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Battle At $140: Can An APU Beat An Intel CPU And Add-In Graphics?

Battle At $140: Can An APU Beat An Intel CPU And Add-In Graphics?
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What can you get for $140? How about AMD's top-of-the-line A8-3870K APU with four CPU cores and an integrated Radeon HD 6550D? That's also enough for a Pentium G620 and discrete Radeon HD 6670. We benchmark both to uncover the best budget-oriented option.

When it comes to the mobile space, AMD's APUs based on the Llano architecture are potent. By dedicating more resources to graphics, the company is able to outmaneuver Intel's best effort in workloads that require a more balanced approach than raw processing power.

A quick look at Newegg shows that notebooks equipped with the A4-3400M and A6-3420M start at $500, while models with the A8-3520M can be found as low as $550. If you want a mobile machine based on Intel's CPUs with a fast-enough discrete GPU to compete, you'd need to spend at least $650 (but probably more than $700). The difference is substantial, especially if you have software to buy, too.

Truly, there's no denying the appeal of an APU in a notebook. But we're curious about how AMD's accelerated processing units stand their ground on the desktop, too. The ultimate question to answer is whether an APU at one price (let's call it a $140 A8-3870K) has the chops to outperform a cheap CPU (call that a $70 Pentium G620) and cheap discrete graphics card (we'll use the $70 Radeon HD 6670 with DDR3 memory). If it does, you can add in the convenience of a single-chip solution to AMD's advantages. But if the separate processor and graphics card are faster, you'll need to weigh the pros and cons of each configuration.


Pentium G620AMD A8-3870KRadeon HD 6670 DDR3
Codename: Sandy Bridge
LlanoTurks
Process: 32 nm 32 nm 40 nm
  CPU Cores (Threads): 2
4
-
CPU Clock Speed: 2.6 GHz
3.0 GHz-
Interface: LGA 1155
Socket FM1PCIe 2.0-Capable
L2 Cache: 512 KB
2 MB-
L3 Cache
3 MB
-
-
Graphics Cores:
6 EUs
400 Shaders
480 Shaders
Graphics Clock:
650-1100 MHz
600 MHz
800 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
65 W
100 W
66 W
Online Price:
$70
$140
$70


We’ll start by comparing processing cores. The A8-3870K boasts four execution cores, while the Pentium G620 comes armed with two (and no Hyper-Threading technology, either). AMD's chip also proffers a faster core clock at 3 GHz, which compares favorably to Intel's 2.6 GHz frequency. Neither processor benefits from a dynamic speed-up capability like Turbo Boost or Turbo Core.

Each core on AMD's APU includes 64 KB of L1 data and L1 instruction cache, totaling 512 KB across the entire processor. It also employs four 1 MB L2 caches (one cache per core), and no L3 cache. The Pentium comes with two 32 KB L1 data and L1 instruction caches, totaling 128 KB, along with two 256 KB L2 caches and a shared 3 MB L3 cache.

On the graphics side, AMD's A8-3870K has 400 shaders clocked at 600 MHz. Intel's Pentium G620 has its own HD Graphics engine that consists of six execution units operating between 650 and 1100 MHz, but we're ignoring that for this story, particularly because its biggest asset, Quick Sync, is disabled in hardware. Instead, we're matching the Pentium processor up to a discrete Radeon HD 6670 DDR3 with 480 shaders operating at 800 MHz. Based on specifications along, the add-in board seems to have a sizable advantage. 

Interestingly, the discrete Radeon card includes 800 MHz DDR memory, and that's what we're using as system RAM, complementing the APU configuration. Also interesting is that, when you add up the power use of Intel's Pentium and AMD's Radeon HD 6670 DDR3, you come up with 101 W. That's one one watt more than the A8-3870K. Crazy, right?

The wildcard is AMD's unlocked multiplier, which facilitates more flexibly overclocking. In comparison, we can't do much with the Pentium's operating frequency. Fortunately, its complementary Radeon HD 6670 can be tweaked. 

Given the specifications, we have to assume that the Pentium and Radeon card, together, will outmaneuver AMD's APU in gaming environments. However, in our processor-oriented productivity tests, four 3 GHz cores should reign supreme over two 2.6 GHz cores, particularly in well-threaded benchmarks.

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Top Comments
  • 31 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , February 29, 2012 3:55 AM
    tristan_bIf you paired the apu with a 6670, I'm sure we would see different results.

    Ya, that would also cost a lot more then $140.
  • 24 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , February 29, 2012 3:57 AM
    not surprised here.
  • 21 Hide
    tigrc , February 29, 2012 4:55 AM
    Intel Pentium G620 has TDP of 65W, not 35. G620T has TDP of 35W. :) 
Other Comments
  • 31 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , February 29, 2012 3:55 AM
    tristan_bIf you paired the apu with a 6670, I'm sure we would see different results.

    Ya, that would also cost a lot more then $140.
  • 24 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , February 29, 2012 3:57 AM
    not surprised here.
  • 14 Hide
    jimmysmitty , February 29, 2012 3:58 AM
    tristan_bWell of course the option with a better gpu will win in gaming. A dual core sandy bridge is enough for almost any game on max these days. If you paired the apu with a 6670, I'm sure we would see different results.


    Actually in most games it should act the same if its just the GPU as most games will be bottlenecked by the mid end GPU. If you include the hybrid CFX (If the A8 can work with the 6670) it will be a bit better in some cases.

    The power draw is very interesting. The CPU load on the A8 is almost as much as a mix of CPU and GPU. It could be a sign of the 32nm still not being mature enough. But it does look better than FX by a lot in power draw.

