AMD A8-3850 review: AMD A8-3850

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The Good The new AMD A8-3850 desktop chip offers strong budget gaming and multicore performance at a reasonable price.

The Bad AMD's new chip doesn't outperform its Intel equivalent on many standard programs.

The Bottom Line We recommend the AMD A8-3850 to mainstream desktop PC users in search of capable gaming power and multithreaded application performance.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

The new A-Series desktop processors round out AMD's Fusion CPU family, and make AMD the second processor manufacturer this year to combine a standard desktop chip with an embedded graphics processor on a single piece of silicon. Intel was the first, with its second-generation Core series (formerly known as Sandy Bridge) that debuted in January. While AMD's approach is generally not as fast as Intel's in terms of traditional processing power, it has drawn on the resources of its Radeon graphics business to provide the A8-3850 chip with impressive 3D performance for its price of $135. We can recommend AMD's new chip as a low-cost gaming platform and for multithreaded applications, but many users will still get faster general performance from an equivalent Intel chip.

AMD has not competed well with Intel in recent years, in part due to Intel's relentless pursuit of ever-more-efficient CPU manufacturing processes. In combination with the fact that Intel owns its own manufacturing facilities, compared with AMD which has to use other companies' plants, the result has been that Intel's CPUs have maintained a dollar-for-dollar performance lead over AMD's since Intel first introduced its Core 2 Duo chip family in mid-2007.

Aside from that manufacturing competition, this latest generation of CPUs represents a major step in what's been a slow shift in the way we think about computing. Traditionally, CPUs handle application processing duties, and GPUs (graphics processing units) were meant for gaming and dedicated video processing programs. Since Intel's Core CPUs launched earlier this year, and really as early as the 2008 debut of Nvidia's CUDA technology, those lines have blurred. Now, applications ranging from Adobe Creative Suite 5 and Flash 10.1 to Windows 7, Internet Explorer 9, and Firefox 4.0 can use the graphics processor to speed up performance, particularly when it comes to rendering visual elements. Windows' translucent Aero visual theme, for example, supports GPU acceleration.

As Intel did with Sandy Bridge, AMD has rolled a graphics chip directly into its new A-Series processor designs. The A8-3850, reviewed here, offers the equivalent of four Phenom II CPU cores combined with an AMD Radeon HD 6550 graphics core. The result is a chip designed to handle the demands of different processing workloads quickly and efficiently.

AMD A8-3850 Intel Core i3 2105
Price $135 $139
Number of physical cores/processing threads 4/4 2/4
Maximum CPU clock speed 2.9GHz 3.1GHz
L2 cache 4x1MB 2x256KB
L3 cache NA 3MB
Manufacturing process 32nm 32nm
Maximum memory speed 1,866MHz DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Embedded graphics core AMD Radeon HD 6550 Intel HD Graphics 3000
Graphics core clock speed 600MHz 850MHz

AMD is sticking with very mainstream price points and clock speeds for its new CPU. The A8-3850 is the most high-end chip of the four announced. A $119, the A6-3650 has a clock speed of 2.6GHz, with A8-3800 and A6-3600 variants filling in the price bands in between. The latter two chips use AMD's Turbo Core technology, which dynamically ramps up the core CPU clock speed according to the workload, similar to Intel's Turbo Boost feature. Unlike Turbo Boost, Turbo Core provides only a marginal speed increase to the chips that use it, and the bump applies to all four cores simultaneously. Intel's Turbo Boost has a broader range of clock speeds, and can apply a speed boost to individual cores as workloads demand.

Intel's dual-core Core i3 2105 CPU is the closest competitor to the fixed-frequency A8-3850 in terms of price. Although the Intel chip has a faster core clock speed, it has only two physical processing cores. Intel's Hyper-Threading technology virtualizes an additional processing thread on each core, and in that way the Core i3 2105 mimics the behavior of a quad-core CPU. In contrast, the A8-3850, and all of AMD's new desktop chips, each have four physical processing cores.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Core i3 2105 (1,333MHz RAM)
AMD A8-3850 (1,600MHz RAM)
AMD A8-3850 (1,333MHz RAM)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Core i3 2105 (1,333MHz RAM)
AMD A8-3850 (1,600MHz RAM)
AMD A8-3850 (1,333MHz RAM)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Core i3 2105 (1,333MHz RAM)
AMD A8-3850 (1,600MHz RAM)
AMD A8-3850 (1,333MHz RAM)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Core i3 2105 (1,333MHz RAM)
AMD A8-3850 (1,600MHz RAM)
AMD A8-3850 (1,333MHz RAM)

Cinebench 11.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
AMD A8-3850 (1,333MHz RAM)
AMD A8-3850 (1,600MHz RAM)
Intel Core i3 2105 (1,333MHz RAM)

As you can see from our application performance tests, AMD's new A8-3850 isn't quite ready to compete with Intel on file conversion and other traditional multimedia tasks. The Core i3 2105 outperformed the A8-3850 in almost every application test, including our Photoshop CS5 test, which uses filters that can benefit from GPU processing capabilities. We thought that if the AMD chip and its beefy graphics core had a shot it would be on that test, but it seems that's not the case.

Interestingly, for programs that are focused on multicore CPU processing, like our Cinebench test, the A83850 and its four native CPU cores will outperform Intel's simulated four-core chip. This makes for a rather complicated competitive landscape. Do you opt for a CPU with strong single-core performance, strong multicore performance, or strong GPU computing performance? No vendor can claim superiority across all three processing strategies, which means you must either pick based on the design of the applications you use most commonly, or look for a chip that offers the best all-around performance. With many programs still reliant on single-core processing speed, Intel seems like the safest choice. For gamers (as you'll see below) or users of multicore applications, we'd suggest AMD.

Also, note that you can see measurable performance gains from the AMD chip if you opt for 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM instead of 1,333MHz sticks. Even though the extra RAM speed doesn't allow the A8-3850 to overtake Intel, the 1,666MHz memory showed gains of 30 seconds in our Photoshop CS 5 test, and just under 15 seconds in our multimedia multitasking test. While we can't recommend the new AMD chip at this price if you need fast performance in digital media applications, we can at least say that using faster memory with the A8-3850 has real benefits. A quick scan of Newegg shows that 1,600MHz RAM will only cost about $5 more than equivalent 1,333MHz RAM, a relatively modest premium.

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
AMD A8-3850 (1,600MHz RAM)
AMD A8-3850 (1,333MHz RAM)
Intel Core i3 2105 (1,333MHz RAM)

Metro 2033 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,080 (low detail)  
AMD A8-3850 (1,600MHz RAM, DirectX 10)
AMD A8-3850 (1,333MHz RAM, DirectX 10)
AMD A8-3850 (1,333MHz RAM, DirectX 11)
AMD A8-3850 (1,600MHz RAM, DirectX 11)
Intel Core i3 2105 (1,333MHz RAM, DirectX 10)

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