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

Author: Ryan Shrout
Manufacturer: AMD

Llano Graphics Engine and Product Lineup

AMD Llano Graphics Engine

We have looked at the x86 CPU core portion of the AMD A-series Llano APU now let's take a look at the GPU portion and see what architecture AMD has implemented.  Based on the Redwood GPU design from the Evergreen generation (think Radeon HD 5600), the Llano APU possess a lot of GPU horsepower for an integrated solution.

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Each line in the A-series will have its own iteration of GPU specifications with the A8 obviously taking the lead.  With 400 stream processors (now being called Radeon Cores) built on 5 SIMD arrays of 80 each, 20 texture units, 2 ROPs and a 600 MHz clock speed, the top option is capable of 480 GFLOPS of raw computing power.  (The A8 mobile Llano APU ran the GPU cores at 444 MHz, so we are seeing an increase here in the higher TDP options of the desktop market.)  The A6 offering drops to 4 SIMD arrays (320 total Radeon Cores) and runs at slightly lower clock speed of 443 MHz.

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If you have read any of our AMD GPU stories in the last 18 months the chances are good this diagram will be very familiar representing the "Sumo" architecture found in the Llano core.  The update to the Redwood core includes the newer UVD3 engine, additional power gating support for better energy efficiency as well as being integrated to the new memory interface required for being slapped on an APU.  Also interesting?  This is the first GPU to be built on GlobalFoundries new 32nm process technology.

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With the Radeon heritage users that pick up a system based on the AMD A-series of APUs will get many added benefits like this one: much better aniso filtering when compared to the CPU/GPU competition from Intel (on the left).  If you don't know the significance of this diagram just know that the condensed, uniform appearance on the right will result in better image quality in gaming.  I think this is a trend that cannot be easily overlooked - the graphics drivers from AMD have been and will continue to considerably outpace Intel's in terms of features and performance.

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There was at least one interesting addition to the control panel suite this time around, a feature called AMD Steady Video.  Using a heterogeneous computing model AMD's driver will have the ability to stabilize "bouncy" video that is usually associated with consumer cameras and unsteady hands.  We were just getting a chance to play with this option before we had to finish up this review so expect more on this later.

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AMD will definitely be pushing the benefits of the Llano A-series APU to users and OEMs both in standalone configurations as well as dual-graphics systems.  More on that technology and its performance later in the review. 

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Obviously another big factor for AMD with Llano and the A-series of APUs is DirectX 11 support.  Here you can see a very blunt demonstration of that fact as we see not only huge performance benefits with the A-series APU over the Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge system but also that Intel's processor graphics simply can't run DX11 applications.  Many of you will simply shrug this off saying that you can games with at least similar image qualities on the DX9 code path but DX11 offers much more than that including multi-threading support, tessellation support and Shader Model 5.0 support.  

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One area where the GPU combatants used to thrive is in the world of transcoding applications.  First there were CUDA-accelerated transcoding programs, then NVIDIA and AMD supported ones and finally we are getting into OpenCL development down the same road.  This slide uses software from Arcsoft to demonstrate the performance advantages seen on the AMD Fusion A-series of APUs where the red bar represents CPU-only transcoding and the green bar shows the advantages when enabling GPU acceleration.  Using the DX11-class GPU on the A-series parts you get some very noticeable performance boosts as well as much lower CPU utilization during that transcoding time.

The problem of course with this argument now is that Intel has addressed the transcoding problem on Sandy Bridge with some dedicated logic on the chip, not using the shaders on the GPU.  It turns out this results in a much faster transcoding application than even those accelerated by discrete or integrated GPUs from AMD or NVIDIA.  The GPU-based designs used on AMD's APUs are definitely more flexible and extensible than the hardwired unit on Sandy Bridge, but we need to see some more software fall into our hands that really utilizes the GPU.  Maybe the AMD Fusion Developer Summit will do just that...

Product Lineup and Positioning

With the mobile Llano launch there were seven different product SKUs announced at the time of launch to cover all kinds of different mobile markets - from the highest performing A8-3530MX running at 2.6 GHz to the lowest power option A4-3300 running dual-cores at 2.5 GHz at a 35 watt thermal envelope.  For the desktop launch the lineup is a lot more simple.

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Only four different processors are being released, two each into the 100 watt TDP category and two at the 65w level.  Keep an eye on that specifications table though and note that the A8-3850 and the A6-3650 that fall in that 100 watt TDP do not actually include support for the AMD Turbo Core Technology and will instead run at the specified frequency the whole time.  By the "whole time" though I do NOT mean that features like AMD Cool'n'Quiet are no longer functional - your processor will still idle down to 800 MHz and scale up to the 2.9 GHz level as the load increases.  On the other hand, the A8-3800 and A6-3600 will run at speeds "as high as " 2.7 GHz / 2.4 GHz depending on the APU load but will at least run at 2.4 GHz / 2.1 GHz.  That flexibility is what allows the processors to stay within that 65 watt thermal level for system builders.

The only other feature of note is that the A8-3800 and A8-3850 will include the faster integrated GPU configuration with 400 Radeon Cores while the A6 parts will utilize the 320 core variant.  Those brandings, the Radeon HD 6550D and the HD 6530D will become more important later when we discuss how they integrated with discrete graphics to form the basis for AMD Dual Graphics technology.  

What about pricing?  This is where things will get very interesting for readers of PC Perspective.  The A8-3850 (which is the processor we were sampled for testing) will come in at an MSRP of only $135.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The A6-3650 is going to run you $115.  Pricing on the A8-3800 and A6-3600 weren't specified yet as they won't be available immediately but we expect them to put a very similar dent in your wallet. 

From a competitive stand point that clearly defines what market AMD is going after here.  The lowest priced Core i5 processor is the Core i5-2300 priced at $185 - well beyond the price of the most expensive Llano APU.  That really just leaves the $125 Core i3-2100 to take the brunt of the attack from AMD on the Sandy Bridge front line.  Because of that matchup you will see a WHOLE LOT of Core i3-2100 benchmarks thrown into the mix in this review.

But right now, let's take a look at the chipset (or Fusion Controller Hub) that all Llano-based systems are going to be built around and see how features match up with current Intel offerings.

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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