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AMD A8-3850 Llano Desktop Processor Review - Can AMD compete with Sandy Bridge?

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: AMD

Conclusions and Closing Thoughts

Well that was a lot to take in, without a doubt, and now I'll try to summarize it all in a single page for easy consumption.  But if you just skipped here right away, you are missing out on some very important details so be sure you use that handy dropdown box up above and read the whole review. 

CPU (x86) Performance

So... this didn't turn out to well for AMD as we kind of expected after writing up our review of the mobile variant Sabine platform.  The truth of the matter is the Phenom core was originally released in November of 2007 as the Phenom 9600 and it was last updated in mid-2008 as the Phenom 9950.  The Phenom II CPU was released in January 2009.  So, at best we are working with a CPU core based on 2008 technology and at worst 2007 technology - and it shows.  There have been some IPC improvements to the core but you can only polish this core so many times before it loses life completely and we may have hit that with the Llano release.  

The problem really lies with the 2.9 GHz clock speed that the top end A8-3850 is tagged with, well below the speed of the most recent quad-core Phenom II parts from AMD that reached as high as 3.7 GHz.  Because of the combination of a new 32nm process technology and that Llano is the first "true" Fusion part with standard CPU and GPU technology, AMD obviously had more problems getting this part to the speeds it wanted.  Quite simply they ran out of time even after several delays and HAD to get something out into the market for OEMs to dabble in.  

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It is not all gloom though - the four cores of the AMD A8-3850 are still much better than running any kind of lower class of processor like Brazos or Atom designs.  When compared to the Core i3-2100, the most similarly matched processor from Intel in pricing and position, AMD isn't able to win in the large majority of our x86 CPU benchmarks even with a dual-core HyperThreaded configuration going up against AMD's true quad-core CPU.  In a couple of cases the A8-3850 was able to get the victory (CineBench 10 and POV-Ray come to mind) but only those applications that are really pegging all four threads have a chance of showing that result.  Lightly threaded applications or even some other less optimized programs will continue to show the Core ie-2100 with its higher IPC and clock rate in the better light.

GPU Performance

So the CPU performance let us down but the exact opposite was our experience with the GPU portion of the AMD A8-3850 Llano APU.  The 400 Radeon Cores of our sample outperformed the Intel HD Graphics 2000 found in the Core i3-2100 by as much as 4x but never less than double.  When looking at the games, resolutions and frame rates on those graphs you MUST remember that we are talking about processors that cost a grand total of $135 or so and that includes your x86 and GPU processing technology.  For that dollar amount, the amount of gaming horsepower in the A8-3850 is truly an impressive feat.

In case the results didn't speak for themselves, with the A8-3850 at least and the Radeon HD 6550D integrated graphics, entry level users are finally at the level where I feel PC gaming can be comfortably accomplished.  The integrated graphics on the Intel Sandy Bridge processors was impressive when it launched, at least partially because of how bad previous Intel graphics cores were, but the Llano launch exceeded that.  With a $135 processor and $80 motherboard, along with your memory and storage solution of choice, you can build yourself or a friend a very basic gaming computer with entry-level discrete graphics performance for an amazingly low price.

APU Features

AMD launched a few new features with the Llano APU as well including Dual Graphics technology, Steady Video image stabilization and Turbo Core Technology (though not on the models tested today).  I think that the Steady Video technology is an example of where GPU computing can take place that we might not have thought of previously and when it works well, the difference is pretty stunning.  We are going to do a video feature on the technology in the near future so stay tuned for that...

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AMD Dual Graphics is a technology that I think has potential but lacks in some areas that I thought it needed to excel in.  The fact that it doesn't support DX9 games completely confounds me and the response from AMD was built around the idea of "time commitments and value propositions."  I don't see how DX9 titles, which are still FAR AND AWAY the majority of games out there right now, could not be worth the investment for gaming on the APU.  Based on my results in 3DMark Vantage and Dirt 3 (both of which used DX10 or DX11), the hybrid CrossFire technology does work and benefits the entry-level consumers by utilizing every bit of hardware in their computer and allowing for easier upgrade paths down the line.  

