro (Don’t Buy)
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AMD crashes Intel’s party: Powerful Zen CPUs are coming next year

A block away from Intel’s Developer Forum in San Francisco, AMD brought together a select group of media and analysts to make one thing clear: Its long-awaited Zen processor actually exists, and it’s on track to ship early next year for desktops. Surprisingly, the company is aiming directly at the high-end PC gaming market, whereas its last few chips appealed more to budget builders.

“Our focus is on high-performance CPUs and GPUs,” AMD CEO Lisa Su said, as she listed off the company’s most recent accomplishments. Those include building the chips powering both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (as well as the One S and the upcoming Project Scorpio), and delivering a surprisingly powerful $200 video card in the Radeon RX480.

Beaming like a proud papa, AMD CTO Mark Papermaster listed off what makes the Zen processor so special: It’s built from the ground up with a focus on “performance, throughput and efficiency.” Using a 14nm FinFET (3D transistor) architecture, AMD’s engineers have increased the chip’s performance by 40 percent, compared to their last-gen hardware, all the while making it more power efficient. AMD has also finally implemented Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT), which lets Zen’s cores run multiple threads at the same time (basically, its own version of Intel’s HyperThreading).

“We have to be faster, we have to be more agile, we have to be more creative, because we’re the smallest player,” Papermaster said. Digging a bit deeper into the technical details, AMD says it increased Zen’s instruction scheduler by 1.75x and execution resources by 1.5x, added an 8MB L3 cache, and also implemented a larger shared L2 cache. Altogether, Zen should push around five times the amount of bandwidth to its core than AMD’s previous Excavator design.

So what does all that mean to you? Basically, you can expect the company’s Zen chip to be better at massive processing tasks (think 4K video and gaming, as well as VR), and easier on laptop battery life. It sounds like the sort of leap in performance AMD needs to better compete with Intel in high-end computing, but there’s still much we don’t know. Zen’s thermal profile, which would tell us just how efficient it actually is, remains a mystery. And naturally, AMD isn’t ready to talk about final clock speeds or pricing just yet. Papermaster says more technical details will be divulged at the Hot Chips conference next week.

AMD’s first product based on Zen will be an 8-core, 16-thread desktop chip called Summit Ridge, which will run on the new AM4 platform and will support DDR4 memory and “next-gen I/O.” But the company also hopes Zen will help it get back into the lucrative server market with “Naples,” a 32-core, 64-thread behemoth. AMD also expects to see the new chip design reach embedded computers in the future (mostly due to its increased power efficiency). Surprisingly, the company’s engineers are already hard at work on its followup platform, Zen+, Papermaster revealed.

To give us a sense of Summit Ridge’s performance, AMD pitted it against a Core i7-6900K, Intel’s top-of-the-line 8-core chip (which currently sells for around $1,100), using the Blender rendering benchmark. With both chips clocked at 3Ghz, the Summit Ridge machine managed to finish rendering a scene around half-a-second faster than Intel’s processor. AMD had to downclock its competitor from 3.2GHz to make the fight fair, but the benchmark as still a notable win. We also saw Summit Ridge, together with AMD’s R9 Fury X, playing Deux Ex: Mankind Divided in 4K with smooth frame rates (of course, we weren’t told the exact FPS figure).

You can expect Summit Ridge to hit the market in the first quarter of 2017, while Naples will launch in the second quarter. And if you’re aching to get Zen in a laptop, keep an eye out during the second half of next year (the company announced its latest batch of laptop chips back in May). Despite its progress with Zen, AMD will surely have competition from Intel, which is expected to debut its seventh-generation Core CPUs this fall.


AMD’s sub-$200 gaming video cards launch in early August

AMD said that the Radeon RX 480 would be followed up by lower-cost models this summer, and it’s acting on that promise in a timely fashion. Both the RX 470 and RX 460 (not pictured above) are now slated to arrive on August 4th and August 8th respectively. While AMD hasn’t outlined the specific pricing, these newer boards should cost significantly less than the $199 RX 480 — the RX 460 should sit closer to the coveted $100 mark.

