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Sasa Marinkovic analyses the launch of AMD’s A8

Intel’s Sandy Bridge series is powerful. No doubting that statement. But while most of the media attention has been focused on the 2500k and 2600k processors, that’s quite far away from what the average user will be buying in terms of price and performance. Most people won’t spend much more than £100 for a CPU. At that level, you have AMD’s A8-3850 going head to head with Intel’s entry-level Core i3 chips. Almost 2 weeks after the launch, KitGuru caught up with AMD marketing guru Sasa Marinkovic to see how it’s going.

The A8-3850 is priced in almost exactly the same slot as Intel’s Core i3 2105. While Intel offers 2+2 performance with its physical + logical implementation, AMD has 4 full fat Phenom cores. In our testing, Intel edged most of the CPU-only tests. That said, the world changed completely when we went near graphics performance.

Plug your new AMD A8-based system into an HDTV and your gaming 1080p experience will be almost twice as fast – compared to the integrated Sandy Bridge experience. When you are benchmarking high-end graphics solutions, at maximum image quality settings the move from 60 to 120 frames a second (i.e. 100% boost) buys you very little in the real world. But in Dirt 3 with our testing, the A8-3850 delivered a playable 28 frames a second, while the Sandy Bridge integrated solution chugged along at just 18 fps. One was playable, the other one wasn’t.

Unfortunately, Intel has blocked overclocking on the Core i3 processors. AMD hasn’t. It took our Henry no time at all to add another 600MHz to the A8 with modest cooling. This pushed in-game performance for Dirt 3 to 34 frames a second.  Now that is a boost that definitely makes a difference.

Sasa likes this, “People are visual beings. They pick up on image quality. With AMD Vision Technology they are telling us that it ‘Just looks better’”.

You can’t poke an 800 pound gorilla like Intel with a stick and expect it to sit still.

Right now, AMD has a substantial lead, but we’re all expecting Intel to come swinging back with Ivy Bridge in 2012. How long before AMD gets overtaken?

“We are committed to delivering the best APU every year, and by every year we mean next year as well”, says Sasa, smiling. “But today is about the AMD A-Series APU. Our advantages are discrete class DirectX 11-capable graphics, Dual Graphics upgradability and AMD VISION Engine Software. We only have one milestone really – turn our customers into our fans, everything else will fall into place”.

Again, KitGuru’s Henry can vouch for the Dual Graphics boost claim. Adding in a relatively cheap 6670 to the overclocked A8 test rig gave a Dirt 3 score of 63 frames a second at 1080p. Again, it’s almost 100%. Not quite, but almost.

Looking at the overall market movement being predicted by the main analysts, getting the multi-nationals (Dell, HP and so on) to buy into AMD Fusion seems a lot easier than getting local system builders interested. Can AMD win a big part of these challenging – but significantly huge local markets?

Sasa Marinkovic: Head of Desktops and Fusion Software, Product Marketing at AMD

“I think it’s fair to say that multinationals have better presence in mature markets and local system builders have the advantage in many emerging markets”, said Sasa. “But I see the APU market not being a question of ‘if and who’ but rather ‘when’.  We have very good presence in local markets and I am sure system builders will embrace the tremendous benefits that our APUs deliver to their customers”.

With the ability to overclock these chips, that has to be a possibility.

We wondered if that meant that AMD has set aside a huge war chest for TV advertising and the like.

Another smile, “We rely on experts and technology sites to spread the word”.

“Seriously, tech savvy audiences will get it from tech reviewers. Some will be influenced by their tech savvy friends and the rest will want to know that their PC can do what they want it to do – they will get this information from store salespeople or our OEMs. And we will ensure that those sales people and OEMs know what VISION Technology from AMD does for end users”.

In the words of legendary Canadian rocker, Pat Travers, people go for what they know. Let’s hope AMD’s strategy works.

We want to know how many companies have taken up AMD Fusion-class processors. Not including Apple, are there any major/global manufacturers who are NOT planning AMD Fusion-class desktop and laptop solutions for 2011?

“I can’t pre-announce any design wins on behalf of our customers – nice try!”, he replied.

OK then, let’s look at the way campaigns are created. When Sasa sits down with his team/beer/pizza to consider the next marketing drive – is there a big difference between the way they push the hardware and software?

“Hardware and software really go hand in hand, just like CPU and GPU”, explains Sasa. “You can have the best CPU, but if the GPU is bad, the overall experience is going to be bad. That is also very true for hardware and software – you can have the best hardware, but if your drivers are older and not updated on the regular basis, the overall experience is not going to be great”.

The graphics benchmarks we’ve seen tell a very clear tale. Is there something that AMD Fusion-class systems do really well – which is more difficult to explain to the market?

“Heterogeneous computing”, said Sasa. “Developers get it, OEMs get it, tech savvy people get it; but we still need to provide more education to a broad population. I am confident we will get there”.

“When 1080p came out, people did not know what it really did – but they saw the benefits of 1080p, one customer at the time. It’s similar to that – those who experienced GPU acceleration on Internet Explorer 9 will get it”.

Right now, it looks as though the launch has been successful enough, that AMD’s assault on the multi-national corporations (MNCs) is well under way – but they need to work very hard to educate the mass market on the benefits of having a Fusion-class chip.

Over the next couple of weeks, KitGuru will follow up on this topic with other experts in the field.

But, for now, interviews without a little background can be flat, so we love to find out a little something about everyone we speak with. When he’s not busy helping to drive AMD’s global marketing effort – Sasa told us that he’d “enjoy driving a high-efficiency/high-fun Mini Cooper”. But Sasa “prefers boats to cars”.

What about the soundtrack for the drive? “Maybe Red Hot Chilli Peppers in the city – maybe Manu Chao on the open road”, he said.

Fusion-class processors definitely bring stutter-free HD to systems at every price point. If Sasa had to star in a film, who would be the leading lady?

Helena Bonham Carter”. Instant answer.  Pause. Smile. “Maybe Monica Bellucci”.

KitGuru moves for safer territory with the next question. We asked Sasa what he wanted to be when he was 14.

He replies “25”.   Sasa says that he still wants to be 25.

So what about food?

“Seafood”. Simple enough. “Especially lobster bisque. But any kind of seafood is great. As a soup, as a salad, as an appetizer or a main course. I love seafood raw, cooked, seared, grilled or any other way”, said Sasa. “But always with good olive oil!”.

KitGuru also believes in a good oiling. And so, we believe, does Ms Bellucci.

UPDATE: KitGuru has since found out from outside sources, that initial production of the new A8 processors sold out almost immediately. This should have a positive impact on June figures for AMD. Looks like orders could start piling up for the next big delivery from production – due to land around the start of August.

KitGuru says: From our testing, one thing is sure. The AMD A8-3850 is cooking up decent game performance without the necessity for a graphic card, but adding one it certainly spices things up. Ivy Bridge will bring more of a challenge and we hear that Haswell will really raise the game.

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