Review Index:

AMD A-Series Llano APU Sabine Notebook Platform Review

Author: Ryan Shrout
Subject: Processors, Mobile
Manufacturer: AMD

AMD A-Series Sabine Platform Mobile Review

Editor's Note: From here on out, most of the testing and writing was done by our own Matt Smith, mobile guru.  Since this is really a mobile platform review above all else, I thought it would be most appropriate for Matt to get a lot of hands on time with the machine and report the findings in a way really talks to the consumer looking for a notebook.  We are already in the process of getting our hands on the desktop Llano parts due out later in the summer and we are going to go through much more of the CPU-specific testing at that point, though we do touch on some of that here today in our performance pages.  You will find me interjecting in a few places throughout the remaining pages, however. 

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The year has been an excellent time to review laptops. While in the popular media the focus has been on newer devices like smartphones and tablets, laptops have been enjoying significant improvements. Purchasing a high-performance laptop no longer means enduring a drastic reduction in battery life, and purchasing a laptop with an adequate graphics solution no longer means putting up with a gigantic chassis.

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Intel and AMD have enhanced laptops by integrating a GPU into the architecture of their CPUs, reducing the silicon required and making it possible for both components to share cache, but they’ve introduced these architectures at different ends of the market. Intel’s second-generation Core processors are clearly high-end components for systems typically priced $600 and above, while AMD’s Fusion APUs have (until now) been placed into netbooks rarely priced above $500.

Both of these new processor architectures are successful in their respective markets, but there has also been no real competition between them. Today, with the release of AMD’s new Llano processors (the Fusion A-Series), the race truly begins. Let’s take a look at what AMD is placing on the grid.

A Bird’s Eye Overview

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The processor in our 14” Compal testbed system is the AMD A8-3500M. The A8 series products are, according to AMD’s own material, the most badass new mobile processors the company plans to release. They’re aimed straight at Intel’s Core i5 and i7, which is a lofty target indeed. The A8-3500M has a base clock speed of 1.5 GHz, with a potential Turbo maximum of 2.4 GHz. This is the least powerful A8 available at the moment. 

Editor's Note: The rest of the test configurations were selected in order to pit the A8-3500M against what we thought was the most accurate competition and of course using our current selection of products and results as the pool of available resources. Both the ASUS K53 and N53 notebooks come with Core i7/i5 processors that are direct competitoin to what AMD is releasing today so of course those were included.  The K53 relies solely on the Intel HD 3000 graphics while the N53 gets the aid of a discrete NVIDIA GPU and thus we get to see interesting results from both angles.  The Sony VAIO Y series that uses AMD's own E-series processor was included to see how far the A-series was able to separate itself from that first generation of APU.  

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Although the A8-3500M is not the fastest of the new processors available (that title goes to the 1.9 GHz A8-3530MX) it is equipped with the same Radeon HD 6620G as its quicker brethren. Part of AMD’s latest Evergreen architecture, the Radeon HD 6620G has 400 cores clocked at 444 MHz. For comparison, an AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5650 (which was one of the more impressive mid-range mobile GPUs available late last year) also has 400 cores, although they can be clocked as high as 650 MHz.

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In addition to this, our testbed system supports AMD dual graphics in the form of a separate, discrete GPU called the Radeon HD 6630M. This can operate in CrossFire with the Radeon HD 6620G on the APU, and when their powers unit they create the Radeon HD 6690G. No, I’m not kidding. AMD has separate names for not only the graphics on the APU and the discrete GPU but also the combination of the two in CrossFire. Someone in marketing is pulling out their hair over this.

Given the information above, it seems clear that AMD is trying to use its advantage in GPU performance as a way of negating its disadvantage in CPU technology. But don’t take my word for it – AMD itself stated the same in slides leaked to the press which included a pie-chart breakdown of how AMD’s new A-Series APUs allocate resources in comparison to Intel’s Sandy Bridge.

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It should be noted, of course, that this is a test-bed system, not a retail product – though it is possible you will end up seeing this system in the lineup of a major manufacturer. From the look and feel of the laptop I’d say Dell, Acer or even Samsung could slap their label on this chassis. However, that’s beside the point for this review. We’ll be focusing only on the battery life, performance and software of this laptop, leaving aside the user interface and design.