The imminent launch is also shedding some light on details of the cards themselves. The RX 470 may not be VR-friendly like its more advanced sibling, but it’s surprisingly close. You can expect up to 4.9 teraflops of computing power (versus 5.8 for the RX 480), and you’re still getting 4GB of RAM on a healthy 256-bit memory interface. Think of it as the “good enough” card — you can play many new games at 60 frames per second, just at 1080p instead of 1440p.

The RX 460, meanwhile, is really a budget counterpart to last year’s Radeon R9 Nano. It’s much less powerful than the other RX cards (just 2.2 teraflops) and starts with 2GB of RAM on a 128-bit interface, but it’s also far smaller and more power-efficient — it uses less than 75W. The desktop card is ostensibly aimed at eSports gamers who only need brisk frame rates in titles like Overwatch or Rocket League, but it’s also built for small form factor desktops and even laptops.

Both cards help fill out an AMD strategy that’s very different than in past years. Rather than take NVIDIA head-on in the graphics arena, it’s trying to carve out a niche by offering a lot of bang for the buck. This is partly dictated by its own limitations (NVIDIA has generally led the high end for a while), but it could pay off if it gives AMD a relatively uncontested audience. Mind you, NVIDIA’s newer graphics technology is becoming increasingly affordable — it’s entirely possible that the green team will encroach on AMD’s turf.

Via: VentureBeat

Source: AMD (1), (2)


AMD’s Radeon RX 480 is the new king of budget video cards

Instead of trying to build the biggest and most powerful video card on the market, AMD aimed at the low end for the Radeon RX 480. But that doesn’t make it any less exciting than NVIDIA’s recent powerhouse GeForce GTX 1080 and 1070 cards. AMD’s pitch for the RX 480 is simple: It’s a $200 card that’s VR-ready. That’s huge, especially since the current batch of GPUs that meet minimum VR specs cost around $350 today. I’ll admit, I was skeptical when AMD announced the RX 480 at Computex last month. But after putting one through its paces over the past few days, I feel like Han Solo in The Force Awakens. It’s true. All of it.

To be fair, AMD did prime the pump a bit by sending me the 8GB version of the RX 480. That version of the card will retail around $239, a bit more than the $200 figure it reached with the 4GB model. There will be some performance differences between the two cards, but they likely won’t be significant with most games today. AMD admits the 8GB version is a better bet if you want to future-proof your system for future titles, though.

Compared to the last AMD card I tested — the mammoth R9 Fury X — the RX 480 is elegant in its simplicity. It’s basically a black box with some classy dimpling on the front and a single fan. It’s based on AMD’s new Polaris architecture, which is built on a 14nm FinFET (a type of 3D transistor) process. That means the chip itself is significantly smaller than the cards using the company’s previous 28nm design, which first debuted back in 2011. Polaris’s tiny size allows it to be more power efficient, and it also lets AMD reach higher clock speeds than ever before (1,120MHz with boost speeds up 1,266Mhz).

Installing the RX 480 was like any other GPU: Plug it in a PCI Express slot and connect additional power (in this case, it’s a single 6-pin PSU cable). I hooked up a 4K monitor into one of the three DisplayPort slots (there’s also an HDMI slot), installed AMD’s latest drivers, and I was off to start gaming. It wasn’t long before I forgot I was testing a $240 video card in my rig (which consists of a 4GHz Core i7-4790K CPU, 16GB of 2400Mz DDR3 RAM and a 512GB Crucial MX100 SSD on a ASUS Z97-A motherboard).

3DMark 3DMark 11
AMD Radeon RX 480 Standard 10,279/ Extreme 5,146/ Ultra 2,688 X4,588
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Standard 15,859/ Extreme 9,316/ Ultra 5,021 X9,423
AMD R9 Fury X Standard 13,337/ Extreme 7,249/ Ultra 3,899 X,6457

In most of the 3DMark tests, the RX 480 scored around half as well as the GTX 1080. That’s actually quite impressive, considering that the 1080 retails upwards of $600. Notably, the RX 480 was also slightly faster than comparable benchmarks from NVIDIA’s GTX 970, which still costs more than $300 today (and was previously the bare minimum you needed for VR).

