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AMD's Brazos platform: The benchmarks

Zacate flexes for the camera
— 11:00 PM on November 15, 2010

Exactly two weeks have passed since I got to sit down at AMD's Austin campus and benchmark a Zacate development system. You might have read about my experience, which I seasoned with some fresh insights on the Brazos platform that Zacate powers, in my first preview article on November 8.

As I explained then, AMD put a momentary moratorium on the publication of Zacate benchmarks, so the best I could offer were vague and possibly misleading comparisons... and even vaguer hints about the performance of AMD's first accelerated processing unit (APU). Well, the moratorium finally lifted tonight. I guess the headline was probably a dead giveaway, but still; we're now free to publish all of the numbers I collected in my few, brief hours of testing.

I'm not going to keep you folks waiting too long for the data—a week is a long enough time to wait. So, we're going to skip architecture and platform talk. We already provided that information in spades in the aforementioned preview article, as well as Scott's architectural overview of Bobcat. I should, however, take some time to explain the conditions of the test and lay out a few caveats, since this is one of the very rare cases where we tested neither a retail-boxed computer nor a system we had carefully configured ourselves.

Testing conditions
The misshapen contraption you see above is one of the Zacate test rigs AMD laid out for us lucky testers. Scott saw the same test chassis in San Francisco two months ago, when AMD gave an early demo of its APU running City of Heroes and Internet Explorer 9 with hardware acceleration enabled. This time, however, AMD let me use the system mostly unsupervised for several hours—enough time to run our new mobile benchmark suite, paving the way for a comparison between the Zacate system and several laptops we've reviewed so far, including the Nile-powered Toshiba Satellite T235D and a CULV 2010-based ultraportable.

AMD took care of configuring the test machine, outfitting it with the necessary cooling, peripherals, storage, display (an 11.6", 1366x768 panel), and software. Windows 7 Professional x64 was pre-installed along with a full suite of drivers and some benchmarks:

In a shocking display of rudeness toward my hosts, I pooh-pooed the included benchmarks and instead whipped out a 32GB USB thumb drive containing our mobile test suite—plus a few Steam game backups. Re-installing Windows would have been a good way to ensure a clean testing environment, but that wasn't really feasible. First, the drivers AMD had installed were pre-release versions not publicly available. And second, I had just enough time with the system to complete my testing. (To give you a rough idea, AMD handed out the keys to the preview system at around 10:00 AM, and I had to head to the airport at around 4:30 PM.)

By the way, that tight schedule also ruled out any battery life tests. Considering AMD quotes run times of at least 8.5 hours for Zacate systems, you can probably guess why.

As far as I could see, though, the Zacate test rig wasn't up to anything unusual. CPU-Z reported a 1.6GHz CPU clock speed, signaling the quickest Zacate part, and Windows 7 said it had 4GB of memory at its disposal, minus around 400MB requisitioned by the integrated GPU. AMD told us it had set up the machines with solid-state drives, and the Windows Device Manager supported this claim, announcing a 128GB Crucial RealSSD C300. That's not exactly the kind of drive you'd find on a cheap ultraportable, of course, but its fast read and write speeds proved helpful when installing benchmarks and restoring Steam backups—the clock was ticking, after all.

To sate my paranoid side, I also peeked into the Windows Task Manager and checked the process names. I encountered one service I hadn't seen before, but after discussing it with AMD, I'm now reasonably satisfied that no tomfoolery was afoot. Eventually, all the poking and prodding led way to some actual testing...