Adding Discrete Graphics to AMD’s AM1 Platform

All hail the return of Bonaire…

7790HD (1 of 1)

Last week AMD launched its entry-level AM1 platform. We came away pretty impressed by what AMD and its partners were offering thanks to a variety of low-cost small form-factor motherboards and inexpensive APUs. But we got a number of requests to look into how AMD’s AM1 platform coped with the addition of a mid-range discrete graphics card. To that end we dusted off our old HD 7790 which is now known as the R7 260X and started benchmarking.

Kabini and HD 7790Needless to say adding even a mid-range graphics card makes a world of difference to the performance of our Athlon 5350 based system. Just so we’re all on the same page we used the highest quality settings at 1080P that our system would remain playable. With the exception of CoH2 where we used the lowest settings possible, we were using medium to high graphics settings in all of our games. As always you can find our exact settings along with our raw benchmarking data on Mega.

Looking at the results themselves we can see that the HD 7790 offers a completely different world of GPU performance compared to the Athlon 5350’s paltry R3 graphics. For first person shooters the addition of a discrete GPU turned our entry-level miniITX box into a veritable gaming machine. For a core component (APU + Mobo + GPU) cost of ~$200 our combination of an Athlon APU and discrete GPU has demonstrated some surprisingly capable performance numbers.

BF4 Mantle Kabini

We also took a moment to look at the performance of our APU + HD 7790 machine in Battlefield 4 using AMD’s Mantle API. Unfortunately we wouldn’t call Mantle ready for prime time on the AM1 platform. In our first to attempts to benchmark BF4 under Mantle we saw average frame rates below ten frames per second. But on our third go of trying to figure out what was wrong we actually saw consistently the frame rate in our table. With all of that said Mantle is more a of a novelty, at least on the AM1 platform, than it is a feature. Hopefully AMD and DICE will remedy this issue in the near future.

By adding a mid-range discrete graphics solution to your AM1 system you can expect to see pretty decent framerates across most modern games. Whether or not adding a dGPU to an entry-level platform like this is a smart, and value conscious decision is difficult to determine. But if you were wondering what kind of performance you’d see if you were crazy enough to try this, than wonder no more.S|A

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Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.