We’ve written a lot about AMD’s first Llano CPU lately, but time was scarce on each occasion, and we’ve somehow failed to look at it from the practical side. In the meantime, another CPU from the series came out, as did a new motherboard signed by ASUS, so we thought we might as well profit from the occasion and really get to know the capabilities of the new chip. As we already know, Llano is a quad-core APU which comprises integrated graphics and the controllers from what used to be the northbridge. The specificity of the new APU is that the CPU cores and the integrated GPU share a lot of electronics, which means that this is not merely placing several chips into a single piece of hardware, but truly creating a symbiosis between various elements contained within; Llano is the first product to combine the CPU and the GPU in this way.
These new APUs are similar to the well-known Athlon II X4 CPU in that they lack L3 cache and have similar frequencies overall. Therefore, they aren’t a step ahead in raw performance, but a technologically advanced replacement for previous solutions. The model A8-3850 which we’ve already reviewed works at 2.9 GHz, whereas A6-3650 has had its multiplier reduced by 3, ticking at a solid 2.6 GHz. Although the first Llanos are manufactured in 32 nm, which suggests low consumption and heating, these models have a declared TDP of an entire 100 W. Practice has shown, however, that neither heating nor consumption actually reach those levels, whereas the average consumption is significantly lower.
The integrated graphics core is a bit weaker than the one seen in A8-3850. It has a lower frequency (443 MHz instead of 600 MHz), but also fewer stream processors (320 instead of 400) and texture units (16 instead of 20); however, the solution itself still vastly overpowers any competing solutions, as well as AMD’s integrated GPUs from the previous generation. The integrated GPU continues to use system memory, but since the new APU officially supports DDR3 RAM on clocks up to 1866 MHz, the penalty for this sort of solution is not as bad as the ones suffered by earlier chips.
The first manufacturer to hit the market with a Llano-optimised motherboard was ASRock. ASUS wasn’t too late behind, though, and they made their F1A75-V PRO motherboard readily available shortly after the Llanos’ presentation. The latter is touted to be an excellent base for a Llano system at a very accessible price point. The model at hand is a full-ATX one, and pretty well-equipped at that, containing the already well-known UEFI BIOS with a graphical interface, 6+2 power section, digital voltage regulation and TPU/EPU chips for balancing power consumption. We were also quite surprised to see a rather serious cooling solution on a mainstream motherboard such as this one, meaning that power section and chipset cooling bodies are connected by a heatpipe, contributing immensely to cooling efficiency.
Owing to an advanced chipset, the motherboard natively supports USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0 Gbps, along with a plethora of connectors, and we particularly commend the presence of all four current-generation video outputs, which will drastically help users connect their PC to all sorts of displays. The only potential remark as far as the layout goes can be directed towards memory slots being a bit too close for comfort to the APU socket, especially in the case of a large cooler, when some slots may end up blocked out; everything else is in perfect order, PCI slots included. RAM is supported up to an entire 64 GB, which is four times as much as on pretty much all previous motherboards, who maxed out at 16 GB.
The only real issue we’ve encountered during testing is strange behaviour of the integrated graphics chip with the system memory set to 1866 MHz, officially the maximum clock the APU supports. In this scenario, 3D tests would end up “stuck” with the oh-so-familiar horizontal stripes across the display, which indicates a problem between the GPU and the memory, but lowering the RAM clock to 1600 MHz solved the problem instantly, with all tests passing with flying colours. As we’ve seen this APU do perfectly well with RAM set to 1866 as well in other systems, we believe that a future BIOS update is likely to resolve this issue. Furthermore, since the vast majority of buyers has or buys 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM modules anyway, this issue is hardly noticeable even at present, but we’ve had to make a note of the problem just in case. Gremlin-related issues are too numerous nowadays anyway.
All in all, this is a high-quality motherboard, with all the great features that we’re used to seeing in better-equipped ASUS models: durable components, power efficiency, digital power section and an easy-to-use BIOS. We’d also very much approve of a somewhat lower price, but since this is only the first wave of motherboards for FM1 APUs, it would be ridiculous to expect the prices to start low immediately. Besides, it’s a high-quality model nevertheless.
|ASUS F1A75-V PRO|
|CPU socket||AMD FM1|
|RAM support||4 x DDR3 DIMM, max. 64 GB|
|Expansion slots||2 x PCIe x16 (x16/x4), 2 x PCIe x1, 3 x PCI|
|SATA/ATA connectors||7 x SATA 6.0 Gbps, 1 x eSATA 6.0 Gbps|
|Audio controller||Realtek ALC892 7.1 HD|
|Network controller||Realtek 8111E 1Gbit|
|Internal connectors||2 x USB 3.0, 8 x USB 2.0, CPU fan, 2 x chassis fan, COM, S/PDIF|
|Back panel||PS/2 combo, eSATA, Ethernet, 4 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, optical S/PDIF, DVI-D, D-Sub, DisplayPort, HDMI, 6 x audio jack|
|Form factor||ATX (30.5 x 24.4 cm)|
The results of CPU tests haven’t surprised us, as they vary between results achieved by Athlon II X4 and Phenom II X4. Ergo, this is a very competent quad-core CPU, with a good overclock margin, as we’ve been able to achieve 3.6 GHz with minimal tampering with the voltage section in the BIOS - an entire gigahertz is a respectable result in anyone’s book. Bumping up the voltage a bit more will squeeze out another couple hundred megahertz, and having in mind the price of this model, we can but conclude that A6-3650 is a very good buy for anyone unafraid of overclocking.
