The Llano platform, AMD, and laptop gaming
Laptop gaming is a minefield. It’s not a hopeless thing like some people’ll convince you, but it’s never a substitute for a desktop unless you sink a lot of money into a system.
Laptops are, in general, kind of a series of price traps, designed to lure you in with promises of huge storage or large amounts of RAM, both of which are cheaper to buy and install yourself. Most of these trap systems tend to have extremely poor GPUs (the Intel HD3000, the GeForce 320/310, the AMD 6370M), a budget CPU (the Pentium Dualcores, the E-350/E-450, the Atom), or other bad features. These things cannot be replaced and the performance of them is terrible for anything but basic internet usage and non-entertainment tasks.
The budget gaming line’s been devoid of any merit whatsoever for a long, long time. You’ve basically had to shell out a minimum of $700 to get an acceptable experience, or have to deal with nightmares like the Intel GMA series of GPUs. Feel free to go over to Youtube and search for something like Intel GMA game and boggle at some of the stuff people’re going through to run games.
This may have changed to an extent with Llano, but I’m not entirely happy with the platform yet. Llano’s a platform that’s designed around having an AMD Llano core with an integrated Radeon GPU, which promises faster speeds than the HD3000. Does it live up to what it’s promising? Sure, I guess.
It’s most definitely faster than the HD3000 in GPU tasks, at least.
I’m falling into an awkward area with mine, though. If it’s a game that can use the quadcore (1.6ghz -> 2.1ghz turbo boost on mine), it tends to run badly because of how it’s bottlenecked by the GPU. If it’s a game that can’t use the quadcore, such as Killing Floor, it tends to have much larger problems, as the weak CPU can’t keep up with the GPU or with the game, leading to sub-20 framerates in any hectic moment.
I’ve been doing game tests over on http://www.youtube.com/user/ArcaneCossack?feature=guide and almost every game runs into the same problem. It’s either bound by the underutilized or underpowered CPU (Bethesda games, Starcraft 2, GTA4, Killing Floor), the GPU (Space Marine, Just Cause 2, Crysis 2), or both. I’ve actually had issues on here with the 5400rpm HD not being fast enough to stream textures and models, as well, which is totally new to me.
I got this a6-3400m/6520g machine for $434, though, and there are many games it can run. I’ve dumped 20 hours into Dawn of War 2 and Borderlands, Defense Grid: The Awakening runs fantastically, and Super Street Fighter 4 runs absolutely flawlessly at high settings. It’s a valid platform to play many games on, it’s just oddly picky about which ones it can handle.
I feel like AMD’s close to getting it, but the entire platform’s underperforming. I don’t know whether it’s inexperience with the concept or just the limits of technology, but if you’re on the market for a system, you might want to save and skip this. If you absolutely need a gaming laptop for under $600, the Llano line’s definitely worth looking into, but please, please try to get a system with a dedicated chip (like the k53ta) or a better processor, like an A8.
It’s definitely worth waiting to see what happens with Trinity after using one of these. AMD’s got potential, but it’s going to take some effort to claw out from under Bulldozer.
edit: 2/18/2012 thoughts: Don’t buy one that doesn’t have another GPU. Try not to buy one that’s not an A8 or a higher A6 than the 3400/3410.