AMD Llano Delivers Cheap Desktop That’s Got Game

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 Global Tech News 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.