New hardware is exciting. New hardware that represents a dramatic shift in the future of computing is a rare thing. It happened with the introduction of the GPU, then multi-core CPUs, and it is happening now with AMD’s Fusion architecture. Our first look at Fusion was in the Sapphire PURE Fusion E-350 review, and now the second member of the Fusion architecture, codenamed Llano, has been released.
Llano itself is divided into two families: the desktop version is codenamed Lynx, while Sabine is the mobile version. Lynx is the focus for this review.
The AMD Llano APU features updated Phenom II CPU cores manufactured on a 32nm process. Each core has received an increase in its L2 cache from 512K to 1MB per core, which should compensate for the lack of L3 cache in some tasks that benefit from a larger cache.
AMD has dubbed the on-die GPU as “Fusion GPU”. They don’t like using the term IGP for Llano because of the terrible reputation that class of graphics has earned. In addition to promising desktop performance, the Fusion GPU can be paired with certain AMD Radeon HD 6000-series discrete GPUs to further improve gaming performance using Dual-Graphics.
By now, most of the major manufacturers have socket FM1 boards available at a good range of prices and with an equally good range of features.
Our review parts, provided by AMD, are the A8-3850 APU and a Gigabyte A75M-UD2H motherboard. Both parts are actual production units and not engineering samples, so results here will be similar to those of other similarly-equipped systems.
- Model: A8-3850
- Cores: 4
- Speed: 2.9GHz
- TurboCORE: No
- L2: 4MB
- L3: none
- Max RAM support: DDR3-1833, 1.5V maximum
- Model: Radeon HD 6550D
- Configuration: 400:20:8 (Unified Shaders:Texture Mapping Units:Render Output Units)
- Speed: 600MHz
- TDP: 100 watts
The A8-3850 doesn’t support AMD’s TurboCORE, which is similar to Intel’s TurboBoost in that it increases clock speeds when one or more CPU cores is idle. This isn’t really a bad thing though, because its base speed already exceeds that of lower models’ turbo frequencies (lower models do support TurboCORE). There isn’t a Black Edition currently available for the A-series APUs, though that may change in the future. As such, unlocked multipliers aren’t available for any existing A-series APU. Any overclocking will have to be done through raising the bus speeds. Again, not a big deal—it appears that others have had pretty good success in overclocking the A8-3850. The GPU naming seems to be pretty well in line with the rest of AMD’s desktop GPU designations—it sits just below the HD 6570 for its hardware configuration and speed (the HD 6570 is 480:24:8 with 650/1000MHz speeds for GPU/RAM).
- Socket: F1
- Chipset: A75
- Memory: 4x 1.5V DDR3-1866 (max 32GB)
- Display outputs: One each of VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, and DisplayPort
- Audio: Realtek ALC889, 7.1-channels
- LAN: Realtek RTL8111E Gigabit
- Expansion slots:
- 1x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot
- 1x PCI Express2.0 x16 slot running at x4
- 1x PCI Express2.0 x1 slot
- 1x PCI slot
- SATA 6 Gbps ports: 5
- eSATA 6Gbps ports: 1
- USB 2.0 ports: up to 8 (4 on back panel, 4 through internal headers)
- USB 3.0 ports: up to 4 (2 on back panel, 2 through internal header)
- IEEE 1394 (FireWire) ports: up to 2 (6-pin port on back panel, one port through internal header)
- Form factor: MicroATX
Gigabyte doesn’t have a true EFI solution in any of their socket FM1 motherboards right now. Their motherboards use what Gigabyte calls a “hybrid EFI BIOS” which basically means it uses a normal BIOS, but supports 3TB+ hard drives through a workaround programmed into the BIOS.
The second PCI Express x16 slot is limited to x4 bandwidth, so any devices plugged into this slot may have performance throttled if they expect more lanes to be available.
Most of the Socket FM1 boards lack SATA II ports—it’s all SATA III, even the eSATA port. This is likely to be the case from now on since the Fusion Controller Hub (FCH) supports SATA III for all ports and performance isn’t compromised by plugging a slower device into a faster port.
Supported DDR3 voltage has been reduced to 1.5V, down from the usual 1.65V, so make sure your memory complies. DDR3-1866 speeds can only be achieved when two memory sticks are used—DDR3-1600 is the max when all four slots are occupied.
