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Llano offers a sweet spot in price, performance, and graphics perfect for a budget desktop. The chip just began shipping to OEMs, built on a 32 nm process.  (Source: Hot Hardware)

While Intel's Sandy Bridge has a much more powerful CPU, Llano beats it in graphics, and likely, price. Thus AMD may see significant pickup in the budget PC market this back-to-school/holiday season, when Llano products begin shipping.  (Source: Maximum PC)
Price and strength of GPU will likely make Llano based PCs the best buy for holiday 2011

Much like its battle against NVIDIA during the Radeon 4000/5000 series era, AMD is gaining ground on its much larger competitor Intel.  Both companies launched CPU+GPU chips.  Intel attacked the high end, launching the powerful, yet pricey Sandy Bridge processor.  Meanwhile AMD attacked the low-end with the budget-friendly Brazos (E-Series) CPUs, which actually manage to beat Sandy Bridge in GPU performance.  And as Charlie Sheen would say, AMD is "winning" early in the race.

Looking to punish Intel, the company today announced [press release] that production units of its next Fusion core, Llano, were shipping to OEMs.  Llano will be officially branded as A-series (A4, A6, A8) and E2-series processors.

I. What's Inside?

The A/E2-series core is built on a 32 nm process, versus the 40 nm process used with the E-series (Brazos).  That means that the A/E2-series should offer better performance-per-watt.

The GPU is significantly more powerful than that found in the E-series.  The A/E2-series uses the same design -- Evergreen -- but packs at least twice the core count.  The E-series had 80 Radeon cores, the A/E2-series packs between 160 and 400 Radeon cores.  AMD expects the performance to be in line with the budget Radeon HD 63xx card in the cheapest chips to a mid-range Radeon HD 65xx card on the high end. 

The actual CPU core design is a bit of a stopgap.  It packs the reliable K10 core -- essentially a Phenom II core (though it may be clocked lower).  While Brazos used a new core (the lightweight Bobcat design), Llano recycles a 2-year old design (the Phenom II revision of K10).  

It will be eventually phased out and replaced by a design called Trinity, which will drop in AMD's powerful upcoming Bulldozer core in the place of K10.  Trinity is expected to land in the first half of next year (likely in the early summer).

Due to the older core design and greater processing power, the wattage is bumped significantly from Brazos, despite the die shrink.  The A/E2-series systems-on-a-chip are expected to suck up anywhere from 25 to 100 watts, versus approximately 18 watts for the E-series.  Most of the chips draw about 65 watts.

For that reason, while you may seem some A/E2-series chips in the laptop market, AMD will be primarily pushing Llano in the budget desktop market, which is still quite large.

The core does remedy its CPU's power thirst slightly by packing one significant improvement over past Phenom II-type designs -- it introduces discrete power gating.  This should help to dramatically reduce power consumption during periods of light use by completely shutting off voltage to inactive cores.

II. Outlook

Llano is shipping now to OEMs.  It will officially launch later in Q2 (presumably with partner product announcements).  Commercial products will ship by Q3 2011, at the latest (in time for the important back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons).

AMD's rhetoric is a bit extreme:

More information about systems based on AMD A-Series APUs will be available when we launch the “Llano” APU later this quarter. However if you want a sneak peak of the brilliant HD graphics, power efficiency and supercomputing power “Llano” is expected to deliver, take a look at this video.

Don't delude yourself -- Llano doesn't offer you true "supercomputer" power, unless you're talking about a "supercomputer" that's time-traveled from the late 80s.

What it does offer is what could be a great deal for consumers.  Most budget PC shoppers don't expect much graphically.  Here they will be getting essentially a full-fledged graphics card at a fraction of the price they'd pay for two discrete components.

Intel does not have a chip that currently fills this position.  Sandy Bridge, for all its awesome CPU-side performance, will likely be much more expensive than Llano.  And ultimately it will almost certainly be put to shame by Llano's GPU-side performance.

In short, Intel may be in a bad position here, in that it essentially does not have a competitive offering for budget PCs (yet).  

An important test, though, will be how quickly OEMs warm to the idea of Llano in their desktops.  OEM support has long been a problem for AMD (partly due to anti-competitive past tactics from Intel).  But given the recent success of the Radeon HD 6000 series on the desktop side and increasing pickup of Brazos by the top players like HP and Dell, we'd guess Llano should be pretty well received.

AMD's win boils down to two factors:

1.  In the budget market, price trumps all.

2.  In budget machines the iGPU is typically much more anemic than the CPU, thus a stronger GPU trumps a stronger CPU.

If AMD can deliver on the promise of Trinity, it should be in an even peachier position.  Llano is no modern supercomputer, but it does promise to be a great deal for budget shoppers.

