AMD A8-3850 Quad Core Desktop APU (updated July 10)

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CPU Performance, Power Consumption, & Value Analysis (GPU Adjusted)

We peg the performance of the HD 6550D (with DDR3-1600) close to that of the HD 5570 which we estimate to have an idle power draw of about 8W. If we add this to our average power consumption figures for the competition processors and recalculate the performance per watt, the A8-3850's score goes up by seven points, clearly leading the all of its AMD brethren. However, the i3-2100 still surpasses the APU by a huge margin. If our benchmarks were more biased towards threaded applications, perhaps the positions would reverse, but we feel our benchmark suite is fairly representative of typical usage patterns.

The HD 5570 retails for about US$50 and when we add this to the price-tag of the i3-2100 and the other budget AMD processors, the A8-3850's price becomes quite reasonable.

With the price adjustment, the A8-3850 moves up a couple of spots in CPU performance per dollar.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The A8-3850 APU is an impressive accomplishment, the merging of a proper quad core desktop CPU with a GPU that is very capable and easily the most powerful integrated graphics solution on the market. The central processing cores have K10 architecture, so the 2.9 GHz APU performs similarly to a Regor/Deneb based Athlon II running at 2.9~3.0 GHz. The HD 6550D graphics chip substantially outpaces Intel's best integrated GPU, the HD 3000 for Sandy Bridge even when using DDR3-1333 memory. We highly recommned DDR3-1600 memory if you plan on doing any gaming as it provides a significant increase in frame rates and in most cases is costs only a few dollars more (DDR3-1866 is another story). With 1600 MHz DIMMs, it's roughly on par with the Radeon HD 5570 which retails for about retails for about US$50. Factor in the value of the GPU, and the US$135 A8-3850 is the cheapest quad core you can buy.

Power consumption is excellent but only when the APU is not being pushed. Running on discrete graphics, the A8-3850 displays superb energy efficiency when idle and playing video, surpassing even Intel's Core i3-2100. On integrated graphics, it is similar to a Sandy Bridge CPU paired with a low-end card like the HD 5450. The improvements made in this area are overshadowed by higher energy consumption on load. When running our CPU benchmarks the system power consumption was close to that of AMD's mainstream quad core lineup — significantly worse than Intel's offerings.

As computing power in desktop PCs has outstripped most users' requirements, we can easily picture Lynx-based computers being adopted en masse by large OEMs. A quad core CPU of almost any speed has more than enough power for a regular Joe, and though the Radeon HD 6550D is slow compared to most discrete gaming cards, it offers more of a punch than the onboard graphics of any current brand name system. Brand name PC makers also like to play up the media capabilities of their machines and the new APU seems perfect in that regard. We anticipate that Sabine, the mobile version of Llano, will be a big hit as well as its integrated design will allow AMD to undercut budget/mainstream laptops with entry level NVIDIA graphics cards.

We can't picture DIY builders embracing the new FM1 socket though because of its upgrade limitations. Future FM1 APUs are unlikely to offer the kind of performance boost we're used to seeing from new desktop processors. They have to fit both a CPU and GPU on the same die after all, so faster APU models will likely be only incrementally better than their predecessors. If you decide to upgrade to a high-end standalone graphics card, the CPU portion of the APU would likely be a bottleneck, and dropping in a faster more cost effective AM3/AM3+ CPU would be impossible. For most DIY users, we expect that Lynx-based builds will never go through major changes except for drive and peripheral upgrades. This is fine for niche builds like HTPCs, but there probably isn't much appeal beyond that. If AMD had developed cross-compatibility with the upcoming Bulldozer family, the Lynx platform would be a more versatile and compelling product.

One of the driving forces behind the development of APUs is general purpose computing on graphics processing units (GPGPU). Applications that use the GPU's capabilities to augment the CPU's computational power could make great use of the reduced latency derived from the chip design consolidation. While there has been an official SDK to help develop these applications for some time, support is quite limited. We're still waiting for software writers to catch up to the technology available. In the future, this will make APUs more than simply the sum of its parts, but for the moment they're still just CPUs and GPUs sandwiched together for convenience.

Our thanks to AMD and Gigabyte for the APU and motherboard samples used in this review.

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Articles of Related Interest
Intel Core i3-2100T & Core i5-2400S Low Power CPUs
Intel Core i3-2100 vs. AMD Phenom II X2 565
Asus E35M1-M Pro: AMD Fusion Motherboard
Core i5-2400, i5-2500K and i7-2600K CPUs
Intel GMA HD 3000/2000 Graphics
AMD Athlon II X3: Affordable Compromise

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