Turbo Core technology is something we had high hopes for on the mobile front but that didn't quite live up to the bar set by Intel's own Turbo Boost technology.  Once we get some hands on time with a CPU that utilizes it on the desktop we will be able to more properly evaluate its value for the AMD A-series of APUs.

Pricing and Availability

The AMD APUs are dirt cheap - it is AMD's attempt to stay competitive in the x86 CPU battle.  If the prices were based on the GPU portion of the silicon, they would be much higher as the value there far exceeds what even the best Sandy Bridge processors can offer.

  • A8-3850 - $135
  • A6-3650 - $115
  • Core i5-2300 - $185
  • Core i3-2100 - $130

AMD says the motherboards and processors for the Llano platform will be available in "early July" so I would expect them to be on sale in the next several days if they aren't already by the time you read this. 

Final Thoughts

The key take away from the launch of the AMD A-series of APUs on the desktop is summed up in my line from the pricing segment: if the price of this processor was based on the GPU rather than the CPU portion of the silicon, it would cost quite a bit more on the market.  But, unfortunately for AMD, most people still value the processing horsepower of the x86 cores over that of the GPU cores.  As we correctly demonstrated the x86 "Stars" cores on the Llano CPU just can't keep up with what the Intel Sandy Bridge architecture is capable of even in the low price points under $150.  Yes, the A8-3850 will be able to do just about anything you want it to do on the x86 side of things, but it will do them slower.

If you are looking to build a low cost gaming machine using integrated graphics, the AMD A-series of APUs presents you honestly with the only solution you need.  A discrete card of at least $50-60 is needed to put the Core i3-2100 configuration on the same performance level as the AMD A8-3850 and even then you will see higher power consumption and noise levels.  Building a gaming rig targeted at 1680x1050 and lower resolutions might seem odd to some extreme gamers, but that is in fact the majority of the PC market today, and the A-series Llano APUs address that area far better than Intel does.

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If we were 2-3 years in the future, when many more applications were written to fully utilize the capabilities of SIMD arrays like the one found on the Llano APU, the A8-3850 would be an easy recommendation over the Core i3-2100.  We are sorry to report though that it is still 2011 and the number of GPU-accelerated applications is still limited though not due to the push of NVIDIA and AMD.  With the exceptions of some video processing apps and gaming, the GPU in the Llano will be under-utilized I fear and even in some of the areas AMD claims victories in (video playback, transcoding, etc), Intel is doing nearly as well or "good enough" to get by.  AMD needs those must-have applications that utilize the GPU today.  For now, the only one we can definitively put our hat on is gaming - and in that realm Llano is king, stepping spitefully on the shoulders of Sandy Bridge. 

I think in the coming months we will see much more success for Llano in the notebook market than in the desktop market with the exception of those budget minded users that like a little gaming on the site.  AMD's A-series of APUs are the first step into the greater Fusion world - I just wish it were a little bit bigger of a leap.

June 29, 2011 | 11:48 PM - Posted by codedivine

That load power consumption doesn't look too good. Given that the GPU isn't active in a CPU-only test, one would have hoped that the power consumption doesn't approach the 100W TDP. That raises questions about Glofo's 32nm process.

June 30, 2011 | 07:53 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i digg on them big booty hoe's with them daisy dukes on

June 30, 2011 | 08:46 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Interesting take...

June 30, 2011 | 10:43 AM - Posted by James (not verified)

Considering how little of a CPU the average user uses these days, integrating a CPU into a primarily GPU was a good choice. I would really like to see what the retailers(dell, HP, apple?) do with this chip. Especially if we see some sort of media powerhouse 1 chip Micro-ATX configurations. Right now that kind of field is dominated with some of the Atom type systems which are really lacking in the ability to handle media, if we see price drops in the llano line then it could push atom out of the super-compact media lineup.

Alternatively if it is adapted for mobile processors it could be a cheap solution to integrating discreet graphics on a full size laptop, however that 150W under load would eat a battery in no time.

June 30, 2011 | 01:25 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Actually Llano for the mobile market was launched a couple weeks ago and is already showing up for sale.

http://www.pcper.com/reviews/Processors/AMD-Series-Llano-APU-Sabine-Note...

