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AMD's new "Llano" Fusion chip, branded the A-Series, is seen here next to its smaller sibling "Brazos".  (Source: Engadget)

The A-Series (die; top) competes with Sandy Bridge i3, i5, and i7 (die; bottom) notebooks. It has a weaker CPU, but a stronger GPU, which is thanks in part to simply more die-space devoted to GPU stream processors.  (Source: Anandtech)

Llano-based laptops should be about $100 cheaper than similar Sandy Bridge laptops.  (Source: Google Images)
Llano-based laptops start at $500, $600, and $700 for A4 (dual-core), A6 (quad-core), and A8 (quad-core) chips

Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) recently revealed that it had shipped 5 million AMD Fusion "advanced processing units" (APUs) and was temporarily out of stock.  Demand for the chips is tremendous, as they represent a more powerful alternative to Intel Corp.'s (INTC) Atom microprocessors at a similar price.  Now AMD is preparing to let the hammer strike once more, unleashing [press release] a more powerful Fusion lineup, codenamed Llano and branded the A-Series.

I. Same Concept, More Power

AMD's original "Fusion" APUs (Brazos) were designed to compete with Atom in budget notebooks and netbooks.  The idea of Llano is to give users a Fusion option that can serve as a direct competitor to low-end Sandy Bridge chips.  AMD's chip seems to fill that niche very nicely.  While it can't beat Sandy Bridge on an architectural basis, AMD has essentially out-planned Intel.

The concept with the A-Series (Llano) is pretty much the same as with Brazos.  AMD made a very simple gamble, that's appearing very wise.  It gambled that most customers' workloads can survive and thrive on a lighter, less powerful CPU.  It reasoned that the real issue was with the GPU.  The average user's most graphically demanding tasks -- Flash, video playback, and gaming -- all heavily rely on the GPU.  So AMD reduced the CPU and beefed up the GPU.

To make Llano a suitable competitor to Sandy Bridge, it ditched the lightweight 40 nm Bobcat core to go with a slightly modified 32 nm die-shrink of the well-tread K10-core, found in AMD's Phenom II and Athlon II processors.  The modified version is known as K10.5 as is codenamed Stars

AMD also beefed up the GPU substantially, with the "high-end" A8 models having six times the stream processing units as the Brazos E-Series' on-die integrated graphics processor.

The net result is a chip that AMD claims promises a 10.5 hour battery life, thanks to a low 35W to 45W power envelope and aggressive power saving technologies.  According to AnandTech, which extensively benchmarked the chip, the actual result is slightly less impressive -- around 8 hours of battery life.  

The site writes:
Overall, for the first time in a long time, AMD is able to offer battery life that competes with and even exceeds what Intel offers with their current mainstream offerings.
AMD's previous mid-range platform, Danube, offered abysmal battery life.  According to AnandTech the real-world battery life of a Llano notebook nearly triples that of a Danube notebook.  Thus AMD might not be that far ahead of Intel in battery life, but it's come a tremendous ways in a short time.

II. Specs -- Finer Details

The A-Series also adds a number of nice perks to the table.  The chips support USB 3.0 natively, something Intel still hasn't yet added.  They also bumped the memory controller to dual-channel for faster access speeds and support up to DDR3/DDR3L 1333 MHz.

Clock speeds vary from 1.4-2.1 GHz in the "default" mode, but much like Intel's "TurboBoost" technology, AMD has cooked up a temporary overclock called "TurboCore", which can bump the chips up to between 2.3-2.6 GHz when higher performance is demanded.

The L2 cache has been bumped up to 2 MB in the dual-core chips and 4 MB in the quad-core chips.

AMD also packs some other perks of marginal interest such as stereoscopic 3D support, AMD Wireless Display, and OpenCL/OpenGL support.  To be honest, most users won't probably ever needs these technologies, but the OpenGL support will at least be important if AMD is used to power Linux notebooks, such as notebooks with Google's new Chrome OS.

The chip die measures 228 square millimeters and the package is significantly larger than Brazos.

III. "Dual Graphics"

AMD's graphics rival NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) has long been carrying on about "Optimus".  The idea here is to tie a dedicated laptop graphics chips with the IGP for harmonious performance.  In low-demand scenarios, only the IGP is active; in high demand scenarios the GPU chip switches on.  The scheme greatly saves power.

