Review: AMD Fusion A8-3870k

Review: AMD Fusion A8-3870k APU

Doing more with less

AMD has long been under the shadow of sales overlord Intel. With products that never seem to be able to compete mano a mano with Intel’s chips, AMD has long been pursuing a strategy of more bang for buck.

Following in that more for less philosophy, AMD has created a new line of chips they are calling APUs or Accelerated Processing Units. The chips go by the Fusion moniker and include multiple PC components on a single chip. The biggest edition to the Fusion chips is the inclusion of a GPU, or graphics chip. This allows buyers to skip buying a pricey video card, but provides much higher levels of power than traditional “built-in” graphics.

To see if these new chips could really help us build a (relative) powerhouse machine on a budget, we have taken one of AMD’s newest chips the 3870k for a spin to see how much power we can really gain over the best integrated graphics system AMD has to offer.

The 3870k is one of the first “unlocked” chips from AMD’s Fusion line and should be much easier to overclock. For the uninitiated, overclocking is the process of altering the computer processor so that it functions faster than designed. This can give you much more power for your computing dollar. We will be comparing the 3870k against the best integrated graphics currently available from AMD, the 890GX.

Baseline System:

AMD Phenom 2 955 Black Edition @3.2GHz

Foxconn 890GX Motherboard (A9DA)

8 GB (2x4GB) Corsair Vengeance 1600 DDR3

OCZ ModXStream Pro 600W Modular PSU

1.5 TB Seagate Barracuda @7200 RPM

Zalman CNPS 92mm CPU Cooler

 

Test System:

AMD Fusion 3870k APU @3.0GHz

Gigabyte A75 Motherboard (GA-A75M-S2V)

8 GB (2x4GB) Corsair Vengeance 1600 DDR3

OCZ ModXStream Pro 600W Modular PSU

1.5 TB Seagate Barracuda @7200 RPM

Zalman CNPS 92mm CPU Cooler

Our base system has a more powerful CPU, so from the beginning the new Fusion chip has an uphill battle. Will its more powerful graphics chip give it the edge over the Phenom? Currently the Phenom 955 has been discontinued, but you can still find it for sale at online retailers for cheaper than the 3870k. It will be interesting to see which chip is truly the better bargain. The Phenom may also be faster, but it is an older chip and newer processors should be more efficient in their computations.

To compare our chips we will be using the Windows Experience Index and a benchmarking tool called NovaBench. Both of these programs test multiple systems and provide us with a subjective number that we can easily compare.

The chart below compares the Windows Experience Index scores between the base 3870k and an overclocked Phenom 955.

Test:

Fusion 3870k @3.0GHz

Phenom 955 @3.6GHz

Processor

7.3

7.4

Memory (RAM)

7.3

7.5

Graphics

5.9

4.4

Gaming Graphics

6.6

5.5

Primary Hard Disk

5.9

5.9

Phenom 955 Specs and Scores

 

So right away we can see that despite the massive speed difference between the two chips, the new Fusion chip takes top honors in almost every category. It was only marginally beaten out in CPU and RAM. Let’s take a look at the NovaBench scores which use a larger numbering system allowing for more minute score differences.

Test:

Fusion 3870k @3.0GHz

Phenom 955 @3.6GHz

System RAM

147

149

CPU Tests

395

436

Graphics Tests

124

27

Hardware Tests

66

82

NovaBench Score

732

694

 

Note: We are unsure why the Hardware tests show such a discrepancy as the same HDD was used. We repeated the test multiple times and received similar results so we are going to attribute this to the SATA controllers of the Fusion chip and motherboard.

usion 3870k Baseline Specs and Scores

So again we see that the higher clock speed of the Phenom is rated marginally better than the Fusion, but our overall scores favor the Fusion thanks to its better GPU. These numbers also let you see the gaps in a different light than the WEI allows you to. We can see that CPU of the Phenom only beats the Fusion by a score of 41, but the Fusion wins the graphics score by a massive 97 points. Still in the end, the chips are fairly closely matched, with only 38 points separating their final scores.

Now that we know the Fusion APU can hold its own against the more powerful Phenom chip of the past at base levels, we want to see how fast we can push the little monster. Perhaps we can make a bigger gap in these scores. We prefer not to get into the minutia of the overclocking details here (if you would like us to do a write up of our overclocking exploits, leave a comment below), but after some tinkering we were able to push the 3870k up to a speed of 3.5GHz, and we ran the NovaBench test again.

Test:

Fusion 3870k @3.5GHz

Phenom 955 @3.6GHz

System RAM

145

149

CPU Tests

443

436

Graphics Tests

159

27

Hardware Tests

77

82

NovaBench Score

824

694

 

Now that we have increased the power of the Fusion APU, it is handily beating the Phenom in nearly every category. It even manages a higher CPU score despite being clocked 100MHz slower. When all is said and done, the Fusion system beats the Phenom system by an astounding 130 points.

This doesn’t make the new Fusion chip the best choice for everyone though. Despite its crushing win, the Fusion APU system costs money. The 3870k currently runs for $110 online and the motherboard we used is another $80. You could buy a very nice video card for that much money, and turn the tide of this entire test. So the true deciding factor is what you need to build. If you already have a computer based on AMD’s older built-in graphics, a new video card is a great upgrade. If you are trying to build a new system than the Fusion line of products is a no brainer.

Despite our apprehensions of choosing the new Fusion over a new video card, there are some things to consider. Firstly, the new Fusion chips use much less power and produce less heat than a full-size Phenom set-up does so this could play a factor in your choice.

Pros: Great value for performance, much more powerful than previous integrated graphics, lower power consumption and heat

Cons: May not be a better choice for someone with a powerful Phenom system. Overclocking potential is not as good as the Phenom.

Score:

 

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About the author: Christian Moe

 

Christian is the Technology and Gaming guru of Guys Gab, and he also happens to be damn great with auto coverage as well. Big dreams and big enthusiasm are great ways to describe Christian. As a writer he strives to bring concise information together with quick wit to create an enjoyable and informative experience for his audience. When not writing he can be found trying to complete his life goal of becoming a race car driving, astronaut, rock-star. Big dreams indeed.

Website: http://www.Moeferd.com

 

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