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

Can AMD's APU Outperform A CPU And Discrete GPU?

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 BridgeLlanoTurks
Process:32 nm32 nm40 nm
CPU Cores (Threads):24-
CPU Clock Speed:2.6 GHz3.0 GHz-
Interface:LGA 1155Socket FM1PCIe 2.0-Capable
L2 Cache:512 KB2 MB-
L3 Cache3 MB--
Graphics Cores:6 EUs400 Shaders480 Shaders
Graphics Clock:650-1100 MHz600 MHz800 MHz
Thermal Envelope:65 W100 W66 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.

  • tristan_b
    Well 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.
    Reply
  • esrever
    try the i3 2105 vs the g630 and the 6670 and see the results.
    Reply
  • dragonsqrrl
    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.
    Reply
  • iam2thecrowe
    not surprised here.
    Reply
  • jimmysmitty
    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 $140 which means they are about the same in price. The mobos, RAM and other stuff will be about the same. I have said it before, but it still holds true. Llano is great for the modile sector. In laptops it will be the best value for lower end laptops to provide a decent gaming setup. Not maxed but still better than what HD3K can do. But on DT, its mostly pointless as it uses a sub par CPU with a decent IGP.
    Reply
  • Zero_
    Nice. Something I've always debated to include in my blog (my sig). The G620 + HD6670 always won out in my book. Good to see a confirmation from Toms.
    Reply
  • tigrc
    Intel Pentium G620 has TDP of 65W, not 35. G620T has TDP of 35W. :)
    Reply
  • ohim
    And yet Tom`s managed to miss out something ... the CPU + video card might be the same price as the AMD APU but the Intel motherboard is 50+$ more than the one used in the AMD system .. at least in my country.
    Reply
  • saturnus
    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.
    Reply
  • tlmck
    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.
    Reply