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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  • just4U - Saturday, July 02, 2011 - link

    I've always found AMD fans to be a little more reasonable then their Intel / Nvidia counterparts. Simple reason being AMD products don't normally hit home runs with enthusiasts (these days) so their not walking around puffing out their chests talking about their l33t products. Reply
  • Jaybus - Wednesday, July 06, 2011 - link

    Nonsense. The principle fault that AT points out is that the drivers are half baked. That is certainly not AT's fault, nor is it an unfair assessment. The fact is, I take all of the reviews with a grain of salt, sinec it is impossible to properly review the platform with such bad drivers. Reply
  • anikhtos - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    well both amd and intel have seen the intergrate cpu - gpu thing complelty wrong.
    the e-350 made by amd is a right product a decent low power machine dedicated for htpc or for a system needed less wattage thus c-50 can come into paly when watt is into account.

    liano!?!?!?! i3 with gpu
    what a joke.
    first you make the cpu-gpu compo to draw enought power to too much power thus needing a good cooling system thus passive cooling is no longer an option thus htpc is at question.

    the compromise of the cpu-gpu perfomanse is leaving always someone complaining i need more cpu i need more gpu.
    no indepentent upgrade available.
    and sorry for the 100 watt tdp of the a8 there are tons better solutions even from amd side
    athlonII x4 620e 45 watt or phenomII x4 915e at 65 watt leaving room for a discrete card as a 5570 which will kick any integrade gpu with blind fold.
    as long you can not provide any decent cpu-gpu combo at least they could have focused at the tdp lowering the cpu and gpu cababilities for a 20-25 watt system. the integrate gpu should always remain at a minimum lets say playing blue ray or a little more. thus allowing to build a system cheper now and upgrading to a single discrete card later. (as we used to do with intergrate gpu on mobo i bught my new system with an intergrade gpu on modo and 6 months later i bought the gpu)

    trying to make a killing combo is a wate of silicon. it wont work.
    and thus liano is a fail product too much tdp too little at anything
    Reply
  • ET - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    What I'd like to see is a media PC with the mobile Llano. 35W is low enough, especially coupled with the low idle power draw (which even the 100W llano has). I think that an HTPC that's small but capable of some gaming (WoW and the like) would be an attractive machine.

    It would be interesting to do some undervolting and underclocking of a 100W Llano and see what kind of power draw and performance can be achieved. And remember that 65W desktop Llano is also planned to appear.

    By the way, I don't think that Llano is a failed product. It may not be an enthusiast product, but it's a good product for OEM's. I also think that once people will start tweaking it they'll find it a good product for their HTPC needs, and it could get a following amongst enthusiasts.
    Reply
  • Targon - Tuesday, July 05, 2011 - link

    The joke is on you then, because you have missed the whole point of WHY these types of products are even offered. How many mainstream consumers have ever opened their computer case to even add more RAM? It's a fairly low percentage of the overall market that is concerned with the exact amount of power required here or there. Many also don't care about battery life since they will be on a desktop system, NOT a laptop, and many with laptops leave them plugged in all the time anyway.

    Now, the old system with a CPU and graphics integrated on the motherboard. If you measure the total power draw on the old systems compared to Llano, you are looking at the same or less power draw HERE, yet with much better graphics power. Can you compare a Radeon 4200 integrated video based machine to Llano and say that the older generation is better in any way?

    Llano is a first generation Fusion part, and if you go out and buy one of these for $400 in a computer tower, can you REALLY complain about what you get? It will be a much better machine than any i3 based machine at that price point, so why do you have a problem with that?
    Reply
  • garagisti - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    Dear Ganesh,

    You're so quick to complain about the shortcomings of the Llano, which to be fair are there. However, i failed to see you mention 24-bit hd audio bit-streaming through HDMI on the Llano. Oh, does Intel support that? Nope, there is no mention of that? Yes, you did mention that you will test audio solutions later. But why not publish this review a little later, more complete, where you could also speak about shortcomings of an Intel solution. Or, is that a no-no at Intel-tech, sorry, old habit, Anandtech.

    In short, my issue is with you guys siding up with one team so much, always... it's getting old. Anandtech i used to read some years ago, was more thorough than this, and dare i say, more balanced in concluding. I mean would it really kill you to say that Llano makes for a better HTPC solution than Intel's chippery? That is, as long as you're going with the igp.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    I don't find info anywhere that Intel doesn't support 24-bit HD audio bitstreaming. Any links to back up your claim? My testbed doesn't report the audio bitdepth (Onkyo 606), but you have piqued my interest, and I will definitely report the findings (if it doesn't bitstream) in my next HTPC review (if it uses SNB graphics)

    Technical writers have to deal with NDAs and launch dates. If I test thoroughly and report after a month or so, the coverage for the platform in the media dies down. We have to strike a balance between having a thorough review and one which touches upon most of the essential aspects at launch time. (You can see on the AVSForum Llano thread that users wanted a review as soon as the NDA lifted). You can also blame the half-baked nature of the BIOS and AMD drivers for us not being able to run all the tests before the NDA lift.

    In any case, we will also be reviewing HTPC systems based on the Llano chips in the future. By that time drivers also get mature and we will be able to do a more thorough review (and note if any of the issues we mentioned in this review gets resolved)

    We trust our readers to analyze the conclusions and make their own inference. Will I use the Llano in my own HTPC? No, because I have a 1080p60 camcorder whose videos play back perfectly on SNB and even AMD 6570 / GT 430 based systems. But, I can't speak for everyone. Our conclusions present the pros and cons, and unless a platform wins hands down, we don't say one thing is better than the other. If you observe, we didn't say that Intel's IGP is better for HTPCs, right?
    Reply
  • garagisti - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    Do you sincerely believe it is a tie? From HTPC perspective... HQV gives the picture quality test to Llano... HD Audio support is something i'd think one would investigate into, as it is a HTPC review.

    This is where the rub is... Llano is so many things to so many people, and reviewers have may be a responsibility of educating people. It allows you to use it for HTPC purposes, also rudimentary gaming at 720p, which i3 doesn't do well, and it doesn't do DX11 at all. Imagine a budget buyer, back in India (psst, i'm an Indian too), this piece of hardware must be like a wet dream. I know i had to damned upgrade my system when HD first arrived on the scene, and i didn't want to watch anything but HD. DVD's weren't good enough anymore really, they haven't been for a long time. You know, i bought a C2D 6750, upgrading from an AMD 3000+ but that wasn't good enough for HD playback. System played games fine on low-medium coupled with a 7600 but couldn't play media. On the other hand, there are a lot of people i know, who could have used a better graphic part, saving may be money on cpu-mobo. Now this is where you are supposed to be an educator and may be guide people.

    Consider this, a lot of people around the world will only have one system, so there is your guidance as a reviewer with respect to that is very very crucial.
    Reply
  • Regenweald - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    What you want will never happen. Anywhere that Intel looks bad is: "not a part of the test bench" that's why in the HQV testing, Llano doesn't score higer, no, Intel has caught up to the competition. Um, go intel ? Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 01, 2011 - link

    From 133 to 173 is a much bigger jump for the SNB from the Clarkdale compared to the ~169 to ~184 achieved by the 6550D (compared to the 5570).

    So, who is catching up now?

    I don't think I can even count the number of instances in the review where I have said that the Llano surpasses the SNB in terms of video post processing quality.

    Actually, you guys should take a look at our Intel based system reviews. We are equally, if not more, scathing on the Intel's GPU team for not catering to the HTPC enthusiasts' requests.
    Reply

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