The AMD A8-3850 APU

Since its retail availability in July, AMD's Llano series of APUs (accelerated processing units) has offered vastly improved integrated graphics performance compared to previous chips from both AMD and Intel. The on-die graphics capability of the Llano chips is good enough to play even more demanding titles like Crysis acceptably, at least on medium resolutions and settings. The computing experience is also more than sufficient for generalized, day-to-day desktop computing.

Anand previewed and then fully reviewed the A8-3850 upon its release. You can get a great idea of what to expect, performance-wise, from his articles. The platform has matured since its launch, and prices on the supporting motherboards have fallen a bit over the last few months, making Llano an increasingly attractive choice for lower midrange gamers. As Anand's testing indicates, the A8-3850 is roughly equivalent to the Intel Core i3-2100—in general, the Intel chip takes the lead in single-threaded workloads while the AMD APU wins in multi-threaded scenarios. In order to get the Intel system up to par with the AMD rig in terms of graphics performance, you have to spend at least another $50 on a budget discrete GPU. For more casual gamers, that extra cost simply isn't necessary.

The parts

We've paired the A8-3850 with the fully-featured ASUS F1A75-M PRO/CSM motherboard. This is a well-designed board that features four rear USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports, with headers for two more USB 3.0 ports and eight additional USB 2.0 ports. Other ports and interfaces include D-Sub, DVI, and HDMI video outs, an optical port, and GbE ethernet (among many other less important interfaces).

The build also features a Crucial M4 64GB SSD. AnandTech has long stressed how adding an SSD to a modern computer makes for a much improved, faster, and snappier all-around computing experience. Anand reviewed the M4 earlier this year. Since then, it has earned a reputation as a solid (though not stellar) performer, that is perhaps more importantly also very reliable. It has also become quite affordable. Though 64GB is plenty of space for the OS and many applications, it's insufficient for a large game and/or media library. Thus we've paired the speedy SSD with the venerable Samsung F3 1TB HDD. That said, because the anomalously high prices of mechanical hard drives puts this storage combination's total price at over $250, it's also worth considering ditching the mechanical drive altogether and going with only a higher capacity SSD like Intel's 320 Series 160GB SSD--you can always add a hard drive down the road when the prices come back down.

For the memory, we have an 8GB (2 x 4GB) kit of DDR3-1866. Anand's review of the A8-3850 showed that Llano benefits from higher bandwidth RAM, though this difference is not always that remarkable. You can save a few dollars by instead opting to go with a slower kit like this standard Kingston DDR3 1333 pair.

Rounding out the build, we once again turn to Antec's stalwart NEO ECO 400C power supply. I've put this PSU in many builds now and have yet to experience an issue with one. It is quiet, efficient, its cables are sleeved, 400W is more than enough power for any mainstream single GPU (or in this case, GPU-less) system, and it is not expensive at all.

All of the parts are housed in a Fractal Design Arc Midi, which Dustin reviewed recently. I really like this case and the customers for whom I've built systems with it rave about the Arc Midi. It has an integrated, ready-to-go (i.e. no aftermarket parts necessary) front USB 3.0 port, excellent thermals and acoustics, and while looks are subjective, I think it's very stylish.

Component Product Price
Processor AMD A8-3850 APU $140
Motherboard ASUS F1A75-M PRO/CSM $110
RAM G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 8GB DDR3 1866 $60
SSD Crucial M4 64GB $110
HDD Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB $150
Power supply Antec NEO ECO 400C 400W $35
Case Fractal Design Arc Midi $100
Optical drive LITE-ON iHAS324-98B $20
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (OEM) $100
  Total: $805

Summary

This is a well-rounded system that is capable of casual to moderate gaming without the extra cost (and electricity) of a discrete video card. The quad-core A8-3850 and 8GB DDR3 facilitate great multitasking while maintaining good single-threaded performance. In addition to the reviews linked above, you can get a better picture of this APU's performance on AnandTech's Bench. The motherboard has room for a discrete GPU should you want to upgrade eventually, and has all of today's bells and whistles in terms of connectivity. The combination of the SSD and HDD offers the best of both worlds: SSD speed and HDD capacity. Finally, the case and PSU offer plenty of upgradeability for more storage (when HDD prices inevitably settle down in a few months) and thermals that will easily accomodate additional heat-generating internal components like a discrete GPU.

If you're looking for more computational and graphics power, check the next page for our $1000 Intel-based system.