    Still interesting idea. The G620 plus the HD6670 is about $130 vs $140 which means they are about the same in price. The mobos, RAM and other stuff will be about the same. I have said it before, but it still holds true. Llano is great for the modile sector. In laptops it will be the best value for lower end laptops to provide a decent gaming setup. Not maxed but still better than what HD3K can do. But on DT, its mostly pointless as it uses a sub par CPU with a decent IGP.
  • 15 Hide
    Zero_ , February 29, 2012 4:11 AM
    Nice. Something I've always debated to include in my blog (my sig). The G620 + HD6670 always won out in my book. Good to see a confirmation from Toms.
  • 21 Hide
    tigrc , February 29, 2012 4:55 AM
    Intel Pentium G620 has TDP of 65W, not 35. G620T has TDP of 35W. :) 
  • 8 Hide
    ohim , February 29, 2012 5:16 AM
    And yet Tom`s managed to miss out something ... the CPU + video card might be the same price as the AMD APU but the Intel motherboard is 50+$ more than the one used in the AMD system .. at least in my country.
  • 8 Hide
    saturnus , February 29, 2012 5:25 AM
    ohimAnd yet Tom`s managed to miss out something ... the CPU + video card might be the same price as the AMD APU but the Intel motherboard is 50+$ more than the one used in the AMD system .. at least in my country.


    Here too. And they could have used the difference on better memory which is known to bottleneck the Llanos. That would probably have pulled the Llano ahead in all tests, not just power consumption.
  • 12 Hide
    tlmck , February 29, 2012 5:44 AM
    Would have been interesting to see 1866 ram used with the APU. Other sites such as Anandtech have shown it to noticeably boost performance. Conversely, there is no advantage to 1600 speed on the Intel. Stock 1333 would have worked the same.
  • 13 Hide
    BulkZerker , February 29, 2012 5:45 AM
    saturnusHere too. And they could have used the difference on better memory which is known to bottleneck the Llanos. That would probably have pulled the Llano ahead in all tests, not just power consumption.


    Indeed, this was proven by Toms themselves in a previosu review that having some solid memory for a Llano is almost as important as the APU itself.
  • 7 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , February 29, 2012 5:47 AM
    ohimAnd yet Tom`s managed to miss out something ... the CPU + video card might be the same price as the AMD APU but the Intel motherboard is 50+$ more than the one used in the AMD system .. at least in my country.

    ... it's a shame Tom's can't figure out a way to cater these articles to every country out there.
  • -5 Hide
    g4114rd0 , February 29, 2012 6:00 AM
    An educative article, maybe the G630 + HD6570 to improving application performance.
  • 5 Hide
    ohim , February 29, 2012 6:01 AM
    dragonsqrrl... it's a shame Tom's can't figure out a way to cater these articles to every country out there.

    i didn`t implied that they don`t make it for every country .. just pointed out something , and i know you don`t get speed improvements from a high prices MB only more features, i was just pointing out that the current test setup in my country makes the Intel platform 50$ more than the AMD one, and still 4 vs 2 cores no matter how you put it the 4 cores will handle various paralel tasks smoother than the 2 core Intel.
  • 13 Hide
    esrever , February 29, 2012 6:36 AM
    why not test an athlon II x2 and a 6770 in there too?
  • 8 Hide
    Kamen_BG , February 29, 2012 6:45 AM
    Why dont you just combine an Athlon X4 631 with a Radeon 6570? Its a bit cheaper than the APU and will achieve better fps in games.The Athlon can also overclock remarkably well (can go to 4.4~ ghz on air) so it will become better in apps as well.The only downside to that build would be the power consumpion when overclocked.
  • -9 Hide
    peroludiarom , February 29, 2012 7:13 AM
    I will say that its really unproffessional to use 1600mhz DDR3 with Liano, while manufacturer says its support 1866mhz! I recently got 3870K for my frend, and not even 1866 will show much bettter numbers in CPU and GPU, but 1866mhz even bottleneck the APU when you overclock. For best results i was using 2000mhz ddr3 ram.

    Also i'm sick to watch so poor ddr3 bandwidth performance on AMD overclocked processors here! Please start to overclock the memory controller - the whole world already knows this, but not Toms! With PII 555(x4) i got 16,5g/s in Sandra for my everyday overclock, and you show 12-14gb/s for PII 980??

    Also using cheaper MB is already know that bottleneck Overclocking and even standart performace!

    Please Toms, bench again with right settings!
  • 11 Hide
    grumbledook , February 29, 2012 7:17 AM
    Props for putting in the OC results for 3870k since that is a prominent feature of it.
  • 2 Hide
    gondor , February 29, 2012 7:27 AM
    Nice article, precisely what I've been longing for ever since Llano came out. Other websites focused on comparison of "APUs" from both camps (where Intel got soundly trashed in games due to crappy graphics performance) while ignoring the obvious combination that not only allows for better performance but also for lwoer pwoer consumption and - I find it surprising that this wasn't mentioned in the article - more efficient cooling, given that load isn't concentrated under one CPU heatsink but split into two.

    The difference in power draw is huge !

    Oh and based on prices over here in Europe one might be able to squeeze G630 (100 Mhz higher clock) into allotted budget instead of G620. I imagine that to be the case for the US as well.
  • 2 Hide
    Nemo11 , February 29, 2012 7:36 AM
    I am surprised that the review did not include heat and noise benchmarks since both of these configurations would be well suited for a HTPC.
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