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AMD provided us with an A8-3850 CPU and an ASRock A75Pro4 ATX motherboard for the review. Purists might balk at the idea of a 100W TDP processor being used in tests intended to test the HTPC capabilities. However, we have to make do with whatever sample was sent to us. A look at the Lynx lineup indicates that the same product with a 2.6 GHz core clock (A8-3800) has a 65W TDP. I intended to underclock the CPU to 2.6 GHz. However, Llano clock adjustments are a minefield, as Ian points out in his ASRock Extreme6 review. The idle power usage in my testbed was good enough (as we shall see in a later section). My time was better spent debugging the HTPC related issues, and therefore, I didn't take the trouble to underclock.

As soon as I finished setting up the testbed, I found that Blu-rays would play correctly, but local file playback had a host of issues. Noise reduction and cadence detection wouldn't get activated for local files with ESVP on. Turning it off resulted in dropped frames and high load on the GPU. It was turning out to be very similar to the DDR3 based MSI 6450 we had reviewed earlier.

Being a new platform, BIOS updates for the ASRock A75 Pro4 were flying thick and fast. To confound the issue, different BIOS versions had different behaviors with the default UEFI settings. With some BIOS versions, even Blu-ray playback had the same issues as local files.

After going back and forth with AMD about the local file playback issue, we discovered that the BR softwares use a proprietary API for video playback from discs with DRM. For local file playback, most players use the DXVA API. These are different code paths and may result in different GPU utilization numbers.

Couple of days back, AMD finally discovered that the BIOS was forcing the shared GPU memory to an absurdly low value. The GFX memory settings forced by the user in the BIOS were also not honored. There was an update to the BIOS to fix this and set the default GFX memory to 512 MB. After this, both Blu-ray and local file playback improved enough for us to be able to get down to exhaustive testing. AMD did acknowledge that there exists an issue with local file playback having higher than normal GPU utilization, but that hasn't been resolved as yet.

The table below lists the components in our Llano HTPC testbed.

AMD Llano HTPC Testbed Setup
Processor AMD A8-3850 - 2.90GHz, 4MB Cache (1MB/core)
Motherboard ASRock A75Pro4 ATX
OS Drive OCZ Vertex 2 120 GB
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) F3-10666CL7D-4GBRH CAS 7-7-7-21
Video Cards None / Sapphire DDR3 6570 (for Crossfire)
Optical Drives ASUS 8X Blu-ray Drive Model BC-08B1ST
Case Antec Skeleton ATX Open Air Case
Power Supply Antec VP-450 450W ATX
Operating System Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Display / AVR Acer H243H / Onkyo TX-SR 606 + Toshiba Regza 37RV530U
.

The most important part of the testbed from a reviewer's perspective was the open air case from Antec. I had used the Antec VERIS Fusion MAX for the NAS / Fall 2010 HTPC testbed. The case was a HTPC beauty, and kept my lab neat and orderly (instead of having components all over the table and the floor). However, the fact that I had to open the case to swap PCI-E cards in and out made it slightly impractical.

The Antec Skeleton is a full ATX open air enclosure, and what really sealed the deal for me was the fact that the motherboard was easily accessible, and upto 4 SATA drives could be mounted on the side. It also has support for upto three 11" PCI-E cards. There are Quick Relase 5.25" and 3.5" bays, but I chose to mount only one optical drive in the 5.25" bay, leaving the rest open to route the cables. The four externally mounted 3.5" bays can also be used to mount 2.5" drives, as I did with the OCZ Vertex 2 SSD in the gallery below.

I keep moving my testbeds back and forth between the home theater setup with the bitstreaming / 24 Hz capable gear and the test lab upstairs with the ordinary monitors (so as to not disturb my family's usage of the HT gear). In the Antec Skeleton case, the grips on the top railing (on either side of the top fan) can be used as handles. This makes it very easy to carry around.

The fancy LED lights on top around the huge fan make it look very attractive and it is sure to turn heads.
The last thing was from an OC / gaming enthusiast viewpoint and not really from a reviewer's perspective!

Let us now proceed to the actual HTPC benchmarking of the Llano.

 

Lynx: Llano for HTPCs HQV 2.0 Benchmarking
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  • ganeshts - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    For casual HTPC users (or even non-HTPC .. just users who want to play back HD video), there was no need for a discrete HTPC GPU starting with the Clarkdales / Arrandales (some would say even with the IGP in the 4500, but let us not talk about that because it was a pain to use).

