Pros: Radeon HD 6550D coupled with AMD Quad Core in a single FM1 chip, 32nm die
Cons: Poor stock heatsink, removed L3 cache which penalizes processors in certain applications
With little media fanfare during the month of June 2011, AMD and ATI released the AMD A8 3850 APU and dealt Intel a huge blow to their reputation as a leader in PC innovation. The AMD Fusion series of processors feature an accelerated processing unit or APU that is a first for any major chip company. The new quad core computer processor features a built-in Radeon HD 6550D graphics card which us capable of giving many NVIDIA products a run for their money.
After looking at the technical details for this AMD Quad Core A8-3850 APU FM1, you may think this processor is a great deal. However, a few hidden details kept this computer analyst on the fence. First, in this review we will see how a bad heatsink can ruin the fun for the desktop computer builder. Second, the lack of Level 3 cache on the processor creates some interesting performance degradation. Finally, you will see that 2.9 Ghz clock speed is holding back the true potential of this revolutionary AMD APU.
Should you wait to buy the next AMD Fusion APU instead of the A8-3850?
How will the Radeon HD 6550D respond to simple Front Side Bus processor overclocking?
Read On To Find Out!
The AMD A8-3850 Graphics Core
The AMD A8-3850 FM1 chip has a Radeon HD 6550D graphics card built-in which works with the four on-chip processors to create an amazing graphics subsystem. You can play your favorite video games or connect your computer to a Samsung PN63B550 62.9" HDTV Plasma TV and relax watching your favorite Lady Gaga videos on YouTube.
The GPU operates at a peak core clock of 600 Mhz with dynamic clocking taking it as low as 282 Mhz when idle. GPU Caps Viewer 1.13.0 reports a total of 5 compute units with 12 OpenCL extensions and 16 Max samplers.
The graphics card can output 1920x1080 or 1080P video through a VGA, HDMI or DVI video port that is located on most AMD Fusion FM1 motherboards. The video subsystem shares anywhere from 512Mb to 2048Mb of your DDR3 memory so be sure to order enough to handle the needs of this APU from AMD!
What do you want, more L3 cache or the Radeon GPU?
The quad processors on this chip feature 64Kb of L1 cache and 1,024Kb of L2 cache. While this is an improvement over the AMD PHENOM II 4X 965 AM3 BLACK EDITION Processor which only had 512Kb of L2 cache, they did take out the L3 cache which causes a few problems with intense cpu processing. AMD likely used the saved space to swap in the graphics cores.
AMD A8-3850 Processor Cooling And Thermal Analysis
Wait! The AMD A8-3850 is not only the first APU ever made by the company but also the first widely distributed 32nm die as well! Using the aluminum cpu cooler that came with this processor, here are some findings taken with an average room temperature of 81 degrees Fahrenheit using CPUID Hardware Monitor to record maximum core temperature after 15 minutes of use with the BOINC project PrimeGrid.
2.900Ghz, 100 Mhz FSB; 163F
3.045Ghz, 105 Mhz FSB; 177F
3.190Ghz, 110 Mhz FSB; 180F
As you can see from these results, you should not overclock your AMD A8-3850 APU with the stock cooler.
Benchmarks And Overclocking Potential Of The AMD A8 3850 Quad Core APU Processor
Benchmarking this processor is critically important towards answering the question that you or your friends are going to inevitably ask in the coming months: Is the AMD A8 APU faster?
In short, yes. Yet the why is another animal that many of us can only speculate about without thorough testing. Since I only had the stock cpu cooler, overclocking this processor was very difficult above 3.045 Ghz. Windows XP kept throwing up blue screen of death or BSOD errors with the ati system file after passing 3.190 Ghz and no results could be provided in this review.
SuperPi is an application that extrapolates the specified digits of PI into a text file. The calculation is single threaded in this version so you only see the performance of one cpu core. In this test, I analyzed the performance using the 1,000,000 digits of Pi calculation. I overclocked the 32nm AMD A8-3850 to different frequencies and ran the test three times and reported the shortest time returned in the list below.
AMD A8-3850 2.900 Ghz, stock speed: 26 seconds
AMD A8-3850 3.045 Ghz, overclocked: 24 seconds
AMD A8-3850 3.190 Ghz, overclocked: 23 seconds
Here is how the AMD A8-3850 Quad Core stacks up against the competition in Super Pi:
Intel Celeron 1.8Ghz 400Mhz FSB Socket 478: 2 minutes 20 seconds
AMD PHENOM II 4X Z965 AM3 BLACK EDITION Processor: 20 seconds
1090T 3.2GHz AMD Phenom II X6 Six-Core Processor: 19 seconds
Intel Xeon E5450 3.0Ghz 12Mb cache four core processor: 15 seconds
Intel i7 920 Socket 1366 processor 2.667Ghz: 14 seconds
Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 3.33Ghz processor: 13 seconds
POV-Ray 3.7 RC3 64Bit
A new version of the freeware 3D animation utility has been released that offers SSE2 enhanced processing extensions. POV -Ray stresses the floating point unit and memory bandwidth of the processor to render stunning 2D images. The raytracing software package also makes use of all available logical cpu cores in your computer system to render images. For this reason, POV is my processor benchmarking package of choice!