4K Benchmarks

Witcher 3 Hitman
AMD Radeon RX 480 20 25
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 43 48
AMD R9 Fury X 35 38

Average FPS performance in 4K with all graphics set to maximum, NVIDIA Hairworks turned off.

I knew from the get-go that this card wouldn’t be much of a 4K contender, and while the results I found weren’t playable, I’m still surprised at how well it did compare to the GTX 1080 and the R9 Fury X. What really impressed me, though, was the RX 480’s 1440p performance with maxed out settings. It managed to reach near 60 frames per second in most titles, which has been my PC gaming goal for the past few years. What you lose out in resolution compared to 4K, you get back in overall smoother performance (and the ability to use more elaborate graphical settings).

1440p Benchmarks

Witcher 3 Hitman Doom Overwatch
AMD Radeon RX 480 43 45 58 60
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 N/A N/A N/A N/A
AMD R9 Fury X N/A 70 N/A N/A

Average FPS performance in 1440p with all graphics set to maximum, NVIDIA Hairworks turned off.

The RX 480 also cleaned up well in 1080p gaming, but that’s no surprise. If you’re buying a new video card today though, you’re far better aiming for the 1440p milestone (even if you don’t have a compatible monitor yet).

When it comes to real-world performance, the RX480 felt just as smooth as the GTX 1080 when playing Overwatch in 1440p with all graphical settings at their maximum. It never dipped below 60FPS, even when things got incredibly hectic. These days, that’s all I really ask for in a video card. With the new Doom, it hovered between 55FPS and 60FPS, which is still commendable given how demanding that game can be. It didn’t fare as well with The Witcher 3, getting around 43FPS, but that’s also a game that eats GPUs for breakfast.

As for VR, the RX 480 delivered a solid experience without much slowdown. It didn’t matter if I was dogfighting in Eve Valkyrie; exploring alien worlds in Farlands; or platforming in Lucky’s Tale. I kept a particular eye out for stuttering or anything that could lead to motion sickness, but couldn’t detect any major issues. AMD wasn’t lying: This is a VR-ready card alright. There’s a chance that the 4GB version of the RX 480 could have some issues dealing with VR, but given the speeds I saw with traditional games, even that card should be able to handle basic VR requirements (pumping out a 1200 by 1080 resolution at 90FPS).

Temperature-wise, the RX 480 idled around 35c and reached 69c while benchmarking and gaming. Its fan was normally quiet, but when things heated up it was definitely audible. Since it’s a small fan, it’s whinier and higher pitched than the larger fans you find on most video cards. That might be overly annoying for some, but it never really bugged me in the middle of gaming sessions.

Similar to the GTX 1080 and 1070, there simply isn’t anything else in the budget video card market that can compete with the Radeon RX 480. Last year’s cards all cost more, and offer less performance. The real problem is deciding between the $200 4GB model, or the $239 8GB version. For peace of mind (and for a likely smoother VR experience), I’d recommend splurging for the additional memory. AMD will also offer cheaper Polaris cards, the RX 460 and 470, but those are meant for esports and less demanding systems.

In the end, AMD has successfully delivered on its promise of making a VR-ready card that everyone can afford. And what’s most intriguing is that NVIDIA doesn’t yet have a viable budget competitor. The door is wide open for AMD to redefine what a low-end GPU can do.


AMD targets esports and HD gaming with new Radeon RX GPUs

After surprising us with the $200 VR-ready Radeon RX 480 at Computex, AMD has rounded out its new GPU lineup at E3. The Radeon RX 470 will offer “power-efficient HD gaming,” which means it’s targeted at people who just need things to run smoothly at 1080p. And at the low-end, there’s the Radeon RX 460, which is meant for less demanding esports titles. AMD is basically just teasing the cards at E3, so there aren’t any pricing or availability details yet. But given the RX 480 is starting at $200, I’d imagine they’d come in significantly less.

All of the Radeon RX cards are powered by AMD’s new Polaris architecture, which is built on a 14nm FinFET (a type of 3D transistor) process. That allows them to draw far less power than the company’s previous cards, while also packing in more graphical performance. AMD says the RX 480 will be able to run games at 1440p with high settings, and it’ll meet minimum requirements for VR headsets, both of which are things you’ve previously needed to spend upwards of $300 to achieve.

