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AMD Fusion review

Verdict

More powerful than the Atom, but not by enough to revolutionise the nettop and netbook market. We have higher hopes for the desktop chips due in a few months

Review Date: 10 Feb 2011

Reviewed By: Darien Graham-Smith

Price when reviewed: Depends on model

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Combining a CPU and GPU onto one silicon die is a concept AMD pioneered back in 2007, to enable more efficient processing while reducing size, power consumption and manufacturing costs. Fast-forward to 2011 and Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors have been offering on-die graphics since January, yet Fusion is only just coming to fruition. Not for the first time, AMD finds itself playing catch-up.

Initially at least, AMD Fusion isn’t a direct competitor to Sandy Bridge. The first Fusion chips are based around the new 40nm Bobcat core, aimed squarely at the low-power roles dominated by Intel’s Atom processors. This platform is codenamed Brazos, and it includes both single- and dual-core processors, in two flavours: the regular E series (codenamed Zacate) and ultra low-power C series (Ontario).

AMD Fusion processors

The new chips all boast one of two Radeon-branded GPUs (identical but for clock frequency) with 80 DirectX 11 stream processors, plus AMD’s Unified Video Decoder 3 for high-definition media. That means that even the low-power C series should handle complex 3D animations and Blu-ray media. AMD is also fully supporting OpenCL and Microsoft’s DirectCompute framework, encouraging programmers to use the GPU to accelerate general-purpose calculations. For this reason, AMD likes to refer to Fusion chips as APUs – accelerated processing units.

Overall, the Brazos formula is similar to Nvidia’s Ion platform, which marries an Intel Atom CPU to a discrete Nvidia GPU. The difference is that, for obvious reasons, Ion can’t reap the efficiency benefits of combining everything on one die — potentially giving AMD an unanswerable advantage.

Putting Brazos to the test

AMD Fusion

Since Brazos is aimed primarily at consumer devices such as netbooks and tablets, the chips are mounted directly on the motherboard, rather than socketed. That means you can’t buy a Brazos processor on its own; but if you want to build a home media centre, or a compact desktop PC, several manufacturers offer mini-ITX motherboards with integrated processors at around the £100 mark. We tested Gigabyte’s E350N-USB3 motherboard package, which has the top-end E-350 processor, with support from 2GB of 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM (the board supports up to 8GB of RAM in two DIMM sockets) and a low-power 2TB Seagate Barracuda LP hard disk.

The results were decent, but not stellar. In our application benchmarks, the Brazos system achieved an overall score of 0.53 — higher than any Atom- or Ion-based system we’ve seen, but not by a wide margin. For comparison, our A-Listed netbook, the Asus Eee PC 1001P, achieved an overall score of 0.39, while the Ion-powered Zotac Zbox HD-ID34 managed 0.46.

AMD Fusion scores

When it came to media playback, the E-350 had no difficulty rendering video at resolutions up to 1080p in a variety of formats – including high bit-rate Blu-ray rips and streaming video from YouTube HD. Windows Media Center felt responsive, but we noted that CPU usage was around 70% whenever video was playing, and performing more or less any background action caused stuttering. Considering the platform includes a built-in hardware video decoder, we’d expected better: hopefully a future driver upgrade will improve matters.

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User comments

"but not by a wide margin"

0.59 is 36% more than 0.39, which is quite a wide margin to me.

Pitty it wasn't out a year ago.

By matbailie on 10 Feb 2011

Engadget's reviews are much rosier

Well, Engadget's reviews of the Lenovo Thinkpad x120e http://www.engadget.com/2011/02/07/lenovo-thinkpad
-x120e-review/ and HP DM1z http://www.engadget.com/2011/01/17/hp-pavilion-dm1
z-with-amd-fusion-review/ clearly rate the Fusion APU over Atom.

By dyagetme1 on 10 Feb 2011

@matbailie:
It has to be compared against the Ion platform (because of the video), and here it's just 15% (0.53 vs 0.46). Sorry, it doesn't sound like a huge increase to me.

By Lomskij on 10 Feb 2011

Also you get that 15% increase in productivity in exchange for 50% higher power consumption - might be a deal breaker for netbooks.

By Lomskij on 10 Feb 2011

@Lomskij

why does it have to be compared to the ion, when intel dont make the graphics? this is for cpu's and amd's cpu just happens to have a better gpu built into it. so sorry but this has nothing to do with nvidia its amd and intel so yes it does have to be compared to the intel one.

By parkerm35 on 10 Feb 2011

What a review :)

And you want to be called PC pro? you should be called pc n00b if you dig around you will see that a simple codeck pack installation helps quite a lot the fusion platform, so it is clear that better drivers are needed.
This sounds a biased review where Intel has used the old strategy...pay magazine and the likes to pull up bad reviews.

By sayl1000 on 10 Feb 2011

the Zacate E-350 in a nutshell

Zacate: for high-end netbooks and low power netops ...

Replaces AMD's Neo cpu, with similar performance but better battery life. Faster than Intel's dualcore Atom, but not by much, and it is barely faster than the slowest of the Neo's that it replaces. It is still slower than just about anything else. For perspective in the desktop area (since Zacate will also be in nettops and HTPCs), An Athlon II X2 255 ($65) or low power X2 240e ($65) is THREE times as fast, while the slowest Core i3 is FOUR times as fast.

Integrated graphics performance is similar to nVidia's ION and Intel's "HD Graphics".

the first reports of battery life in a netbook platform show it to be almost as efficient as the atom.

By alife69 on 11 Feb 2011

@lomskij - and review author

Further to matbailie's comment. You have a number of systems regularly scoring 2 or more, but if a new CPU came out scoring 2.72 you'd call it a major advance on 2. This chipset may be meaningful because it produces a genuinely usable low end system.
I for one will probably get a board for a fanless system.

By milliganp on 11 Feb 2011

Fanless or brainless

I just notices the strange twirly thing in the middle of the heatsink!

By milliganp on 11 Feb 2011

"you get that 15% increase in productivity" --- No. you get a 15% increase in speed; an almost imperceptible increase in productivity in almost all situations.

By stephentgmail on 11 Feb 2011

Why "playing catchup"?

AMD released the Zacate/Ontario APUs at CES in early January. Multiple vendors were also showing finished notebooks/pads etc at the show. So, why do you state that AMD are "playing catchup" to Intel?

By Snobol4 on 15 Feb 2011

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