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AMD A8-3870K Unlocked Llano Quad-Core APU Review
Date: Jan 24, 2012
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Introduction and Specifications
When AMD initially released their Llano-based A-Series APUs, the company targeted cost-conscious consumers looking for highly-integrated, easy to assemble solutions for an entry-level or mid-range PCs. At the time of launch, the flagship model in the A-Series line-up was the A8-3850, which featured quad CPU cores paired to a DirectX-11 Radeon GPU with 400 active shader units. In our coverage of the A8-3850, we found it to offer decent performance for its price, especially in graphics-related workloads where the APU’s relatively powerful integrated GPU was able to stretch its legs. 

AMD Llano Die Shot...

The original A-Series APU line-up didn’t feature any enthusiast-targeted products, but AMD quickly reacted to the A-Series’ mostly favorable reception with a new flagship, dubbed the A8-3870K Black Edition, which we’ll be showing you here today. In its default configuration, the A8-3870K is a slight upgrade from the A8-3850, thanks to a small increase in its default CPU frequency. The “K” in its part number, however, means the chip is unlocked, which makes for some interesting overclocking. When paired to the right motherboard, which features an updated BIOS / UEFI that fully supports the A8-3870K, this APU is able to hang with some of AMD’s fastest quad-core desktop processors, while also offering discrete-class GPU performance. 

AMD A8-3870K Unlocked "Llano" APU
Specifications & Features
Tech / Package 32nm / FM1 905-pin lidded μPGA, 40x40 mm, 1.27 mm pitch
TDP Configurations 100W configurations
Processor Core “Stars” 32nm HKMG process core (up to 4 cores), 128 KB L1 Cache(64 KB Instruction, 64 KB Data) 1 MB L2/Core, 128-bit FPUs, Unlocked @ 3.0GHz
Memory Up to DDR3 1866
Graphics Core Up to 400 Radeon Cores, DirectX 11 capable, UVD3
Displays Digital Display I/F DP0: Display Port, HDMI, DVI
Digital Display I/F DP1: Display Port, HDMI, DVI
Graphics Features AMD Dual Graphics
Blu-ray 3D
AMD Steady Video
AMD Perfect Picture
DisplayPort 1.1a, HDMI 1.4a
Power Management Multiple low-power states
32-nm process for decreased power consumption
PCIe core power gating
PCIe speed power policy
GPU power gating of Radeon Cores and video decode (UVD3)
AMD Turbo Core technology on select models
Tech/Package 65nm / FC BGA, 605-Ball, 23x23mm, .8mm pitch
TDP Configurations A75: 7.8W, A55: 7.6W
UMI x4 Gen 2
SATA A75: 6 ports at 6 Gb/s, A55: 6 ports at 3 Gb/s
RAID 0,1,10
USB A75: 4 USB 3.0 Ports, 10 USB 2.0 Ports, 2 USB 1.1 Internal Ports A55: 14 USB 2.0 Ports, 2 USB 1.1 Internal Ports
PCIe GPPs 4x1 Gen2
FIS Support A75 only
CIR CIR Receiver
Clock Gen Integrated
Power Rails SVID for VDDCR_CPU & VDDR_NB, fixed voltage for other rails

Software Drivers: Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Linux

Click to Enlarge

The AMD A8-3870K differentiates itself from the A8-3850 it supplants at the top of AMD's A8 APU line-up in two meaningful ways. First, the A8-3870K has a 100MHz higher default CPU clock, 3GHz (3870K) versus 2.9GHz (3850). Second, as the "K" denotes, the A8-3870K is an unlocked "Black Edition" APU. That means the chip is unlocked for more flexible overclocking. It's not only the CPU multipliers that are unlocked though, but the GPU and memory speed multipliers too. The initial batch of "non-K" Llano APUs were all locked, so overclocking was only possible via base clock manipulation. With the A8 K SKUs, however, overclocking of the CPU, GPU, and Memory blocks is also possible via multiplier adjustment.

Just to paint the complete picture, as we've already mentioned, the AMD A8-3870K APU has a default CPU clock speed of 3.0GHz. Its four x86 cores are each outfitted with 128KB of L1 Cache (64KB Instruction, 64KB Data) and 1MB of L2 cache per core, but no L3 cache is present. Phenom II processors have similar L1 configurations, but only half the L2, plus a large 6MB L3 cache. However, remember, this is an APU, so the A8-3870K also has an integrated DX11-class Radeon HD 6550D GPU core. The GPU runs at a default frequency of 600MHz and has 400 active shader ALUs arranged in an array of 5 SIMDs.

