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AMD AM1 Athlon 5350 Reviewed: Low Power, Low Price APU For the Masses

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

The AM1 Platform

AMD saw a need for a low power desktop product that would embrace many next generation features, but be available for a very low price.  Kabini seems to have hit a lot of these targets.  AMD is introducing the AM1 platform which includes the socketed Kabini APU.  This has a max TDP of 25 watts for the entire family of products, though performance is going to vary significantly from the top end Athlon 5350 to the bottom end Sempron 2650.

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Motherboards will be fairly simple for the platform because of the integration of most southbridge functions into the APU/SOC.  There will be some differentiation here and there, but do not expect any enthusiast class touches to a motherboard except perhaps another SATA chip or a slightly more exotic Ethernet controller.

AM1 is designed to be very simple to construct and run.  Add-in graphics cards will be extremely rare to non-existent due to the very few PCI-E lanes afforded by this particular APU.  The 25 watt draw will also allow the use of a simpler and less robust power delivery system.  This is not some fire breathing CPU like the FX-9000 series which can pull upwards of 220 watts!  Measuring the draw at the wall is going to be pretty boring for this particular product.  Or exciting, depending how a user feels about their power bill every month.

AMD is announcing that the AM1 platform is now available worldwide.  Initially it was going to be focused on growing markets where desktop products still have a lot of traction.  This includes Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and India/Asia.  It seems that the demand elsewhere is higher than expected.  These products should be available in decent quantities everywhere by the time this article goes live.

The push behind such a product is that the vast majority of users only utilize their PCs for very simple functions.  This is primarily email, social networking, browsing the internet, and streaming music and programs.  These things do not necessarily require a lot of horsepower (unless the user thinks they should be streaming House of Cards in 4K).  Kabini looks like a nice balance of power, heat, and performance.  It supports the latest instruction sets for CPUs and DirectX/OpenGL versions for graphics.  It can run a surprising amount of modern casual games as well as older games at higher resolutions.

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Asus provided the AM1 ITX motherboard for review.  These should not break the bank.

AMD is releasing four APUs with this release.  AMD has resurrected (again) the Athlon and Sempron branding for these products.  The top two products are the Athlon 5350 and Athlon 5150.  Sempron is represented by the 3850 and 2650.  The top three products feature the full quad core design, while the 2650 is a dual core part.  Something of interest is that all four feature the full 128 stream units on the GCN compute cores.  Clockspeeds are the primary differentiator of these products.

 

Performance Impressions

Before I get into the hard numbers in the benchmarking session, I thought I would talk a few minutes about my experiences with the setup.  I typically like to get a feel for a new product by just using them in a regular manner.  This means some browsing, some video playback, and gaming with a variety of titles.

The product does seem pretty quick for what it is worth.  It does have some limitations.  It comes with only two SATA ports, which can be a deal breaker for some people.  Those looking for multiple storage drives as well as a BD drive for movie playback will have to look elsewhere.  Configurations will be limited to something like a single SSD with an optical drive or a larger spinning drive for storage.

I installed Windows 8.1 Pro with the latest update (released today).  This particular installation felt fairly sluggish due to my use of a Western Digital 1 TB Green drive.  This drive spins at 5400 RPM, so it is going to be significantly slower than a SSD or even a 7200 RPM performance drive.  My choice with the Green again revolves around power and price.  It is going to pull less than a 7200 RPM drive, and it is going to be much cheaper than a 1TB SSD!

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Real estate is not expansive on this board, but it does not appear too terribly cluttered.

I played a variety of games on it with the time I had available to me.  My first game installed is the 2002 title, “The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind”.  At the time this was one of the more stunning titles to hit the streets and required a fairly beefy machine to play at high resolutions and any sort of anti-aliasing.  I was able to run this at 1600x1200 with 2X AA and Pixel Shaders enabled.  It ran surprisingly smooth.  I had no performance issues in any part of the limited time I had with the title, but it is fun to see that something that really pushed graphics some 12 years ago has no problem on a modern APU.

