Integration; a truly vital part of life. Consolidating multiple solutions into something optimal has its benefits in a number of applications. Take a weekend paper for example - chances are there is an interesting article for everyone. Needless to say that the concept of unifying devices in technology is nothing new; as transistor counts rise (at least) in line with Moores' law, we continually see performance improvements appearing in machines that seem to be ever shrinking. Newspapers? Forget it. Amazon's kindle? Getting there but not quite. Today's city worker is reading his Financial Times on a light and ultra thin 1080p capable tablet. Who would have thought it?
While system on chip processor designs are blowing minds in the mobile phone, entry level netbook and tablet segments, a similar evolution is stirring in the world of desktops computers. In 2009, Intel were first to market a processor package which integrates a graphics processing unit under the hood of the Core i3, i5 and i7 range. In turn this has simplified chipsets on motherboards. This however hasn't done much for the consumer. Yes, Intel finally brought full HD capabilities to entry level desktop processors but so what? This is where AMD steps in.
Annoyingly, there is normally a significant gap in performance between integrated graphics processors and many dedicated PCI-Express options; so if it happened that your needs were above and beyond Intel's HD 3xxx graphics or AMD's own 880G, you would be expected to shell out a further 50+ pounds of your valuable funds. However the game has changed with AMD's new platform - meet AMD Llano and the FM1/A75 motherboard platform.
Under the hood of AMD's new "bang per buck" 32nm processor lies something a little different. While the quad core processor design remains largely akin to the 45nm Athlon II processor, the core processor occupies a surprisingly small proportion of the overall die space. This is because the processor package incorporates a Radeon HD 6000 based GPU with 320/400 stream processors; a staggering 5x increase over the preceding motherboard based IGPs.
|AMD Athlon II X4 640 ||AMD A6-3650||AMD A8-3850|
|Core Frequency (CPU/GPU) ||3000MHz / N/A ||2600MHz / 443MHz||2900MHz / 600MHz|
|Stream Processors ||N/A||320||400|
|L2 Cache ||4 x 512kB||4 x 1MB||4 x 1MB|
|Multiplier Unlocked ||Downwards Only||Downwards Only||Downwards Only|
|Current Price ||~£70||~£85||~£100|
Considering the above table, there are currently two Llano processors available today - the A6-3650 and A8-3850. Priced similarly, they differ considerably where the former loses 80 stream processors and a trim of both GPU and CPU frequencies. We suspect that the A8-3850 will be the preferred choice amongst the vast majority.
In a nutshell, for a little more than the cost of its predecessor you can purchase a processor which comes equipped with its own GPU. But what sort of motherboard does one need? Today we will also be examining the Gigabyte A75M-UD2H. Turn over for more...
The Gigabyte A75M-UD2H
As you should have guessed, the new AMD A Series processors are only available on Socket FM1 - hence, even existing AMD users will need to purchase a new motherboard. At present most popular brands have an A75 based motherboard available to purchase between £70 and £120; today's Gigabyte A75M-UD2H is priced towards the lower end of the spectrum. With this in mind, lets see what it has to offer us.
|Motherboard Model||Gigabyte A75M-UD2H|
AMD A Series (Socket FM1) Processors
|Memory||4 x DIMM, Max. 32 GB 1866/1600/1333 DDR3|
1 x PCIe 2.0 x16
|Multi-GPU Support||Yes - 16x/4x|
|Storage||5 x SATA 6.0Gb/s|
1 x eSATA 6.0Gb/s
|Audio||Realtek ALC889 7.1|
|USB||4 x USB 2.0 (+4 additional PCI)|
2 x USB 3.0 Rear (+2 additional PCI)
|Firewire||2 x 1394 (1 x back, 1 x internal)|
|Video I/O||DVI, HDMI, VGA, Display Port|
All in all a relatively well specified motherboard. Priced at around £85, it features everything that one would usually expect on a mid range Micro ATX board. Notable mentions include Crossfire support and all 4 video input options.
Photoshoot & Initial Impressions
The packaging itself is very much in line with Gigabyte convention, including everything that one usually needs to power up their new desktop computer. This includes four SATA cables, I/O shield, manual and driver disc.
