Thoughts on AMD's new APUs

Posted on 24th Oct 2012 at 07:10 by Antony Leather with 12 comments

Antony Leather
I've been a big fan of AMD's recent desktop APUs. While its embedded offerings aren't much to shout about, Socket FM1 was a small triumph for AMD in an otherwise poor showing on the desktop CPU/APU front. I'm not going to mention the 'B' word here, as it's not really relevant but needless to say, it was nice to see an AMD desktop chip actually scoring highly for a change.

What made Llano so good (when the supply shortages were finally under control) is that despite its market being a niche one, it filled this gap and filled it well. X86 performance has been an issue with AMD's chips for a while, and Llano was no exception, with Intel's Pentiums and Core i3s running rings round it in single-threaded applications. However, for a gaming setup for less than £100 including a CPU and GPU, Llano was hard to beat.

Motherboards eventually came down in price with half-decent overclocking models still available for less than £60, meaning £160 is all you needed to spend to get a respectable CPU, GPU and motherboard. I didn't build any budget PCs for friends or family in the last year or so, but if I had done, I'd definitely have considered using a Llano APU.

Thoughts on AMD's new APUs *My thoughts on AMD's new APUs
Click to enlarge

Socket FM2, sadly, meant that Socket FM1's roadmap was chopped but as a consolation, AMD has released its latest APUs and promised they'll be supported for two generations. They're also proving themselves to be worthy considerations at the low end and gained ground on Intel's x86 dominance. The A10-5800K in particular is considerably faster than any Llano-based APU, yet it still costs around the same £100 mark as the A8-3870K.

However, motherboards are very much a mixed bag in terms of price and in some cases, risk damaging AMD's favourable reputation at the low end for gaming performance on a budget. Socket FM2's flagship chipset, A85X, doesn't really offer that much over A75, which has migrated from FM1 to FM2. You get dual eight-lane PCI-E 16x slots (some A75 boards can do CrossFireX but they're limited by one slot only offering four lanes), as well as couple more SATA 6Gbps ports - nothing really to write home about.

Despite this though, many A85X-equipped boards are retailing for well over £100. This might be board partner's ideas of cashing in on some sexy margins, but it's terrible news for AMD. Many Socket FM2 A75 motherboards are available for less than £60 - the sweet spot if you're looking to build a budget gaming system. However, factoring in one of the more expensive A85X boards will mean the CPU/GPU/motherboard combination will cost well over £200.

Thoughts on AMD's new APUs *My thoughts on AMD's new APUs
Click to enlarge

Of course the issue here is that AMD is playing with fire by going up against Intel's budget offerings. Not with its in-board graphics mind you, but with discrete graphics cards. A Core i3 combined with something like a Radeon HD 7750 1GB plus a £50 budget LGA1155 motherboard will be significantly faster yet cost about the same.

My concern is that with so much emphasis going on these A85X motherboards, potential punters will be put off by their high prices. They may overlook Socket FM2 entirely when in fact, if you look at the platform at it's strongest - with a £60 A75 motherboard and high-end FM2 APU - it beats anything Intel can throw at it in its price range and is definitely worth buying.

It's a situation that AMD should be careful to manage, given how long and hard it's tried to get something out the door that can compete with the Santa Clara giant. At the moment, the success of Trinity and Socket FM2 could rest in the hands of motherboard manufacturers.

What are your thoughts on AMD's new APUs? Let us know in the forum...