For this test, I am using the benchmark.pov file with QuickRes.ini value of 512x384 NO AA since it is provided with all new installations of POV.
AMD A8-3850 2.900 Ghz, 100 Mhz FSB, stock speed: 1 minute 53 seconds
AMD A8-3850 3.045 Ghz, 105 Mhz FSB, overclocked: 1 minute 48 seconds
AMD A8-3850 3.190 Ghz, 110 Mhz FSB, overclocked: 1 minute 42 seconds
For a quick comparison, take at look at what these AMD and Intel processors can do with the same benchmark.
AMD Sempron 140 Socket AM3 2.7Ghz Processor: 13 minutes 11 seconds
Intel E1400 Celeron Dual Core 2.0 Ghz, stock speed: 5 minutes 51 seconds
Intel Celeron Dual-Core E3300, 2.5 GHz (BX80571E3300) Processor: 4 minutes 0 seconds
Dual AMD Opteron 6128 Processors for 16 total cores: 48 seconds
PassMark - G3D Mark Version 7.0 Benchmark
The video card inside the AMD A8-3850 is an ATI Radeon HD 6550D. In Windows XP, I was not able to run 3D Mark 11 so I ran the older benchmark called Passmark G3D version 7.0. Before buying this processor, I wanted to save you some time and see how the Radeon video card would respond to overclocking. Please note that increasing the front side bus or FSB also increases memory speed. PCI-e video cards traditionally respond well to increased memory bandwidth so this test may be influenced by just this factor alone.
Among all these results, higher scores are better:
AMD A8-3850; 2.900 Ghz, 100 Mhz FSB, 667 Mhz DRAM Frequency, stock speed: 857.9
AMD A8-3850; 3.045 Ghz, 105 Mhz FSB, 700 Mhz DRAM Frequency, overclocked: 877.1
AMD A8-3850; 3.190 Ghz, 110 Mhz FSB, 733 Mhz DRAM Frequency, overclocked: 931.8
As a comparison, here are some results taken from the Passmark webpage:
NVIDIA GeForce GT 240; 770
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580; 3872
Overall, the AMD APU responds very well to overclocking with across the board response to even the slightest change in cpu frequency. The effect carries over to the Radeon video subsystem to give you an easy way to increase performance from a relatively cheap processor.
Recommended Hardware For Your AMD A8-3850 Computer
The following shopping list will take advantage of all the gaming speed that this processor has to offer. Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64bit is the most notable recommendation and I choose it over Windows XP Pro due to the complications I encountered while trying to activate OpenCL technology on this processor while using the Biostar TA75M+ FM1 motherboard. You cannot place this processor in a Socket AM2 or AM3 motherboard because of the increased pin count which is used for GPU access by the A75 chipset.
4x Corsair C13-6173 8GB Dominator 1866MHz DDR3
Biostar TA75M+ FM1 motherboard
Corsair Force 3 120 GB SATA 3 SATA 6.0 Gb-s 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive CSSD-F120GB3-BK
LG Electronics 10X Blu-ray SATA Writer Drive with Software WH10LS30K
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64bit
Cooler Master GX Series 650W ATX 12V V2.31 80 PLUS SLI Ready Power Supply RS650-ACAAE3-US
Cooler Master HAF 932 Advanced Computer Case
A Question For AMD
How is the Radeon HD 6550D linked to the processor cores on the A8-3850? As a trained Electrical Engineer, I searched the online documentation but could find no answer. Even though we have seen that the graphics capabilities are on par with the physical ATI PCI-e version of the card, I wonder if increased bandwidth between the processors and graphics subsystem would improve overall performance. The Passmark 3D benchmark seemed to indicate that there is some need for this. A dedicated x86 processor has also been shown by many aftermarket server vendors to increase the output of a bank of 4 or more of these graphics cards. Could that also be a future improvement for the AMD Fusion line?
First, I am thankful that AMD pushed the envelope by releasing an integrated graphics chip on a physical processor. Intel engineers must be as baffled as I am about the sudden release of this processor and its function. Since 2000, Intel has been promising a 3D on-board graphics option for their systems but has yet to deliver.
Still, the AMD A8-3850 is just a teaser or sample offering from the underdog chip maker. Before the end of 2011, we can expect an even faster processor with an unlocked multiplier for even more control while overclocking. Yet, even with this control, I still wish for more L3 cache because in its current form the quad core AMD has little to attract speed enthusiasts other than its HD 6550D graphics card. AMD did little to win my favor by taking advantage of the efficient 32nm die by cutting back on costs with a overly cheap heatsink that overheats rapidly.
If I were you, I would wait until the next release of the AMD Fusion A8 processor line in 2011 and start buying some of those Corsair C13-6173 8GB Dominator 1866MHz DDR3 memory sticks while waiting.