AMD A8-3850 APU Review: Llano Hits the Desktop
Years ago AMD took a leap of faith that surprised many: they purchased the popular graphics chip manufacturer ATI. Soon after that purchase the reason behind AMD’s action became apparent: a new class of processors would be created based off of an architecture called Fusion. The goal of Fusion would be to create a mutually beneficial synergy between x86 CPU cores and a graphics processing engine in order to benefit from each design’s strengths. Remember, this initiative was announced years ago and the market has been eagerly awaiting the fruits of AMD’s labor ever since.
We have already seen the release of AMD’s first line of Accelerated Processing units (or APUs) in the form of the Brazos platform. Consisting of the Ontario and Zacate APUs, this platform is targeted towards the entry level mobile and desktop markets but has proven to be extremely popular nonetheless.
The Llano series of APUs was next with the launch of the Sabine mobile platform which is now being followed by the desktop Lynx platform. A typical Lynx platform will consist of the A8, A6, A4 and E2 series of Accelerated Processing Units along with FM1-socket equipped A55 and A75 motherboards. For those of you wondering, this new FM1 socket isn’t compatible with past AMD processors.
What AMD has done with the Llano series of processors is combine a number of items onto a single die. Much like Intel did starting with Lynnfield, the typical functions of the Northbridge (PCI-E functionality, the socket to southbridge interconnect, etc.) have been incorporated into the APU. A native quad core CPU along with a dedicated DX11 graphics core have also been added to a 32nm die that only measures 228 sq.mm.
Initially AMD will be releasing two A-series quad core processors without AMD’s Turbo Core Technology called the A8-3850 and A6-3650. Alongside the 3850 and 3650 will be a pair of APUs sans the xx50 branding that support Turbo Core but will make do with clock speed reductions in order to reach a lower TDP. All of these processors feature 4MB of L2 Cache (1MB per core), support for 1866Mhz DDR3 and Dual Graphics (more on this in an upcoming section). For the purposes of this initial review, we will be looking at the A8-3850.
The main differentiating factor between the A8 and A6 series is the graphics co-processor installed onto the APU die. With the A8 APUs there’s a 400 core, 600Mhz HD 6550D included while the A6 uses a HD 6530D sporting 320 cores and lower clock speeds AMD describes a “Discrete-Class GPU Experience” for these Llano APUs but remember, there are many different levels of discrete GPUs and a mere 320-400 Radeon cores won’t be enough for most experienced gamers.
Closer to the lower end of the market, an A4-3400 will make its way into AMD’s lineup. This budget friendly APU is essentially half of an A6-3650 with two processor cores, slightly higher clock speeds, a cut down GPU core, 1MB of L2 cache (512KB per core), a lack of Turbo Core and devoid of official 1866Mhz memory support. It also boasts an impressive TDP of just 65W support but retains compatibility with AMD’s Dual Graphics technology.
Finally we have the E2-3200 which will begin its assault on the entry level desktop market within a few weeks and will be directly targeting Intel’s entry level Pentium series. With two cores, lower clock speeds and a lack of Dual Graphics support, it brings up the tail end of AMD’s Lynx platform but it will likely be highly appealing for HTPC users.
As we have come to expect from them, AMD is targeting their new APUs towards some highly affordable price points. The A8-3850 APU will hit a retail price of around $135 USD which puts it up against Intel’s Core i3 2100, 2105 and even i3 2120. The A6 processor meanwhile will be priced somewhere between $100 and $115. What really makes Llano stand out though is the fact that it is a tremendous value. $135 for the top-end A8-3850 is a great deal when you consider that it is packing a GPU that would easily retail for $50-60.
Intel realized the need for higher performance onboard graphics and their current generation of Sandy Bridge processors has taken a drastic step forward in this respect. AMD’s Fusion Accelerated Processing Units (or APUs) are actually aiming to one-up Intel in a number of areas but it remains to be seen whether they have what it takes to become market leaders.
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