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GuilleAcoustic 24th October 2012, 09:19 Quote
Agree with you ! What bugs me the most is the tone of full ATX FM2 mobos. I really think they should focus on mATX at max, and mITX should be widely available (which is not the case right now). We need affordable, small, with no useless features motherboards, keep the size and price low, but do not forget the quality.
DreamCatcher 24th October 2012, 10:23 Quote
I absolutely concur. I'd love to build my parents and several friends a small and hip looking all-purpose PC - low gaming demands, some HTPC interest, mainly office and photo juggling.
It is sad that I have not seen one product announcement that would feature WiFi on an FM2 Board. It is desperate, however, that there's still not one m-ITX FM2 Board available - in Germany that is.
tonyd223 24th October 2012, 11:01 Quote
Matx and itx boards for £60, throw that sexy Cooler Master Elite 120 case in the mix, and perhaps a power supply with short cables (I know Silverstone do a 500w but there must be someone else?) And it starts to make sense for a machine you don't play with - a computing appliance like an HTPC, or Grannies computer...
[PUNK] crompers 24th October 2012, 13:41 Quote
Yep I really want to buy one but I'm not going to unless they have the mITX motherboards (I'm looking at the asrock model) available. Seems like AMD have been pretty silly with this to be honest. If intel released this chip you could bet your bottom dollar they would make sure the right boards were available for release or at most a week afterwards.

As it stands the chip is a bit of a chocolate teapot.
GuilleAcoustic 24th October 2012, 13:50 Quote
I want mITX with mPCIe (for Wifi + BT card) and mSATA to drop a 256GB SSD into it .... zero cable mobo (except PSU .... or drop a nice pico psu), add bluetooth keyboard and mouse ... om nom nom :D
Adnoctum 24th October 2012, 19:22 Quote
The issue here isn't with AMD but with the partners. AMD have chosen to take a corporate collaborative strategy, deciding that "partner" means "collaborator" and not "vassal" the way Intel and Nvidia do. AMD takes more of a hands-off approach to dealing with partners, letting them make their own business, economic and marketing decisions. Intel and Nvidia take a very different strategy.

You could argue that this is probably due to their weaker position, but I would disagree, and I think their history would dispute this argument. AMD has a history dating to before their recent troubles of not strong-arming their partners.
This is one of the benefits of being an AMD partner, you get to make your own product choices and AMD gets to develop a more responsive eco-system around their products, which also costs them less money in kick-backs, incentives, "marketing reimbursements" and "development programs" which provides various forms of funding. AMD puts options down in front partners, which they will either take up and run with or they won't, but it really is a bit of a scatter-gun approach. How many AMD initiatives have we had where we thought "that could be good" and then it went nowhere?
The down side is that AMD exerts less control over the products that bears their name and has little say over the products, message and marketing.

On the other side Intel and Nvidia get greater control of the message and the marketing and have far more influence over products and their development, but they pay for the privilege of doing so. If they want more of a certain form factor then they can force the matter, whether through "incentives" or coercion. AMD does not/can not do the same (you can choose which option it is).
And being a partner of Intel and Nvidia can be a good thing too. They will provide engineering resources (money and people) and marketing resources (money and people), and while AMD will do it too, their efforts do not have the depth of resources given. Especially Intel's, whose "resources" have a measurable effect to a hardware company's financial results.

While I personally favour the AMD approach because it better reflects my own personal values, business has ethics not morals, so there is no correct path to take with partners.

And if I'm going to be honest, my mouse cursor hasn't hesitated over the "Buy" button worrying about Intel's or Nvidia's partner relations. So long as the relationship isn't abusively violent (which might prompt me to call the police, battered partners are no joking matter), this isn't a reason to stop me going Intel/Nvidia.
SexyHyde 24th October 2012, 23:46 Quote
I have a Llano 3870K in my 2nd PC and love it, plays TF2 brilliantly. I so want a 5800K and would have snapped one up at release had there been an itx board as I want it to go on a shelf where matx just won't fit. It's shocking that non of the mobo makers thought to get an itx ready for launch and baffling that half the boards are atx. Comes to something when the niche your product fills just isn't catered for.
fluxtatic 25th October 2012, 05:39 Quote
I've been disappointed the lack of m-ITX boards, as well. Before I ran with my wild-hair car PC, I'd intended my next build to be a replacement of my wife's aging Athlon 64. It's currently an micro-ATX mid-tower on the coffee table in the living room (we haven't turned on our TV in probably 3 years.) At the moment, I'm dead set on it being m-ITX. Aside from that, Trinity would be a stupidly good fit for her purposes. If I have to, I may compromise with another micro-ATX in a more appropriately-sized case (her computers so far have all been my hand-me-downs), but the lack of m-ITX boards has, for the first time, had me considering jumping to the dark side and building an Ivy Bridge system.
Tyinsar 26th October 2012, 00:44 Quote
Originally Posted by GuilleAcoustic
I want mITX with mPCIe (for Wifi + BT card) and mSATA to drop a 256GB SSD into it .... zero cable mobo (except PSU .... or drop a nice pico psu), add bluetooth keyboard and mouse ... om nom nom :D