AMD has a similar scheme dubbed "Dual Graphics" where it will offer notebooks with a Llano chip and a Radeon HD Mobility discrete GPU.  The discrete GPU will switch off when not needed to extend the battery life.

Unfortunately, dedicated tests of "Dual Graphics" versus "Optimus" are unavailable at this time (comprehensive Llano benchmarks are a bit rare even).  However, one would guess AMD's solution would work a bit smoother than Optimus, given that it has complete control on all ends of the system, where as NVIDIA has to work with a party it's had a mutually belligerent relationship with -- Intel.

It should be interesting to see exactly how much battery life improves with Dual Graphics models.

IV. Available Models

The full announced lineup is seen below in convenient table form:



IV. Is the Price Right?

According to AMD, the dual-core A4 targets the Intel i3, the A6 targets the Intel i5, and the A8 targets the Intel i7.  In each case, AMD's goal is to price its notebooks at about $100 USD less than their Intel competitor.  

When it comes to pricing, the bottom line is this -- AMD's designs are $100 cheaper than Intel's, offer competitive battery life, better graphics, and slightly worse processing power.  That means that for most customers a Llano notebook makes more sense than a Sandy Bridge notebook.

The exceptions are, of course, customers who need high-CPU performance for certain tasks -- e.g. heavy database access or professional graphics editing -- or customers who want a gaming notebook with the highest possible performance on both the CPU and GPU ends.

AMD claims that it will ship 150 Llano laptop designs this year, starting with some this quarter (by the end of June).  

If this was the money-bleeding AMD of old, we would find that claim questionable -- AMD was notorious for failing to deliver when it came to OEM availability (though to be fair some of this was due to well-documented "dirty" dealings on Intel's part).  With the new profitable AMD, we have no real reason not to believe that it will fulfill its promise -- particularly after it delivered so unexpectedly well on Brazos.

Really the Brazos launch seemed far riskier than the Llano launch.  Llano recycles a pre-existing core design that is already central to AMD's mainstream server/desktop processor lines, so availability shouldn't be a serious issue.

Intel won't have a solid answer to the cheaper Llano until the 22 nm Ivy Bridge lands next year.  Of course, AMD plans to unleash 28 nm "enhanced" Bobcat core Fusion APUs (Deccan) to target Atom and 32 nm "enhanced" Bulldozer core Fusion APUs to target Ivy Bridge/Sandy Bridge next year.


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My expectations were too high
By therealnickdanger on 6/14/2011 11:02:19 AM , Rating: 5
While I'm really happy that someone (AMD) finally raised the IGP bar to a truly usable level, I was really surprised by how massive the CPU performance gap is between Llano and SNB (in Intel's favor, that is). I think it will be very important for AMD to sell closer to that $500 level, because once you get up to the $600+ arena, then you're competing with SNB+discrete graphics, which utterly decimates Llano Fusion.

The platform is still early, maybe there's more performance we haven't seen yet. It's obvious that ACF doesn't yet work properly.




RE: My expectations were too high
By bug77 on 6/14/2011 11:13:37 AM , Rating: 3
Intel has been running circles around K10 for years now, so the performance gap is not that surprising.
And apparently ACF works only for DX10 and up.


RE: My expectations were too high
By Samus on 6/14/2011 12:13:35 PM , Rating: 2
Right, AMD is bold to say they are going to compete with i3, i5 and i7, because that statement makes it sound like they're competing in performance.

What's really happening is they're competing in battery life. My HP DM1z is a now classic example of how well AMD can do that. It's more powerful than any Atom CPU, and achieves better battery life. What they're going to try to do is lure consumers that don't need Sandy Bridge performance away from i3, i5 and i7 chips and give them A-series at a lower price along with better battery life.

Although Flash 10.3 GPU acceleration is buggy as hell, it is pivotal that consumers have better GPU's in order for the web to continue moving its its evolutionary direction...HTML5.


RE: My expectations were too high
By vignyan on 6/14/2011 2:30:46 PM , Rating: 1
AnandTech's article was ... confusing ... I guess because of their NDA. But, I saw that the comparison was between quad core A8 and dual core sandy bridge - with sandy bridge blowing the competition in application performance. I guess they compared native thread count and still got better results for Intel. Again thanks to the 2.5GHz base frequency of Intel's 2520.

