When it comes to figuring out which processor you want in your next PC, you have lots of choices to choose from. Intel has had their “Sandy Bridge” processors out since the beginning of the year, which are incredibly fast and power efficient processors, but what’s different about them compared to what we’ve already seen is that Sandy Bridge combines the CPU and the GPU onto a single chip. AMD has joined this game, and has released their A-series “APUs” (Accelerated Processing Unit) a few months ago. They’re similar to Sandy Bridge, but there are some interesting differences between the two. Which should you choose? Continue reading to find out.
For the remainder of this post, I’ll be focusing more on the desktop side of things, but most of what you’ll be reading will be considered the same for the mobile side of things.
AMD’s lowest-end APU is the A6-3650 (2.6GHz) which retails for $119.99 on Newegg.
Likewise, Intel’s lowest-end Sandy Bridge processor is $124.99 on Newegg.
Lastly, AMD’s highest-end APU is the A8-3850 (2.9GHz), which retails for $139.99 on Newegg.
Already, picking the chip that you’d like is a difficult situation. It’s time to look at something a bit more important, which is performance.
In the price mention above, you have 3 chips that are within $20 of each other. The difference between the two APUs is with the clock speed. Both will need 100W of power (although you’ll rarely hit that). So, the $120 chip will get you 2.6GHz speeds, while for $20 more, you can increase that to 2.9GHz.
When it comes to raw computing performance, the Core i3-2100 is noticeably faster than the AMD APUs, even though it’s a dual-core processor (multithreaded, so there’s 2 physical cores resulting in 4 logical cores). AMD processors have been known for being generally less powerful per core when compared to Intel processors.
Even though it’s considerably faster than the APUs, why would it require less power? Well, it’s primarily with the way the Sandy Bridge CPUs are made, and the fact that the integrated GPU in them aren’t nearly as powerful as the one built-in to the APUs.
For the Core i3-2100, you’ll be getting the Intel HD 2000 GPU which, simply put, stinks for gaming. It’s fine for media playback, as it has excellent support for Blu-ray playback, but when it comes to gaming, it leaves a lot to be desired. Head on over to AnandTech to look at some benchmarks of various games running on the HD 2000 in the Core i3-2100. You’ll be able to play low-end games at low resolutions and graphics settings, but that’s it. Most people will probably be disappointed in its performance.
For the APUs, you’ll be getting the Radeon HD 6530D and the Radeon HD 6550D, respectively. The gaming performance is night and day when compared to the Intel HD 2000. In AnandTech’s gaming benchmarks for the Radeon HD 6550D, you’ll see a gaming performance boost of up to 62% in most tests. Basically, the AMD APUs are the first chips to provide on-board graphics performance that we would only be dreaming of years ago. It’s really quite incredible.
So, it all comes down to what you’re looking for. With Intel’s Core i3-2100, you’ll be getting noticeably better performance with general computing and more intense processing tasks, such as video rendering and multitasking. With AMD’s A6 and A8 APUs, you’ll be getting much, MUCH better gaming performance with the drawback of having slightly less processing power.
For most users, they won’t be needing the fastest processor around, but you may occasionally want to play games without having them look horrible.
For me, I’m giving the edge to AMD’s A8-3850. It’s a fast and affordable quad-core chip that provides plenty of general computing performance while providing unrivaled on-board graphics processing capabilities.
For a more in-depth look at the performance of the two processors, check out the Maximum PC and Hardware Secrets articles.
Feel free to follow Brian and The Tech Erra on Twitter!