|Results (CPU @ 2.6 GHz, RAM @ 1,866 MHz)|
|3DMark 06, CPU||3,745|
|3DMark Vantage, CPU||9,274|
|3DMark 11, CPU (physics)||3,730|
|AIDA64 memory read/write/copy [MB/s]||9,564 / 9,400 / 11,251|
|AIDA64 memory latency [ns] (less is better)||51.3|
|7-Zip 7.20 64-bit komp./dekomp. [kB/s]||8,435 / 112,246|
|x264 720p enkoding [fps]||17.68|
|Blender 64-bit [s] (less is better)||319|
|Cinebench R11.5 1CPU/xCPU||0.8 / 3.11|
|Cyberlink MediaShow Espresso 6 (GPU on/off) [s] (less is better)||80 / 192|
|Total system power consumption [W] (less is better)||60 / 93|
|Test machine: ASUS F1A75-V Pro, 2 x 2GB Kingston HyperX 2,133, Seagate 1 TB, CM UCP 900 W, Viewsonic VX2439wm, Windows 7 64-bit|
However, the thing that we were interested in the most was the capabilities of the integrated graphics core, especially with Llano’s dual graphics support in mind. The latter is essentially a variant of Hybrid CrossFireX, i.e. the option of creating a multi-GPU system out of a discreet graphics card and the integrated one. Supported models include the bottom of what AMD currently has to offer (quite logically, as it would be pointless to couple an integrated core with a beast of a card): HD 6450, 6570 and 6670. This is a fairly useful feature for Llano’s target market, where the weakest discreet models are the most popular ones.
We’re satisfied with the performance the integrated core has shown, especially having in mind the price difference between A6-3650 and the corresponding Athlon II X4, which outmatches any comparable discreet solution you’d be able to obtain for that amount of money. You won’t be too satisfied with gaming in high resolutions, but ordinary ones (such as 1366x768) and medium detail levels work like a charm - far better than anything Intel’s APUs can offer, and much, much better for anyone considered to be a casual gamer.
And now onto the main treat - the dual graphics mode. The number of supported graphics cards is low, and we’ve opted for Radeon HD 6670, as it offers decent performance at a very attractive price point, making it a fine addition to a Llano-based system. But firstly, how does one form a dual graphics system? If you simply add the discreet card into the PCI-E slot, the integrated core will be turned off automatically. This is why it’s necessary to visit BIOS before installing the discreet card, set the integrated adapter to “forced”, set the primary adapter to “integrated GPU” and keep the monitor connected to the motherboard, not the discreet card. After the discreet card has been installed and Windows booted, you’ll receive notification that the CrossFireX mode is active.
Dual graphics gives a visible boost in games, one that shouldn’t be neglected even if you didn’t plan on using both cards (as the boost ranges between 10% and 30% owing just to the integrated GPU). Unfortunately, traditional illnesses of multi-GPU systems are still around. Graphics anomalies (shadow flickering, wrong water rendering) aren’t as common any longer, but microstuttering is still there, which means that you’ll be seeing unwanted framerate oscillations, preventing smooth animation and causing hitches. This is the reason behind certain graphics tests looking much more natural on individual cards than in CrossFireX, even if the latter provides more theoretical FPS. Then again, this problem is usually down to the drivers, and gets ironed out after a few monthly revisions, so we’re expecting AMD to get down to work once more and correct all these issues in an upcoming Catalyst update. The potential of dual graphics mode is obvious and of great interests to enthusiasts on a budget, so we’re certain that it won’t go to waste merely because of driver optimisation (or lack thereof).
|CPU socket||AMD FM1|
|L1 / L2 / L3 cache||256 kB / 4 MB / -|
|Supported RAM||DDR3 (up to 1,866 MHz)|
|Integrated GPU||Radeon HD 6530D (443 MHz, 320 SP, 8 ROP, 16 TU)|
Those that follow market research results on the web are bound to already be aware of the fact that integrated graphics chipsets (on motherboards or in APUs) dominate the overall market nowadays. If you take a look at how well cheaper PCs are selling as well, it’s clear that AMD has made all the right moves, releasing a powerful-enough APU onto the market, which doesn’t cost a lot, and comes with a graphics core much more usable than anything we’ve been able to see up to now. Llano is a perfectly profiled product, and we hope that it’ll result in a market success for AMD. We also hope for a quick appearance of more accessible motherboards, so that obtaining a Llano APU and a corresponding new motherboard becomes a true best buy in all aspects, enabling all users to savour the new technology.