Lab Tested: AMD’s “Lynx” Brings Superior Graphics For Budget Desktops
Testing: Benchmarks Galore
First up is the old industry standard, 3DMark Vantage. We've been using 3DMark 11 for our graphics card testing, as it's the new, DirectX 11-based update to Futuremark's popular benchmark suite. Alas, Intel's Core i3-2100 is limited to DirectX 10. A note about synthetic benchmarks: these tests aren't indicative of real-world performance, but they do offer a pretty good idea of hardware handles strenuous tasks.
The A8-3850 takes a decisive lead here, with AMD plainly showing off the Lynx platform's strengths. 3DMark assigns points based on a machine's performance during the tests. Higher scores are better.
Note the near comical difference in GPU performance between the Lynx integrated graphics processor, and Intel's Sandy Bridge offering. And then, note that Intel's wares boast the stronger CPU score. AMD's Radeon HD 6550D graphics ultimately trounce the Intel HD Graphics 2000 implemented in the Core i3-2100, but Intel's wares pull ahead where raw number crunching is concerned.
Next up is WorldBench 6, PCWorld's homegrown testing suite. It simulates an average user's workload by running through sample workloads in off-the-shelf applications. Firefox churns through webpages, Photoshop touches up some photos -- standard tasks you might find yourself doing while using your PC.
We see more of the CPU versus GPU discrepancies once we move on to some real world applications. Intel's Core i3 2100 took the lead here, by roughly 14% -- a fair margin. It earned a score of 127, while the A8-3850 saw a respectable 109.
Testing: AMD Dual Graphics
We've covered the performance gains you can expect should you install multiple video cards onto a Desktop, thanks to AMD's Crossfire and Nvidia's SLI technologies. AMD's Crossfire makes an appearance of sorts here, in the form of Dual Graphics.
Dual Graphics works much like Crossfire does: add a graphics card, and it will work in tandem with the A8-3850's integrated graphics to improve performance. It's a (potentially) inexpensive way to upgrade your machine, though AMD does warn that you'll want to include a card that's reasonably more powerful than the integrated Radeon HD 6550D to see much of an improvement.
Setting up Dual Graphics was deceptively easy, though you will need to be comfortable navigating through the motherboard BIOS. I shut my testbed down, and added an $80 Radeon HD 6570 graphics card onto the motherboard. After toggling the Dual Graphics option in the system BIOS, the machine booted into Windows. After a few screen flickers as the machine recognized the card, AMD's Vision Engine took control, and automatically activated AMD's Crossfire.
All results are listed in frames per second. For Just Cause 2, all settings were turned to their lowest values, anti-aliasing was disabled, and antistropic filtering was set to 2X. For S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (hereafter referred to as Pripyat), all of the extraneous bells and whistles were turned off.
I originally hesitated to include data for Just Cause 2 and Pripyat. These are the most strenuous titles on my graphics card testing retinue, and the numbers offered up here never approached "playable." It was a good illustration of the strength of the Lynx platform's integrated graphics however -- you'll simply have to pick up a graphics card if you're going with Intel's offerings, while AMD leaves you a bit of wriggle room (provided disable every single graphics option, or stick to simpler titles).
Add a GPU, and things take a sharp turn for the better. Taking advantage of the Dual Graphics option turns the A8-3850 from a slideshow delivery-station into a proper gaming machine -- albeit with the settings turned down. But it's important to keep in mind that the Lynx platform is specifically targeted at inexpensive Budget desktops, which (traditionally) aren't meant to be gaming much anyway. With so much to gain from adding a modestly priced graphics card, gamers on a budget are going to have a lot to look forward to in the coming months.
Testing: Power Consumption
Entry-level processors like the A8-3850 and the Core i3-2100 are designed with low power consumption in mind, and they're both appropriately thrifty with wattage. While idle, the A8-3850 pulled a meager 42.3W, while the Core i3-2100 measured in at 44.6W. Both of these measurements were taken directly from the outlet, and don't include a display or case, so your measurements will vary. You can also expect to see those numbers balloon if you add a graphics card into the mix. While watching a 1080p video, the A8-3850 climbed as high as a meager 66.2W, while the Core i3-2100 hit 72.6 on our power meters.
Final Thoughts: Par For The Course From AMD
The Lynx platform is impressive, but what we're seeing is par for the course from AMD. What the part lacks in raw computing power, in makes up for with a (relatively) powerful integrated graphics processor.
Will it be enough? If you're on a tight budget, the answer is a resounding yes. AMD is playing to its strengths, and manages to deliver a platform geared towards media-savvy consumers who want to enjoy high-definition video -- and even some light gaming, if they temper their expectations.
Adding a discrete graphics card only improves things. Some configuration will be necessary (and AMD promises to improve the transition with BIOS updates later on), but coupling a relatively inexpensive graphics card offers a measurable bump in performance -- a great way to eke more performance out of your media center without adding too much cost to your machine.