Present day consumers use their PCs for multimedia intensive tasks such as HD video playback. These HTPC tasks are not very power efficient when done using the x86 processor alone. Gamers have remained the main focus of the GPU developers. However, the GPU architecture (coupled with a dedicated video decoder on the same silicon) is quite useful for video playback and post processing also. This lightens the load on the x86 processor, and so, even consumers who rarely game opt to go for a discrete HTPC graphics card.

Intel used to integrate the GPU into the chipset till the GMA X4500. In Clarkdale, the integrated GPU became a part of the processor package itself, and eventually became a part of the main die in Sandy Bridge. The GMA X4500 and later models have a very efficient decoder, and renders a discrete HTPC graphics card redundant for most entry level users. AMD, unfortunately, had support for integrated graphics in only some of their chipset models. That is set to change today, as Lynx (the desktop version of the Llano) makes its way into the market. Ever since AMD acquired ATI, a processor with AMD's x86 CPU and ATI's GPU on the same die was hotly expected. The Lynx integrates a number of AMD Stars cores and also an updated Redwood class GPU (called Sumo) into the same die.

GPU Area in the Llano vs. GPU Area in Sandy Bridge (Die shots approximately to scale)

GPU support for basic HD video decoding and the 3D fad (Blu-rays) is provided by all the current platforms from Intel, AMD and NVIDIA. From an HTPC perspective, mainstream consumers have started feeling the need for good, flexible video post processing capabilities also. Discrete AMD GPUs are well respected in the HTPC community, and the Redwood class GPUs have been used to override the Clarkdale's IGP in many a setup. Can the Sumo wrestle the spot away from Intel HD3000 Graphics in HTPCs?

Lynx HTPC Testbed Setup
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  • ckryan - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    There's lots of good stuff to do with a GPU that doesn't involve games; unfortunately, it seems like that is the only thing AMD had in mind for the Llano GPU. It's unfortunate, since running a discrete GPU with Llano in its desktop form just seems to make Llano pointless. In a laptop you at least get decent game performance at low screen resolutions.

    My enthusiasm for the future of Llano isn't diminished, but strangely, it seems that Llano makes a cheap Phenom II + dGPU seem like a much better idea than it was yesterday.

    Still, with some Bulldozer cores, improved GPU section, and some better drivers will go a long way to making Llano mainstream vs. a super-niche product for the desktop.
  • duploxxx - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    a super niche product for the desktop..... did you ever went to any large electronic shop? it's full of these kind of designs that you brand "niche". Check few OEM very soon they will all bulk this kind of Liano setups.... just like Brazos was a success this will also and already a major reason why intel introduces the 2105 just at release of Liano.... but the HD3000 over HD2000 remains crap.
  • L. - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    You don't get it, the guy above is right !!!

    It's a super-niche product, for the biggest niche there is in the whole consumer market, normal people.

    Gee AMD ... bad idea really ;)
  • Ananke - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    :) Llano is exactly what the mass-consumer grade computer market uses and needs. That's 99.5% of the total market. The other negligible 0.5% is enthusiast market, where most of the AnandTech readers belong. Intel is still king there.
  • therealnickdanger - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    "However, this leads to increased expectations like support for full post processing on Blu-ray videos."

    Did I misunderstand the comment?

    Assuming a faithful transfer from film (16mm/35mm/65/70mm) to Blu-ray (1080p24), there should be absolutely no reason to apply any post-processing to a Blu-ray. The worst transfers are those cases where the studio applied processing prior to encoding on the Blu-ray, and then there is no recourse to undo the effects. With only a handful of examples of low-budget or foreign films, there are no interlaced Blu-rays. And then, you would only need deinterlacing, not post-processing. Any artificial sharpening, coloring, or smoothing will ultimately degrade picture quality, not improve it. Outside of playing back Blu-rays in the proper color space and eliminating judder, not much else should be done to them.
  • ganeshts - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    Sorry if I wasn't clear in this respect. I had also mentioned in the HQV section that we believe Blu-rays don't need post processing.

    First, there are a lot more interlaced Blu-rays than we would actually expect. Loads of nature documentaries and concerts are available in 1080i60. While the former ones are mostly VC-1, the latter Blu-rays are all H.264

    AMD's main stance with respect to not supporting 1080p60 camcorders was the fact that they want to target the Blu-ray market mainly. Now, 1080i60 is less demanding than 1080p60, and is also present in many camcorders which are already in the $200 - $300 range. If Llano GPUs don't support post processing on 1080i60 fully, I think it is a long way off before they start supporting 1080p60 decode along with post processing. So, the 'even for Blu-rays' comment is meant to stress that aspect rather than mean that we actually need the post processing for Blu-ray videos. (Local files were the main target of my post processing tests)
  • therealnickdanger - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    Understood, thanks for taking the time to respond!
  • StormyParis - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    for a very detailed review. I don't know much about HTPCs to start with, and I'm left a bit overwhelmed and confused, though.

    First, I really don't think the current Llano is meant to be used with a discrete graphics card. I think the whole point of the product, and the only situation in which it's worth coping with their underpowered CPU / higher power draw, is if I actually take advantage of their GPU.

    Second, I'm not really clear which issues are fixable in software, and which will stay. Actually, I'm not really clear which issues are important, and which aren't.

    Third, It'd be nice to have a hint about what lower clocks / core counts will do. I'd rather use 65W parts for small enclosures, and I have the feeling that wouldn't change much, but I'm not sure.
  • geniekid - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    Sounds to me like, if they fixed their software issues, AMD would be the preferred platform for HTPC.
  • ganeshts - Thursday, June 30, 2011 - link

    Yes, let us wait and watch for a couple of driver releases

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