AMD A8-3850 review:

AMD A8-3850

While AMD may lag behind Intel in certain kinds of application performance, the A8-3850's 3D graphics capabilities considerably improve the outlook for budget gaming desktops. Even at low resolution and image quality, Intel's HD Graphics 3000 core can't provide a playable Far Cry 2 experience. AMD's Radeon HD 6550, particularly with the faster memory, offers nearly three times the performance.

The A8-3850's advantage on the more demanding Metro 2033 is less dramatic, but still noticeable. Here the AMD chip offers marginally better performance in DirectX 10 mode than in DirectX 11. Intel's chip offers only DirectX 10 support, but even compared with the A8-3850's worst DirectX 11 frame rate, the Core i3 is still about 50 percent slower.

Between these two scores, with Far Cry 2 representing a very forgiving game, and Metro 2033 among the most demanding, we can say that while you would still enjoy a better gaming experience with a discrete graphics card, the AMD A8-3850 and its Radeon HD 6550 graphics core offer impressive PC gaming capabilities for the price. As AMD has done before, if you add a lower-end Radeon HD 6000-series card to a desktop with the A8-3850, the two will work together, in a sort of budget dual-graphics card mode. A more high-end graphics card won't receive a boost from the embedded CPU graphics core, but paired with a Radeon HD 6750, for example, AMD says the A8-3850 will provide roughly between 10 percent and 25 percent more performance than you'd see from the 6750 card by itself.

Due to the new architecture, AMD's new chips will require new motherboard chipsets as well. You'll find AMD's new A55 and A75 chipsets in motherboards from the usual third-party vendors. Our test board, an ASRock A75 Pro4, comes in on the higher end, but offers a modern assortment of ports, including four USB 3.0 inputs, five SATA III ports, and two PCI Express graphics card slots, the most we've seen on one motherboard. You also get HDMI, VGA, and DVI video outputs, and dual-monitor support. The motherboard also supports 6GBps SATA inputs.

The A55 variants have USB 2.0 jacks only, and support only SATA II storage devices. AMD's new platform can also support 3D Blu-ray playback. That might not be the most popular feature, but home-theater PC builders may appreciate it, and it's not a feature supported by Intel's second-gen Core platform.

Juice box
AMD A8-3850 Average watts per hour
Off (watts) 0.019
Sleep (watts) 2.95
Idle (watts) 49.17
Load (watts) 113.67
Raw (annual kWh) 201.926322
Annual power consumption cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $22.92

Our power consumption comparison was thwarted somewhat by the fact that the Intel Z68 motherboard wouldn't work with our admittedly old 500-watt Antec Neo HE 500 power supply. To keep things equal, we tested both systems with a 1,000-watt PSU, but that much wattage is completely overkill for these CPUs, and the resulting power efficiency comparison was not representative of the power draw you'd see from desktops using these chips. With a more typical power supply, the AMD A8-3850 offered power efficiency that seemed to improve on that of older AMD chips with similar performance, like the 2.9GHz AMD Phenom II X4 810T CPU in the HP Pavilion P6720f. In any case, the A8-3850's power draw even in our unoptimized test bed was impressive. We'd expect a vendor-built system with a more efficient power supply and strategically selected power management features to offer even greater efficiency.

Budget gamers in particular should be excited about AMD's new family of APU desktop chips due to their strong 3D performance. We'd hoped to see faster graphics processing in Photoshop CS5 as well, but Intel's standard CPU performance superiority seems to give it the edge there and with programs that rely on more traditional CPU processing. If you regularly use a program designed to make use of multiple processing cores, the A8-3850 is a better choice. Regardless of situational hair-splitting, AMD's A8-3850 is robust enough to offer an acceptable computing experience, and its 3D processing power, both by itself and in conjunction with a lower-end Radeon graphics card, should make this chip popular, particularly among mainstream gamers.

Test system configurations:

AMD test bed
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.9GHz AMD A8-3850; ASRock A75 Pro4 motherboard; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM/1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 6550 embedded; 500GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital SATA II hard drive

Intel test bed
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.1GHz Intel Core i3 2105; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; Intel DZZ68DB motherboard; 64MB Intel HD Graphics 2000 embedded; 500GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital SATA II hard drive

What you'll pay

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