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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 Da W on 4/5/2011 1:33:52 PM , Rating: -1
AMD bought their GPU expertise.


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
quote:
They didn't buy it the way a behemoth like MS or Intel buys up competitors
Whatever.
quote:
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
quote:
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.
quote:
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].
quote:
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.


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