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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  • formulav8 - Friday, July 1, 2011 - link

    I'm sorry but there are to many people complaining about your review and I doubt they are all AMD fannys. Maybe, just maybe the problem is you and your reviews? Or is it people are just all AMD fanboys? and couldn't have anything to do with you?

    Although I personally am not into the bias thing with you, you absolutely did NOT critque that Intel stuff near as much as you did AMD's. You need to go back and actually Expose Intels flaws. Not hide them or downplay them in a quote or something.

    In the end though, your article was way below many of the other Top 3 or 4 sites. Not because of being biased, but just the overall review is subpar imo. You do have alot of potential though :)
  • dragonsqrrl - Friday, July 1, 2011 - link

    No, I'd say the source of pretty much all the accusations of bias and favoritism following this review has been AMD fanboyism.
  • cjs150 - Friday, July 1, 2011 - link

    That at least up til now is what I have thought about each new HTPC review.

    Sadly this seems to be one step forward and at best at least one and a half steps back.

    The AMD A8 issues identified in the review show that, once again, AMD is launching a half tested product.

    There seems to be at least 2 or 3 different HTPC markets.

    I want something that sits in the main room and plays everything properly, with a bit of internet browsing on top. Game playing is something I leave to the main rig. Despite that, some game playing even if limited to older games would be nice.

    Other people want something that is much more powerful because they want serious game playing as well as proper HTPC work. That is not a criticsm of them, they have different priorities.

    Here are my thoughts

    1. AMD, INTEL, NVIDIA: dropped frames are totally unacceptable. I do not care if it one frame every 1000 frames or every 10,000 frames. The Blu ray playback rates are standard, it is the computer industry fault and no one elses if you cannot comply with the standard.

    2. INTEL (particularly): Audio, it may come as a suprise but people watch films with the sound on! Many of us have reasonable high end AV rigs playing 5:1 (or better), I rather like my AV rig where I simply plug an HDMI cable into Blu ray player and the other end into the AV receiver and get top quality pictures AND 5:1 sound. If you want to be in the HTPC market then you have to offer the same option (I am just wating for replies from all the audiophiles who will tell me that using the HDMI cable this way is sub-optimal - maybe it is but my ears are not good enough to tell the difference and I like the simplicity of fewer cables)

    3. SILENCE: would be nice. No small noisy fans

    Otherwise nice review
  • jabber - Friday, July 1, 2011 - link

    Their importance is waning in terms of reviews for CPUs and ram etc. I dont need to know how fast a chip is nowadays. Unless I want to run mega gaming resolutions or spend all day transcoding, anything off the shelf will do. I now laugh if I see a DDR3 ram roundup review and roll my eyes at the waste of lifetime it took to create.

    7-8 years ago you had to give a little thought to a build. I'd spend a couple of weeks going over the reviews etc. Nowadays I spend about 30 minutes and just use the retail sites.

    "That will do (click) that will do (click) that will do (click)!" Proce now counts for morw than out right performance. I do not need Intel's fastest CPU. I don't even need their second or third.....

    As far as I am concerned going forward these Llano cpus will be going into quite a lot of builds for my customers. Not Intels.
  • just4U - Saturday, July 2, 2011 - link

    Ram drives me crazy... even today. I'd say those reviews are still warranted.
  • rachotilko - Friday, July 1, 2011 - link

    What a triumphant boasts were made of Bobcat & Bulldozer. The lauch of chips have been postponed several times, only to reveal that in its core the Bobcat is still the same Sledgehammer Opteron of 2003. It took AMD 3 years to shrink the Phenom II to 32 nm and pair it with GPU (that I admitt is very decent). What a disgrace !
  • jabber - Friday, July 1, 2011 - link

    And that means what to Joe Average User?

    Absolutely nothing.
  • lestr - Friday, July 1, 2011 - link

    Hey Ganesh,

    Sorry you're taking so much heat. I appreciate your reviews because you DO point out shortcomings. I recall MANY, MANY reviews where Gary and Anand counted over 20 BIOS revisions they insisted upon in order to get a board remotely functional. (X58?) Unlike many of the Infidel fanboys here I don't have a photographic memory of every word in every Infidel review... and if they DID... they'd recall the many problems Anand encountered with Infidel chipsets, too.