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RE: Never
By dgingeri on 4/5/2011 11:12:37 AM , Rating: 4
From a support standpoint, (after 13 years of experience as a desktop support tech, and now a year as a server admin) I can say that Intel integrated graphics have always sucked.

Performance of the entire machine is dragged down, even with my current company Core i5 laptop, because of the reduced memory bandwidth to the CPU. A discrete graphics card allows the CPU to use the entire memory bandwidth, so it isn't just the performance of the iGPU that creates a performance problem. The 865G was the absolute worst for CPU performance, and things have improved since then, but Intel graphics still hurts the CPU performance badly.

In addition, the drivers Intel puts out have always had many problems that they just don't seem interested in fixing. With my current Core i5 laptop, every single time I dock and power up the machine, it doesn't seem to want to enable the secondary monitor (I run dual screens: 14" laptop screen and a secondary 20" monitor on DVI) until another reboot. So, getting logged in requires a boot and reboot every single morning. In addition to that, I have several web sites I have to visit for work (Brocade, QLogic, Intel, and LSI) that have Flash content that never renders properly on this machine. It renders fine on the servers I use with the old Rage graphics, yet Intel can't seem to get that right. Microsoft's Silverlight can actually crash my machine sometimes. VNC, NoMachine, VMWare player, and VSphere Client all have horribly slow performance on this thing, with parts not even rendering correctly.

I avoid Intel Graphics whenever I can, but with my current laptop, IT makes the decisions, not me. So I'm stuck. I'm hoping when the migrate me to Windows 7, with a memory upgrade, the drivers will behave better.

RE: Never
By Samus on 4/5/2011 11:59:44 AM , Rating: 3
The concern is with Flash and HTML5 being so heavily utilized now, GPU performance is that much more important, especially since both actively support GPU acceleration. Intel must put a better effort into graphics performance. They've been trying, just not as hard as AMD.

A quad-core 3.4GHz i5 with graphics rivaled by a $20 discrete GPU is a ridiculous configuration to shove down peoples throats.

RE: Never
By Da W on 4/5/11, Rating: -1
RE: Never
By weskurtz0081 on 4/5/2011 1:57:30 PM , Rating: 2
So? Intel could have done the same thing right?

RE: Never
By Motoman on 4/5/2011 2:22:05 PM , Rating: 2
Intel has bought GPU companies in the past as well.

RE: Never
By dgingeri on 4/5/2011 2:24:24 PM , Rating: 2
lol, yeah, that's where the i740 came from. :) They can't say they made a good decision with that purchase.

RE: Never
By Taft12 on 4/5/2011 2:51:18 PM , Rating: 5
They didn't buy it the way a behemoth like MS or Intel buys up competitors -- AMD mortgaged their future and bet the company on it.

We're all fortunate that it finally looks to be paying off because the alternative competitionless future would have been ugly for the type of techie that visits this site.

RE: Never
By ekv on 4/5/2011 4:03:40 PM , Rating: 1
They didn't buy it the way a behemoth like MS or Intel buys up competitors
We're all fortunate that it finally looks to be paying off
The ATI side of the business has been doing well for a while now. They've put a fair amount of work in, and despite market conditions beyond their control their product line and market share is well positioned for increased growth. I hope they continue to innovate.

Having said that, their CPU's are, for wont of a better term, sucky. I believe there is cause for concern here, given the strength of Intel's "process technology" and the fact that AMD's board essentially got rid of Meyer's. Losing Meyer's was stupid. As in, pathetic. AMD finally gets good leadership [good riddance to Hector Ruiz, aka "ruinz"] and then because he wants to focus on making better CPU's and bring the mobile market along AMD forces him out.

Competition is a good thing, I just don't see AMD being able to deliver, at least as far as CPU's go.

RE: Never
By FITCamaro on 4/5/2011 5:44:15 PM , Rating: 4
AMDs CPUs are not slow. Are they as fast as Intel's currently? No. But for the vast majority of things, they are competitive. And they're cheaper. We've long since reached the point where you need a new CPU every year or two. CPUs from a few years ago are still more than adequate for todays tasks. Even an older 939 AM2 X2 can still get the job done for 90% of people.

If anything, CPU makers need to convince of why we need to keep upgrading. Save for the enthusiast game market, there's no real reason for the majority of people anymore. The only thing that saves them is that lots of people are buying laptops. And since the batteries typically don't last longer than 3 years, most people buy a whole new laptop instead of just the battery. Sure newer platforms give longer battery life with a new battery than older ones with the same size battery. But is that really enough?

