AMD's AM1 Platform Is A Winner, But Who Is Playing The Game?
When I was asked to write about AMD's new AM1 platform, I wanted to do more than just collect benchmark numbers. I wanted to get a real-world sense of Kabini's capabilities beyond the mobile environments it was originally designed to serve. I surfed the Web, did my social networking, worked on documents, played YouTube videos, and tried to use the hardware as I would my own workstation. To my surprise, I didn't notice any difference between the Athlon 5350, Celeron J1900, or my own Core i7 in those common tasks.
Start hitting the low-end processors hard with a taxing workload, though, and the true desktop-oriented hardware pulls right away. Sure, AMD's Athlon might be a little snappier than the Celeron (an observation backed up by my data), but by a much smaller margin. In a game like Dota 2 or Grid 2, the Athlon can manage smooth frame rates at low details, while the Celeron is wholly incapable of usable performance. Get ambition and fire up Battlefield 4, though, and both low-power platforms choke.
Having said that, after using the hardware, I can comfortably say that the AM1 platform paired with an Athlon 5350 can deliver a satisfying experience in common computing and entertainment tasks. I can also say that, given a choice between Intel and AMD in this particular segment, the AM1 platform clearly wins. Intel is a bit more miserly with power, but a sub-20 W difference is largely irrelevant in the desktop space. So, congratulations AMD.
But I run into a problem when I try to imagine recommending an AM1 platform over, for instance, AMD's FM2+. Sure, a Sempron 2650 and motherboard might only cost about $60 together. But an A4-4000 and entry-level Socket FM2+-equipped motherboard combo starts in the $90 range. If you simply consider your options down the road, that extra $30 opens much larger world of options that AM1 cannot match. And frankly, the 3.2 GHz A4-4000 should clean house in a majority of our tests compared to the Athlon 5350, which is $10 more expensive than the A4.
Admittedly, AMD isn't targeting the traditional desktop computing segment with AM1. It's going after a new pseudo-desktop arena referred to as "PC-like devices". This is the battleground where Android-equipped set-top boxes and media players are taking pieces of the traditional desktop machine's pie. Perhaps AM1 will help builders offer a low-cost alternative to the more powerful desktops, and claw back some market share.
A PC is so much more than just a CPU and motherboard, though. The rest of the components, such as memory, hard disks, and an operating system, already make up much of a budget machine's price tag. So I'm skeptical of this platform's ability to reclaim ground for the PC.
From an enthusiast's perspective, it's hard to imagine an environment where AMD's new AM1 platform is ideal, except in cases where very low-power and diminutive enclosures are desirable. Otherwise, this could be the foundation for a cheap computer a more mainstream user with simpler needs uses to check email and browse the Web. In ultra-low-cost developing markets, it probably also makes a lot of sense. But if you have higher aspirations for an upgradable platform, look elsewhere: Socket FM2+ is a vastly superior vehicle from a performance perspective, and scales many orders of magnitude higher than AM1.