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Update: Be sure to read our full review of AMD's E-350 here.

Last week I mentioned that I had recently spent some time with AMD down in Austin, TX, benchmarking its upcoming Brazos platform. The Brazos platform is composed of an AMD Zacate or Ontario APU and the Fusion Controller Hub (a South Bridge based on the SB800 series). Brazos systems will run the gamut of mainstream notebook, netbook and nettop segments ranging from $299 to around $500. While AMD let us reveal the fact that we tested Brazos, we weren't allowed to publish numbers last week. Today, we can.

I didn’t have much time with Brazos. The AMD briefing started at 9AM, but AMD wanted to go through some marketing slides and answer questions before letting us at Brazos. Going into this whole thing I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to run everything I wanted to run. You see, the system I had access to wasn’t pre-configured. It had Windows 7 x64 loaded on it, drivers installed and PCMark Vantage - but everything else was up to me. Despite having a 128GB Crucial RealSSD C300, installing a dozen applications and games still took hours on the system. I asked AMD if I could at least begin copying/installing some applications before we started the briefing, they gladly entertained my request.

I brought an SSD full of applications, games and benchmarks that I wanted to run on the Brazos platform. I purposefully avoided any large test suites (PCMark Vantage, SYSMark) because they would eat up a lot of time and I had no idea how long the rest of the benchmarking would take.


The Brazos test platform

I also didn’t run any of our media streaming suite. The Zacate/Ontario APUs feature AMD’s UVD3 engine and should, in theory, have similar media playback features to the Radeon HD 6000 series. Of course once we have final systems it’ll be easier to put this to the test. I was mainly interested in characterizing the CPU and GPU performance of Brazos, the two major unknowns.

I didn’t get into the full swing of testing until just before 11AM, and we had a hard stop at 5PM. That didn’t leave a ton of time, but I believe it left enough to get a good idea for what Brazos will perform like in the real world.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of our coverage, the system felt snappy. I had the 11-inch MacBook Air on hand (it served as my Excel-runner while I benchmarked) and interacting with the OS felt no different between the Brazos system and the 1.6GHz MBA. That being said, the MBA is technically much quicker (and more expensive).

AMD Brazos Lineup
APU Model Number of Bobcat Cores CPU Clock Speed GPU Number of GPU Cores GPU Clock Speed TDP
AMD E-350 2 1.6GHz Radeon HD 6310 80 500MHz 18W
AMD E-240 1 1.5GHz Radeon HD 6310 80 500MHz 18W
AMD C-50 2 1.0GHz Radeon HD 6250 80 280MHz 9W
AMD C-30 1 1.2GHz Radeon HD 6250 80 280MHz 9W

The system I tested had AMD’s E-350 processor, the highest end APU you’ll find on a Brazos. This is the chip you’ll find in $400 nettops and notebooks in the $400 - $500 range. This puts its direct competition as really expensive Atom based netbooks, Pentium dual-core notebooks and low end Core i3 notebooks. While the latter two should easily outperform the E-350 in CPU intensive tasks, the GPU comparison is another story entirely. It’s also worth noting that the E-350 carries an 18W TDP (including graphics). During my testing I measured a maximum total system power consumption of around 30W (including the 1366 x 768 LCD panel) while playing games and around 25W while encoding H.264 on the two Bobcat cores. The system idled around 15W however AMD cautioned me that this number was unnaturally high. Final Brazos systems will be far more power optimized and AMD expects numbers to drop down to as low as 5.6W.

AMD is confident we will see Brazos based systems deliver well beyond 6 hours of battery life. AMD's goal is to deliver Atom like battery life and form factors, with a real GPU and hopefully better than Atom performance. We spent our time in Austin trying to find out if its goals were realistic.

Setting Performance Expectations
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  • ET - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    I'm not saying it's a bad product, and as I said it should draw the OEM's. What it doesn't do is change the kind of products available. It's not significantly faster, doesn't really allow gaming, it's just another entry point that's not bad. It will power yet another bunch of low cost notebooks that can only be used for everyday tasks. At the netbook side it may be a little more convincing, since it saves the need for an extra chip for video, and benchmarks showed a significantly higher javascript speed compared to an Atom, which matters. But still, there's no wow factor about it.

