I admit, when the APU concept first started making the rounds a few years ago, I was not sold. Things that bothered me were the relatively lower powered GPU performance on top of a CPU that seemed one or two generations behind the one I was using in my desktops. While the relative ratio of performance between an APU and a CPU/Dedicated GPU is still highly in favor of the dedicated card system, I’ve come to realize the the APU is the future of computing; it’s only a matter of time now before the APU catches up and surpasses CPU performance.
Recently Off Duty Gamers took look at the A10 6800K APU in our article titled “The Private Build.” In it, we detailed how the APU system could get you in the game quick, without the large start up cost that a higher end gaming rig would cost, especially with a dedicated graphics card. We detailed a few of the things we liked, and a few things we disliked, but were mostly impressed at the APU’s performance in graphically intensive tasks.
Next, we have the newest, 4th Generation APU, the Kaveri. Unveiled during CES this year, the Kaveri chip features some dramatic improvements. In essence, a quad core 3.7 Ghz CPU mounted with full R7 level (comparable to the HD 7700 serires), the Kaveri gives you the biggest bang for the smallest price.
For this review, we took a look at the AMD A-10 7850K APU. The test build consisted of 8 GB of AMD Radeon Gaming Series DDR3 2400 RAM, an ASROCK A88X Extreme 6+ Motherboard, a Seagate 1 TB standard Hard Drive, and Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit installed in a Cooler Master HAF XB EVO Lan Box. I chose Windows 7 as the Operating System because Windows 8 makes me want to become a supervillian and commit crimes. AMD’s own tests, and those of other reviewers likely included different hardware, such as Solid State Drives and Windows 8.1, which if you understand Math, means it sucks exactly 10 percent more than Windows 8.
The A10-7850K APU is an all in one package, featuring the Steamroller CPU architecture that is the hallmark of AMD’s current gen CPUs, and 8 GCN based GPU coresoffering Radeon R7 Graphics, which are within the current generation of graphics cards available today.
Based on the FM2+ Socket, the A10-7850K is compatible with any FM2 or FM2+ motherboards of the A88X, A78 or A55 Chipsets, and has a configurable TDP of 45W, 65W or 95W, allowing end users to thoroughly control noise and heat levels, depending on their requirements.
Memory Support is up to an astounding 2400 Mhz, which easily surpasses my current gaming rig, and the CPU clock is 3.7 GHz, while Turbo Boost allows it to reach speeds of up to 4 GHz.. Finally, other features such as HSA Heterogeneous Computing, AMD TrueAudio Technology and support for DirectX 11.2, along with the anticipated Mantle many of us are waiting for round out this chip quite nicely.
It’s kind of hard to say this is easy or hard to use, I mean you basically drop it in the socket, slap some thermal paste and a heatsink on it, and turn the PC on. A number of new features and updates will require you to upgrade some of your current support software, such as AMD Overdrive, and you will have to play around in them to get the new feel for things. Playing around with this APU is different enough from CPU tweaking that you will want to take it just a bit slower than normal.
We’re kind of in uncharted territory here. How do you judge design? Well the proof is apparently in the ability of the A10-7850K’s performance. Honestly, I am still not used to playing my full range of games without a Dedicated GPU, even on Low settings, much less the mid range settings I was able to achieve with this APU, it flat out feels weird but it works.
When it comes to design however, the single most important considerations are unlocked multiplier and the ability of the CPU and GPU cores to share the system RAM concurrently with no perceived effect on memory speed. Through a few simple tweaks in the BIOS or other utilities, you can make this thing just about get up and dance; for someone like me who likes to play around, tweak and mod systems the A10-7850K APU makes me feel like a kid in a candy store.
For a baseline test, I ran benchmarks and tested a few games against the A10-7850K at stock speeds, with no overclocking applied. While some of the results are posted below, they only tell so much; you have to feel it for yourself. My overall impressions of the APU were favorable at both stock and stable overclock speeds. I tested the A10 against several titles: Metro Last Light, Sleeping Dogs and Battlefield 4, all with default detection settings applied. In all cases, the game defaulted to medium settings. Not all of the eye candy was present, but it was still nice enough to look at that I was not feeling disappointed. Have a look:
Each of these three screenshots was captured while I was in game, and not a single one involved the use of a dedicated card. Not bad, eh?
