AMD’s new AM1 platform is a fresh take on entry-level desktop computing with an SoC architecture wrapped in a socketed package for the masses.
April 17, 2014 by Lawrence Lee
AMD Athlon 5350
AM1 (FS1b) APU
The evolution of AMD’s APUs have been slow and steady, gradually gaining performance and energy efficiency with each generation. On the desktop side of things, the FM1 platform that started it all debuted in 2011 and since then AMD has gone through three architecture iterations, and two sockets. The first series of APUs also included a low power family, primarily to combat the dominance of Intel Atom chips in nettops/netbooks. Unfortunately, this line wasn’t updated at all until last year when AMD moved to the 28 nm Jaguar APU architecture. Sadly there are still plenty of budget devices on the market still using the outdated technology primarily due to financial constraints.
Embedded versions of Jaguar power the Xbox One and PS4 and a variety of notebooks and SFF systems, but surprisingly AMD has developed a socketed upgradeable solution to desktop users. The new Kabini chips aren’t just APUs, they are full SoC (system-on-chip) solutions with the chipset integrated as well so the FCH (Fusion Controller Hub) found on all other AMD desktop motherboards has been incorporated under the same hood. Consolidating processor design typically improves efficiency and cuts cost, making it a smart move, especially for an entry level product. The socket itself is technically called FS1b but AMD has chosen to dub the platform AM1. Another interesting nomenclature decision is the revival of the Sempron name for their low-end parts while the "high-end" chips are bestowed the coveted Athlon title.
AMD AM1 APU (Kabini) Comparison
Price (Tray, 1Ku)
Today we’ll be testing the top-of-the-line Athlon 5350 which is surprisingly affordable, currently selling for just US$60. On the other end of the spectrum, the bottom-rung Sempron 2650 can be had for a mere US$35. The opening Kabini lineup includes both quad and dual core chips with clock speeds ranging from 1.30 to 2.05 GHz (no Turbo Core) though they all operate within a 25W thermal envelope. The four chips also have similar GCN graphics technology as Kaveri but with only 128 Radeon cores and slower clock speeds all around. Technically they all run "R3" graphics but different HD 8000 model names are used to delineate differences in core and memory frequency.
With the FCH jammed into the same die as the CPU and GPU, there isn’t much real estate for a rich feature-set. AM1 supports only four PCI-E 2.0 lanes, single channel DDR3 up to 1600 MHz, two SATA 3/6 Gbps connections, and just two USB 3.0 ports.
The Athlon 5350 has the same appearance as AMD’s previous socketed chips but with a TDP of just 25W, the accompanying cooler is much smaller than previous stock units. The heatsink measures 55 x 55 x 22 mm (L x W x H) and the fan is a slim 50 mm model screwed on top with a 2 mm gap in-between, making the total height 39 mm. The FS1b socket has only two mounting holes with the cooler using a pair of pushpins (with completely removable pins) to lock it into place. While old AMD coolers are not backwards compatible, the new retention mechanism is more compact, which is a plus for smaller form factor boards.
We were provided with an ASUS AM1I-A to test the 5350, a mini-ITX model with two DDR3 slots, a pair of SATA 6 Gbps ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a single PCI-E 2.0 4x slot (compatible with 16x cards), and HDMI and DVI outputs. The AM1I-A has a street price of just US$50 which actually makes it one of the more expensive AM1 models on the market while more stripped down mainboards can be had for close to US$30. AMD rounded out the package with just a single 4GB stick of their Radeon Entertainment Series DDR3 memory which is sufficient as the memory controller is only single channel.
Measurement and Analysis Tools
Timed CPU Benchmark Test Details
3D Performance Benchmarks
Our main test procedure is a series of both CPU (timed tests of real-world applications) and GPU-centric (gaming tests and synthetics) benchmarks. System power consumption at various states is also measured.
Certain services and features like Superfetch and System Restore are disabled
to prevent them from affecting our results.
We also make note if energy saving features like Cool’n’Quiet and SpeedStep
do not function properly.
The Athlon 5350’s performance and power consumption is much lower than any desktop CPU we’ve tested in quite some time, so we compared it with other low power systems and CPU/motherboard combinations. The one exception was the latest Kaveri system with the A8-7600 set to the 45W mode in the BIOS, to give you idea how far away the 5350 is from a traditional desktop.
Our previous experience with this processor technology was with Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite, an ultrabook running a mobile CPU, the A6-1450, which runs at just 1.0 GHz (up 1.4 GHz with Turbo Core). The A6-1450 was for the most part fairly snappy but we did notice the occasional stutter here and there, even with Windows loaded onto an SSD. The much high-clocked Athlon 5350 didn’t suffer from any perceived performance issues and of course also performed stronger in our benchmarks.
In single-threaded tests, the Athlon 5350 was substantially faster than the A6-1450, and stayed ahead of the Atom C2758 2.4 GHz SoC based on Intel’s latest Silvermont architecture. The Core i3-3217U was also eclipsed in the multi-threaded video encoding tests, but it’s clear the low power Ivy Bridge chip is a superior processor overall. Older nettop chips like the Atom N2600 and G-T56N (similar to the E-350) were completely obliterated.
