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Conclusion

AMD A8-3850 Review: Llano Rocks Entry-Level Desktops
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I’ve had Llano in the lab for nearly two months in various stages of readiness. More than anything, in that time, motherboard BIOSes have evolved to the point where they’re production-ready, stable, and feature-complete. From one update to the next, overclocking goes from flat-out impossible to surprisingly scalable.

When the platform first landed, I was concerned about how it’d fare against Core i3—a processor we’ve already established performs exceptionally well in the company of discrete graphics. But Core i3-2105 itself costs $140 and a Radeon HD 6570 adds $70 to that bill. That’s an entry-level graphics card, too. Between the pair, you’re already over $200.

Strip Core i3 from the add-in graphics component that makes it shine and you’re left with HD Graphics 3000. While significantly faster than HD Graphics 2000, Intel’s best integrated effort can’t even come close to the engine built into AMD’s A8-3850. When you consider the LGA 1155- and FM1-based packages on their own merits, the Llano architecture makes a lot more sense. This is a simple matter of cost and balance.

We’re huge proponents of balance. You put the right processor with the right graphics card and the right memory. When you find the sweet spot for any given budget, you get the best all-around performance. That’s the entire premise underlying Paul Henningsen’s Building A Balanced Gaming PC series. Intel and AMD each made judgment calls when they were designing their respective next-gen products. Intel put most of its focus on very powerful execution cores. As such, its dual-core part is often able to beat AMD’s quad-core implementation. But AMD sunk more resources into on-die graphics able to complement the mainstream cores.

Source: AMD. The result of different prioritiesSource: AMD. The result of different priorities

The result is that Llano, as a package, is more balanced in a world where 3D pervades. Take 3D out of the picture and Sandy Bridge is superior. You really can’t downplay 3D, though. At least for most of us, we touch 3D-oriented content on a regular basis. For those workloads, Sandy Bridge really requires a discrete GPU in order to excel. That’s where you run into the cost component.

Specifically, A8-3850 (the only APU for which we have performance data) doesn’t rely on any other hardware to enable reasonable performance. Pair it up to a low-cost motherboard, 4 GB of fast DDR3, and a sub-$100 hard drive and you’re looking at a very entry-level machine that can do many things moderately well. For $135, you get a processor and GPU in a 100 W package. At $140, Core i3-2105 gives you a killer CPU and an afterthought of a graphics engine. I still love what Intel did with Quick Sync, but it’s telling that the company dedicated transistors to hardware-accelerated transcoding rather than spending them on more complex 3D capabilities, where it knew it couldn't compete.

Now, Who’s Going To Buy It?

I really would have loved to had time to test AMD’s Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition with a Radeon HD 6570 for this piece because those two parts cost about the same as an A8-3850. Overclocked through its multiplier, the Phenom II is almost certainly faster than Llano’s very Athlon-ish design. And the discrete GPU is absolutely quicker than the Radeon HD 6550D logic inside of Llano.

But that’s an enthusiast-oriented brute force approach to more speed involving a 95 W processor and a 60 W graphics card. A8-3850 more elegantly tucks its feature set into a 100 W part. Perhaps AMD is counting on system builders deriving additional value from the smaller physical and thermal footprints a Llano-based machine leaves compared to existing Phenom and Radeon combinations.

It goes without saying that this isn’t technology for enthusiasts. Even mainstream gamers with $500 bucks to spend on hardware can do better than the best integrated graphics we’ve ever seen. The fastest Llano-based APU is aimed squarely at entry-level desktops and all-in-ones—folks with $400 or $500 for a complete machine. For anyone else, quicker options are available at only marginally higher prices. AMD sees its addressable market between $400 and $700 with these APUs. Frankly, I think the $400 to $600 range is more realistic.

That still leaves a ton of ground for AMD to cover with the Bulldozer launch. But we have to be less than a couple of months out now. The question of whether it’ll catch up to Sandy Bridge and give power users a reason to revel in the FX suffix yet again will soon be answered. Until then, Llano is a cool piece of tech for your more mainstream mom and dad.

Win A CyberPower Gamer Ultra

For a chance to win your own A8-3800-based system from CyberPower, please fill out this Google form.

  • AMD A8-3800 Quad-Core APU w/ Radeon HD 6530 Graphics
  • Gigabyte GA-A75-UD4H Socket FM1 Ultra Durable w/ 7.1 HD Audio, Gb LAN, USB 3.0
  • Gigabyte Radeon HD 6670 GV-R667 OC 16x PCIe Video Card
  • CoolerMaster HAF 912 Mid-Tower Gaming Case
  • CoolerMaster V6 GT CPU Cooler (w/ Color Changing LED Cap)
  • CoolerMaster 850 Watts: Silent Pro Gaming 80 PLUS Power Supply
  • CoolerMaster CM Storm Sentinel Zero-G gaming mouse
  • Corsair Vengeance 8 GB (2 GB x 4) DDR3-1866 Dual-Channel Memory Kit
  • Corsair Force 60 GB Gaming Solid State Drive
  • 24x Double Layer Dual Format DVD+-R/+-RW + CD-R/RW Drive 
  • Xtreme Gear Multimedia USB Keyboard
  • Microsoft® Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit Edition)
  • Hybrid: AMD A8-3800 APU w/ on-board Radeon HD 6530 + AMD Radeon HD 6670 overclocked discrete card = AMD Radeon HD 6690D2
  • MSRP: $1500


Contest is limited to residents of the USA (excluding Rhode Island) 18 years of age and older. Contest starts on June 29th, 2011 9:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time and closes on July 14, 2011 11:59 PM, Pacific Daylight Time.

Results will be announced by July 29, 2011.

The information you provide will only be used to contact you in relation to this contest. YOU MAY SUBMIT ONLY ONE ENTRY. MULTIPLE ENTRIES FROM THE SAME PERSON WILL ALL BE DISCARDED.

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