AMD Llano A8-3850 Review - Where to Buy

By on July 21, 2011

Making integrated graphics a playable reality.

AMD Llano A8-3850 Review


The new Llano APUs from AMD made quite an impact when I reviewed their mobile processors, codenamed Sabine, last month with the A8-3500M. Now it’s time for the new desktop Llano processors, codenamed Lynx, to show their worth.

The desktop Llano APUs differ from their mobile counterparts in that they have an overall higher TDP, faster integrated GPPU clock speeds and support for higher memory speeds (1866MHz on Lynx as opposed to 1600MHz on Sabine). You can have a more in-depth look at all the proposed SKUs of the desktop Llano processors in the chart below.



All the above processors are based on the new socket FM1, on a 32nm die. Additionally the desktop Llano processors are similar to the mobile variants in that you can create a hybrid CrossFire X setup between the above mentioned APUs and anyone of the following AMD discrete graphics cards: Radeon HD 6450, 6550, or 6570.




For reviewing the AMD A8-3850 I was provided with a Gigabyte A75M-UD2H motherboard to test it on. The motherboard in itself is a pretty impressive mini-ATX socket FM1 board in its own right, but today I’m just looking at the processor. So on the board went a pair of 4GB G.Skill RipJaws X DDR3-2133MHz memory sticks, our WD VelociRaptor 300GB HDD, a Zotac GTX 580 AMP! Edition (for comparisons) and a Noctua NH-U9B heatsink since we weren’t provided with the stock cooler. For comparisons, the only thing that comes close to price of the AMD A8-3850 is the Intel Core i3-2100.

While I have run benchmarks on just the A8-8350 APU alone, for proper comparisons with the Core i3-2100 I have plugged in the GTX 580. The below benchmarks are done in order to simulate CPU benchmarks between these two main competitors. Do keep in mind that the Core i3-2100 is running at 3.1GHz, a 6% increase compared to the A8-3850 is running at 2.9GHz. The lack of L3 cache is also hurting the Lynx processor a bit.



Both these tests simulate real-world computer usage, and it's not surprising to see the Phenom II based A8-3850 lose out to the Sandy Bridge Core i3-2100. However the lead isn't much, with a mere 4% increase in PC Mark but a sizeable 8% lead in Geekbench in favour of the Core i3.



I ran all tests thrice to ensure there were no inconsistencies, and indeed 7-zip results show the A8-3850 having a massive 26% leap over the Core i3-2100.



It seems that the multithreading on the Intel CPU is more effective than that of the AMD APU, giving he former a 13% increase. Clock speeds still play a big role here, so let's not forget the 6% speed boost the Core i3-2100 has over the A8-3850. Interestingly when I ran this benchmark with the integrated GPU, I received a result of 3.41, a 16% increase over the Core i3-2100.



Once again the 3MB of L3 cache and 200MHz extra core clock speeds give the Core i3-2100 the edge in 3DMark 11.



It's interesting to see the CPU score on Passmark for the A8-3850 having a 65% increase over the Core i3-2100, although the latter does have a superior lead in memory bandwidth, and strangely 2D, to balance things out.



One the biggest features of the Lynx processors are their extreme coolness. Ideally I would love to have had stock heatsinks for both of these CPUs, but as it were, we're out of stock heatsinks in the Tbreak office. I know the Noctua NH-U9B is one hell of a CPU cooler, but do keep in mind that it isn't the behemoth like its big brother, the NH-D14. The U9B was designed for small HTPC, and despite it's dual-fan design, is still a relatively modest cooler. Then there's the Intel XTS-100H cooler that you normally get with their high-end CPUs like the 980X, so what cooled the Core i3-2100 was an equally competent heatsink.

The end result is undeniable though, the AMD A8-3850 is an extremely cool running CPU. Even when overclocked, the maimum temperature never went beyond 42°C!



