After all the tests we carried out, the final question remains: Does AMDs A-series mainstream APU deliver? We think it does, at least in the target segment it is marketed for. The CPU delivers enough performance for the majority of users and the GPU lives up to the claim of discrete level performance, at least at the entry level. Compared to Intels Sandy Bridge lineup the AMD A-series APUs are not only cheaper, but also deliver a better rounded package, that is if you don't plan on using a discrete GPU.
Of course there are some things about Llano, that don't shine so bright at this moment. While AMD heavily touts GPGPU applications as one of the reasons this chip delivers superior performance, in practice we are not quite there yet when it comes to the availability of software, that uses GPU computing to it's full potential. If this were the case, Llano would wipe the floor with other CPUs in performance comparisons, which is not quite the case, except for anything 3D. There need to be more applications for the APU outside of MotionDSP’s software.
There is one point we couldn't stress enough regarding Llano: Don't be cheap on memory, you will regret it! As our testing has shown that going from DDR3-1333 to DDR3-1600 provides a tangible performance increase both for the CPU and GPU. DDR3-1866 improves performance even more, but the increase is not so prominent than the former. Considering current RAM prices, you should really get at least DDR3-1600 RAM in conjunction with Llano, it is worth the money. Regarding DDR3-1866 we have to say that due to the rather steep price increase it is generally not worth it at this point. In the future this could change of course, since DDR3-1866 is now a JEDEC-ratified speedbin and there are even faster bins planned.
Going forward, around the second quarter of 2012 the successor of Llano dubbed Trinity should already start shipping. It will feature two next-generation Bulldozer modules, i.e. 4 processing cores, but only 2 FPUs. The GPU will be updated to a Cayman-descendant based on it's VLIW4 architecture. Compared to the approach AMD took with the slightly upgraded Redwood GPU inside Llano, this strikes a bit odd, as there is no low-end GPU design with the Cayman architecture yet. This could very well change once AMD releases the 28nm Radeon HD 7000 series, which is expected to feature the same architecture. Overall the chip is projected to deliver a 50% performance increase over Llano.
As for platform compatibility, nothing is known at this point. Trinity is said to come for a FM2 socket, which is different than the current FM1. But it wouldn't be the first time, that AMD has managed to keep products compatible over generation – just consider the incremental updates to socket AM2 – AM2+ - AM3. It's just something I wouldn't expect at this point.Editor's Note (Anshel)
Based on this review, we've concluded that we'd like to give AMD an award for their A8-3850 Llano APU by granting them our Editor's Choice for Mainstream award.
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