November 7, 2011 | 07:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Saying this over half a year later, I can confirm this is all true. The atom is currently being destroyed, and apple is rumored to be adopting APUs.

June 30, 2011 | 12:04 PM - Posted by dude (not verified)

AMD is using outdated production process in it's chipsets (65nm) that in part adds to power consumption.

The bulldozer chipset is 65nm.

June 30, 2011 | 03:30 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Eh, that really is not an issue.  The problem with going to a smaller process with these chipsets is really how many transistors they have and need.  Now that we are seeing most of the northbridge functionality on CPUs, there is no real reason to shrink chipset logic.  The problem that we start seeing is that these are already small chips, and if we shrink anymore without adding a bunch of extra features (and therefore transistor count), then we run into the problem of having enough pad space on the die for the substrate and pinouts.  These chips also do not eat a whole lot of power at this time.  Maybe 7 watts at max with two chips?  It was different with the 790GX/890GX chips, as they were in the 15 watt range.  But with the 990FX and SB950 both consuming between 5 and 7 watts combined... not a huge issue for a desktop application.

September 9, 2011 | 02:35 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Read a litle and then write!!!! Both Llano and bulldozer are 32nm like sandy bridge.

June 30, 2011 | 10:03 PM - Posted by Denzil (not verified)

I like the new APU and i want it in some new Del laptops. Please keep a eye on this thanks. I dont like to over spend on any PC for it doing a basic job. thats watching vidio surfing and listting to audio and NO incodeing at all. yet i want to watch UTube and vidio content. I dont want any stutter and good audio. 6 ours batry life is fine 8 would be awsome. It has to have USB 3 ports + Thunderbolt. I think Thunderbalt is dead in the water if you have to buy the lead for 50$ too.

June 30, 2011 | 10:27 PM - Posted by noiserr (not verified)

Why is every reviewer using DDR3 1333Mhz RAM? This review is useless as a result. Llano is very memory bandwidth capped.

July 1, 2011 | 01:23 AM - Posted by funkydmunky (not verified)

Hillarious. So many out of touch. Four cores to do meaneal tasks with actual GFX performance and power consumption that equalls the best. AMD will eat the competition despite reviewers being so removed from the reality of what box stores sales are comprised of. Of course Intel will just use its uber billions to advertise your need for "Intel" in the box, and discount its low end to compete.
Reviewers need to stop focusing on CPU performance when it comes to certain market segments. I have 10+ imidiate family members who could never figure out how to stress a modern CPU if they were offered $$$. But they get pissed in a second when they have crap multimedia. I have yet to hear anyone ever complain that their off the shelf just couldn't keep up with Office for them.
We are all past minimum performance being an issue. Get over it. This new AMD tech struggles in no area, yet the competition has constant issues with price or GFX capability in comparison.

July 1, 2011 | 11:06 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

It is an interesting point of view here. Though I disagree with the statement of "who could never figure out how to stress a modern CPU".

July 1, 2011 | 11:05 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

If you actually read the review you will see a lot of testing done on the graphics side of things with faster memory settings than 1333 MHz.

As for the CPU processing side of things, memory bandwidth makes a noticeable difference in very very few cases.

July 1, 2011 | 06:13 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Quote by reviewer: AMD Dual Graphics is a technology that I think has potential but lacks in some areas that I thought it needed to excel in. The fact that it doesn't support DX9 games completely confounds me and the response from AMD was built around the idea of "time commitments and value propositions." I don't see how DX9 titles, which are still FAR AND AWAY the majority of games out there right now, could not be worth the investment for gaming on the APU.

This is laughable, could not be worth investment for gaming on the APU? The I3 I5 or I7 with HD3000 CAN NOT play the DX9 games, the frame rates are to low. Not only that the image quality is less than video cards from 5 years ago. So which company is lacking an investment on DX9 games? Yes it would be nice to see dual graphics work on DX9 games but the fact is the AMD 6650D IGPU can play them just fine without dual graphics. Maybe you should also note that the HD3000/2000 do not support DX11.