    As a consumer I will certainly prefer an AMD netbook with this chip to an Atom based one, it's just that I was hoping for more. From my point of view, the advantage of such a netbook over Atom+Ion:

    - Lower price
    - Perhaps smoother everyday use (hinted at by the javascript benchmark)
    - No artificial hardware limits, far as I know, so I expect to see a "netbook" with 4GB of RAM (or at least upgradeable to that)
    - If I'd want to try Direct3D development on it (which I did in the past on similar strength hardware), I'll have the full DX11 feature set, even if at very low speed.
    Reply
  • flyck - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    it IS significantly faster. What the benchmarks do not show is single threaded applications. Single threaded is dead slow on Atom. e.g. starting an application/user interfaces all single threaded will feel slugish on Atom and not on Ontario.

    1Ghz Bobcat equals around 1.6GHz Atom cpu in single threaded applications how is that disappointing for a smaller cpu?
    Reply
  • ET - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    > 1Ghz Bobcat equals around 1.6GHz Atom cpu in single threaded applications how is that disappointing for a smaller cpu?

    Because as a consumer I don't care at all whether the CPU is smaller. I care about performance (and I do care to an extent about characteristics like power consumption and heat, but that's a lesser factor). Being given another CPU which performs like an Atom is disappointing. I didn't want another Atom. I was hoping that AMD for once will be able to take the performance crown, and by a significant margin, and I'm disappointed that it couldn't.
    Reply
  • AMDJunkie - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    Also, it should play Crysis. And be $100 cheaper. And use sub-1W power. You know what, knock another $100 off that price. Why isn't it free?

    Sometimes, I think the big corporations are just holding back, trying to squeeze a buck out of us enthusiasts. There's no difficulty at all making a chip that does everything at this price range, they just don't want to. :(
    Reply
  • flibbertigibbet - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    I am very disappointed by Anand's choice of systems to benchmark Zacate against. He himself says it is intended to compete in the ultra-portable, high end netbook, nettop, and low end notebook space. That being the case, I think some of the following systems would have made for a better comparison:

    - Atom N550 (with and without Ion2)
    - AMD Nile (K325/K625 + Radeon 4250)
    - Intel 2009 CULV (Celeron SU2300/Pentium SU4100 + Intel G45/ Nvidia Ion)
    - Intel 2010 ULV Arrandale + Intel HD

    I'm happy he included the VIA Nano DC. I hope OEM's come up with sleek, portable machines matched with high-capacity batteries to match Zacate. Can't wait to see more detailed power consumption and battery numbers.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    I focused mainly on making sure we had low end notebook coverage ($400 - $500 notebooks will have a ~2.2GHz Pentium DC or Core i3), however I've been running i3-330UM numbers this morning and just updated the gaming performance charts with them - refresh to see the new comparison :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • trivik12 - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    it would be interesting to compare bobcat with oaktrail platform. That supposedly has very good idle power consumption(supposedly in ARM league) and better load power consumption compared to current solutions.

    I am sure intel will release CULV based on Sandy Bridge if there is big enough competition from bobcat. 18V CULV with SB core will make it interesting for sure.

    Anyway I am glad to see bobcat destroying atom as intel had little intention of making Atom a decent chip. Hopefully this will make intel do something different with oaktrail and medfield.
    Reply
  • antaholics - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    I hope nobody asked this yet, but I noticed that the i3/i5 ULVs were not benchmarked to compare. They're at a slightly higher price bracket ($500-700+), but not something consumers wouldn't consider if they're in the market for a high-end netbook.

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • antaholics - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    and they have similar battery life/TDP as Brazos and Atom, unlike the pentium DC and i3 tested Reply
  • SandmanWN - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    When you buy anything your first metric is money. You don't just arbitrarily decide to consider a higher price bracket. You wouldn't even consider this if you where looking at the 500-700+ price range. Reply

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