Thoughts on the AMD 5350 APU

The AMD 5350 is one of my most favorite chips that has come out in the mainstream in a long while. As a serious system builder, you look for solidity, predictability, a strong feature set with matching performance, and a good price ratio to contrast that against. The AMD 5350 really hits those sweet spots.

I was looking for a low TDP chip a while back that could be used as the centerpiece of some small, lower-power workstations a client needed. Previously I had tried Intel Atom processors for this, but gave up quickly – they are painfully slow in real use, and even when they’re not so bad, they bog down very quickly when stressed — and their feature sets are poor, while their price is high. Not again for Intel Atoms just yet.

So I was skeptical trying this 5350 chip. I loved that there were commodity motherboards available for it. I loved that it was quad-core to spread out load. And I especially loved that it supported full hardware virtualization — all in just 25 watts of power use!

These 5350’s are APU’s, so graphics were built in, and if they were as close to as good as the FM2+ socket APU’s in graphics, this would meet the criteria.

Well, I was really, very pleasantly surprised. I’m a bit shocked this chip doesn’t get talked up more around tech sites. I suppose those sites are more about marketing than science and engineering though. But this chip provided excellent real-word performance, considering its low power draw. Far better than any of the Atom processors I’d tried.

I ended up making several of these workstations into XFCE4 Linux boxes, and used the hardware virtualization support built into this amazing little processors to install legacy Windows XP instances. And they ran far faster than the bare metal machines they were replacing in XP. 😉 It’s a super solution for any organizations stuck in XP.

Since then I’ve used them in several different devices and configurations. My latest is a DVR box with MythTV (have to do something for myself every once in a while). And I have to say, I’m floored once again by the performance of these AMD 5350 chips.

First, I’m not even using a power supply on this tiny mITX build. I bought an ASRock mobo that had a DC in, so you just use a laptop power cord.

On the network, I have a HDHomerun television tuner which has 2 TV tuners on it. With this AMD 5350 APU, I can record 2 1080p HD television channels at the same time, while I’m watching a previously recorded 1080p HD show, or home media videos in h.264 — with no stutter or lag at all! In fact, there are considerable CPU resource left. This is an amazingly well-engineered chip from AMD. A true hidden gem.

And what’s more, this is all without even using the proprietary AMD video drivers. This is using the free/open source Linux kernel drivers, which apparently AMD has been silently working to get mainlined in the kernel and XOrg — and astonishingly well I might add.

Oh — and I forgot to mention — this chip even while recording 2 TV shows, watching a 3rd recorded one — it can also stream out to another TV via DLNA even another HD movie. I forgot about that movie getting watched upstairs — with no problem.

I just had to write this quick little praise piece on the AMD 5350 chip. The thing is $50. 🙂 And I can’t believe what it can do. I even have one running virtual servers with a virtual router. 😉

The only downside is that it supports only single-channel memory, so although you can get motherboard with more than 1 memory slot, it’s limited to using the bandwidth of just 1 channel — not that you notice though with what I’ve been putting it through. Also, although the 5350’s seem to support ECC memory, there doesn’t seem to be a motherboard vendor who’s placed support in their motherboards.

Come on ASUS! You’re the one always being great about supporting the ECC capabilities of the AMD FX chips… put that ECC love on a new motherboard!

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to say something about this chip for long time, and just finally have sat down to do so, because it’s so hot that I can neither go to sleep, nor stay awake. 😉

AMD is a brilliant engineering and design company. They sure aren’t a marketing company. And I appreciate that. This 5350 is most definitely an unsung hero of a chip.