July 5, 2011 | 02:36 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Actually, we mention a few times that only the AMD APU can handle DX11 gaming. But the issue is, DX11 titles are going to be most often run at DX9/10 settings on these performance levels of GPUs.

July 6, 2011 | 05:48 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This review is lacking. Want to talk about gaming performance, how about a Pentium G620 + $60 discrete graphics?

July 6, 2011 | 07:30 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

That is indeed a good combination there - we just didn't have a chance to test ALL the combinations we wanted too. Soon!

July 7, 2011 | 08:20 PM - Posted by Darren Coull (not verified)

In this video from AMD:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdPi4GPEI74

They were showing how their chip kept plugging away while the mobile i7 ground to a halt due to ineffective multitasking ability.

Does this make any difference in real-world situations? I don't know.

Ryan, have you tried this same test, i.e. comparing the llano when asked to run multiple tasks vs. the Intel i series chips? Just curious if this really is the case, or marketing hype!

July 11, 2011 | 12:22 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

So if you take out the GPU-based gaming from that workload demonstration I think you will find WILDLY different results comparing Sandy Bridge to Llano.

July 7, 2011 | 09:08 PM - Posted by mastrdrver

How well does this multi task though?

While I don't do it, I know several "non gamer" types in my family who like listening to music while surfing the web. I know others do some downloading in the background while playing a game in windows mode so they can switch back and forth between the game and a chat window.

Weird (in my book), but it seems like there are a lot who do these kind of multi tasking things with their systems today.

Love the podcasts by the way. Though, the last couple have had video and audio sync problems (in case you didn't know).

July 17, 2011 | 07:29 AM - Posted by John W (not verified)

Assuming a good watercooling block such as the Corsair h70,and plenty of fans,do you feel this chip has significant O/C capacity?

July 18, 2011 | 03:27 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

In my MC guild, we rolled for gear because we the group was in fact an alliance of 2-3 little guilds operating collectively to create 40-mans achievable. Only merchandise I ever bought was my Pally bracers, a BOE... from the auction home.

October 31, 2011 | 05:13 PM - Posted by Bovinebill (not verified)

That is a totally random comment. What forum were you supposed to be posting that to.

July 19, 2011 | 04:04 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

As usual, a very well written article Ryan. I can tell you really spent a lot of time writing it, unfortunately not all the people commenting seem to care about the time you spent to both research the product as well as actually understand it.

My take on Llano is that they should have stuck to only launching it for "gaming notebooks." There was a toshiba on sale last week with the A8-3850 for $500 and that was the first time i saw an AMD notebook in a long time that actually seemed worth buying at a good price.

I also think a good market for Llano would be gaming nettops. A little Lan box that could play games decent, but nothing like a typical "gaming rig."

August 25, 2011 | 04:12 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i think its good and im buying it next week along with hd6670...i seen few videos on you tube and im convinced its preety great considering price...so...its for ppl that need PC for new games like me and cant afford to give 2k $ for some beast of PC :) in cross with hd6670 it can play crysis 2 on average of 30-35 FPS so im contend with it :) thx for review :)

September 21, 2011 | 04:08 AM - Posted by K.A. (not verified)

Hi there,
I recently got apu3850 + Radeon HD6850. Any chance to crossfire this combination? Tried it according video tips for apu + 6670, but can't see crossfire option anywhere in AMD Vision Control Panel.

September 28, 2011 | 09:18 AM - Posted by ITXGamer (not verified)

AFAIK, the HD6850 is not supported for Dual Graphics. It's far too powerful to benefit from the onboard HD6550. The HD6670 is the most powerful supported GPU.

November 1, 2011 | 08:43 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm having a similar problem except I have the apu3850 and an HD6770 card... I have the most updated drivers but do not see the "enable crossfire" option in vision center. Any ideas?

October 15, 2011 | 02:16 AM - Posted by geo (not verified)

the APU trades memory bandwidth for more GPU performance; for a weak 64-bit DDR3 6450 it may mean +50% (unlikely), but for a full 256-bit GDDR5 6850 with lots of shaders it may even slow it down ... parallel processing has a cost, if it's added other bandwidth penalty it may be counter-productive ... so NO, you made a pretty bad choice if you miss the 1866 DDR3 support

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