AM1 Walks New Ground

How well does the new AMD AM1 platform actually work as a gaming platform for some 1080p action?

After Josh's initial review of the AMD AM1 Platform and the Athlon 5350, we received a few requests to look at gaming performance with a discrete GPU installed. Even though this platform isn't being aimed at gamers looking to play demanding titles, we started to investigate this setup anyway.

While Josh liked the ASUS AM1I-A Mini ITX motherboard he used in his review, with only a x1 PCI-E slot it would be less than ideal for this situation.

Luckily we had the Gigabyte AM1M-S2H Micro ATX motherboard, which features a full length PCI-E x16 slot, as well as 2 x1 slots.

Don't be mistaken by the shape of the slot though, the AM1 chipset still only offers 4 lanes of PCI-Express 2.0. This, of course, means that the graphics card will not be running at full bandwidth. However, having the physical x16 slot makes it a lot easier to physically connect a discrete GPU, without having to worry about those ribbon cables that miners use.

The Gigabyte board will be paired with the same APU that Josh tested, the Athlon 5350. At just under $70, he found this processor to be a quite impressive performing option. Also important is to keep in mind that the TDP of this part is just 25W, making heat and noise virtually unnoticable.

Now that we had the motherboard and the processor picked out, we needed to pick the discrete GPU to pair them with. Since we are going on a power efficiency kick here with a 25W CPU, we decided to go with one of the most power efficient GPUs ever, the NVIDIA GTX 750 Ti.

In our previous testing of the 750 Ti with high performance CPU platforms, we determined that it could play just about any game at 1080P on high image quality settings smoothly. We didn't quite know what to expect from such a lower performing CPU option though.

What we found surprised me, and provided some interesting commentary on the world of gaming performance.

While we already recently proved that a low end CPU option can still be great for gaming at 1080P, I figured that there was no way such a low-power, productivity-targeted platform could be effective for gaming.

While there are a few outliers that we will talk about a little later, the performance for most of our standard graphics benchmarking games was impressive. Games like Battlefield 4 and Crysis 3 see little to no difference going from the high-end Intel Core i7-3960X processor to the AMD Athlon 5350. This is an impressive feat, when you consider we are comparing a part that retailed for $1000 when it launched, to a $65 CPU.

If you look at other games on this list like Bioshock Infinite, Metro: Last Light, or GRID2, you see a 8-10FPS gap from the i7-3960X to the Athlon 5350. While a performance decrease like this would be noticable, these tests are being done at the highest image quality settings at 1080P. If you dialed the quality settings down a bit then you could get a perfectly playable experience out of the AM1 platform with the 750Ti.

Then there are the games such as Civilization 5, Hitman: Absolution, and Skyrim. These games are highly CPU-limited and it shows in this round of testing. While you could still adjust settings with these games to get a good experience, you can obviously see that these situations are where a higher end CPU makes a substantial difference.

This discrepancy in results brings up some interesting things about the state of PC gaming performance. While "flagship" titles such as Crysis 3 and Battlefield 4 are highly dependent on your GPU to create great visual effects and seemingly will run on any CPU, there are hugely popular games like Civilization 5 and Skyrim which heavily depend on the CPU to provide their gameplay experiences.

This makes it difficult to strike a good medium between CPU power, GPU power, and price in a low cost gaming machine, and forces you to take an impossible look at what games you may want to play in the future.

  AM1 Platform
Processor AMD Athlon 5350 APU - $65
Motherboard Gigabyte AM1M-S2H - $35
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 750 Ti - $150
System Memory Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 4GBx1 - $38
Hard Drive Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB - $50
Power Supply  Cooler Master GX 450W - $50
Case Cooler Master N200 MicroATX - $50
Price $440 -

If you don't already have a copy of Windows, and don't plan on using Linux or SteamOS, you'll need an OEM copy of Windows 8.1 - currently selling for $98

Here is a sample system that we built around the Athlon 5350. As you can see, for under $450 without an Operating System, you can experience the great 1080P performance we detailed above.

Things like the case, amount of RAM, as well as the Hard Drive (maybe put some of your savings into an SSD?) are up to personal choice and will vary from person to person, but this a quick overview of a viable system built around this platform.

The 450W power supply is complete overkill for a machine which should draw about 150W at a maximum, but we thought it important to go with a high quality power supply that will have a lower chance of failing and taking all of your components with it.

Now here comes the tough question. Would I recommend a similar setup for people looking to build a gaming computer? Probably not. I don't like the uncertainly concerning being able to play all current titles, and games that may be released in the future.

With more powerful CPUs being introduced in the Xbox One and PS4, we may see a trend towards games using more CPU power, and it would be a shame to see this platform not being able to hold it's own after a year or so.

That being said, if the option is between no gaming computer and something built around the AM1 platform, I would probably lean towards the later. By turning down image quality settings, and potentially resolution, you should be able to get at least a playable experience in most games.

I would also look towards the AM1 platform for things like Home Theater PCs or Steam Machines. If you are already looking at building a computer to keep hooked up to your TV, it would be worth it to take a look at the Athlon 5350 and a GPU like the GTX 750 Ti. With little sacrifice for space, power, and heat, you could have a HTPC which can hold it's own while gaming, as opposed to having to depend on a technology like Steam In-Home Streaming.

Regardless, the AMD Athlon 5350 continues to surprise me and I think this is a great preview of what low-power computing platforms can truly be capable of today.