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Reviews generally concluded that Llano provides budget shoppers unparalleled bang for their buck.  (Source: Anandtech)

Llano packs a mean GPU punch, besting Intel's comparable core by as much as 4x times the framerates in some games  (Source: Anandtech)

A Llano rig retails for about $350, and offers solid overclockability.  (Source: Tweak Town)
While not as strong in CPU performance and memory, most reviews conclude AMD gives a better overall performance

With the hard launch of Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.'s (AMD) Llano processor lineup, branded the "A Series", the first reviews are trickling in about what it's like to use a Fusion desktop.  Many DailyTech readers expressed skepticism about the platforms' prospects on desktops, but they might be a little surprised by what the reviewers said -- here's a hint; it all comes back to AMD pricing its products aggressively.

I. Priced to Kill

Many of the reviews compared the AMD A75 platform (with a Llano A8 CPU), codenamed Lynx, to the Intel Z68 platform (with a Sandy Bridge Core i3 CPU).  Price-wise AMD is about $15 cheaper, which may not seem like much, but at a total platform cost of $355 USD and $370, respectively, it's just enough to give AMD a psychological edge.

Most of the price difference comes from the motherboard -- a Gigabyte GA-A75M-UD4H, compatible with A8 processors, retails for $130 USD, while the Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3-B3, compatible with Sandy Bridge, costs another $10 of your cash.

Likewise an A8-3850 "Advanced Processing Unit" (system-on-a-chip), will cost you $5 USD less than a Core i3-2105 system-on-a-chip (SoC).

II. Performance

A Legit Reviews article offered generally kind words for the platform, stating:
The Lynx platform by AMD should do well with mainstream consumers that want a system that does everything they want it to do and without sucking down a bunch of power or draining their wallet.

The article shows that Intel has a lead on power consumption (not as much of an issue with a desktop) and on certain CPU specific benchmarks (like "HyperPi").  However, AMD delivered nearly twice the framerates in most games and was slightly faster in most video encoding benchmarks.  With many modern photo-editing software products, such as Adobe Systems Inc.'s (ADBE) Photoshop, relying heavily on the GPU that means that the AMD chip will likely come out ahead here, as well.

A PureOC piece offers more of the same, showing the DirectX 11 capable AMD chip pulling decent framerates in modern games, such as Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2, Aliens vs. Predator, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat.

The piece offers some insight in its overclockability, which they find to be around 30 percent on a stock air cooler.  They write:
The multiplier is locked on the A8-3850 and the only way to overclock is by the reference clock known by most as the FSB or AMD users HTT. The reference clock starts at 100 and there is no hypertransport, northbridge frequency to deal with in the bios. The reference clock however raises the APU frequency and the memory frequency which does have a multiplier. We raised the voltages to 1.52V and achieved a overclock of 3.712Ghz just shy of a 30% overclock.

PC Perspective's Ryan Shrout does offer some criticism of the CPU core performance, writing:

The problem really lies with the 2.9 GHz clock speed that the top end A8-3850 is tagged with, well below the speed of the most recent quad-core Phenom II parts from AMD that reached as high as 3.7 GHz. Because of the combination of a new 32nm process technology and that Llano is the first "true" Fusion part with standard CPU and GPU technology, AMD obviously had more problems getting this part to the speeds it wanted. Quite simply they ran out of time even after several delays and HAD to get something out into the market for OEMs to dabble in.

But, he adds that the integrated GPU does offer 2 to 4 times the performance of Intel's iGPU when gaming.

Anandtech found Anand Lal Shimpi took the platform out for a spin as well.  He came away very much a fan of the platform for budget buyers, writing:

If you're building an entry level gaming PC and have to rely solely on integrated graphics, it's clear that Llano is the only solution on the market today. You easily get 2x the frame rates of Intel's Core i3-2105 and can use that extra headroom to increase resolution, quality or sometimes both. The performance advantage is just one aspect of what Llano offers in this department. You do also get better overall game compatibility, DX11 and GPU compute support although the latter is still missing that killer app.

OverClockers Club also delivers a similar favorable review, writing:

All in all, I was pretty pleased with the AMD A8-3850. While not a game changer for the overclocker, it was not designed to fit this purpose. It was developed to bring strong video playback and decent mainstream gaming for a minimal cash outlay and it does just that. If you are looking for a second processor (without breaking the bank) for an HTPC, workstation or maybe that build for a special loved one, then the A-Series may just be what you are looking for.

TweakTown was gushing as well, applauding:

AMD really seem to have their fingers on the pulse of the mass market, though; they look to have developed an exceptional platform that sets a new segment, because it's leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Atom from Intel is great, but it's a bit long in the tooth these days and is really beginning to age. The i3 2120 is a fantastic processor for the money and stock for stock it looks great. With such limited overclocking potential on the non "k" series Sandy Bridge CPUs, though, the stock performance you get is pretty much all you're going to get.

III. Conclusions

The "A Series" is suited for a very specific customers -- one that there happens to be a lot of of -- budget buyers who still might want to do the occasional HD video watching, photo edit, or fire up a game.  Given the fact that buyers of gaming rigs are in the minority, AMD is overall showing its ability to cater to the masses.

The Llano desktop comes at a sweet price of $350 USD, though OEMs may inflate that slightly.  It offers much better (2-4x) gaming performance than similarly priced Sandy Bridge desktops.  And it offers superior performance in apps that support GPU computing -- such as Photoshop or Microsoft Office 2010.  

