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CeBIT 2011: AMD Demos Llano Behind Closed Doors

AMD Demos Mobile Llano

At its booth at CeBIT 2011, AMD showed off the mobile version of its upcoming Llano APU. But whereas last year’s demo system still looked very improvised (it definitely screamed "engineering sample"), this Llano-based system actually looked like a notebook you might find in a store. It wasn't an attractive notebook, mind you, but it certainly seemed ready to ship, aside from some final design touches.

The company had an explanation for demonstrating its mobile part, rather than the desktop version we'd all probably rather see in action. Similar to the Brazos platform, it intends to launch the new APUs in the mobile space first. As a quick reminder, Llano will be AMD's mainstream APU, combining two to four Phenom-style x86-64 cores and a GPU on one die.

The demo system was running an as yet-unnamed quad-core Llano part with a 1.8 GHz clock, 4 GB of DDR3-1333 memory, Crucial’s C300 SSD, and Windows 7. For comparison, AMD picked an off-the-shelf notebook with identical specs, but built around Intel’s Core i7-2630QM at 2.0 GHz (plus Turbo Boost, obviously). Both systems relied on their respective integrated graphics solutions. AMD's argument there was that Intel is selling its HD Graphics 3000 solution as a mid-range part that can also handle gaming. We would love to show you photos, but we were only allowed to take pictures of the machines’ screens.

Sandy Bridge running Final Fantasy XIV

Llano running Final Fantasy XIV

There were three parts to the demo. First, AMD wanted to make an image quality comparison, leaving speed out of the equation for a moment. So, AMD’s John Taylor, director of global client product and software marketing, who was running the demo, started up 3DCenter’s Filtering Tester, a tool that shows how anisotropic filtering is handled. While AMD's implementation looked very close to ideal, Intel was obviously taking a performance shortcut by using angle-based optimizations.

Next up was a simple FurMark test to show the two integrated GPUs' rendering performance. Here are the results in table form:

FurMark SettingsIntel Core i7-2630QMAMD Llano Quad-Core
1024x768, No AAAverage/Minimum/Maximum10/9/14 FPS16/15/30 FPS
1024x768, 4x AAAverage/Minimum/Maximum2/2/2 FPS8/7/14 FPS
1024x768, No AA, Displacement Mapping EnabledAverage/Minimum/Maximum2/2/3 FPS6/5/10 FPS

The first thing you’ll note is that Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 struggles from the get-go, even at the least-taxing settings. Meanwhile, AMD certainly isn’t generating smooth frame rates. However, its on-die Radeon implementation takes less of a hit than Intel. What you can’t see is that, in the last run, with displacement mapping turned on, the “furry donut” in the middle of the scene failed to render completely on the HD Graphics 3000 engine, meaning that the Intel solution failed this iteration. At this point, John pointed out that not only was Intel taking shortcuts with image quality, but they weren't even helping the performance. Put another way, graphics hardware is only one part of the equation; you also need a fully-functional driver to actually play games.