Next I started to overclock a bit. Starting with the the base clock of 3.7 GHz, I disabled the Core C6 State and Turbo Clock in BIOS, and achieved a stable overclock of 4.1 GHz. Right away I noticed a snappier level of performance, comparable to my FX-8350. While some may scoff at the notion that 4 cores perform almost as well as 8, do bear in mind that there are precious few applications that make use of all the cores in your PC.
After this, I left the CPU at the 4.1 GHz mark and began upping the clock on the GPU. I was able to achieve 1100 MHz at one point, though it did not remain stable under any benchmarking attempts. I pushed this thing pretty hard, got a few freezes and lockups, but after a few minutes of resting, it was ready for more (rather like an an eager Lance Corporal). With a bit of time, some patience and experimentation it seems to me that the APU would overclock extremely well, and I plan on pushing it further (deadlines are a pain in my rear, see Overclocking Notes below).
With the benchmarking utilities, I was running into a problem with the processor and graphics not being recognized by the programs. Despite re running the tests multiple times, I kept coming up with the same error. I can’t in good conscience post these results, not knowing if they are somehow skewed because of this. My results were fairly similar to that provided by AMD, but I still wish to come up with my own figures. In the very near future, I will post the results of my tests both at stock and overclocked speeds, so keep an eye out.
I admit freely that I favor AMD, though Intel on the CPU side and Nvidia on the GPU side may have different results, neither of them have anything that combines both a CPU and GPU in one product. This unified approach to computing brings the previously segregated development of CPU and GPU computing under one roof, and makes for a smoother experience, in my opinion. The A10 series APUs, in fact all of the APUs, are not meant to be the top of the line system and deliver the maximum performance, it’s important to keep that in mind.
Beyond the unified approach is the support AMD shows for the community as a whole. Yes, other companies and manufacturers may do just as well, but my best experience has always come from these guys. That, and they actually answer emails, that goes a long way with me…
The current price set for the A10-7850K is $189.00, which puts it at a comparable price to the AMD FX-8350. One important consideration here, however, that for that price you also get R7 Graphics instead of having to buy a separate card, which will easily jack the price up several hundred dollars.
Final Intelligence Report
As I have been watching AMD, I have seen this march towards the APU and have come t realize that it is the future of computing, whether for business, or pleasure. The integrated graphics core on the CPU makes sense, saves money and offers a decent performance that allows an entry level into gaming with decent graphics that do not come at a price tag that makes you want to consider a second job. AMD has assured us however, that dedicated cards are not going away, and in fact offer advantages to using a dedicated card with the APU. Similarly, responding to a direct question, AMD has stated that even their CPU lineup is going to continue for several more years.
I started out lukewarm on the APU concept; I saw the value and recognized the market, and I did not think I was in it. After taking a look at the previous generation, and now this most recent Kaveri, I am sold. Right now I am looking at two previous desktop gaming rigs I have built, with dedicated graphics running multiple cards. This APU rig smokes them, but does not quite reach to the level of my current rig, so it is more of a mid line system. Soon the APU will be in higher in systems though, watch and see.
I look forward to testing other features the A10-7850K APU promises: increased performance with dual graphics, the upcoming mantle update to Battlefield 4, and a few others, like I said previously, stay tuned and watch out for more.
You don’t need to. Overclocking is something that is done by enthusiasts just because they can. Before you step into it, make sure you study up and realize the risks you run, such as damaging components, starting small brush fires, or initiating World War III. I have overclocked everything from my smartphones, to tablets, to my computers; I do it everyday and the only answer I can give you why I do it is “because.” If overclocking is something you want to try, go for it, ask questions and experiment; when it breaks, find out why and fix it.
The APU presents a bit of a learning curve, if you are used to overclocking other CPUs and GPUs. The settings and tweaks are similar, but you have to approach it a bit differently, with a delicate touch rather than bulling your way ahead. In fact as I type this, the APU is recovering from a bit of stress I put it through, just to see if I could fry it (Why? BECAUSE!) I didn’t succeed, but I do have to reinstall the OS; bear that in mind when you are playing around. If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it, unless you know how to repair it later on.
Here we are, a few minutes past the lifting of the NDA. In the short time I have taken to polish this article, I have reinstalled Windows on the APU rig. I’m tempted to stay up, I WANT to just to push this thing a little harder and see what else it can do. But I have work tomorrow, a 0500 wake time, and an entire week to play. Stay tuned.