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AMD's recently launched Fusion A-Series processors are finally making their way into the Desktops, and shoppers looking for an inexpensive machine that's still capable of tackling their media and even a bit of gaming are in for a treat.
A quick look at the Desktops category's numerous Top 10 charts reveals a rather stark preference from manufacturers for Intel processors. This isn't entirely surprising -- while rival AMD has long offered strong, competitively priced CPUs, Intel wares have consistently proven to be more powerful, negating AMD's cost-advantage in all but a few categories.
For higher-end machines (specifically, our Mainstream and Performance desktop categories) that isn't about to change. But AMD's new A-Series APUs are positioned to make a very sweet deal for budget-minded consumers who want to save a bit of cash, but don't want a subpar experience.
Let's get some of the jargon out of the way. AMD's A-series APUs -- previously codenamed "Llano" -- signal AMD's shift down to the 32 nanometer process, chipping away at power consumption while boosting performance. "Lynx" is the codename for Llano's desktop iteration; in notebooks, it was codenamed "Sabine." An "APU" is a new termed coined by AMD, meaning "Accelerated Processing Unit." It means that the CPU and GPU are combined onto a single chip -- akin to Intel's Sandy Bridge CPUs.
Both Intel and AMD have implemented a form of automated overclocking -- Intel calls it Turbo Boost, AMD calls it Turbo Core. Both technololgies work similarly: when the processor has some spare thermal headroom, it overclocks a few notches, delivering an extra bit of speed when circumstances allow. Neither of the two processors I looked at offer these technologies however. AMD will be reelasing a model later on -- the 2.4 GHZ A8-3800 -- that will offer Turbo Core, but no pricing or availability has been announced yet.
For the full technical breakdown on the A-series APUs, be sure to check out Jason Cross' detailed analysis. I've put the hardware through its paces, and the results are impressive, if not especially surprising.
Testing: The Hardware
For my tests, AMD provided an A8-3850 APU, along with an ASRock A75 Pro 4 motherboard. The A8-3850 is quad-core, 2.9GHz chip, with Radeon HD 6550D "discrete class graphics" integrated onto the die. In layman's terms, that means the power of a lower end graphics card is baked right onto the chip, ostensibly eliminating the need for a graphics card entirely. For comparison, I tested a dual-core 3.1GHz Core i3-2100. This Intel Sandy Bridge processor was paired with an Intel motherboard based on the H67 chipset.
With the exception of the aforementioned motherboard and processors, the testbeds were identical -- a 1TB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and a DVD-RW drive for loading drivers and the like. All tests were run on the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium. As this review was primarily focused on the processors and integrated graphics performance of the competing platforms, I didn't include a graphics card until testing AMD's new Dual Graphics tech.
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