Despite being an all new platform, gigabyte retains its unique blue colour scheme.The PCB layout is workable with no real surprises as such. Towards the rear, the I/O configuration is far from lacking; most users will be satisfied by this.
Finally, the cooling system consists of well proportioned passive heatsinks. There is no reason to believe that this would not be adequate. The installation process was fault free.
Right, enough with the photography. Next up, we evaluate the raw CPU performance of AMD's new A8-3850 APU.
AMD A8-3850 Quad Core APU - 2.90GHz
Gigabyte A75M UD2H
4GB DDR3-1333 Memory
1TB Samsung F3 SATA II Drive
Windows 7 Home Premium
Be advised that overclocking can be rather hit and miss with these processors, depending on the motherboard that you purchase. At present AMD has not yet released a multiplier unlocked Black Edition processor for Socket FM1. As such, all overclocking endeavours are restricted to the HTT Base Clock only. In our case, no meaningful overclock was obtainable and so we will be proceeding with our testing process at reference clock speeds only.
AIDA Extreme Edition
Returning to its roots by re-estabilishing the AIDA name, the latest iteration of the popular benchmark suite now includes optimisations over previous editions. With this in mind, remember not to compare these results against those conducted with older Everest software.
CPU Queen is based on branch prediction and the misprediction penalties that are involved.
Right off the bat, we see a sizeable difference in performance between our quad core processors of similar core frequency. Clock for clock, it is apparent that the A8-3850 isn't much of an improvement over its older Athlon II X4 sibling.
PhotoWorxx as the name may suggest tests processors by means of invoking functions that are common to Photo Manipulation including Fill, Flip, Crop, Rotate, Difference and Colour to B&W conversion.
Here we can exhibit the operations that Sandy Bridge processors really seem to excel at, where our A8-3850 is left for dead.
This is an integer based benchmark that will test the CPU and Memory by means of the CPU ZLib compression library.
The gap narrows considerably in our data compression test. An additional cryptography benchmark based on the AES standard would have been included, but given that the AMD lacks the AES accelerating instruction set, the i5 2300 beats it by hilarious margins; it simply wasn't worth including.
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC.
The CPU arithmetic test ascertains the processor's capabilities in terms of numerical operations. Two subtests named Dhrystone and Whetstone are carried out respectively. This is not a measure of latency and thus higher is better.
Clock for clock, it is immediately apparent that the A8-3850 isn't much of an improvement over its older Athlon II X4 sibling. Do bear in mind however that the Core i5 2300 is some 30% more expensive. That said, it is also clear that from a CPU perspective, a further 30-40 pounds can go a long way.
Without doubt, onboard cpu cache bandwidth is very fast indeed, but will our Core i5 2300 processor perform any differently between the two motherboards?
A similar story is painted with cache bandwidth. The AMD's score is far from abysmal, mind.
SiSoft Sandra offers both memory bandwidth and latency based benchmarks. It is quite possible that architectural tweaks will have made a significant impact in terms of both throughput and latency.
A major observation of the LGA1155 Sandy Bridge processors, which we reviewed in January was that they produce exceptional memory bandwidth results despite using a dual channel system. The new FM1 platform simply cannot match this at default frequencies however the results are very much in line with the Socket AM3 family.
Again, another loss in the memory department; nothing major to worry about however.
Multimedia & Gaming Benchmarks
PCMark7 is a very recent multimedia benchmark from Futuremark. Designed for Windows 7, it is ideal for the purposes of our testing. Like its predecessors, it tasks all core components of the computer. The Processor, GPU, RAM and HDD/SSD appear to have a significant bearing on the scores that follow.
By all means, these are very respectable scores. While our Core i5 2300 was not in hand for this test, it is known that the obtained score is roughly around the same ballpark, if a little lower than a comparable i5 configuration. PCMark 7 does appear to benefit from having more CPU grunt on tap and this is where a Core i5 setup would cover the gains that the AMD A8-3850 would otherwise gain from the Video/Gaming related benchmarks.
Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
We all know 3DMark Vantage for the reliable benchmark measure that it tends to be. It is hoped that this application will fully leverage the A8-3850 for what its worth.
It certainly did. While it identifies the AMD's core processing limitations, it also backs up claims that the A8-3850's 400 stream GPU will allow it to perform considerably better overall.
