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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  • silverblue - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    I admit it's rather one-sided, however there's an important point to be made - most graphics sales are integrated/low-end discrete. This is why Intel has the lion's share of the market. nVidia's fallen out of favour with Intel (and not because it did something wrong, either) and are soon to get a competitor in the ULV space which may just make purchasing ION a less clear cut decision.

    nVidia won't sit still, and I doubt Intel will in terms of on-die graphics. There's nothing to suggest that nVidia couldn't come up with an Optimus solution for the Brazos platform (as ironic as that may sound, though do remember it's hardly a graphics monster) in order to have as many fingers in as many pies at once. nVidia have produced very good chipsets in the past for both AMD and Intel and this alone should factor in system builders' purchasing decisions, let alone OEMs.

    nVidia aren't going to die, far from it. The better they're doing, the more Intel and especially AMD have to lower prices to keep competitive.
  • nitrousoxide - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    nVidia working on Optimus in co-op with AMD? That sounds like AMD saying to Intel: hey, use my GPUs on Sandybridge!
  • silverblue - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    By that I meant an nVidia chipset that employs a GPU switching mechanism should the x16 slot be populated.
  • Rayb - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    Just to make it clear, I understand the point you're making and the purpose of competition when a product is superior to a previous release. That's not the issue I'm debating, since the ION chipset is almost two years old and has managed to survive the ULV niche this long almost uncontested until now. I don't have any objections to Brazoz or Ontario if are proven even marginally better than other available alternatives.

    I don't restrict myself to one specific brand when making a purchase based on my requirements at that point. What I object is being marginalized to only one choice as alluded in (long rant by outsideloop) the third post above my reply. Which by the way since it's offset left and not intended for you, this one is.

    According to his wisdom, there is no room for anybody else but his favorite company in that fantasy world. Obviously having having fruit-loops for breakfast, lunch and dinner is detrimental to your health.
  • nitrousoxide - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    Hey about the 3rd question, 50 cents for a short post, 70 cents for a medium length post and 1 buck for a long post, that's how much those people are paid in my country :)
  • plonk420 - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    when it comes to raw CPU power, Brazos seems BARELY faster than Atom... and i feared Atom wouldn't be able to decrypt BD+ realtime with AnyDVD HD. i'm tempted to go Nano for that reason (but i sooooo want Brazos's TDP (even 25-50% more) for the Nano's computing power...
  • nitrousoxide - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    That's true in heavy multi-threaded work loads. Daily use featuring low-single-threaded work load is significantly faster than Atom. And it can at least play 1080p HD Video smoothly while an Atom struggles for 720p video playback. It is definitely faster than Atom, but how far it can go depends on its final price margin. If it is forced to encounter Sandybridge CULVs, it will definitely be wiped out.
  • richough3 - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    I currently have the Inspiron 1012 (Atom 450/GMA 3150) and the Inspiron 11z (SU4100 - 1.3 GHz/GMA4500MHD) and both have come close to what I've been looking for, but not quite.

    The 1012, Atom laptop, had awesome battery life, but it sucked at flash playback, running my TV tuner, and running multiple apps.

    I got an Alienware M11x prior to the 11z. The graphics were awesome for an 11.6" subnotebook and battery life was good when on the integrated video, but the weight and hinge issue was why I returned it and got the 11z.

    The 11z is good on battery life and did all the things the Atom laptop couldn't but it sucked for anything but basic running around in 3D games like Warcraft.

    I had also considered the Inspiron M101z with the AMD K325, 1.3 GHz dual core proc, but it ran hotter and had less of a battery life than the 11z.

    The E-350 APU appears to be able to address the desire for an acceptable, casual 3D experience and still provide decent performance for the other applications, along with good battery life and to provide all that in a lightweight subnotebook. Sure, I could get better performance with a heavier laptop, but I want lightness and a small footprint and I have a desktop for any heavy gaming or CPU intensive applications I want to run. I don't need a power hungry beast to play Plant vs Zombies, Diablo II, or to farm for mats in WoW, I just want it decent enough so it's not a total slide show.
  • iwodo - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    There should be a price / performance / watt graph.

    Personally i am not too convinced this will succeed. Or this will solely complete where Atom is currently at, cheap and as apple correctly stated, useless Netbook area.

    It is no where near even the low range Pentium E, or even Celeron.

    The only area where Brazos or its derivative shines, is the cheapest computer possible.

    However spending $40 - $50 you would get nearly double the performance.
  • Aloonatic - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    I don't understand.

    DO you really think that Intel's product will be cheaper and improvements released more quickly without AMD as competition?

    Mind boggled.

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