Whenever we think of value for money desktops, AMD is the first name that pops up and with good reason. The company has churned out efficient and cost effective processors and motherboard chipsets since their Athlon64 series. The first batch of Phenoms was the only major blow that AMD suffered in recent times, but otherwise it has been pretty much smooth sailing. They may not have the fastest of processors when compared to Intel, but they've always been competitive when it came to price.
Earlier this year, AMD launched their 32nm-based Fusion architecture, which married the GPU and CPU on a single die, similar to what Intel did with Clarkdale. The first wave of Fusion chips were designed for netbooks and nettops and while they did wonders for battery life and offered good video encoding/decoding performance, they lacked the raw, number crunching power offered by Intel. Today, Fusion has finally made it to the desktop platform in the form of Llano series of APUs. Let’s take a closer look at the features and the new chipset it will be using.
AMD’s launch lineup is no grand affair. The company has launched just two APUs in the market, the A8-3850 and the A6-3650. Both are quadcore chips with a TDP of 100W, but that’s where the similarities end. The A8-3850 is clocked at 2.9GHz and comes with HD 6550D GPU onboard, which packs 400 shaders running at 600MHz. The A6-3650, on the other hand runs at a slower 2.6GHz and uses HD 6530D for the GPU which packs in a lesser 320 shaders running at 443MHz. None of these two APUs has the Turbo Core feature, which allows the CPU to dynamically overclock one or all of its cores depending on the load. The two other chips, which are yet to arrive (A8-3800 and A6-3600) will have this feature, but at the same time will also be clocked a lot lower and will come with a 65W TDP.
Along with the new processors, we also have a brand new chipset and socket. The Llano APUs are not compatible with any of the existing AM2+ or AM3 sockets, simply because the architecture is different when compared to the Phenoms. Now, AMD could have done something like Intel did with Sandy Bridge, i.e. make the APUs compatible with existing sockets so, if the user doesn’t care about the onboard GPU and only wanted a low power CPU, he could just upgrade to one of the APUs. Sadly that’s not possible, so if you plan on switching to LIano, you’ll have to buy the motherboard as well, which brings us to the new chipsets.
The new A75 chipset block diagram
You have a choice between A75 and A55 chipsets. Both are virtually identical feature wise, except that the A55 is a cheaper offering, which lacks the USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps support. A new feature (well, not exactly new, more like a variation) introduced is Asymmetric Crossfire, which lets you combine the power of the onboard GPU with any one of the mainstream cards like the HD 6450, HD 6570 and HD 6670. Previous generation cards from the 5000 or 4000 series are not compatible. AMD has come up with a new naming scheme for each type of combo, which is quite ridiculous to be honest, as it just adds to the confusion. AMD sent us a Llano kit for the platform review, which included an A8-3850 APU and the Asus F1A75-M PRO motherboard. Let’s take a quick look at the motherboard before we jump to the performance.
The Asus FM1A75-M PRO has a good layout and wide feature set
This m-ATX board is based on the A75 chipset and supports A8 and E2 (not announced yet) series APUs. It also features UEFI BIOS, DIGI+ VRM, TPU and EPU toggle switches on the motherboard and a host of standard Asus proprietary softwares and performance tweaks. It also manages to pack in CrossFireX in this small form factor.