Before anyone gets excited about the overclocking potential of the A8-3850, know that it's ot what you, or even I, was expecting. There a couple of issues plaguing the overclocking scene of the Llano APUs. First of all, the multiplier seems to be locked, but certain motherboards, like our test Gigabyte A75M-UD2H, allows the CPU multiplier to be changed. I immediately changed it from x29 to x36 with a 0.50v increase in CPU and the Northbridge, resulting in 1.4625v and 1.200v respectively. Note that I didn't change the ram speeds, nor the core clock speed of the integrated GPU. On a successful boot and running tests, I literally saw no increase whatsoever in any of the benchmarks. While CPUZ did show the APU running at 3.6 GHz, the processing benchmarks results remained identical to stock performance.

I then proceeded to overclock the integrated GPU's speed from 600MHz to a successful 1000MHz, and met with the same problem: there was no performance increase in gaming benchmarks. I double checked the AMD Vision Engine Control Centre for the speeds and everything was reported as I expected. Except the apparent speed increase didn't equate to higher performance.

[caption id="attachment_40016" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="This means nothing!"][/caption]

 

So with that in mind I decided to increase the CPU Frequency within the BIOS, or the FSB as we all know it, which results in an increase in not only the CPU speeds but the memory and GPU core clock as well. However, this is where the system got really temperamental. I tried jumping the CPU frequency from the standard 100MHz to 133MHz but it wouldn't boot. I tried 130MHz, 125MHz and gave up and just went down to 110MHz and still nothing. Anything below a 10MHz increase in overall system speeds would have resulted in negligible performance gains. Also at 130MHz and 133MHz the SATA connection failed, resulting in the HDD not being connected at all. Basically the increase in CPU frequency results in some sort of balance issue whereby the chipset cannot handle all the data. A shame really, which is why I can't wait to test out the A8-3850 on other motherboards.

I know one thing for sure, that the A8-3850 supports up to DDR3 1866MHz ram, and while the stock performance at 1333MHz is impressive, those at 1600MHz and 1866MHz will be even more so as the bandwidth for the integrated GPU will greatly benefit from faster ram.

The G.Skill 4GB DDR3-2133MHz kit runs at 1333MHz when I loaded "Optimized Defaults" in the BIOS. I could easily select 1600MHz without changing the voltage. However, as soon as I bumped up the speed to 1866MHz, the system wouldn't boot successfully. Even after raising the stock voltage from 1.5v to the rated 1.60v and even 1.75v!



 

And so with a some disappointment I decided to run all the tests at the stock speed with 1333MHz and at the slightly higher 1600MHz speed. I did add the oveclocked 3.6GHz speeds as well. This is also the time when the core clock on the integrated GPU was overclocked to 1000MHz from 600MHz stock.



While Passmark seems to have negligible performance impact in overclocked states, 3DMark clearly sees a decent boost with the memory speeds increasing from 1333MHz to 1600MHz. Although the increase in CPU speed from 2.9GHz to 3.6GHz and even core clock speeds of integrated GPU from 600MHz to 1000MHz seems to have little impact.

The below game tests were run at a resolution of 1280 x 720, and all in-game settings were kept to Medium. Anti-Aliasing was turned off in all cases and Anisotropic Filtering was set to x4 wherever possible.



As with the games, the biggest performance increase we see is from the memory speed increase, with CPU and GPU clock speed increase have little to no impact on performance. I would have very much liked to see how the A8-3850 would have performed at 1866MHz, alas something in our test setup wasn't quite right. I ran Team Fortress 2 with everything set to High, no AA and 8xAF and got an average of 59fps using FRAPS. On World of Warcraft with Medium to High settings I got an average of 87fps running around Elwynn Forest and the Barrens.

I will be looking at A75 based motherboards soon, and then I should hopefully be able to test the limits of the A8-3850. As it stands, the new AMD A8-3850 APU keeps its promise. I was able to get a decent amount of CPU performance. Sure at this price range the Intel offering was slighly ahead, but for a minimal decrease in CPU performance I'm getting huge gains from the integrated GPU. As in, actually playable frame-rates on modern video games. For now the hardware is still in its early stages to determine if it's actually possible to have higher results by overclocking CPU and GPU speeds, but investing in decent ram rated at 1866MHz is a no-brainer. With the AMD A8-3850 it is actually feasible to have an extremely budget build and still be happy.

 
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