In the testing, a lot of things did not work like CPUz did not detect the frequencies right.. and a lot of proclaimed features did not work. But this article says that the product is shipped. All this looks a bit shady.. But I guess a fortnight will bring us more clarity.

AMD is here with the shiny graphics. Let's see how the Ivy bridge goes with this with it's 24 EU GPU and 3D transistors at 24nm (if they get the yield right)... Right now with 12 EUs intel has half the performance of the 400 core Radeon... So, an interesting match between the dualcore ivy-bridge with quadcore A8... Again, AMD still has a year to boostup its performance

Other matters, TSMC has some difficulty scaling down with Intel to 22 nm ( beyond 28nm) - which is pretty disturbing for AMD to compete with Intel... Although NVidia is also stuck there with TSMC. so no advantage to either company over the other.


RE: My expectations were too high
By superPC on 6/14/2011 11:16:01 AM , Rating: 2
sure the CPU is lacking but man look at those GPU. GPGPU is finally taking off. soon it will be prevalent in most of what we do with a PC or other computing device. even intel admit it need a more powerful GPU than what it can make at
this time for this reason. this is why they will add powerVR GPU to their processor ( http://www.notebookcheck.net/Intel-may-integrate-P... ). this could be a start of something great. if everyone has a PC that's more powerful than ps3 in 2-3 years PC will have the largest install based among consoles. add the windows store in windows 8 and it would even be easier to publish game to the widest audience possible. we might see a resurgence in PC gaming and PC usage in general in a few years.

and remember that lliano is for pc with integrated graphic. the PC that sits on campus, school, and office everywhere around the world. entry level PC that usually can't even hope to play any game at all (see this http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/a8-3500m-llano... ). imagine how the gaming market change with this sudden influx of game capable PC? not to mention if Intel follow suit and introduce something just as powerful. even if PS4 has quadruple the graphic capability of PS3 lliano can still run those game (if coded properly. for example i can play elder scroll 4, splinter cell double agent, and lots of other xbox 360 games with my old geforce 6600 at the time the xbox 360 comes out) at a lower graphical setting.


RE: My expectations were too high
By Wiggy Mcshades on 6/14/2011 1:00:43 PM , Rating: 2
gpgpu can be used for highly parallel sets of data and that's it, your every day application can't truly benefit from it. In a lot of cases SSE and it's advancements are a better choice than openCL.


RE: My expectations were too high
By Ananke on 6/14/2011 1:30:16 PM , Rating: 2
Example: transcoding a movie from MPEG2 to h264 on Athlon X4 830 ~ 4 hrs. Same movie transcoding on AMD Radeon 6950 ~ 11 minutes...1600 shaders...I don't believe any CPU can even come close.


RE: My expectations were too high
By Pirks on 6/14/2011 1:39:05 PM , Rating: 2
well, sandy bridge would probably translate it in 5 minutes or so using the quick sync, so poor argument :P dnetc or bitcoin on the other hand...


RE: My expectations were too high
By phazers on 6/14/2011 1:42:42 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
Same movie transcoding on AMD Radeon 6950 ~ 11 minutes...1600 shaders...I don't believe any CPU can even come close.


I think you're forgetting about Sandy Bridge's Quick Sync - that'll run circles around any GPU, discrete or otherwise.


By StevoLincolnite on 6/14/2011 2:06:08 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I think you're forgetting about Sandy Bridge's Quick Sync - that'll run circles around any GPU, discrete or otherwise.


Except GPU's get a dramatic speed boost every 12 months which automatically translates into substantial performance gains.

Not to mention GPU's can do more than just decode/encode...

I can't help but feel that the die space Intel used for quick sync could have been put to better use with a more substantial IGP that could also handle the same tasks, whilst benefiting other applications... i.e. Games.

From the looks of AMD's roadmaps... It also seems AMD is going to have an aggressive release cycle, Trinity should solve Llanos CPU performance woes with Zambezi based CPU cores.
And Komodo is also expected next year as the successor to Zambezi, complete with a new socket. (AM3+ will be a dead platform after Zambezi.)