Next up I tried Doom 3 BFG Edition.  I ran around that place with high settings, no AA, and a 1920x1200 resolution with again few performance problems.  There were a few graphical glitches here and there, but nothing that would take away from the experience of not seeing demons jump out at the dark and owning me.  I was again impressed by how this game played on a low power APU with limited memory bandwidth.  Yes, this is a 2004/2005 title that was slightly hopped up a few years ago, but it is fun to see this type of performance on an entry-level, low power APU.

Finally I played Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance in a multiplayer game with the APU hosting.  This really put a lot of pressure on this APU to perform well.  While it is a quick quad core part, SupCom really hammered on it.  I was able to play at 1920x1200 with the high preset, but it really started to struggle once the unit numbers started to rise.  The machine also supported multiple AIs in this multiplayer match.  This was one application where it was just being asked too much from CPU and graphics usage.

Common situations like streaming, desktop productivity, and browsing were again quick and trouble free.  I edited a few photos and screen grabs without issue and at a fairly brisk pace.  Program developers are starting to roll out more support for OpenCL/GPGPU, as well as implementing that functionality in a variety of more commonplace applications.

Overall I was quite pleased with what I encountered.  It was not a perfect experience, but it more than met my expectations considering the power envelope and the overall cost of the product.

April 9, 2014 | 09:28 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Good review. Nice to see AMD back in the upgradeable low-end arena again unlike it's competitor. I believe in emerging markets this might be a hit as well as HTPC/router/NAS for the rest of us.
Question though how well does this play 4k high bit-rate videos? Does it play the puppy video well?

April 9, 2014 | 09:40 AM - Posted by idiot101 (not verified)

Have you tried streaming the 4K videos posted on YouTube? I would also like to know how well it would handle Bluray playback too.

April 9, 2014 | 09:42 AM - Posted by Pholostan

Nice article :)

AMD did extensive work on the front end (including a beefier branch predictor), re-arranged the integer and SSE/MMX/AVX pipelines to balance out the workload, and improved the caches.

According to Kanter over at Real World Tech, that branch predictor proved to be quite good so AMD implemented it also in Piledriver. I think a evolution of Jaguar keeps getting more and more interesting :)

April 9, 2014 | 09:43 AM - Posted by SKLDRBLDS (not verified)

Quarter of the power, half of the performance.
^This is what tweaks my nethers!!!!!
EPIC JOB AMD!

April 9, 2014 | 10:23 AM - Posted by John Hendrick (not verified)

"It is unfortunate that I was unable to get a working Intel Bay Trail D based product in for testing, but all indications point to these AM1 parts outperforming the Intel J1900 and J2900 products across the board. "

Unlikely.

Anandtech has a few dual core bay trail D numbers, bay trail out performs in some (single threaded), not in others (multithreaded i.e. dual vs quad). The quad core bay trail D, I suspect would come in equivalent to slightly better on the CPU side at lower power while the GPU will be behind, naturally.

April 11, 2014 | 04:07 PM - Posted by Hikingmike

Here's a good comparison at the Tom's Hardware article-
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/athlon-5350-am1-platform-review,3801...

April 9, 2014 | 11:08 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hey Josh, good review, but can we get a more sensible approach to the power consumption tests? Testing a 25W Kabini with a 500W PSU seems a poor way to go about it. Might I suggest that you guys have a picoPSU for the low wattage Atoms, Kabinis and the like? These chips are likely to end up with external PSUs and in miniature form factors anyway, thus I figure utilizing lower wattage PSUs that are more efficient at these power consumptions, or even make more sense with respect to form factors, seems far more sensible.

Thanks.

April 9, 2014 | 11:34 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

I finally did get access to one of those really small power supplies.  I will see if I can't get that up and running this week to test power consumption!  

April 9, 2014 | 11:50 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Awesome! Thanks for the response.

