Wow, we have much work to do in order to make sense of a tremendous amount of test data. Let's start by considering CPU performance by itself—without graphics, that is—in the context of one our famous value scatter plots.
As a CPU alone, the A8-3850 isn't bad, but it isn't exactly a revelation, either. Both the Core i3-2100 and the Phenom II X4 840 are slightly faster overall in our CPU test suite, and either one will set you back a little bit less than the A8-3850's $135 asking price.
Add in the question of power efficiency, and the contrasts grow starker. The A8-3850 is very efficient at idle, especially versus comparable 45-nm AMD processors like the Phenom II X4 840. The A8-3850's peak power draw under load, though, is dramatically higher than the Core i3-2100's (and is comparable to the Phenom II X4 840's.) That difference in TDPs, from 65W for the Core i3 to 100W for the A8, is for real. In order to approach the performance of the Core i3-2100's dual Sandy Bridge cores, AMD had to push four of its cores to the hairy end of the voltage curve.
If there is a saving grace for Llano on the desktop, it's got to be the performance of its integrated graphics processor. We didn't factor IGP speeds into the value plot above, but if you saw the last few pages, you know that it's no contest—Llano's graphics are over twice as fast as the Intel HD 3000. As we saw in our review of the mobile Llano, the difference between these IGPs is often the difference between playability and futility. Llano's combination of superior IGP hardware and real Radeon drivers simply ends the conversation about which graphics solution is best.
We asked a couple of questions about CPUs and IGPs at the end of our review of the mobile Llano. First, we wondered whether mobile CPUs had grown sufficiently fast that additional performance didn't count for much. Second, we wondered whether integrated graphics solutions were ever fast enough to add real value. Our answers to those questions led us to give a provisional thumbs up to the mobile version of Llano.
On the desktop, though, those same questions play out rather differently. The expectations for CPU performance are much higher, for one thing. We'd happily absorb the extra speed we could get out of a quad-core Sandy Bridge chip, if possible. For another, there's not much of a CPU performance gap between the A8-3850 and its closest competitor, anyhow. Yes, the Core i3-2100 is faster, but its true advantage is substantially lower power draw under load. The graphics question looks different, too, in light of the fact that snapping in a $99 graphics card like the Radeon HD 6670 will nearly double your performance versus the A8-3850's Radeon IGP. Consider that you'd save 30 bucks by going for a Phenom II X4 840, and that you could put that 30 bucks toward a discrete graphics card. Suddenly, you're awfully close to making the A8-3850 seem irrelevant.
Indeed, the key to understanding a chip like this one is finding a relevant market for its strengths. Frankly, we're struggling a bit with placing the A8-3850. This APU's 100W TDP makes it unfit for small-form-factor desktops and all-in-one systems, where its relatively strong IGP would be an asset. The A8-3850 might be a good match for a home theater PC that does light gaming duty, but only if that box has good, dynamic cooling that can remain quiet at idle and range up to cover the relatively high TDP. If that kind of cooling is on tap, though, the combination of, say, a Core i3-2100 and a discrete GPU might serve better.
You get the idea. We could go on like this.
The truth is, Llano's primary strength is as a mobile processor, and a 100W desktop variant takes it to an awkward place. Our sense is that the 65W models of the A-series APUs are likely to be more successful with major PC makers and more interesting to almost anyone with whom Llano's basic value proposition resonates. Yes, the CPU performance of the 65W versions will be lower, but those models have the potential to deliver a more compelling mix of overall CPU and GPU performance within certain constraints, which is kind of the point of an extensively integrated APU.
174 comments — Last by indeego at 10:28 PM on 07/30/11
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