I'd even settle for one of those tiny pre-built systems but no one makes them either.
Gareth Halfacree 26th October 2012, 10:04 Quote
My experience with the A10-5800K so far:

It's quicker than my old E8400, especially when I'm running dozens of things simultaneously - which is most of the time - and having four cores (and scads of memory, which is by-the-by) makes it more realistic for me to leave one or more VMs running in the background. It's also bleedin' low power: socket draw while typing or browsing t'internet oscillates between a minimum of about 86W to a peak of about 91W, including the monitor. By contrast, my E8400 with GeForce 9800GT single-slot card idled at about 129W - so I'm saving a not-inconsiderable amount of electricity, and my UPS will run longer before shutting the system down. Peak power draw including monitor, measured while running the Unigine Heaven benchmark, hit about 175W.

Driver support in Linux is a bit sketchy - which is only to be expected, given how new the chip is. Most things work fine under the latest kernel, but AMD's binary-blob drivers do have a few glitches. Particularly annoying is a problem taking screenshots under the Cinnamon DE - although this isn't exclusive to the new APUs, as it affects any AMD GPU running the Catalyst closed-source driver package. Oh, and the heatsink is cheap and nasty with a base that fails to even cover the entire heatspreader.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased - and as AMD works on its drivers, most of the little glitches should be ironed out. If I get tired of the relatively slow graphics performance - Heaven gets about 7fps at stock settings running at 1920x1080 - I'll stick in a Radeon HD 6670 and see how much of a pain Dual Graphics is under Linux.
knutjb 26th October 2012, 14:46 Quote
I built a small u-atx for school work with a 3850. It is so quiet I frequently use it as a HTPC and music server. Haven't played games on it yet though. I used to sell computers at a local store and this is what most users are looking for, a simple plug and play box. Side by side with intels budget offerings, I noticed a difference in video quality with AMD holding the advantage, particularly with multi-monitor set ups. I also built one for my dad because it does what he needs very well.

I just hope AMD can keep it together in spite of intel's best efforts to knock them out completely.

Other thoughts, we frequently want the latest, greatest hardware and I used to be able to afford it. This isn't as fast as I want but for how I use it it does my school work, mostly large office files and plays my music and email and video and... all without a hitch. I have higher grade parts all bought on sale, seasonic x-series ps, well featured Gigabyte mb, 8g 1866, ssd, lian li case... I typically get 2-3 mb through a case and ps. I still want a faster cpu but AMD has hit a sweet spot. I have to say my unicomp keyboard has been one of my best buys it games well according to my son and is easy to type fast and is much quieter than my cherry kb.
GuilleAcoustic 29th October 2012, 11:07 Quote
I have a question, did someone test it with Minecraft ? I'm willing to know if the A10 APU can handle it alone (no discrete GPU) at 1080 resolution ? Due to huge size and budget restirction, this could be my solution.

EDIT : I think I found the answer :D

But, if people have expereicne with it handling small games (Minecraft, Terraria, Bit trip runner, Orc Must Die, League of Legends, etc.) I'd be more than happy with some return on experience :D
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