April 9, 2014 | 04:59 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

if only they allowed overclock it would be a fun toy

April 9, 2014 | 05:38 PM - Posted by WaltC (not verified)

Good review!

April 10, 2014 | 11:13 AM - Posted by Adrian (not verified)

Good benches but please get someone to proofread your stuff before you publish it. Your writing is awful. The sentences are downright confusing, the structure is terrible and your use of punctuation is erratic at best. If it weren't for your profile suggesting otherwise I would have assumed that English is not your first language.

April 10, 2014 | 12:24 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

This article provides good benches, but please employ someone to proof-read your articles before they are published.  Your writing is awful; the sentences are confusing, the structure is terrible, and your use of punctuation is erratic at best.  If it were not for your profile suggesting otherwise, I would have assumed that English is not your primary language.

Thanks for reading!

April 10, 2014 | 05:33 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

That's a burn. A+.

April 10, 2014 | 11:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

That was awesome!

April 10, 2014 | 12:51 PM - Posted by luuk (not verified)

can the sempron or athlon (2014 version am1 socket) be crossfired or just have an graphics card like a simple r7 250 or hd7770 or something in it and does it handle stable? plz reply by mailing me @ ownertje@hotmail.com

greets

luuk AKA AMDfan :D

i have a fx8350/r9 270x rig just asking if it could be a sort of mini streaming and light gaming pc like skyrim @ low or something

April 10, 2014 | 10:39 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

You could use a single low-to-low/mid-range graphics card, but CrossFire is basically out of the question. The Kabini chips only support 4 PCI-E 2.0 lanes, but there are AM1 Platform motherboards with x16 slots (that run at a max of x4 electrically).

April 11, 2014 | 09:20 PM - Posted by mmstick (not verified)

Actually, they support PCIE 3.0 x4, not 2.0 x4, which is equivalent to PCIE 2.0 x8.

April 12, 2014 | 01:03 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Nope, Kabini is at PCI-E 2.0.  AMD did this for power and money reasons.  PCI-E 3.0 does take up more power as compared to 2.0.  Certification for 3.0 does take more time and money in the development process.  So for a low cost/low power part like this, they stuck with PCI-E 2.0.

April 11, 2014 | 09:37 AM - Posted by Rauelius

Man, I would love to see an 8-Core Version with a GPU with 1152 Steam Processors for future steam machines. That may make a nice game system.

April 12, 2014 | 07:20 AM - Posted by raghu78 (not verified)

Josh
Kabini A6-5200 is manufactured at TSMC. But Athlon 5350 seems to be manufactured at Globalfoundries, Dresden. The "Diffused in Germany" marking on the heat spreader in the image on this page gives clues that its manufactured at Globalfoundries. Jaguar is a highly portable CPU core design and so is the GCN based GPU. With Athlon AM1, Kaveri, Berlin, Seattle and some console APU production (starting likely in H2 2014) all being manufactured at Globalfoundries, AMD should have no problems meeting the USD 1.2 billion 2014 wafer commitments.

April 12, 2014 | 01:19 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

AMD can't give official word right now on that due to them being in their "quiet period" but it does look like you are correct.  Good for GF, I guess.  Odd that it is diffused in Germany, rather than utilizing the US fabs in NY.  I thought FAB 8 was the primary site for 28 nm HKMG... guess not.

April 13, 2014 | 04:16 PM - Posted by Jon Pennington (not verified)

Josh griped on the podcast that the testing motherboard only had 2 SATA ports, so you can't have fast storage (SSD) AND big storage (spindle) AND optical storage. Optical drives work pretty well on USB 2...

April 13, 2014 | 06:36 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

This is true.  Good plan.

April 21, 2014 | 04:44 PM - Posted by Mark S (not verified)

With such low power consumption, if a board manufacturer made a raid capable board with 6+ Sata III ports, would this make a good NAS / media server? It sounds ideal.

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