AMD A8-3850 APU Review: Llano Hits the Desktop

Author: MAC
Date: June 29, 2011
Product Name: AMD A8-3850
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And here comes to a close a review that seemed like it would never come. AMD has been touting Llano and Fusion in general for what seems like an eternity, and we are very happy to have a final product in our hands. Unlike the low wattage Brazos platform which never really piqued our enthusiast interest, the Lynx platform is definitely worthy of our attention.

The chip that we took a look at today, the $135 A8-3850, really stands out as a phenomenal bargain. It is not going to set any records in CPU benchmarks, but it is the new golden standard when it comes to IGPs. Take a look at these two tables to see what we mean:

The natural competitor for the A8-3850 is the dual-core/four-thread Core i3-2100 series, which headlines as Intel's mainstream-level Sandy Bridge offerings. As luck would have it, we just happened to have a Core i3-2120 on hand. This little Intel chip retails for $150, which is a little more expensive than AMD's top-end APU, but it nevertheless allows us to see what the strengths and weaknesses of each processor family is.

There's no reason to beat around the bush here, the "Stars" K10.5 cores simply cannot compete with the newer Sandy Bridge microarchitecture when it comes to lightly threaded applications. The Llano chip does occasionally score the odd victory thanks to its four native cores, but even those victories are often by a very slight amount. To make matters worse, in all of our gaming benchmarks it was a slaughter in favour of the Sandy Bridge processor, but only when using a discrete GPU.

When we benchmarked the integrated GPU's, Llano's raison d'Ítre became crystal clear. The Radeon HD 6550D graphics solution that AMD have embedded in the A8-series leaves in the dust anything that Intel have produced so far in the IGP realm. The A8-3850 had on average 80% higher frame rates than the Core i3-2120. If we increased the Llano's memory frequency from DDR3-1333 to DDR3-1866, we could have easily realized a further 15% framerate improvement. This synergy between the GPU and CPU that has been personified in AMD's APUs is becomingly increasingly important as software manufacturers begin harnessing the parallel processing horsepower of modern graphics architectures. While there was once only a handful of GPU-accelerated programs available, now everyday programs like Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer and Flash can benefit from GPU acceleration.

Still not good enough for you? With the new Dual Graphics feature, AMD is allowing users to augment the integrated graphics processor with an entry-level discrete card for increased performance. Now currently this feature is hit or miss due to driver inconsistencies but when it worked, there was a noticeable framerate increase across the board. We wouldn't bank on Dual Graphics being an integral part of the Lynx platform but it could be an excellent way to upgrade in the future without spending too much money.

If you're building a new budget-friendly system from scratch that will be used for medium-level gaming, HD movie watching or a long list of other seemingly benign tasks, this new Lynx platform is a no-brainer. The A8-3850 is a terrific all-in-one chip that provides unmatched value when you consider that the integrated GPU is truly equal to a $50 graphics card. Intel's lower-end Sandy Bridge models are absolutely faster in CPU-centric benchmarks, but when you take an overall look it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Llano's graphics capabilities more than makes up for its processing shortcomings. In other words, whereas most users likely will not notice that the A8-3850 is slightly slower than another processor in 2D applications, they will notice that it has much better framerates, decoding abilities and GPU computing performance. To us, that equates to a better overall computing experience.


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