    It has been a few months since the introductiion of the 1155. Have they ALL forgotten how bitterly everyone complained that you couldn't OC the CPU on one board and that you couldn't OC the iGP on another? Oh, that's because Intel wanted to soak the market THEN give them "Z" board they'd rather have had... makes sense now.. Why did they cut / limit the # of PCIe lanes? A VERY frequent comment was the only chip to get was the K series.. Talk about rabid dogs. No, they forget about all that. They forget about the extremely limited lifespan of the 1156 line all together? Did they even forget about the recent chip failure? I give credit where it's due and Intel handled that wonderfully while EVERYONE complained about having to wait and return their boards. Talk about the blind leading the deaf and dumb!!.. What ever Infidel does is ok by them regardless of how deeply they greedily dig into your pockets. They make you pay for each and every incremental improvement many of which AMD includes as native. SATA 6, USB 3 and NOW they're complaining that the HD6550D CF capable chip isn't good enough in a few limited areas? How long have people been waiting for Infidel to fix the 23.997 glitch?

    They'll sit and criticize AMD for purchasing ATI and in the next breath say the only way Infidel can fix their graphics is if they BUY NVidia? It's simply another example of near-sighted bigotry by self-assessed elitists.

    It would be nice if, for a change, the readers could think... some of them need to learn to spell, too! Ok Anand has discovered another glitch. They Published it while other reviewers passed over it. They - you - are responsible for getting a lot of glitches fixed on BOTH sides. No, they don't give you guys enough credit for that. I have to believe that the mfr's respect your openness and honesty and know you can't be bought or bribed. Anand is an advocate for the people.

    I own both brands of systems. I prefer AMD because they are more feature rich for the buck. Maybe they aren't as fast.. We're reaching a point of diminishing returns.. "DAMN! I had to wait and blink my eyes twice for the screen to change." I remember an 8088 costing 3 grand. No, it isn't a perfect world. It never will be. I happen to believe you're just as critical, if not more so with Intel on some of the products they've produced in the last few years. They're so much bigger and they should know better. I know some people won't change their opinions and there is always going to be bias on both sides. You're right, they do need to go back and read some of your Intel reviews.

    No, this readership isn't comprised of the average John or Jane Doe. They don't even know it exists. I was one of them about 5 years ago. Big box off the shelf crap forced me to seek alternatives. After extensively exploring more sites than I an count I selected Anand as my primary go-to source because you DO tell it like it is not because you sweep things under the rug. Keep pissing people off - isn't that the job of a good journalist? Another good, honest review. Thanks...

    Now.. about that G.Skill contest... if I "happen" to win... well.. let's just call that a coincidence, ok? :)~`
  • lestr - Friday, July 1, 2011 - link

    From another site 7/1/11

    AMD's launch of two Llano A-series desktop APUs yesterday comes a little over two weeks after the CPU/GPU maker made available its Catalyst 11.6 driver package. For whatever reason, AMD chose not to bake in support for its then soon-to-be-released A8-3850 and A6-3650 APUs, but don't despair, there's a hotfix available if you plan on running one of these chips.

    The AMD Catalyst 11.6a hotfix also adds support for the A8-3800 with Radeon HD 6550D (same as the A8-3850) and A6-3600 with Radeon HD 6530D (same as the A6-3650). Otherwise, there isn't anything new in this hotfix.

    In case you missed it, the Catalyst 11.6 drivers promise performance gains in a handful of titles, including Crysis, F1 2010, Far Cry 2, HAWX, and the Unigine Open GL tests. It also adds a few new features, such as Steady Video, Image Stabilization brought to you by YouTube, and decode acceleration of MPEG-4 part 2 content in Microsoft video player applications (through MFT support) for all Radeon HD 6000 cards.
  • ganeshts - Friday, July 1, 2011 - link

    Yes, we are aware of this. The 8.862 RC1 driver release we used has all the above features inbuilt. Basically, you can say that we tested with the hotfix Cat 11.6a.

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