Far Cry 2
But how exactly does this AMD APU fair in real life gaming? Far Cry 2 is certainly not the latest gaming sensation however it remains to be a reliable measure for GPU performance.
The results are not bad at all. With image settings cranked up and copious amounts of Anti Aliasing, the game was surprisingly playable. Aside some stuttering when the whole gaming environment is engulfed with explosions, the fluidity was generally quite playable overall.
Unfortunately the same can't be said at 1080p resolutions. It is clear that some more GPU grunt and some dedicated graphics memory is required to really deal with 1920x1080 and above.
Call of Duty : Black Ops
CoD:Black Ops, a very popular FPS is another ideal benchmark for our A8-3850 APU.
With all settings cranked up, the game play was not particularly fluid. It goes without saying that a dedicated graphics card is necessary to really play this game to its fullest potential.
The clouds of slideshow doom lift, where average framerates rise to a more sensible average of ~33fps. While the game is now playable, we're a little dubious as to whether this would suit many gamers. At this stage, it is beginning to look as though the Radeon HD 65xx based graphics is being constricted by a lack of dedicated memory.
Aliens vs Predator
Given how the A8-3850 began to crumble at higher game settings in both Far Cry 2 and Call of Duty : Black Ops, we didn't have much hope for Direct X 11 hit, Aliens vs Predator. Regardless, we felt that it might be worth a try.
Want to play AVP without a dedicated graphics card? Forget it.
Stalker : Call of Pripyat
We will conclude our testing with Stalker using both High and Low in game settings.
Its really not happening, here. It was however to be expected as Stalker is by no means the easiest game to tame.
Lowering in game settings improved the situation however the fluidity was still a little weak for our liking.
While our gaming test results seem poor, please do not lose sight of the fact that this was tested with an Integrated Graphics Processor with absolutely no dedicated memory. Given that in most cases, minimum frame rates were well over double figures in these recent gaming releases, we can only be impressed.
Time to wrap up! Thoughts?
Let us start with the processor. On face value, what we have here is a package with performance that is roughly comparable to the AMD Athlon II X4 series that precedes it. For a 2011 release, this is arguably a little mediocre for a quad core processor but then again its list price reflects its performance accordingly. As already shown, the A8-3850 APU really comes into its own in games and other GPU accelerated media. Needless to say, you will need to pair your Core i3/i5 processor with a Radeon HD 6500 series graphics card or similar in order to outpace the AMD Llano APU. Moreover, one could expect further gains in multimedia performance by overclocking the integrated GPU. At around £100, the processor itself represents good value for entry/middle range multimedia and home theater desktop computers.
Next up is a final word on Gigabyte's A75M-UD2H. As a Micro ATX solution, it is ideal for those who wish to build a compact multimedia/home theater computer. Its performance was certainly in line with our expectations and on the whole it delivered as promised. Its overclocking abilities appeared somewhat limited in our sample; this could be a significant consideration for many of you.
In terms of price, the A75M-UD2H sits at around £85, which is about average for current FM1 socket releases. We do however find this quite alarming.
Today, if you wanted to build a low cost Intel Core i3/i5 machine, you would be looking at Intel's H61 and H67 chipset families, where motherboards are priced from £40 and £60 respectively. Admittedly the offerings towards the lower end of the price spectrum aren't particularly feature rich but for many, CrossfireX, elaborate heatsinks and power management is not all that necessary. The message that I hope to convey is that in purchasing a Socket FM1 system, you are buying into AMD's budget and mid-range platform. As such, you would be mad to spend 990FX or P67 money in this category. Do not forget that the A8-3850's GPU is compensating for the quad core processor's limitations; introduce dedicated graphics cards and Sandy Bridge processors will eat Llano for breakfast.
Overall, there is a lot to like about both the A8-3850 and the A75M-UD2H. As a whole, you can expect it to have an edge over a basic Core i3/i5 system for certain home usage such as video/basic gaming. However do not lose sight of the platform's limitations. AMD Fusion is certainly not a one size fits all solution for all.
- Excellent integrated GPU performance
- Good motherboard layout
- Processor pricing
- Motherboard pricing
- Core Processor Performance
Thanks to AMD and Gigabyte for the samples on test today, you can discuss your thoughts in our forums.