AMD Trinity review: first look

27 Sep 2012
AMD Trinity APU
AMD Trinity APU

This blog has now been updated with additional benchmarks and pricing details. See below for our verdict on AMD Trinity.

We’ve heaped praise on AMD’s Accelerated Processing Units in the past, and it’s clear that the firm is onto a winner by cramming a processor and a Radeon graphics core into the same package – its A8-3870K took home a Recommended award in our last processor Labs.

The next generation of desktop parts is here, and the new chips, codenamed Trinity, are set to offer a better balance of application performance, gaming power and price. AMD’s hoping its APUs take more of a fight to Intel thanks to the inclusion of Bulldozer cores – the same technology that’s currently on show in its FX processors.

Under the hood

Top of the range are two quad-core A10 processors – the 3.8Ghz A10-5800K and the 3.4GHz A10-5700. Turbo Core is again included, with the A10-5800K dynamically boosting to 4.2GHz, and the A10-5700 to 4GHz.

AMD Trinity APU

AMD has improved the graphics cores included in Trinity, too. Both the A10-series chips include the Radeon HD 7660D, with the core clocked to 760MHz in the A10-5700 and 800MHz in the A10-5800K. The HD 7660D includes 384 stream processors, but it’s actually based on last year’s Radeon HD 6000 architecture, with newer features included to sweeten the deal – improved Turbo Core performance and Eyefinity compatibility are two features AMD has disclosed thus far.

AMD isn’t just releasing high-end A10 parts using the Trinity architecture. There are also the 3.6GHz A8-5600K and 3.2GHz A8-5600 , with Turbo Core boost levels of 3.9GHz and 3.7GHz respectively. They’re still quad-core when it comes to processing, but both A8 chips have taken a hit on graphics: they use a Radeon HD 7560D with 256 stream processors clocked at 760MHz.

At the bottom of the Trinity range are two dual-core parts. The A6-5400K and A4-5300 will be slower, and include weaker graphics cores, with fewer stream processors and lower clock speeds.

Performance

AMD Trinity APU

We loaded up our application benchmarks, and the A10-5800K ran through them with a score of 0.76. That’s a modest improvement on the 0.7 scored by the top-end chip of the last generation, the A8-3870K, but it should be enough to worry Intel – its Sandy Bridge-based Core i3 parts score between 0.77 and 0.79 in the same tests, but have far weaker integrated graphics cores.

We also loaded up DiRT 3 and found that the A10-5800K trounced both its predecessor and any competition from Intel. In the Low-quality test the A10-5800K scored 78fps: a huge improvement on the 61fps of the A8-3870K, and almost double the 43fps achieved by Intel's HD Graphics 4000 - its most powerful integrated GPU. When compared to the HD Graphics 2500 core included in most of Intel's Ivy Bridge chips, the gap is wider: in our processor Labs, the Intel core scored 30fps.

The next chip down, the A8-5600K, scored 0.74 in our application tests, and it was a little slower than the A10 in our graphics benchmark, scoring 74fps in the Low-quality DiRT 3 test. That's still far better than anything an Intel chip can manage.

Both of these Trinity-based APUs also trounce low-end GPUs: AMD's own Radeon HD 6450 scored just 36fps in the Low-quality DiRT 3 test, and Nvidia's GeForce GT 520 managed 40fps.

It's easy to see where both the A10 and A8-series parts lose ground and make gains against Intel in our application benchmarks. The A10-5800K and A8-5600K scored 0.86 and 0.84 in our Windows test, which evaluates system responsiveness - every full-power, Sandy Bridge-based Core i3 chip scored between 0.97 and 1. Core i3 parts were quicker in the iTunes encoding benchmark, too, but the Radeon graphics cores came to the fore in our Photoshop benchmark - the Core i3s scored between 0.92 and 0.95, and the APUs ranged between 0.92 and 0.94.

The improved graphics performance also helped in our video rendering benchmark. The Core i3 chips scored between 0.52 and 0.54 in this test, but the A10-5800K and A8-5600K scored 0.63 and 0.61 respectively.

Worth the wait?

We’ve been waiting for Trinity-based desktop chips for quite some time – its mobile parts have already appeared in laptops such as the HP Envy 6 – and it’s clear that AMD has spent its time tweaking a successful formula, improving application and games performance in order to put pressure on Intel’s successful Core i3 chips.

AMD hasn’t yet revealed pricing information, though (see update below for details), and Intel has yet to strike back – its Ivy Bridge-based Core i3 parts are only just beginning to appear, and will surely prove to be quicker than their Sandy Bridge counterparts.

There are questions that still need to be answered, and they’ll have to wait for our full review, where we’ll be publishing pricing information and extra benchmarks. First impressions are decent, though; while there’s nothing revolutionary on show, AMD has improved performance across the board, ensuring gaming performance is still far ahead of rival cores while attempting to close the gap in applications.

Let us know what you think in the comments – would you switch to an APU for your next PC, or will you be sticking with Intel?

Update

We've been able to run additional benchmarks on our Trinity chips, and we're pleased to report that gaming performance impressed elsewhere.  The A10-5800K excellent in DiRT 3, with a result of 33fps in the high-quality test run at 1,920 x 1,080. It then averaged 48fps in Just Cause 2's low-quality benchmark - an eleven frame improvement on the HD Graphics 4000 core. The mid-range A8-5600K scored 28fps in the high-quality DiRT 3 test, and it ran through the low-quality Just Cause 2 benchmark at 40fps.

AMD claims its updated processing cores are more efficient, and further testing time has allowed us to put these chips through our power tests. The A10-5800K's idle power draw of 30W is about the same as we've recorded from both older APUs and Ivy Bridge-based Core i3s, but its 131W peak power draw falls behind - while it's 19W less than the top draw of the A8-3870K, it can't match the 87W power requirement of the Core i3.

The A8-5600K isn't much different, with idle and peak power draws of 27W and 126W, but neither Trinity chip got too hot - the A8-5600K hit a top temperature of 57°C in our stress tests, with the A10-5800K topping out three degrees higher.

AMD's Trinity parts compare well across many of our benchmarks, and we're impressed with their prices, too - information that AMD withheld until its embargo was lifted this morning. The A8-5600K costs £80 inc VAT, with the A10-5800K at £100. Both chips look like better value than their Intel counterparts: Sandy Bridge-based Core i3s generally cost a little under £100, with Ivy Bridge parts slightly more than £100. Other Trinity parts are cheaper still, with the A6-5400K costing £53 and the A4-5300 at £42.

One potential issue could be AMD's new FM2 processor socket. It's a direct replacement for the FM1 socket introduced with last year's Llano chips, and it means you'll have to buy a new motherboard if you're building a new system. One saving grace for system builders is AMD's promise that FM2 will be supported by its next generation of APUs as well as Trinity.

So, are these chips worth buying? Absolutely, even if you're building your own and will have to buy a motherboard, too. The A8-5600K is a superb budget offering, but our favourite is the A10-5800K: it's no more expensive than Core i3, isn't much slower in applications, and its much improved gaming performance negates the need for a discrete graphics card. Intel has dominated the low-end market with Core i3, but AMD has struck back in fine style.

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