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AMD's Fusion A-Series: Can Llano Match Sandy Bridge?

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 6/30/2011

AMD has long been the underdog in the mobile space because of inferior performance and battery life, but now the company is releasing a new line of Fusion mobile processors based off the architecture called Llano. Can it turn the tides?

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    Fusion Exists

    Although developed under the codename Llano, AMD's newest processors have been introduced under the Fusion brand name as the Fusion A-Series. These new processors, like the C-Series and E-Series Fusion parts before it, combine a CPU and a GPU into a single architecture.

    This time, however, the parts aren't aimed at low-end ultraportables and netbooks. Instead, the A-series is aimed right at the heart of the laptop market - products priced between $500 and $800. This is where most of the laptop market's volume lies, and it's also a segment where AMD has not been able to compete for some time.

    The Fusion A-Series processors are trying to change that. Do they succeed, or is this another mainstream part that struggles against Intel's dominance?

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    Rating Average

    AMD Llano Review CPU performance is an area where AMD has seriously lagged in comparison to Intel, which has made large strides year after year. The problem has been AMD's old architecture, known as K10. Although competitive when introduced in 2007, that was some time ago, and the updates that AMD has introduced to place the architecture on life support haven't worked.

    This, honestly, hasn't changed.

    According to benchmarks, the CPU performance of the Llano-based processors is still 2-3x times worse than a similarly clocked second-generation Intel processor. Indeed, in almost all cases Intel's Core i5 dual-cores can easily outrun AMD Fusion A-Series quad-core processors. There are no qualifiers to add to this conclusion. The fact is that the K10 architecture is simply too old to compete with the later Intel Core processors.

    But there's more to Llano than that. These processors also include a Radeon GPU, which is integrated into the architecture. Different versions of Fusion offer different GPUs. The A4 has 240 cores, the A6 has 320, and the A8 has 400 cores. Generally speaking, the performance of these are excellent. Even the least powerful is only slightly slower than the Intel HD 3000 graphics, while the Radeon on the A8 is about 25%-50% quicker.

    Overall, the performance picture is a tradeoff. The CPU performance is quite a bit slower, but the GPU performance is quite a bit faster than what Intel offers. The question is, what's more important to you?

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    Battery Life

    Rating Average

    AMD Llano Spec Sheet Although performance has often lagged Intel, perhaps the most serious problem facing AMD's processors has been battery life. Prior to the Fusion line, the Athlon and Phenom processors generally were much less power efficient than anything offered by Intel.

    Surprisingly, despite the continued use of K10, the battery life of the Fusion A-Series is excellent. It's generally as good as or better than what the second-gen Intel Core processors offer, and those already offer solid endurance. Any Fusion A-Series laptop with a battery of reasonable size should be able to offer at least 4 to 5 hours of battery life in light use.

    A great deal of this improvement can probably be laid at the feet of the GPU, which now offers switchable graphics, making it possible for the graphics processors to use minimal power when there isn't a need for its muscle. In any case, laptops based of these new Fusion products should offer impressive life compared even to Intel's finest.

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    Rating Average

    Because AMD is a smaller company, it's never had the resources available to Intel. This means that it's often necessary for AMD to compete on price rather than on performance. This doesn't seem to have changed.

    The basic products based off Llano, the A4, are targeting a price of $499 and above. The A6 hits at $599 and above, while the A8 shoots for $699 and above. It's likely that those MSRPs are actually going to be high compared to reality. I would not be surprised to see A4 laptops selling for $450 or less by the end of 2011.

    Although the CPU performance of the Fusion A-Series is lacking, the GPU performance certainly isn't, and these prices are extremely competitive. It's likely that AMD will be able provide an excellent value at any given price point between $450 and $700.

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    Rating Average

    Llano may not provide CPU performance on par with Intel's best, but it's a huge step forward for the company and also for consumers. Intel's essentially had the monopoly on the mid-range market for years. What Intel offers is what you bought.

    Now, you can choose to sacrifice some CPU performance in exchange for additional GPU performance. That's not a great trade for everyone, but some users will prefer it. AMD will also likely provide a competitive value.

    This means that the product is shaping up to be a success. Only time will tell how it plays out in the market, but it certainly seems that AMD has a winner on its hands.

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    Author Experience

    PC Perspective: AMD A-Series Llano APU Review

    Anandtech: AMD Llano Laptop Review

    All images are from AMD press materails

*Please note - the author received 'Compal AMD A-Series testbed' from a company other than Bright Hub in order to develop the content contained within this article or review.