Due to the fact that the A8-3870K's CPU cores are only clocked 100MHz higher than the A8-3850 and the main attraction of this APU is its status as an unclocked Black Edition chip, we did some overclocking right out of the gate using a standard air-cooler to see what kind of CPU and GPU performance gains could be achieved with a bit of tweaking. Ultimately, the A8-3870K ended up being fairly overclockable and attained a CPU frequency of 3.5GHz simultaneously with an 800MHz GPU frequency. These are increases of 500MHz and 200MHz, respectively, over their default clocks. Since those numbers were possible with a basic air-cooler and only a minor .25v bump in voltage, we've included a full set of benchmark scores while the A8-3870K was overclocked on the pages ahead.
Test Systems and PCMark 7

Test System Configuration Notes: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set the memory frequency to DDR3-1600. The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, performed a disk clean-up, defragged the hard drives, and ran the tests.

AMD "Entertainment Edition" Memory Kit

We should also point out that while experimenting with the A8-3870K, we put a couple of sticks of AMD Entertainment Edition (8GB, 4GB x 2) through its paces on our test rig. Although this memory is rated for operation at 1333MHz, it had absolutely no problem running at 1600MHz (and somewhat higher). In our time testing the AMD Entertainment Edition memory kit, it proved to be very stable and tweakable, and even higher performing Performance and Radeon Edition kits are coming as well.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Intel and AMD - Head To Head

System 1:
AMD A8-3850
(2.9GHz - Quad-Core)
AMD A8-3870K
(3.0GHz - Quad-Core)

Asus F1A75-V Pro
(AMDA75 Chipset)

2x4GB AMD DDR3-1600
(@ 1600MHz)

Radeon HD 6550D IGP
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows 7 x64

System 2:
Intel Core i3-2100T
(2.5GHz - Dual-Core)
Intel Core i3-2120
(3.3GGHz - Dual-Core)
Intel Core i5-2500
(3.3GHz - Quad-Core)

Asus P8Z68-A Pro
(Z68 Express Chipset)

2x4GB G.SKILL DDR3-1866
(@ 1600MHz)

Intel HD Graphics
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows 7 x64

System 3:
AMD Phenom II X4 980
(3.7GHz Quad-Core)

Asus CrossHair V Formula
(AMD 990FX Chipset)

2x4GB G.SKILL DDR3-1866
(@ 1600MHz)

Radeon HD 6570
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows 7 x64

Futuremark's PCMark 7 is the latest version of the PCMark suite, recently released this spring. It has updated application performance measurements targeted for a Windows 7 environment. Here's what Futuremark says is incorporated in the base PCMark suite and the Entertainment suite, the two modules we have benchmark scores for you here.

Futuremark PCMark 7
General Application and Multimedia Performance
The PCMark test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance during typical desktop usage. This is the most important test since it returns the official PCMark score for the system
  • Windows Defender
  • Importing pictures
  • Gaming

Video Playback and transcoding

  • DirectX 9

Image manipulation
Web browsing and decrypting

The Entertainment test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance in entertainment scenarios using mostly application workloads. Individual tests include recording, viewing, streaming and transcoding TV shows and movies, importing, organizing and browsing new music and several gaming related workloads. If the target system is not capable of running DirectX 10 workloads then those tests are skipped. At the end of the benchmark run the system is given an Entertainment test score.

We have a full set of benchmark scores with the AMD A8-3870K overclocked to 3.5GHz (CPU) and 800MHz (GPU), which we have included in all of the charts moving forward.

As you can see, the A8-3870K's higher frequency give it a slight edge over A8-3850, but the chip is still unable to catch the Core i5-2500. Even while overclocked, Intel's chip has the edge.

LAME MT Audio Encoding and Cinebench R11.5

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content. LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.

Audio Conversion and Encoding

In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenic-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.

Audio encoding is most certainly not a strong point for the AMD A8-3870K. The A8-3870K is a hair faster than the 3850 at its stock speed, but trails the Intel processors significantly. While overclocked, the A8-3870K shows huge gains, but it's still not enough to catch even an Intel dual-core CPU.

Cinebench R11.5
3D Rendering

Cinebench R11.5 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput. This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders and animates 3D scenes and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.

Cinebench shows the A8-3870K with a big GPU performance advantage over the Intel HD series GPU integrated into the Sandy Bridge-based processors. AMD's CPU cores, however, can't match Intel's clock for clock. While overclocked though, the A8-3870K at least manages to outpace the Core i3-2120.