AMD’s new lineup isn’t just about desktops, either. Its new chips can be scaled down to ultraportable desktops to offer 1080p gaming experiences at 60Hz. Previously, gamers who wanted powerful laptop experiences only had NVIDIA GPUs to chose from.

By targeting lower price points, AMD is aiming to differentiate itself from NVIDIA, whose new GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 GPUs are now the go-to choices for high-end and mid-range gaming.


Computex 2016: It’s a wrap!

Just like that, Computex 2016 has come to an end. As in previous years, the show kicked off with ASUS’ big keynote presentation, but this time it wasn’t just laptops, tablets and smartphones — the company also unveiled its first home robot, Zenbo. We met up with Chairman Jonney Shih who gave us an exclusive demo of this $599 machine, so do check out our interview wit him. We also saw Intel launch its first 10-core desktop processor geared towards hardcore gamers, followed by yet another exclusive interview — this time with the company’s new consumer head, Navin Shenoy.

The rest of the show gave us a lot of opportunities to play around in virtual reality. HTC was there with several cool Vive demos; MSI showed off its Backpack PC; AMD announced its $199 Radeon RX480 graphics card to lower the entry barrier for VR; and even Microsoft is opening up its Windows Holographic platform to embrace the virtual world. Find all that and more in the video above.


AMD Radeon RX 480 graphics card makes VR much more affordable

AMD shook things up at its Computex press conference in Taipei by announcing the Polaris Radeon Series RX 480 graphics card.

At first glance the Radeon RX 480 might not seem much of a match for competitor Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080, but AMD demonstrated convincingly that it is ready to give the pricey rival a run for its money. It even claims the new card can actually outperform its rival for less money.

At more than half the price, the RX 480 is capable of more than five teraflops while Nvidia’s GTX 1080 is capable of nine. By simply using dual RX 480’s the benchmarks provided showed that not only was the card outperforming the GTX 1080, it was doing so with plenty of headroom left – using only around 50 per cent of the available power.

Dual RX 480s cost less than one Nvidia GTX 1080, hence the claims.


You’re also looking at 4GB or 8GB memory on the RX 480 and it’s compatible with both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, making it an inexpensive option to match with a VR headset.

The AMD Radeon RX 480 will be available from the end of June, with a price tag starting at $199 (£160). Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 costs $600. We think that AMD’s description as “disruptive technology” is fair enough in that case.

We’ll have to wait and see if Nvidia will rest on its laurels or consider lowering its prices in response. Either way it’s great news for VR enthusiasts as costs start to come down on this currently expensive hobby.


AMD’s 7th generation laptop chips are stronger Intel competitors

AMD has always been the cheaper alternative to Intel’s processors, but with its latest generation of mobile chips, it’s also aiming to close the performance gap. Announced at Computex today, the new high-end FX chips are 56 percent faster compared to AMD’s previous generation of laptop processors, while its entry-level chips are 52 percent faster compared to the last-gen. And compared to Intel’s fastest Core i7 mobile chip, the 7th gen AMD FX offers 53 percent faster graphics and a 51 percent bump in compute performance. Basically, these are the laptop chips AMD fans have been waiting for.

As is usually the case with major processor upgrades, AMD also focused on power efficiency for the new chips. The company claims its high-end FX chips now use 12 percent less power than the last gen, and the latest A9 processors use 41 percent less power when playing local 1080p videos. At the lower-end, AMD added “Excavator” cores to the new A9, A6 and E2 processors, which gives them a decent performance bump and makes them more efficient at playing HD video.

AMD says its new manufacturing process also allowed it to reach faster clock speeds with the chips. Its high-end FX 9830P offers 3GHz base speeds (with maximum speeds of 3.7GHz), while the lowest end E2-9010 is clocked at 2GHz (max up to 2.2GHz). The new A9 chip, which is being positioned as an Intel Core i3 competitor, gets max speeds 1.5GHz faster than the i3-6100U.

While AMD isn’t talking about specific pricing details for these chips (it’s not like you can buy them on their own), partners including Dell, HP, ASUS and Lenovo are already using them in new system designs. And of course, you can expect them to reach even more laptops (and some all-in-ones) throughout the year.

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