About the only things Llano isn't the winner at are pure CPU performance and memory access times -- neither of which would make much of a difference to the average user.

And though few customers will probably ever try it, Llano even overclocks better than the similarly-priced low-end Sandy Bridge Core i3s.

AMD clearly seems to have Intel beat this time around.  First on the notebook and then on the desktop, AMD has beat Intel in mainstream performance.  It's not flashy, and it's no performance champ Sandy Bridge Core i7, but Fusion continues to show its potential for huge sales.  Intel should be very, very concerned.

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RE: Not as meaningful for desktops
By Reclaimer77 on 6/30/2011 8:31:05 PM , Rating: 1
Oh I'm sorry, are you a system builder who's also been playing WoW for almost 7 years now?

Trust me, in a raiding environment with 20+ players on the screen, WoW is extremely CPU and memory limited. These are NOT cutting edge graphics we're talking about, you're vastly overstating GPU dependency.

I could post crap tons of benchmarks and ancillary evidence, but like me, once you have decided something there's no point in changing your mind. Although...

That's not to say you can't get playable frame rates from a processor from AMD. But wow--they turn in significantly lower average frame rates in Cataclysm. Like, even the fastest unreleased six-core CPU gets pegged at 60 FPS with a GeForce GTX 480 under the hood. Thinking the problem could have been with our graphics card, we even swapped in a Radeon HD 5870 and saw the same ceiling at 59 frames per second. You can get more performance for about $150 less from a dual-core Core i3-530. Sad.

WoW is extremely CPU/memory scalable, far more than GPU. We see here that with a slower CPU, FPS goes down DRASTICALLY even with a hot (for the time) video card.

Other MMO's might be different, if there are any others. I consider a requirement of Massive Multiplayer Online games to be, well, massive.

RE: Not as meaningful for desktops
By Alexvrb on 6/30/2011 8:59:03 PM , Rating: 2
Reclaimer, I normally respect you, but you're a bit off base here. We're comparing cheap machines with integrated graphics. An i3 2105 is a direct competitor to A8-3850 and it gets SMOKED in WoW and other games. That's Intel's new revision i3 with HD 3000 graphics, too. It's not even close, either. It only gets worse when you equip the Llano with good memory (decent DDR3 1600/1866). Which, given that Llano platforms seem to cost a bit less, isn't that unrealistic.

So yeah, once you drop in a real graphics card that costs nearly twice as much (by itself) as the integrated GPU/CPU combo in one of these budget machines, then you're right. The games DO scale wonderfully with faster CPUs and better memory! But budget OEM boxes relying on integrated graphics? The 6550 integrated into the A8 series smushes the HD 3000. Meanwhile, the 4 Stars cores provide "good enough" performance.

So no, Llano isn't for you. But if you're going to buy mom or dad a budget box anyway, and they do some light gaming or other GPU-accelerated things like viewing Flash videos, using a modern web browser, etc, then Llano is not a bad choice.

RE: Not as meaningful for desktops
By BSMonitor on 7/1/2011 9:43:57 AM , Rating: 2
But we are talking barely acceptable resolutions. Why would anyone whose intention is to game build something with one of these??! They would be better off spending $70 on an Athlon X3 and cheaper RAM for $30 and then spend $130-150 on an AMD 5850 discrete card. Or even $170 on a 6870:

Not to mention the slew of AM3 motherboards out there under $60-70. The Llano is nothing more than marketing. Intel has it, so we have to, kind of thing.

By Alexvrb on 7/2/2011 11:09:26 PM , Rating: 2
Many OEM boxes do not come with reasonably fast dicrete cards (on purpose) until you get to their more expensive models and configurations. Again, enthusiasts miss the point, this isn't a chip for you or me. This competes with other OEM boxes, and for the price, it has much better graphics than the HD 2000/3000.

So yeah, you could build a cheap gaming box using older AM3 parts. No big surprise there. But as far as OEM boxes relying on integrated graphics? Llano is the first I've seen that I believe would be OK for light gaming, as well as accelerating other software that leans on the GPU via OpenCL, DirectCompute, etc. Granted, I think the lower-power laptop Llano chips have a lot more potential, especially considering you usually have to spend quite a bit more to get some GPU muscle a lappy. Not to mention mobile Llano so far has proven pretty decent on battery life.

As far as resolution goes, that depends on how modern the game is. But I don't think anyone relying on integrated graphics is going to be playing a lot of cutting edge games, or expect too much out of a budget OEM machine. But for the record it is DX11 so for WoW it helps speed things up - they built their new DX11 renderpath for speed. 1680 x 1050 WoW is good enough for many of the common folk, and it'll run decent at that resolution.

By JediJeb on 7/1/2011 11:03:07 AM , Rating: 2
Other MMO's might be different, if there are any others. I consider a requirement of Massive Multiplayer Online games to be, well, massive.

I have never played WoW, but for the last 6 years I have been playing Star Wars Galaxies and I can tell you it is very GPU intensive more so than CPU. My old Athlon 2400xp processor handles the CPU side of it, but to run full out on the graphics the newest cards from the last couple years are finally able to run it well on full settings. My old rig with an ATI x700 can't even handle it when I turn shadows on.

I only wish the game wasn't being sunsetted in December, it was finally coming back to what it should be, but a few weeks down time and Lucas Arts releasing a new MMO I guess killed it off. But it will live on with the EMU project which seems to be progressing nicely and is running the original version of the game as it was released.

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