AMD A8-3850 : An HTPC Perspectiveby Ganesh T S on June 30, 2011 6:20 AM EST
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.
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zondas30 - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - linkas i sed in other review it would be interesting to see if i could do that new crosfire trick with my good old ati hd 3870.
but what i am realy interested is why cpu is combined with gpu, for me (and maby some other people) it would be beter to buy cheap powerfull cpu and not apu, my hd3870 is still powerfull to run alot of new games on max setings over 30 fps at 1440x900 resolution ant that is more then playable for me, so why integrate gpu in to cpu when what some people realy need is just cpu, mobo and ram? myself im looking for cpu and i dont care alot about gpu integrated in it and it would be beter if there wasnt any inside becouse in any case i wouldnt be able to use it.
Targon - Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - linkIf you look at the sub-$500 computers out there, this will make for a nice low-cost BASIC system that will do very well. The low-cost i3 based machines out there already have a lot of issues due to cheap components, so Llano will compete fairly well in that regard.
AMD has been working on two major projects for a while now, with Fusion ALWAYS going for that mainstream system as the target. AMD has also been working on an all new CPU core design to help keep AMD competitive, even if not taking the performance crown. Bulldozer, going up to an eight-core 3.8GHz at launch will be something for the enthusiast crowd to watch and wait for, since multithreaded software designs are getting more common.
Once we see Bulldozer released, AMD will release a new generation of Fusion processors with the new CPU core design, and with an updated GPU as well. That is when Fusion will really start to play out.
Think about it, what we are seeing here is something for your mainstream audience, the "good stuff" is going to take a bit longer.
kenyee - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - linkThat's what I'm more interested in for an HTPC.
I'm actually surprised the A8 can do 3D Bluray playback because the Sandy Bridge definitely doesn't AFAIK.
Quicksync is useful for trancoding (e.g., get rid of commercials, and compress the HDTV s stream into a .avi or mpeg4 file). The A8 has enough processors for CUDA support probably so in theory they could have added this...
ganeshts - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - linkLet us first get Blu-ray playback working in Linux :) AFAIK, the MakeMKV running in the background route is the only one, and even that doesn't give us Blu-ray menus. 3D on Linux will come much later.
SNB can also do 3D BR with no issues.
Anand has covered transcoding performance (Intel beats out AMD there) in his desktop review.
kenyee - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - linkHate the MakeMKV hack, but if that hack gets Bluray 3D, that's ok with me :-)
Didn't know SNB could do 3D BR...thought it was missing some hardware decode accelerators for 3D. Quicksync is definitely a lot faster than anything out there right now...was just hoping AMD had some tricks in the GPU that we missed...
lestr - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - linkA good, honest review as always. The grafting process began with the Hudson E350, is now into phase II and only needs Bulldozing to completion. Yeah, I wish it was here today, too, but it isn't. Remember, this is a new animal we're dealing with here. Ain't hardly nuthin' perfect on the first try. Infidel proved that in January, created the H and P's and sort of cured those ailments with the Z all the while holding the X79 over your heads as 1156 went EOL... 1366 to follow shortly? Humm.. does that mean you're gonna be 1 DIMM short when you upgrade?
To top it all off AMD has eliminated the 6450 for this chipset, made the 6570 a questionable option with hybrid which pushes up the 6670.as a new entry level upgrade card and it probably works in hybrid, too. When you think about it the 3800 series only has 320 SP's and ran at 650... sucked down a pot load of amps while everyone cried about fan noise and temps. That was a short 4 years ago. Sure they have a few kinks to iron out but we're dealing with tech that didn't exist back then, too. What's to argue about?
We're told the eventual result will add GPU power to augment CPU power all neatly tied together underneath that OLD but great cooler. That's what the big deal is. It's getting a new architecture while they iron out the kinks with this generation. As far as integration goes, unless you have an i5-7-K model you're paying for graphics you really don't want in the first place which means a discrete card to even THINK about serious gaming then you're gonna fork over another couple of hundred anyway and this APU only lightens your wallet by $130 or so which isn't much. Make for a great HTPC..
Hopefully the new mainstream buyers will go nuts over it. Serious upgraders are gonna wait. It's a great start.. Let's see where it leads.
AnandThenMan - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - linkAfter reading 4 or 5 other reviews, it's pretty easy to see that Anandtech has gone out of their way to minimize the virtues of Llano. So much information was left out, and the conclusions are very muted compared to other reviews. I just read the email@example.com and got a much better picture of the capabilities, features, and performance.
I hate to say it, but Anandtech is continuing to prove they are very biased against AMD, a real shame.
ganeshts - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - linkI am quite sorry you feel that way.
In this piece, I have gone to great lengths to indicate how AMD's deinterlacing performance is much better than Intel's. So, there is actually no bias against AMD there.
When we do a review, there is no point in saying that everything works. For example, HD audio bitstreaming works without issues in all current day HTPC (i)GPUs, and so, there is no point in mentioning it.
My duty as a reviewer is to find faults (be it in Intel based systems or be it in AMD or NVIDIA ones) and bring it to the forefront so that the vendor can resolve them (eventually beneficial to the consumers). We do it irrespective of the vendor.
AnandThenMan - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - linkI am not the only one who is disappointed with the reviews here.
dragonsqrrl - Friday, July 1, 2011 - linkOkay... an AMD fanboy group therapy session... great.
So because the conclusions of this review don't meet your 'agenda', the author must be biased and bought out by Intel or Nvidia. Unless every single available AMD option is wholeheartedly recommended, the reviewers are biased and bought out by Intel or Nvidia. I've heard it countless times in countless comments sections in both Anandtech and Tom's Hardware reviews. And this is by no means an exaggeration of your typical fanboy argument. There could be five positive reviews in a row of AMD products, followed by full-hearted approval and praise by the hardline AMD crowd. But the moment a flaw is pointed out, a strength under emphasized, or an AMD product failing to gain an unquestioned recommendation, and these same people start accusing the authors of bias and favoritism. Accusations start flying out from, ironically, some of the most blatantly biased and one-sided individuals I've ever seen.
Tom's couldn't bring themselves to recommend the HD6990, but instead recommended Xfire HD6970's as a superior alternative, and there was a huge uproar (unsurprisingly). Accusations of Nvidia favoritism, entirely baseless except for the fact that the reviewer had recommended one AMD product over another, were relentlessly thrown about until some of the more level headed readers dropped in to point out some rather obvious logical failings in their arguments.
Just recently, Tom's did a system builders guide that incorporated an i3-2100, and... well, I think you know what happened. I'm not kidding, some seriously ill thought-out rage comments directed at the author of the article, not unlike some of the comments I've observed here, and in the HD6990 review, and in countless other reviews with similarly ambiguous conclusions regarding an AMD product. I think I'm sensing a trend. All these accusations of Intel favoritism despite the fact that Tom's had built an AMD based system in every single builders guide since 2009!
The principle observation I've made is that AMD has some of the most loyal, and at times blatantly unreasonable fan-boys in existence. But honestly, if some of you guys truly believe sites like Anandtech and Tom's are conspiring with Intel to consistently dish out negative reviews of AMD products, then why don't you do everyone a favor and just move to SemiAccurate. You'll probably be far more satisfied their reviews and recommendations.