Performance is the big story, after all. AMD has been re-hashing its mainstream laptop processors for years now, and it’s showed. When we reviewed the AMD Turion II dual-core Acer Aspire 5551G last year, we found that the processor was woefully underpowered compared to the first-generation Core processors of its day. The newer Sandy Bridge Cores are even stiffer competition. AMD is certainly the underdog, but that doesn’t mean it can’t compete.

June 13, 2011 | 10:32 PM - Posted by C-Dub (not verified)

Thank you for posting this - it's a great read.

A typo - you have "The graphics portion of the Llano A8 processors is going to be marketed as the Radeon HD 6620G. If you also have a Radeon HD 6770M discrete GPU in your notebook the combined product is the Radeon HD 6775G2. The A8 6620G paired with a Radeon HD 6630M GPU will be a Radeon HD 6990G2." I believe that you mean "6690G2" rather than "6990G2". :-)

June 14, 2011 | 02:56 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Thanks, fixed!

June 14, 2011 | 03:18 AM - Posted by bro (not verified)

Youa are poorAMDfag. Dodo destroyed in every test. How can it be Gold award?

June 14, 2011 | 11:30 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

In the mobile form factor, CPU performance is less important than overall usability and battery life.

Desktop processors will have a MUCH tougher go at it.

June 14, 2011 | 04:34 PM - Posted by whodi (not verified)

You're a troll calling people fags behind a keyboard, Grow a set and get out of your parent's basement.

June 14, 2011 | 07:38 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

stupid question whats up with $2339 compared to a $600 system?
to be fair, test a sandy bridge system in the price range and not some overpriced gaming system that is NOT in the price range

you guys should also compare it to a amd based mobile phenom II and mobile athlon II laptop too

$2339 = Maingear eX-EL15

$1739 = MSI GT680R-008US

anyway, good review, very informative

June 14, 2011 | 11:31 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

We wanted to give a general overview of how Llano compared to EVERYTHING. We did include the K53/N53 for that purpose as well.

This is the same reason we through the Core i7-990X CPU in with our $200 CPU tests. People want to see those comparisons.

June 14, 2011 | 12:13 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

From the MSI GT680R onward I've started using the new PCMark 7 and 3DMark 11 benchmarks where possible instead of their older siblings. In the long run I think this is the better idea, but I've only tested the MSI and Maingear since making that switch, so they were the only laptops against which to compare.

I did try to make clear that the MSI and Maingear are MUCH more powerful machines, and the A-Series laptop performed well considering the competition.

June 14, 2011 | 09:54 AM - Posted by Tom (not verified)

Yeah, I didn't understand that either. You're pitting i7's w/ high end discrete cards against a system w/ no discrete cards on a hybrid xfire thats still be fixed up?

I'd rather see comparisons that make sense, like ya know, a stock sandybridge w/ its trash IGP vs Llano in gaming. ANyway, I can't wait to pick one of these up if the performance is there. I hope they can fix the kinks w/ the hybrid xfire so performance will be decent, or if it can allow graphics switching to its IGP and then back to the discrete for gaming.

June 14, 2011 | 09:55 AM - Posted by Tom (not verified)

Sorry for any grammar and mechanical errors in my last post, but I think you get it.

June 14, 2011 | 10:35 AM - Posted by bjv2370

nice review!

June 14, 2011 | 11:09 AM - Posted by Anoyingmouse (not verified)

The inexpensive gpu heavy platform looks like it could suit my mobile needs nicely, however I can't help but fear that its price point will mean initial design wins will feature glossy plastic and glossy 1366-768 screens and other such cheapness. Please Lenovo, Sony, Samsung, or any one else, PROVE ME WRONG...

June 14, 2011 | 04:36 PM - Posted by whodi (not verified)

nice review, I'm looking for a 600 laptop to tide me over for a couple of years.

June 17, 2011 | 11:28 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I imagine these machines will be able to do just that.

