AMD “Zacate” APU First Look: Hands On with the Brazos Platform

by Reads (26,118)

Performance and Benchmarks
I’ve explained that the AMD E-350 is designed to compete with Intel’s low-voltage mobile Pentium and Core 2 Duo processors (such as the SU4100, SU7300 and SU9400) and outperform Intel integrated graphics. AMD engineers say the raw computational performance of the E-350 should be comparable to these dual-core CPUs while the video playback and gaming capabilities of the 80 GPU nanocores inside the APU far exceed what you currently get from notebooks and netbooks priced at $500 or less.

To put the performance of the E-350 into context, we had to compare the E-350 testbed to laptops with retail prices in the $800 to $1,000 price range to find notebooks that consistently surpass both the synthetic benchmark performance and the real-world performance of the E-350 in applications.

On that note, I will point out that the E-350 testbed used during the testing was equipped with a entry-level 80GB SSD (a $180-$200 upgrade for most consumers) and SSDs generally increase a few of the benchmarks such as PCMark05 and PCMark Vantage. For example, the Windows Experience Index rated the SSD in the testbed with a score of 7.9 out of 7.9 … so the testbed wasn’t using a slow hard drive like you’ll find on most budget laptops.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the benchmarks:


wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

 

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

 

 

PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

3DMark06 measures gaming performance (higher scores mean better performance):

When it comes to gaming I was eager to see how the E-350 would perform in real life. Keep in mind that this APU is designed for entry-level consumers but the GPU portion of the silicon was designed to compete with current entry-level discrete GPUs. I had enough time at the AMD campus in Austin, Texas to install Left 4 Dead 2 and benchmark the frames per second performance. Since I didn’t have days to spend testing every possible setting, I decided to try and push the testbed by running the game at 1366×768 resolution with “medium” film grain, “very high” shader detail, “medium” effect detail, and “high” texture detail settings.

These results are pretty impressive considering that this is a budget notebook platform and I wasn’t using low detail settings or a lower screen resolution. I consider average frame rates in the 20s as “barely playable” for a first-person shooter game like Left 4 Dead 2, and I have little doubt that the frame rates would have been higher if I lowered the film grain, shader, and texture detail settings. Bottom line, the E-350 is reasonably capable of gaming for a $500 machine.

Power Consumption
As previously mentioned, the AMD E-350 is designed with a maximum TDP of 18W. That’s 8W more than the Intel SU4100 and SU7300 mobile processors, but keep in mind that 18W is the maximum TDP for BOTH the CPU and GPU portions of the E-350. It’s difficult to determine the exact TDP of Intel integrated graphics since it’s a percentage of the total TDP for the Intel chipset, but it’s fair to say that the power consumption of the 18W Zacate chips is close to the real-life power consumption of a 10W Intel CPU and integrated graphics.

We used a Kill-A-Watt to measure the total power consumption of the E-350 testbed system during idle times and while stressing the system with synthetic benchmarks and gaming. The E-350 testbed had an average idle power draw between 18W and 22W and when the APU was being stressed with PCMark Vantage and 3DMark 06 the peak power consumption of our testbed was 28.3W. Keep in mind this is a pre-production testbed with an early engineering sample of the E-350 and unfinished drivers. AMD engineers claim the real-world power consumption of notebooks based on the E-350 will be even lower.

The Alienware M11x (R1) notebook with Intel SU4100 processor running in Intel integrated graphics mode has an idle power draw somewhere between 14W and 18W. That same M11x running in Intel integrated graphics mode has a peak power draw of 28W while stressing both the CPU and integrated GPU.

Just for good measure I also took readings of the APU external temperature using an IR thermometer. The temperature peaked at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, but the testbed was using a desktop-sized heatsink and was open to the air. Still, that’s considerably less heat that what we’ve seen from current-generation AMD CPUs.

Conclusion
At the end of my 24-hour testing period with the AMD E-350 I was “impressed” but not “blown away.” The reality is that the E-350 and the lower APUs in the new Brazos platform perform at the same level we’re seeing from other notebooks with Intel processors and Nvidia graphics. On the other hand, the cost of those systems with “as good or better” performance is much higher than $500.

If AMD’s market research is right and the majority of consumers are looking for notebooks in the price range of $500 or less then the E-350 APU might be a fantastic solution for both consumers and notebook manufacturers. I’ll even go as far as to say that if you’re on the fence about purchasing a low-cost Intel-based ultraportable notebook with integrated graphics then you might want to wait until after the Consumer Electronics Show in January when AMD says the first Zacate-based notebooks will arrive.



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