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Ever since Intel’s 810 “Whitney” chipset hit the streets in the late ’90s, integrated graphics have been synonymous with suckage. This year, though, integrated graphics have been making a comeback as Intel and AMD have put their might toward offering game-worthy graphics alongside the CPU.
Intel’s Sandy Bridge kicked off the trend earlier this year, but the best Intel has offered up is still lacking for gamers, even budget-constrained gamers. Enter AMD’s A-series chip. Code-named “Llano,” this chip merges a quad-core CPU with a discrete GPU to make AMD’s second-gen “APU.” To see just how well Llano performs, we took the parts from the $667 PC that we built in our August issue and paved over the Sandy Bridge board and processor with an AMD A8 X4 3850 CPU and A75 motherboard.
The A-series is AMD's second part to sport the Fusion moniker. In this case, Fusion means the fusing of graphics and compute power into the CPU. The first product was AMD’s E-Series, the basis of our $340 rig in last September’s Build It. That part sips power and is extremely low-cost, but it’s also a bit soft on both compute and graphics. By using what’s essentially an Athlon II X4 core and Radeon HD 6550D in the A8 Llano chip, AMD believes it has the antidote to Intel’s Sandy Bridge chips on the low-end. While both chips feature integrated graphics, the vast majority of Intel’s Sandy Bridge chip is dedicated to x86 while AMD devotes more than half of its core to graphics. The x86 side of the chip uses the well-known K10 cores. For graphics, the top-end part features 400 cores, 20 texture units, and a core clock running at 600MHz. Llano is also AMD’s first chip built at a 32nm process, which helps keep the thermals to manageable levels. Overall, Llano may truly be the first CPU with integrated graphics that will satiate gamers—gamers on a tight budget, that is.
For our build, we took our $667 PC and removed two parts: the Gigabyte GA-H67M-D2-B3 motherboard and the Intel 3.1GHz Core i3-2100. To ensure maximum comparability, we opted for a Gigabyte AMD motherboard, the A75M-S2V. Like the GA-H67M-D2-B3, the Socket FM1–based A75M-S2V is micro-ATX, sports but two DIMM slots, and costs just $90. For the CPU, we used the 2.9GHz A8 X4 3850. At $139, it’s slightly more expensive than we expected, but you get better graphics and a quad-core processor versus the dual-core in the Sandy Bridge, so it’s worth it—right? We’re also deleting the discrete Radeon HD 6790 card from our $667 rig. Because this box is aimed at entry-level gaming, we wanted to see which platform yields better integrated graphics results; we figured that a person going this route would eventually upgrade to discrete graphics. The rest of the components are identical to our build from August. For comparison, we’re showing both configs in the ingredients list.
|CPU||2.9GHz A8 X4 3850||$139||3.1GHz Core i3-2100||$126|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte A75M-S2V||$90||Gigabyte GA-H67M-D2-B3||$90|
|PSU||Rosewill RG530-S12||$50||Rosewill RG530-S12||$50|
|RAM||Patriot 4GB DDR3/1333||$40||Patriot 4GB DDR3/1333||$40|
|Case||Rosewill R218||$30||Rosewill R218||$30|
|HDD||1TB WD Caviar Blue||$60||1TB WD Caviar Blue||$60|
|ODD||Samsung SH-S223||$22||Samsung SH-S223||$22|
|OS||Windows Home Premium 64-bit||$99||Windows Home Premium 64-bit||$99|