June 14, 2011 | 07:08 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Well we were promised a Giraffe and got a tapir .. Not a bad swap but it simply wont impress the Emperor.

June 15, 2011 | 12:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

anyone know if this will be able to Xfire with any Radeon? to make a Bigger and better Xfire then we saw today? I mean it was only a 6630. What if it was a 6830M with the 6620M on the A8? Will this work?

June 17, 2011 | 11:29 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Yep, it can essentially do that with "Dual Graphics" technology to speed up gaming. The feature is listed and described on page 2 I think.

June 15, 2011 | 01:14 PM - Posted by Anoyingmouse (not verified)

I believe it will only work with specific (mid range) cards. Xfire works through alternate frame rendering, so if the mismatch is too big, the faster card would be slowed down by having to wait for the slower card.

June 16, 2011 | 10:25 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Your review fails to give the average consumer--not geeks--some perspective on what this chips performance means. I will do it for you: people that can only afford one new computer for around $500 and want the portability and power efficiency of a labtop will now also have the option for entry-level gaming, somethig that was simply out of reach before. So parents, you can watch hd movies, surf the internet and run msoffice for 4hrs and beyond on one charge while your kids can borrow the labtop to play some--not all--pc games. I think AMD has a winning product for the mid to low end labtop,netbook segment.

June 17, 2011 | 11:30 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I agree with this - as new models based on this technology are released we will definitely be making these points.

June 17, 2011 | 11:29 AM - Posted by vik (not verified)

Most buyers are so fool that only know about Intel as Processor.They haven't heard of AMD in there life. So computers with AMD will increase in sale but slowly.
People consult among there friends when they need to buy a PC. If a person buying AMD pc likes it performance very much he will tell about it to his friends and only this can increase the popularity of AMD.

Also in many homes there are children who likes to play games and they will like PC with AMD.

June 17, 2011 | 11:34 AM - Posted by vik (not verified)

Benchmark here is not that good. Please compare AMD laptops with equally priced Intel Laptops. Intel laptops with i7 & Nvidia GTX 480 are very costly compared to AMD laptops.How can AMD match the performance of such costly Intel Laptops.

June 20, 2011 | 06:31 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

ASUS K53(2Core + IGP) is the biggest power eater in the Battery Eater Standard? It's strange. I think it's fitting that ASUS K53's battery life is at least longer than ASUS N53(4Core + GT 540M).

June 22, 2011 | 07:59 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Strange, but true. That was tested back in the ASUS K53E review. Battery Eater Standard + Intel HD 3000 = A quickly drained battery. I'm seeing a similar situation from another Intel HD 3000 powered laptop I'm currently testing.

July 18, 2011 | 12:14 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Do not let the past repeat itself!

Intel engaged in unfair competition by offering very large rebates to worldwide PC manufacturers and oem sellers who agreed to eliminate or limit purchases of microprocessors made by AMD.
In the 90s intel used cash over product performance to keep its lead

You can read about this in Wikipedia AMD v. Intel

October 5, 2011 | 12:11 AM - Posted by John Christmas (not verified)

The lack of battery life kills this laptop. The poor processor performance also means many will turn to laptops for better experiences. Its a shame because the rest of what this laptop offers is just fine.

October 16, 2011 | 01:39 AM - Posted by Vish (not verified)

Great write-up!
Maybe you guys can help me with this question. Suppose my laptop comes with just the AMD-A8-3510MX and the Radeon 6620G discrete-class graphics, would it be possible to add on, say, a 1GB DDR5 Radeon card to this later and still have it function as a Dual graphics? Any pointers on how I would know if the motherboard will support this.


October 28, 2011 | 02:17 AM - Posted by kathyink

This review of the AMD A-Series Llano APU Sabine Notebook Platform is good. Those who like notebooks would like the review. The photos of the notebooks look eye-catching. The charts giving details of the processor, RAM and hard drive are useful for us.

February 28, 2012 | 08:05 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

if i buy a notebook lets say samsung series 3 305V4A-S01 with a 6640g2 because it's a 6620g with a 6450 i belive can i buy an hd 6770 and put it in my notebook? would it work?

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