I'm honestly surprised Intel and AMD are surviving.

RE: Never
By damonlynch on 4/6/2011 12:43:06 AM , Rating: 2
I agree for the most part. The performance of contemporary CPUs is really excellent, and good enough for most users.

What's really fascinating to me is that Intel now uses anthropologists to figure out how people use their CPUs and more importantly how they want to be able to use them in the future. This is a big change from not that long ago.

RE: Never
By ekv on 4/6/2011 6:05:47 AM , Rating: 2
AMDs CPUs are not slow.
Didn't really say they were. But in relation to Intel, it's not really competitive.

Let me say upfront, I'm not an Intel fanbois. I like AMD. I hope they do well. In fact, I hope they do better, cause after the Meyer's debacle I'm concerned. Concerned enough to say so. Nobody else even mentions it.
Even an older 939 AM2 X2 can still get the job done for 90% of people.
I agree. But... it's still just an AMD. No bling. And if you go with Sandy Bridge, you're getting performance AND reduced power consumption. [That's where the manufacturing tech comes in to play. Global Foundries and TSMC, etc., need to step it up a notch, if they hope to compete.] My electric bill is adding up fast. And given O., er, uh, the current administrations energy policy, electricity costs are going up. [Contrast that with the vibrant competition in the computer market, Moore's law, and so on].
If anything, CPU makers need to convince of why we need to keep upgrading.
Which is a good argument for the mobile market. If AMD has guessed correctly that mobile is where the dough is going to be, where the big sales are going to be, then it's a win. Good for them. I'm not convinced sacrificing the "halo" of the cpu market, or at least getting close, for crying out loud, is worth it, but it's their company.

Brazos and llano stand a good chance of performing well. The round of cpu's after these ... ? I suspect we are all acutely aware of what poor leadership can do, how adversely it works against a company.

RE: Never
By Nutzo on 4/5/2011 3:19:53 PM , Rating: 2
As a company, we don't want users browsing the web and playing flash videos. :)

Most the problems I've had with older laptops around the office, where due to the Nvidia video cards. Both bad hardware and driver issues.

The newer i5 laptops with the Intel video have been more reliable, have better battery life, and the graphics rate faster in windows 7 than the 3 year old nvidia video.

I've built 2 home systems using the i3 with the intel video. I have had no problems with the video performance using the web. The kids even play games like Zoo Tycoon II, or other on-line games with no problems.

RE: Never
By Taft12 on 4/5/2011 3:54:22 PM , Rating: 2
We may not WANT to support it, but we have to do what our bosses tell us to do ;)

With the wave of "embracing social media" corporate-speak that is all the rage nowadays, GPU performance is becoming more important than it used to be in the business arena.

It's true because my CEO says it is.

RE: Never
By FreakyD on 4/5/2011 5:15:42 PM , Rating: 2
Yup, I hate the Intel graphics for the most part... BUT I do like that having such crappy graphics in a laptop keeps the battery running a bit longer than a dedicated solution.

I have the same monitor detection issue with my Intel graphics laptop, but sending the laptop to sleep and waking it up seems to fix the problem without a reboot (still annoying).

I have an Nvidia chipset in another laptop that never keeps it's multi-monitor on reboot, even if it remains docked, so go figure. I think docking and undocking is just something that's always been a bit quirky.

I'm more thrilled that the AMD Fusion platform can actually produce a halfway decent performing netbook class of machine. I gave up on the piss poor performance of my first Atom netbook.

RE: Never
By vol7ron on 4/5/2011 7:08:13 PM , Rating: 1
The purpose of integrated graphics is not to supersede the dedicated cards, it's merely to provide a debug tool and default video.

The whole thing now is it should be good enough to perform for HTPC tasks (not gaming). I'm sure Intel is not trying to take money out of the industry.

Also the locked procs are still using HD-2000 graphics, not the new HD-3000. I may need to check on this, but I think if you don't have a K and have an i5 or lower, you have the older integrated chip.

RE: Never
By fteoath64 on 4/5/2011 11:33:58 PM , Rating: 2
From what you said. "Balance" in components of design is simply not there for the Intel platform!. Also, bad drivers compound the issues of Intel graphics. The Llano chip and its chipset seem to provide the best balance for desktop replacement notebooks and lower-end desktops for hopefully low prices compared to the Intel counter-part.

This is a serious achievement for AMD after so many years of trying. I just hope they have time to ramp up the volumes and get a couple of nice evolutionary models in the next year or so. A 25w TDP with twice the current performance would be great.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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