Gaming: 3DMark 06 and FarCry 2
FutureMark states that, "3DMark's score is an overall measure of your system’s 3D gaming capabilities, based on comprehensive real-time 3D graphics and processor tests. By comparing your score with those submitted by millions of other gamers you can see how your gaming rig performs, making it easier to choose the most effective upgrades or finding other ways to optimize your system. 3DMark06 has been downloaded more than any other 3D benchmark and the ORB database now contains over 8.5 million 3DMark06 benchmark scores from around the world."

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthatic DirectX Tests

3DMark06 tells the whole story of AMD's design philosophy with Llano. The AMD A8-3870K-based systems offered strong graphics performance with relatively low CPU scores that just barely outpaced Intel's Core i3-2120 dual-core, while the Intel-based rigs had relatively good CPU scores, with much lower GPU-related scores. Also note the Core i3-2100T couldn't even finish the HDR/SM3.0 test.

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance

FarCry 2
Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations. We benchmarked the systems in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.

The GPU integrated into the A8-3870K (and all other Llano-based APUs) is obviously far more powerful than Intel's, as is evidenced by our FarCry 2 results shown here--there's simply no contest. Overclocking the A8-3870K also yielded some nice performance gains.
Gaming: Metro 2033 and ET:QW
Next, we turned up the graphics workload a notch or two, with Metro 2033, a 3D graphics stress test if we ever saw one, albeit using more relaxed settings.

Metro 2033
DirectX Gaming Performance

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack there-of more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. Since Intel's HD Graphics core only supports up to DX10.1 rendering, we tested the game set to medium quality using the game's DX10 rendering mode with 4X Anisotropic Filtering enabled.

AMD's A8-3870K APU offered about 77% better performance than the Intel processors here, due to the APU's much more powerful integrated GPU. Once again, we also see nice performance gains with the A8-3870K overclocked.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
OpenGL Gaming Performance

Enemy Territory:
Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on a radically enhanced version of id's Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some. In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two. ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many smaller textures. The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory. Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously. The game was tested using its "High" quality preset with 4x anisotropic filtering.

We saw more of the same with our custom ET:QW benchmark. The A8-3870K's integrated GPU smashes Intel's here and shows that there's some nice headroom left for overclocking.
Total System Power Consumption

Before bringing this article to a close, we'll take a look at power consumption of the A8-3870K and some competing platforms. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power this new APU was consuming with a power meter, versus other test systems we used for benchmarks in the previous pages. Our goal was to give you an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling on the desktop and while under a heavy workload Keep in mind, this is total system power consumption being measured at the outlet and not the the individual CPUs or GPUs alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

The A8-3870K's idle power consumption was relatively low when compared to Intel's offerings and the older AMD platform (which requires a discrete or motherboard GPU). Load power, however, was much higher than Intel's. Overclocking the A8-3870K also resulted in significantly higher power consumption--which is to be expected--but at under 200W while loaded, it's still much lower than the Phenom II.
Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: While running at its default CPU and GPU frequencies, the AMD A8-3870K Black Edition offered decent performance throughout our entire batter of benchmarks. It’s slightly higher CPU clocks allowed it to outpace the A8-3850 across the board and better complete with Intel’s Core i3-Series processors in terms of CPU performance. The A8-3870K’s GPU, however, offered much better performance than the Intel HD-Series graphics integrated into the Core i3-series.

With the A8-3870K Black Edition running at overclocked CPU / GPU frequencies of 3.5GHz / 800MHz, the APU offered performance much higher than stock. In fact, while overclocked, the A8-3870K was able to approach the performance level of an even higher clocked Phenom II X4 980, equipped with a discrete GPU. 

AMD A8-3870K Black Edition APU Packaging

The AMD A8-3870K Black Edition isn’t going the break any benchmark records, but after experimenting with the APU for a while, we really like it. The 3870K’s is currently selling for about $144 (and as of this writing includes a free copy of Dirt 3), which puts it right about on par with the Intel Core i3-2100T, which is available for about $135. The 3870K, however, offers better performance in highly threaded workloads and has a much better integrated GPU. Couple those things with the A8-3870K’s unlocked multipliers, and if you don’t mind doing a bit of overclocking (this is a Black Edition APU, after all), a fairly potent system can be easily assembled and tweaked to offer much better performance, that’s adept at both day-to-day desktop workloads and moderate gaming.

  • Low Power
  • Affordable
  • Dual-Graphics Support
  • Integrated DX11 GPU Core

  • General Compute Performance Below Intel
  • More Performance Available For Minimal Additional Investment

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