    Hey, it looks like AMD's latest GPUs are not even able to decode videos that SNB / Clarkdale has no trouble with! (agreed it is a driver issue, but when are they going to fix it? We reported it 6 months back)

    Agreed about Intel's GPU very weak, but only for gaming. And for videos, the only place 6550D stands out is in deinterlacing quality (most people are OK with proper playback of progressive content).

    Atom deserves to get creamed in any way it can. But, I don't ever suggest people buy Atom based products (and I still advise friends to avoid anything with that level of performance, which includes Brazos) -- though market might not agree with me here. ION market no longer exists.

    The other propositions, I agree with. In this piece, I restricted myself to HTPC performance.
    Reply
  • cyrusfox - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    I can respect and agree with your response, it just originally seemed to me that you were trumping Intel unfairly in regards to GPU integration efforts. But strictly in regards to video consumption in an HTPC, I can't fault your analysis, my apologies.

    As for AMD and its drivers, it can take awhile for them to get all the issues right(many times I have to opt for a hotfix release to fix one issue only to create another). But I have a little more faith in AMD releasing a driver update that corrects its issues than Intel. Then again you will be testing to see if you can achieve 23.976 Hz on SB with a new driver in the works, maybe Intel is stepping up there GPU driver game. Shoot, maybe Intel will even get the linux community sorted(we can hope!)
    Reply
  • prdola0 - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    "HTPC Quality is better on Liano vs"

    What? You didn't even finish that sentence. HTPC Quality is better on i3-2100 + proper dGPU than on Llano.

    Then you throw at us some opinions totally unsupported by facts.

    "Features are better on AMD chipsets"

    Again, just an opinion and a flawed one. How are AMD chipsets better than Intel chipsets? You can't just say that without telling us what is better on AMD side or missing on Intel's. I can't really find anything.

    "Performance idle and playback is lower then Intel "
    No. The former is true, but the latter is a lie. In the main review Llano won just one power consumption test and lost the other four.

    Instead of accusing a quality review of bias without any facts to support it, just go away already.
    Reply
  • StormyParis - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    The tests in the article seem to find video playback quality better on Llano. And much better for games.

    Superior features on the AMD chipset: USB 3, more SATA2 ports, typically better sound chip than on H61 boards (that's an OEM choice though, I just couldn't fnd an H61 board with ALC 892.. I didn't look much).

    Indeed lower idle power, higher under load.
    Reply
  • maroon1 - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    What is the cheapest motherboard for Llano ?

    H61 motherboards can be found for $60 and H67 can found for only $75 in newegg

    Is there any Llano motherboard that cost same in newegg ?
    Reply
  • StormyParis - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    give it a bit of time ? Reply
  • just4U - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    I've found the past few years that AMD boards are higher quality with more features then their Intel counterparts in similiar price ranges. I think it has to do with Intel charging more for their chipset maybe.. (a guess). AT could easily confirm this observation I think since they must have noticed the same thing. Reply
  • just4U - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    as an afterthought..

    Outside of OEM you really don't see bare bones Amd Boards like you do for Intel $60 boards. They'd have to sell them for 35-40 bucks and margins would be so low it's just not worth it. So they add more to bump the cost up (and appeal) making AMD's rock bottom boards equivelent to Intels $100 offerings.
    Reply
  • T2k - Saturday, July 02, 2011 - link

    prdola0,

    you are surely retarded, I must say - which part you STILL cannot grasp?

    For HTPC Llano is better EVERY WAY when compared to Intel's shitty Sandy Bridge solution and still scores better when compared to your Intel + VGA setup, first and foremost thanks to much lower power consumption which is one of the primary considerations when building an HTPC.
    Reply
  • L. - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    Mhhh no.
    Any other APU with the same GFX will do the same, I have no data about the others, but seeing how much this is memory constrained I would expect scaling to be non-linear in favor of the worse igp's.

    You will save slightly less than 30 bucks on the memory if you really want to buy 1333 today.
    BUT!
    You will also save only 30 bucks if you go for 2133mhz ram, with which the Llano performs much better, as shown in other reviews.

    4Gigs of 1333 (dual) : $33.99
    4Gigs of 1600(dual): $37.99
    4Gigs of 1866(dual): $59.99
    4Gigs of 2133(dual): $64.99

    Your I3+mobo already costs 20 bucks more than the Llano+mobo.

    i3 : $124.99
    cheapest p67 : $104.99
    Total : 230

    Llano A8 : $135 (announced)
    cheapest Llano mb : $70 (announced)
    Total 205

    Well .. I guess you could consider having a $5 rebate on your discrete GPU a total win in favor of i3 ...

    Need real numbers ? Go check newegg it's not my job ;)

    So in effect you are telling me that a more expensive system will be better... I do trust you on that ;)
    Reply

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