RE: My expectations were too high
By Pirks on 6/14/2011 11:25:40 AM , Rating: 4
Well, AMD is always targetting budget minded mainstream folks, and these ones never need a speed monster like SNB. The games are mostly depend on GPU, not on CPU these days so AMD wins gaming too, and it totally owns it if they deliver their own Optimus clone. OpenCL/Stream/Dnetc/GPGPU tasks benefit from AMD GPU as well, and A LOT (I know this is a small niche market but still...). The only ppl who need Intel are those who need high end CPU and don't care much about GPU and/or battery life, but these guys will buy desktop most likely, no need to spend $4k on a laptop when you can spend $2k on a desktop and get better _way_ faster machine still since you can OC it.

So, all in all, beside the very niche market of folks after super expensive high end Intel CPUs, AMD wins hands down. Sure that niche market is super profitable but you can't win war in one day, ya know.

And if you notice how badly AMD Radeons beat the crap out of everyone else when it comes to GPGPU stuff like dnetc or bitcoins... you'll see that AMD is steaming ahead very fast, they cornered the GPGPU market already (noone in the know buys nVidia for GPGPU anymore :P) and they now mounted very successful attack on Intel mainstream segment, that's like unheard of since 2003 or so! This is _The Coming Back_ of AMD, no less.


RE: My expectations were too high
By Motoman on 6/14/11, Rating: -1
RE: My expectations were too high
By Pirks on 6/14/2011 11:40:05 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
Someone playing a MMORPG or whatever will likely not notice any difference between a SNB and Llano machine at the same price point
That, or Llano will be faster because of much better GPU, hehe :))
quote:
there's always been reasonable machines on the market for gaming if you wanted an AMD rig
Yeah but their battery life was a joke, AMD never even remotely tried to go the way of Optimus (or Intel's power sipping designs), hence everybody knew that AMD used to mean "no battery life". Hopefully they will deliver with their Optimus clone, otherwise ppl who want hybrid laptops (good for gaming AND for long battery life too) will keep buying Intel + Optimus combo.


RE: My expectations were too high
By Motoman on 6/14/11, Rating: -1
RE: My expectations were too high
By Pirks on 6/14/2011 12:15:22 PM , Rating: 2
you never ride buses? maybe Greyhound once in a while? no? wow... and never fly on the planes either? ;) woow... jee lucky bustard :))) heheee

dunno man, you like to bring your power brick with ya always and I love my 14" lighweight Asus with power sipping CULV inside which can stay up to 14 hours on a battery without recharging. no power brick to carry with my Asus, ever! isn't that neat eh?

battery life is a king... unless you never ride a bus or fly a plane, like a real Moto eh :))) just kiddin


RE: My expectations were too high
By Motoman on 6/14/11, Rating: -1
RE: My expectations were too high
By dark matter on 6/14/2011 1:26:48 PM , Rating: 3
Oh, so you don't see a point in it.

Best tell the Internet then.


RE: My expectations were too high
By Motoman on 6/14/11, Rating: -1
RE: My expectations were too high
By therealnickdanger on 6/14/2011 11:48:17 AM , Rating: 2
What's your battery life like? j/k I specifically stated IGP (integrated graphics processor) and wasn't referring to discrete graphics like those found in your notebook.

I totally agree that for someone looking to only play games and consume web content, Llano will be great. The downside is there are a lot of users (like myself) that need the greater CPU power and would like to have it in addition to the gaming capabilities. Llano just falls a bit (and some bytes) short.


RE: My expectations were too high
By Motoman on 6/14/2011 12:04:26 PM , Rating: 1
...how is it that you think you "need" greater CPU power. I can't think of an awful lot of things someone would typically do on a laptop that will markedly benefit from a faster CPU, granted that sufficient GPU power was already available.


RE: My expectations were too high
By therealnickdanger on 6/14/2011 2:29:23 PM , Rating: 2
Executing large-scale Excel calculations many times per day is extremely demanding. I also use ArcMap's Spatial Analyst frequently. Neither application offers GPU acceleration. For the instances that I also use Adobe Premiere CS5, SNB's Quick Sync only drives the point home further. Until the applications I use support OpenCL for multiple levels of processing, AMD's offerings are too limited at this time. Intel has the brawn and CUDA seems to do everything else.