The display outputs support a maximum resolution of 2560×1600 for DVI-D (dual-link) and DisplayPort and 1920×1080 for HDMI. The DVI port does not support DVI-VGA adapters. Up to two of the display outputs may be used at once, though the DisplayPort should support a DisplayPort hub when those are released. Also of note is that the integrated graphics do not support display hotplugging—meaning you’ll have to turn the computer off to change plugs. AMD is looking into a fix for this, so hopefully it’ll change soon through either a BIOS change or driver update.
Dual-Graphics (CrossfireX) is supported using the APU’s graphics and another Radeon HD 6000-series GPU. To use it, the discrete GPU’s performance must be between 0.5x and 3x the APU’s graphics, otherwise Dual-Graphics will be disabled. Supported GPU models come from the HD 6300 through HD 6600 series, and result in a new name. For example, the A8-3850′s GPU is a Radeon HD 6550D. If it is combined with an HD 6670, you get an HD 6690D2. Due to time constraints, testing all the possible combinations wasn’t feasible.
The USB ports use On/Off Charge Technology, which allows charging of USB devices when the computer is turned off. This works pretty well, although certain devices require the computer to be turned on when initially connecting the device for “off-state” charging to occur.
I’ve pulled in the numbers from the Athlon II x4 645 for comparison. Those results were obtained from the previous AMD benchmarking system, and not all of the current tests were run on that platform. As you’ll also see, the hardware isn’t quite as similar as I’d like it to be, especially in the GPU department, so any testing that relies on GPU performance won’t be an apples-to-apples comparison.
The GPU’s memory allocation was left at the default 512MB RAM.
|A8-3850 (2.9GHz)||Athlon II x4 645 (3.1GHz)|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte A75M-UD2H||Gigabyte MA790FXT-UD5P|
|Heatsink||Noctua NH-D14||Noctua NH-D14|
|Storage||OCZ Vertex 2||Western Digital Caviar Blue 7200RPM|
|GPU||Radeon HD 6550D (on-board)
Radeon HD 6670 (for dual-graphics)
|Radeon HD 4850|
|RAM||4GB DDR3-1600 (512MB reserved for the GPU, 3.5GB available)||4GB DDR3-1600|
|PSU||Thermaltake EvoBLue 550W||Thermaltake EvoBLue 550W|
Power and Heat
The APU temperatures couldn’t be measured correctly with existing software tools—either that or AMD has a great new air conditioning system, as under a 100% CPU load for two hours, the tools would report temperatures below ambient temperatures.
For a desktop CPU, the A8-3850 sips power. It doesn’t hurt that there’s no discrete GPU involved, but even under video encoding (which leaves a discrete GPU alone), the A8-3850 system draws less power than either the 890FX or P67 systems. Gaming sessions (described later on) will use significantly less power thanks to the lack of a separate GPU.
The Fusion GPU won’t set any overall records here, but it wasn’t intended to be a benchmark giant. It’s ok though. The A8-3850′s Radeon HD 6550D does have the distinction of holding the top spot in “non-discrete” graphics performance for all of Futuremark’s suites.
3DMark Vantage tests mainly gaming capability, and the A8-3850′s CPU performance is right in line with the Athlon II CPU (where the GPU is not a factor). Keep in mind there’s a 200MHz speed advantage to the Athlon II, meaning at equivalent speeds the A8 should be at least as fast, if not faster.
PCMark Vantage, aimed more at overall system performance than the 3DMark line, shows the A8-3850 holding a moderate to significant gain over the Athlon II system in every test. The odd HDD test score is due to the Athlon’s use of a mechanical disk versus the SSD now used for benchmarking.
A system with an A8-3850 should perform well for most everyday tasks according to PCMark 7.
SiSoft Sandra 2011
Sandra shows us that the A8-3850 trails the Athlon II in raw numbers for both general arithmetic and multimedia instructions, but when scaled up to the same speed, performance is very close for both integer and multimedia performance.
Cache, on the other hand, shows the A8-3850 holds a decent improvement over the Athlon II, even at its slower speed. Neither CPU has an L3 cache, hence the zero score.
(The Athlon II had erroneous data in the Multimedia Integer test, hence the zero score)
Again, the difference here is the operating frequency. Bringing the A8-3850 to the same speeds should produce an identical result to the Athlon II.
The DirectCompute DC test numbers are a bit strange. It’s not a typo either. That’s the actual reported score. The Core i7 2600K and Phenom II X6 1100T numbers are provided for reference here only to show just how weird the scores are. I’ve contacted AMD and they’re looking into things, but as of publishing time there isn’t an explanation.