Introduction $1000 Intel Core i5-2500K System
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  • shivoa - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    My Lian Li PC-60 is a great ATX case from 11 and a half years ago. Thank God we never migrated to BTX or I might have had to worry about buying a new box to put my PC in.

    It has no concerns with the current length of PCI-E cards, has a fully removable back and motherboard tray design that makes working with it a pleasure, and the dual 80mm front, single read + PSU exhaust isn't the most cutting edge design but it can still do the job (and over the years I've done some refinement of the air flows to help the case keep cool and quiet). Yes, the PSU it top mounted so the design is a bit more top heavy but the general design is just fine and shows what a long term purchase a good case can me.

    Will we still be using ATX in 11-12 more years? I doubt it, but you can't look at the past and say it invalidates purchasing a case with a long term view.
    Reply
  • Ananke - Wednesday, December 07, 2011 - link

    Get a Lian Li. Very few, if any, can compare.
    For a workstation, I would recommend PC-90. For a budget choice PC-9F or K9.
    intel 2500k is good for Adobe and video processing, if you have the money get the 2600k and Z68 Asus board. Get 16GB RAM, it is cheap anyway. More RAM is better for RAW files postprocessing.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    It would be real useful if the Anandtech GPU Benchmark app included on-board graphics, as well as older cards. It's a pain to try and see if the Llano GPU will be better than an old Radeon X850, or how it compares to an HD4830. Reply
  • mrjoltcola - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    Agree; for that matter it would help if GPU bench would allow comparison across all cards, old and new. I frequently think in terms of "8800GTX" performance when comparing something new, and frustingly I cannot do that in GPU Bench. Reply
  • Burticus - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    Interesting read... but I could put together that A8 system for under $500 compared to your $800 just by glancing at the online sales today. But I understand this is a guideline and you can't reflect sale prices in realtime.

    I would not go the $140 case/power supply route with that one though. A8 is screaming "bargain power" and as such I'd be looking at a smaller/cheaper case. Microcenter has the Thermaltake V3 for $28 after MIR.. this is a very nice small case. Add a 500 watt Thermaltake TR2 power supply for $35 after MIR. That is a nice small case with a decent power supply for $63. Just one example of many....

    One more thing... why not include a Phenom II x4 / x6 "going out of business" option? Retailers are practically giving them away now. Microcenter has Phenom II X4 850 for $59 and X6 1055T for $119 (with a free mobo).

    It's a bad time to be buying mechanical hard drives, but for the budget systems I don't feel SSD is the answer. You can still score a 500gb 7200rpm sata drive for $75ish or cheaper if you get refurb/reconditioned. That price is over double what it should be, but still compared to a $80 64gb SSD offers better value.

    Just my opinion.
    Reply
  • Dug - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    The Intel system could of used the same power supply and case that you used in the AMD build, bringing the price even closer.
    You don't mention any overclocking, so you could save another $30 on the cpu.

    And I can't imagine recommending the OCZ. Just get a Crucial M4.
    The power supply you recommend is also on the shit list on Newegg for doa and failures.
    Reply
  • frozentundra123456 - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    Just cant see spending 800.00 for a Llano system when 200.00 more can get a much superior CPU and GPU. If using Llano I would want the system to be much cheaper. I still think that the graphics, while good for an integrated unit are just too mediocre for an 800.00 system. I mean, my 2 year old 9800GT that I got on sale for 70.00 is probably faster. But I am looking at the system from a gaming standpoint. If you dont game, I suppose the APU is good enough, but if you dont game, even the HD Sandy Bridge graphics and an i3 2120 might be good enough. Reply
  • bhima - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    Sure, you'll boot up faster and programs will load faster but for those that actually want to game on their system, an SSD does literally NOTHING for their gaming experience. I'd rather have an extra $100 to spend on a better video card, like a 6950 or 560 ti. SSDs are nice, but if you are on a budget, and you like to game, the SSD is much less important than a strong video card. Reply
  • antef - Wednesday, December 07, 2011 - link

    You said...

    "AMD's HD 7000 series should come out in the not-too-distant future, but we can't share any details on where those will rank right now."

    Does this mean you have details but can't share them due to NDA, or are you just saying you don't yet know where those will rank just like the rest of us. The timing of the release of those cards really makes the difference about whether I build over the holiday or not.
    Reply
  • cjmurph - Wednesday, December 07, 2011 - link

    You state the $1000 build as suitable for CAD work. Not happening. Two 1080p monitors running microstation and intelligence graphics turn to water, flickering and arrifacting like mad.Any chappy dedicated card will fix it, but it won't work as it is. Reply

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