AMD Fusion: A8-3500M A-Series Llano APU Review
Design and Implementation
AMD sent over a 14-inch Compal notebook that housed their new platform. To look at the system isn't exactly an awe-inspiring experience but the system overall is relatively indicative of the class of machine that the Llano A8 APU will be powering. For Llano, a range of machines are possible from thin and lights to larger, more full-featured multimedia platforms. This smaller Compal unit we've been testing sort of a strikes a balance.
Based solely on AMD's "Sabine" platform, employing the Llano APU and A70M Fusion Controller Hub chip, our system offered an optical drive along with a pair of USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI and VGA output, integrated 801.11n WiFi, and Gigabit wired Ethernet. Also on board was a flash memory card reader and multi-touch track pad with two button mouse. Again, this is standard fare pretty much for mainstream notebooks these days. However, no third-party chips are required to enable USB 3.0, so there's a cost advantage associated with the Sabine platform in that respect, currently. We should also note that even under full load under various mutlimedia and gaming test conditions, in our benchmark runs, the system remained very quiet and didn't emit excessive heat beyond what we would consider to be reasonable levels.
In support of the new graphics capabilities of the platform, AMD has developed switchable graphics technology, similar to that of NVIDIA's Optimus solutions. You can configure a Llano-equipped notebook to take advantage of a discrete AMD Radeon GPU (in our case a Radeon 6700M series chip) for graphics-intensive workloads, while falling back to Llano's IGP for power saving modes. All of this can happen on the fly and also be configured at the application level, to enable one GPU or the other, or both in CrossFire rendering mode.
Enabling CrossFire rendering between the in-system discrete GPU and the IGP is implemented with a simple check box item in AMD's Vision Control Center driver control panel, much like the way it's done on the desktop. Switchable Graphics modes, directing workloads to the IGP only or discrete GPU, can be activated via workload or power supply condition by checking a simple radio button. Configuring your graphics engines based on power source conditions is pretty self-explanatory. Configuring AMD switchable graphics at the application level requires the user to assign a "high performance" or "power saving" state for each application on the system. However, AMD informed us that retail OEM systems will have a simpler UI that will give the user an option of running strictly on the IGP in Llano for power saving modes, or drive a dual graphics CrossFire mode under graphics-intensive workloads.