The one test aside, the A8-3850 does a decent job in DirectCompute testing. Its performance isn’t nearly as good as an enthusiast-grade GPU or our higher-end CPUs, but it can still handle some moderate DirectCompute tasks.
Fun fact: if you scale the A8-3850′s speed and core count to equal the Phenom II 1100T (2.9/3.3GHz and 4/6 cores, respectively), on paper the A8-3850 would score 52.06 to the X6 1100T’s 54.9 on the CPU test.
PCMark Vantage Disk Suite
The A75 chipset’s controller handles the OCZ Vertex 2 quite well—it certainly outperforms the 890FX controller, and even keeps pace with the P67 controller.
Everyone gets a turn at the front of the CrystalDiskMark read test, but again the A75 performs as well as the Intel P67 and (in most cases) better than the 890FX platforms.
AS-SSD presents a worst-case scenario with very uncompressible data. It narrows the performance gap on all three chipsets significantly, but overall it’s still the same story—A75/P67 chipsets trade the top spot, leaving the 890FX mostly taking last place, though not by much. In fact, these results would probably look identical to most users.
Atto Disk Benchmark shows off the speeds a storage device is capable of. Thanks to some highly compressible data, Atto shows off a best-case scenario for SSDs.
Reading 4K blocks and writing 2k blocks (and smaller) favors the 890FX platform, but once those sizes are passed the results become much closer. In fact, reading 8k and above (32k for writing) is a virtual tie among all three platforms—the difference between first and last is less than 4%. The A75 is certainly able to keep up with the other chipsets.
Cinebench R11.5 tests rendering on both the CPU and GPU. The CPU test renders a 3D scene and utilizes all cores/threads available. The GPU test renders a complex 3D car chase scene using OpenGL.
Considering the A8-3850′s GPU is handling the Cinebench OpenGL test at about 2/3 the speed of a Radeon HD 4850, the scores are pretty impressive. The CPU side also handles its business quite well, scoring a near-tie with the faster Athlon II x4 645.
For transcoding we use Handbrake build svn3758, taking The Matrix from two sources (Blu-ray and DVD) to H.264-encoded .m4v files. The Blu-ray source is used to produce content at both its native 1080p and 720p, while the DVD source is used for DVD quality (720×480).
Media encoding looks like one of the A8-3850′s strong points. It’s certainly faster than an Athlon II and provides real-time encoding for 720p. Not bad at all.
LAME’s command-line MP3 encoder will be used for this test. The test CD will be converted using these settings: 256kbps q0 VBR MP3. This conversion process demonstrates single-core efficiency.
The A8-3850 is pretty good for MP3 encoding—about ten percent faster than the Athlon II.
For this CPU-intensive task, a large group of files will be compressed into a .rar archive using maximum compression: approximately 1GB test involving files of various sizes. Times will be reported in seconds.
5m 28s seconds isn’t bad for compressing over 1GB of files.
Instead of the normal gaming benchmarks, which don’t always show real gaming performance, the best playable settings will be presented for each of the games in our benchmarking suite. As much information as possible is presented about the settings used and the results, but not all games report the same performance information—some only list an average frame rate.
Crysis: Warhead – 33.35/58.02/46.50 fps (min/max/avg) @ 1920×1080, Performance settings, 8xAA
Metro 2033 – 31.33 fps average @ 1280×720, low quality, AAA Antialiasing, 4xAF, DOF off
Aliens vs Predator – 38.5 fps average @ 1280×720, Texture Quality high, Shadows off, 4xAF, SSAO off, DX11 Tessellation on, DX11 Advanced Shadows off, DX11 MSAA off
H.A.W.X. – 43 fps average @ 1920×1080, 8xAA
H.A.W.X. 2 – 30 fps average @ 1920x1080x, 0xAA, all other settings on/high
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II – 22.27 fps average @ 1920×1080, High settings
Batman Arkham Asylum – 25/56/43 fps (min/max/avg) @ 1920×1080, High quality, 0xAA
Lost Planet 2 – 38.1 fps @ 1920×1080, 0xAA, Motion Blur off, Shadow Detail off, Texture Detail low, Rendering Level low, DX11 Features off
These results are mind blowing. Why? The playable settings are only using the Radeon HD 6650D built into the A8-3850 APU. There was no traditional GPU in this system during testing.
As a general guideline, it looks like most non-DirectX 11 titles will run well in some form at 1920×1080 while DirectX 11 titles (with those features turned on) can handle 1280×720. Dropping to 1680×1050 didn’t make a difference in playable settings in cases where frame rates were an issue. Still, that’s impressive for a system without an add-in GPU.
