AMD launches Llano: decent hybrid graphics at last?

Adam Oxford

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While AMD is struggling to get its forthcoming flaghship processors out of the door, there is some good news for the company. It's officially launching its new range of CPU/GPU hybrid processors today, codenamed Llano . And the reception for the new chips has been good.

At its heart, Llano is a two or four core Athlon II processor with a low end 5800 series graphics chip bolted onto the side. Manufactured on a new 32nm silicon process, bundling the CPU and GPU together like this brings certain performance and power benefits over using two separate chips, and is more cost effective to manufacture.

Intel, of course, has been producing hybrid chips in the shape of its newer Atom and Core processors for a while now. AMD's first hybrid chips appeared under the Fusion marque earlier in the year in netbooks and tablets, and compared very well to their Atom rivals.

The new Llano chips are a step up from the existing C-Series and E-Series Fusion processors, and are being launched using A-Series branding.

The processor that has been doing the review rounds today is the AMD A8-3500M. It's not quite the fastest of the new A-Series chips, but is close. It's a quad core chip that runs at 1.5GHz when all four cores are under load, and can overclock itself to 2.4GHz when only one core is being used. The graphics core has 400 unified shader cores running at 444MHz.

The graphics component is key to Llano's success or failure. Intel's Sandy Bridge CPU cores are several generations more advanced than the AMD architecture here. What AMD does have, however, is its Radeon know how to integrate into the chip. That, theoretically, makes this the more interesting option for gaming.

Early reviews bear out these assumptions. Anandtech , looking at the desktop version of Llano, says "Finally, acceptable processor graphics". Our sister site TechRadar concludes that "Thanks to Llano, 'integrated' is no longer a dirty word when it comes to graphics".

What do I think? I'll reserve judgement until I get chance to review it hands on, but as far as netbooks are concerned, AMD's Fusion is the only serious choice right now and I think it's likely that an A-Series laptop will be a very good travelling companion: thin, light, cheap and good enough to enjoy the occasional game on.

I am, however, slightly more sceptical of AMD's naming conventions. I like the fact that it calls hybrid chips Accelerated Processing Units, or APUs, giving us a useful shorthand for the whole class of confusing chips. But that's where it ends.

Apart from the fact that there's no clue in the name as to how these new chips compare to Athlons and Phenoms, it's going to be tricky for consumers to tell an E-Series from a C-Series from an A-Series chip. Worse, while we were just getting comfortable with Fusion as the platform name, these mid-range processors have an entirely new moniker, Vision.

So today's launch is the AMD A8-3500M Fusion APU with Vision. I have another acronym to add to that. "WTF?"

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