Llano takes the Black
AMD has a history of filling a product line when they do a processor. I mean look at all the model and speed choices we got with the Phenom II and Athlon II. So when we looked at the A8-3850 6 months ago I fully expected us to see a full product line up of these value based Fusion processors to shortly follow. What followed however was 2 A6 and 2 A4 models and that was it, the line up seemed to stall there. This was really odd because as I said AMD is known for a full product line. However we now see two new A series chips, the A8-3870 and the A6 3670.
Both of these chips are 100 MHz bumps over the chips that preceded them, so it is hard to get excited about the performance bump. AMD however took the initiative and did something more, both chips are Black Edition, which means they are fully unlocked for overclocking. So while the 100 MHz bump is not all that exciting the overclocking holds the promise of more. For our testing AMD sent us the A8 3870K, so lets throw it into our Fusion system and see what we get.
A quick refresher the Fusion APU is a traditional CPU with a Parallel Co-Processor, or GPU on the same die. This extra unit means the chip can perform all the graphic functions the computer needs for display and is also fully usable by APIs such as Direct Computer and OpenAL for GPU computing.
The A8-3870 is the current flagship of the APU lineup clocked at 3.0 GHz with GPU portion running at 600 MHz. For defining the GPU performance level AMD has listed this as a 6550D. For our testing we used the same system as our original A series review, all we did was swap the processor and began our testing.
First we established baselines at stock speed in comparison to the A8 3850 and as expected the performance was so close as to be un-noticeable in difference. Remember though this was only a 100 MHz speed bump so stock performance was not were we expected to see a difference. This chip is unlocked however so overclocking should be easy. So we started by overclocking the 3850 we had and was able to achieve a stable overclock with no tweaking at 3.3GHz. Firing up the 3870 I was hoping for more but hit 3.4Ghz and would have been forced to start tweaking voltages and such to go further. The result was not as much as I had hoped.
However the CPU portion is only the beginning, with the 3850 we where unable to get any overclock on the GPU portion but with the 3870 we where able to pull some nice boost. We where able to take the speed up to 775 MHz without any tweaking and this resulted in a 3D Mark 11 Performance score boost of about 28%, pushing it close to the Performance score of a 6570. Next we paired the overclock chip with a 6670 and watched the performance go up more netting us another 17% above the performance we saw with the stock speeds and the 6670 is Crossfire.
While the overclocking we got gave a nice little speed bump, overall it is a very limited overclock. These chips are just pushing the envelope with stock speeds it seems and overclocking them is a neat exercise but any real bumps are just not going to happen without a lot of effort. This is a bit disappointing considering how well other Black Edition chips have overclocked historically for AMD.
What does this mean for you? Well we where able to run Skyrim at High Detail at 1440×900 and it was butter smooth throughout our game play session. Further I could play Champions Online at max detail at 1440×900 and run pretty high frame rates, easily high enough to make lag from the hardware a none issue. This chip will not win any performance marks out of the game but take this chip with a sub $100 video card and you get some really solid performance that will easily meet a budget gamers needs.
The system when running the 6670 in crossfire can push into 1080 resolution game play but you need to start backing down some settings. I did most of my testing at 1440 because this is a realistic resolution for the price point with details levels as high as possible.
Sadly however this may be Llano’s, the codename for this chip, last hoorah. Trinity based APUs were on display at CES in their mobile version and the desktop is likely not far behind. These next generation APUs will be based on Piledriver and be of a completely different architecture so the performance we will see compared to Llano is up in the air until we can get one. The 3870 and 3670 could very well be the only refresh we see on the first run of APUs.
If you are a hardware tinkerer and want to do a low budget build with some gaming potential the APU platform is really a must look at for your first choice. With even the onboard video and overclocking you can get fair performance for basic gaming at 1440×900. Drop in a low cost video card and you can game decent at 1080 or great detail levels at 1440. These unlocked APUs are a neat chip to look at but at the end of the day will be a minor blip on the APU radar as this phase of the APU is pushed out of the way by Trinity.
The FM1 Socket APU however has done it’s job and made it’s note in history. The first real APU design this chip has shown that an integrated graphics solution CAN be done and done well, not just basic functionality. The ability for it to be used outside the graphics area and as a full parallel co-processor is it’s most important contribution in my eyes. So with my Fire and Ice reference I think it is fitting that instead of going quietly into that good night as Trinity comes along, Llano should go out with a last hoorah and take the Black. Heading to the wall to give us our start into a new kind of chip.