Gaming with AMD Dual-Graphics
The SAPPHIRE Radeon HD 6670 was reviewed a while back, and it just happens to be the highest-powered GPU that can be used with AMD’s Dual-Graphics. Think of Dual-Graphics as kind of an asymmetrical Crossfire—this is one of the few cases where the first two numbers of GPU model don’t have to match. When AMD’s Dual-Graphics mode is combined with a Radeon HD 6670, the GPU designation changes slightly to a Radeon HD 6690D2.
Dual-Graphics is very easy to set up. Install the Catalyst Control Center (included in the driver package) and Catalyst Application Profiles (separate download), and you’re set for CrossfireX. The display should be plugged into the motherboard video ports—the ports on the GPU will work, but nothing will be displayed until Windows and its drivers are loaded (this may be fixed in a future BIOS/driver update).
What I’d hope to see is at least a moderate boost in performance over the Radeon HD 6670′s performance—more than just an increase to the average frame rate. Hopefully some settings can be raised to improve the visual quality over what the HD6670 can do on its own.
Dual-Graphics is available for DirectX 10 and 11 games only. DirectX 9 games will not be able to take advantage of the technology.
Please also note that the Radeon HD 6670 results were run on the 890FX platform with a Phenom II 1100T.
Crysis: Warhead (DX10)
- HD 6550D: 33.35/58.02/46.50 fps (min/max/avg) @ 1920×1080, Performance settings, 8xAA
- HD 6670: 30fps min, 44fps avg @ 1920×1080, Mainstream, 8xFSAA
- HD 6690D2: 30.94fps min, 52.51fps avg @ 1920×1080, Mainstream, 8xFSAA
Dual graphics just couldn’t handle the increase to Gamer quality settings. What we’re left with, though is a solid boost in the average frame rate.
Metro 2033 (DX11)
- HD 6550D: 31.33 fps average @ 1280×720, low quality, AAA Antialiasing, 4xAF, DOF off
- HD 6670: 33fps avg @ 1920×1080, DirectX 11, Low quality, AAA Antialiasing, 4xAF, PhysX off, DOF disabled
- HD 6690D2: 32fps @ avg 1920×1080, DirectX 11, Medium quality, AAA Antialiasing, 4xAF, PhysX off, DOF disabled
Using Dual-Graphics provides quite an improvement to the settings under the Fusion GPU—enough to increase the resolution and overall quality settings to beyond the HD 6670′s capabilities.
Aliens vs Predator (DX11)
- HD 6550D: 38.5 fps average @ 1280×720, Texture Quality high, Shadows off, 4xAF, SSAO off, DX11 Tessellation on, DX11 Advanced Shadows off, DX11 MSAA off
- HD 6670: (missing)
- HD 6690D2: 32.6 fps average @ 1920×1080, Texture Quality medium, Shadows off, 1xAF, SSAO on, DX11 Tessellation on, DX11 Advanced Shadows off, DX11 MSAA 4xAA
While the settings for the Radeon HD 6670 are missing, the charts from its review showed 1920×1080 wasn’t playable even at lowest settings. Dual-Graphics certainly makes a difference here, allowing a higher resolution as well as enabling the use of several visual quality improvements.
- HD 6550D: 43 fps average @ 1920×1080, 8xAA
- HD 6670: 82fps @ 1920×1080, 8xAA
- HD 6690D2: 47fps @ 1920×1080, 8xAA
No change to settings here, but to be fair, they’re already maxed out. The only thing to see here is a boost to the average frame rate over the HD 6550D. This game is very CPU-bound, and it’s important to keep in mind the higher numbers on the discrete GPU are from a much more powerful CPU.
H.A.W.X. 2 (DX11)
- HD 6550D: 30 fps average @ 1920x1080x, 0xAA, all other settings on/high
- HD 6670: 34 fps average @ 1920×1080, 8xAA, all other settings on/high
- HD 6690D2: 46 fps average @ 1920x1080x, 8xAA, all other settings on/high
Moving to Dual-Graphics provides a much higher average frame rate than the HD 6670 by itself. The big difference between Dual-Graphics and the HD 6550D is the 50% frame rate gain while adding 8x antialiasing at the same time.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II (DX10)
- HD 6550D: 22.27 fps average @ 1920×1080, High settings
- HD 6670: 11fps min, 32fps avg @ 1920×1080, Ultra settings
- HD 6690D2: 19.96 fps average @ 1920×1080, Ultra settings
Settings can be increased to ultra, which is the maximum. This is one of two tested games that doesn’t benefit to the point of performing better than the HD 6670 by itself on a more powerful system.