We arrived at our relative CPU performance scores by giving each system/chip a proportional
score in each real world benchmark with each test having an equal weighting.
The scale has been adjusted so that the Athlon 5350 is the reference point with
a score of 100. By this metric the 5350 is more than 50% faster than the A6-1450 and delivers almost twice the performance of the AMD G-T56N. The i3-3217U has a 20% advantage while the Atom C2758 is ahead by 19% though only by virtue of its strong multi-threaded test results (the C2758 is an octa-core SoC).
The 5350’s Radeon R3 graphics also deliver a sizable improvement from what preceded it, but the gaming performance remains purely within the realm of low-end integrated solutions. Barely playable frame rates at low resolutions were produced in Crysis and Lost Planet 2, while Aliens vs. Predator proved to be a little too demanding.
Note: all the systems compared used a small external power supply which are typically very efficient at low loads compared to ATX units.
Our Athlon 5350 configuration pulled 18W from the wall during idle and 25W during 1080p H.264 and Flash playback. Video playback was perfectly smooth and effortless, making it suitable for a home theater PC. We suspect that there’s also enough CPU horsepower to do software decoding of any video formats that don’t support hardware acceleration. Energy efficiency was poor compared to most of the SFF systems in the chart but it’s a substantial improvement over the A8-7600, the most frugal AMD desktop chip we’ve tested in the last few years. 55W Pentium G2120 beat it soundly but keep in mind it was tested with a thin mini-ITX motherboard (practically mobile hardware) rather than a standard desktop model.
On heavy load, our 5350 combination used almost half as much power as the
A8-7600. Full CPU+GPU load pulled less than 45W AC, so a 60W power supply is
all that’s needed for a basic configuration. The maximum power draw also wasn’t
enough to noticeably heat up the stock cooler. The fan spun at a modest speed
throughout testing, producing very little noise.
Editor’s Note (April 23): Reader
reaction in the forum to the minimal comments made here by Lawrence Lee
regarding the noise of the fan on the ASUS heatsink prompted me to revisit
the anechoic chamber with the test system. I can confirm the original comment
that the fan produces very little noise. It is low enough that at 1m distance
in the chamber, the fan is inaudible; ie, below the ambient level, which is
10~11 dBA — extremely, unnaturally quiet. This is at the default/idle
speed of ~1,200 RPM. When left under 100% load with Prime95 for about 45 minutes,
the CPU temperature rose to around 46°C (26°C above ambient), and
the fan sped up to nearly 1,400 RPM. The noise level barely increased, however.
At one meter distance it was still more or less inaudible and very beinign,
with a soft muted quality; the measured SPL was <13 dBA.
The AM1 platform does a solid job of bridging the gap between AMD’s embedded predecessors and fully-featured APUs. The Athlon 5350’s CPU and GPU performance fall well short of the latest Kaveri chips, but it has helped raise the floor for entry level computing. No, it’s not fast, but it is fast enough for the majority of users who use their PC for basic applications like web browsing, listening to music, and watching videos. When we weren’t running benchmarks, that is to say during regular Windows operations, we often forgot what chip was under the hood. The speed and responsiveness was difficult to distinguish from traditional Intel and AMD desktop platforms. When we evaluated the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite, which runs a slower mobile version processor of the same architecture (A6-1450, 1.0~1.4 GHz), it wasn’t nearly as smooth. This may indicate that the lower-clocked Sempron parts within the Kabini lineup might not quite be up to snuff either.
AM1’s connectivity options aren’t as robust as other socketed platforms but most of the vital features are present. Given Kabini’s low power envelope, it seems like an ideal choice for a home server but only two SATA ports are supported, even if they are 6 Gbps. Some motherboards include an mSATA slot, while others include a third party controller for an additional two ports, but if you want more drives than that, a controller card will be required. USB 3.0 is also limited to two ports, and as most manufacturers place them at the rear, that means no front USB 3.0. Adding a discrete graphics card is a waste as the lack of CPU processing power and four PCI-E 2.0 lanes act as tight bottlenecks so gaming is out of the question, but the integrated graphics are perfectly suited for a media PC.
What really makes AM1 compelling is price as both the processors and motherboards range from about US$35 to US$60. This puts them in competition with a handful of Intel-powered embedded CPU/motherboard combinations using ultra-low voltage Sandy/Ivy Bridge chips and J-series Celerons, desktop SoC versions of Intel’s latest Atom generation. However, as we have not yet tested any of these solutions, we will reserve final judgment on which solution is superior. What we can say is AMD’s socket strategy gives it an advantage both in upgradeability and versatility as consumers get to choose between various hardware combinations.
AMD Athlon 5350 is Recommended by SPCR
* * *
Articles of Related Interest
Supermicro SuperServer 5018A-FTN4 Rackmount Server
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite: Budget AMD Ultrabook
AMD A8-7600 Kaveri APU
Haswell comes to NUC
Logic Supply LGX ML300 Fanless NUC
/Gigabyte GA-H77TN Thin Mini-ITX Motherboard
* * *