For a cheap gaming laptop though, AMD has potential with Llano.


RE: My expectations were too high
By karielash on 6/14/2011 5:39:03 PM , Rating: 3

Thanks, I haven't stopped laughing since I read your post, seriously!!!

If your that serious about your modelling programs get a decent machine, not a mid-range average laptop. As for challenging Excel documents...... that really was funny... thanks again :)


RE: My expectations were too high
By vignyan on 6/15/2011 12:51:16 PM , Rating: 2
Your ignorance amuses me...
Tell me if you found that funny because it was Excel and you will prove my point.


By therealnickdanger on 6/15/2011 1:15:07 PM , Rating: 2
Well I'm glad I could provide you with some laughs. Obviously that wasn't my intent.

1. SNB laptops are "decent" machines. Faster than our old Q6600 desktops.
2. Apparently you don't use Excel the way we do.


RE: My expectations were too high
By karielash on 6/14/11, Rating: 0
RE: My expectations were too high
By vignyan on 6/15/2011 12:59:16 PM , Rating: 2
I can't think of a lot of applications that benefit from GPU.. or is it 2015 already?
I dont see the GPU here being such a big deal. I mean, how many of us actually play demanding games like Crysis on a laptop? I think HD3000 is sufficient for most "luxor" or MMPORPG games.
Video acceleration is great in both processors to watch any online or offline video content.
Looking past the marketing, Llano does not seem all that impressive to me, yet.
Also, Lets see the laptop form factors that are built with Llano... Thin is in.. Dang.. I need to hit the gym..


RE: My expectations were too high
By nafhan on 6/14/2011 11:43:49 AM , Rating: 2
What were you expecting? We've known for a while that this would be a K10.5 CPU. It's based on that CPU core, and performs like one - except for battery life where it is much improved.

I'd think anything less than $700 would be a great deal for quad core Llano laptops. Battery life is good, and you're not going to find a Sandy Bridge i5 + discrete for $700.


RE: My expectations were too high
By FITCamaro on 6/14/2011 12:49:00 PM , Rating: 2
What Sandy Bridge + discrete graphics options do you see out there for $600?


RE: My expectations were too high
By therealnickdanger on 6/14/2011 3:02:54 PM , Rating: 2
LMGTFY

MSI CX640-071US is $629.
MSI FX420-002US is $669.

Go up to $700+ and you get even more choices.


RE: My expectations were too high
By weskurtz0081 on 6/14/2011 3:49:02 PM , Rating: 3
Ok, so there are two other notebooks out there, one with a year old 520M, and the other with a 6 month old ATI card, but both are basically entry level.

So, answer this, do either of them outperform THIS GPU in tests?


RE: My expectations were too high
By therealnickdanger on 6/15/2011 1:16:59 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, depending upon the game. notebookcheck.com.


By weskurtz0081 on 6/15/2011 1:47:07 PM , Rating: 2
I actually already looked at the site you posted before I posted the initial response, and from what I saw this GPU is faster than both in MOST cases.


RE: My expectations were too high
By vignyan on 6/15/2011 1:24:24 PM , Rating: 2
this is a stupid question.
A slew of laptops from Dell and HP are around the $600 range without adding in the discount coupon codes. Are you too lazy to search online and do your research?

If yes, believe us, there are laptops around the $600 mark based on SNB and have a discrete card of HD6470 or higher or NVidia 525M... with equivalent or better graphics to the Llano's... or higher


By weskurtz0081 on 6/15/2011 1:50:23 PM , Rating: 1
No it's not, clearly YOU HAVEN'T done the research yourself!

Both of these cards are roughly equivalent to SB performance, and Llano CONSISTENTLY outperforms SB, and in by a large margin IN MOST CASES.

So, don't come in here asking me if I'm lazy and just automatically assume because a card is discrete that it automatically means it's faster.... because that's just "stupid".


RE: My expectations were too high
By Slaimus on 6/15/2011 1:48:10 PM , Rating: 2
I think the point people are missing is it is a better balanced chip than SB. You need to remember that the game results are not a measure of just GPU performance, but a measure of CPU+GPU performance.

The lower CPU performance is somewhat holding back the higher GPU performance in Llano, whereas the lower GPU performance is seriously holding back the higher CPU performance in SB.


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