Batman Arkham Asylum (DX9/10)
- HD 6550D: 25 fps min, 43 fps avg @ 1920×1080, High quality, 0xAA
- HD 6670: 36fps min, 55fps avg @ 1920×1080, Very High settings, 8xAA
- HD 6690D2: 25fps min, 46fps avg @ 1920×1080, Very High settings, 8xAA
Batman is the other game with results below those of the HD 6670. There’s still an improvement over the HD 6550D—enough to allow maximum settings at a playable frame rate.
Lost Planet 2 (DX10/11)
- HD 6550D: 38.1 fps @ 1920×1080, 0xAA, Motion Blur off, Shadow Detail off, Texture Detail low, Rendering Level low, DX11 Features off
- HD 6670: 33fps @ 1920×1080, 2x AA, Motion Blur on, Shadow detail Low, Texture Detail low, Rendering Level middle, DX11 features low
- HD 6690D2: 41.1 fps @ 1920×1080, 8x AA, Motion Blur on, Shadow detail middle, Texture Detail high, Rendering Level middle, DX11 features low
The visual quality of Lost Planet 2 is really improved here. Every setting gets an increase over the A8′s on-die GPU, and there’s a very good improvement over the HD 6670D thanks to Dual-Graphics.
The MSRP for the A8-3850 is $135. Newegg currently sells it for $139.99 along with the A6-3650 for $119.99 (both with free shipping).
Motherboard prices range from $70 up to $140 depending on manufacturer, form factor, and features. The Gigabyte board provided for this review is $99.99 plus shipping and is definitely worth the cost.
AMD’s goal for overall cost for a Llano-based system is $600-699. That’s certainly a realistic target. A close approximation of the build for this review’s test environment leads to the following build cost:
- AMD A8-3850: $140
- Gigabyte A75M-UD2H: $100
- 4GB DDR3-1600: $37
- 550W 80+ rated modular PSU: $70
- NZXT Beta Evo: $36 + $5 shipping
- Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit OEM): $100
That’s $488 for parts (shipping included), which leaves up to $212 for better parts or other peripherals (keyboard, mouse, speakers, display). If you have another $97 in your budget for a Radeon HD 6670, you’ll even have an even better gaming experience on more modern games.
AMD A8-3850 APU
The AMD A-series APU is definitely a game changer (no pun intended). These APUs are capable of playing games at decent resolutions with a playable frame rate without the addition of a PCI-Express GPU. Gaming wasn’t a reasonable expectation for any system with onboard graphics until Llano was released.
Put simply, the APU has changed what should be expected from a $500-600 system.
The CPU side is not a powerhouse nor is it intended to be—that is the job of the upcoming FX series of processors. The A8-3850 is targeted at the mainstream computing segment. That group buys a computer for everyday tasks, with light gaming as an afterthought (if it is even a consideration). For that group, the new APU is perfect. Performance is at least on par with the Athlon II x4 645, which was last year’s top mainstream part. In some cases, the CPU improvements have made it faster at a lower clock speed.
GPU performance is leaps and bounds beyond any integrated graphics solution. Adding a Radeon HD 6670 for Dual-Graphics almost universally enhances the playing experience with DirectX 10 and 11 games.
There are two categories of system builders to whom I’d recommend the AMD A8-3850:
The first is to the HTPC builder. After seeing the HTPC capability of Brazos in my own setup (which is fantastic BTW), Llano only serves to improve things further. Hardware decoding support for everything a discrete GPU supports definitely helps to reduce the system cost.
The second is the budget gamer. The A8-3850 is sufficient for modern gaming on its own, so the immediate cost to put a gaming system together is significantly reduced. Later, when more money is available, a separate GPU can be added to further improve playable settings. Since the CPU is not as important gaming a factor as the GPU, the later upgrade will likely satisfy any resolution increase or eye candy desires.
For those two groups, the AMD A8-3850 APU is the absolute best thing out there. High performance system builders will want to wait for AMD’s FX processors (a.k.a. Bulldozer/Zambezi), but everyone else should at least give the A8 series APUs a look for their computing needs. It is hereby named an Icrontic Outstanding Product.
The Gigabyte A75M-UD2H is an excellent motherboard. The only thing missing is the use of a true EFI instead of the now-ancient BIOS. Other than that, the features are good, and the price is great. The A75M-UD2H is also named an Icrontic Outstanding Product.