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Thread: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

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    Not a good person scaryjim's Avatar
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    Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Firstly, many thanks to Hexus for organising such a great competition for forum members, and to AMD for generously providing not one but three sets of hardware. I look forward to reading the thoughts and experiences of the other reviewers, and hope you all enjoy reading mine.

    This APU bundle will be used to replace my HTPC/Family PC. The current hardware is a Sempron 140 CPU, ASUS M4A785TD-M EVO motherboard, and 1x 2GB Corsair DDR3-1333 ECC RAM. The APU bundle consists of an A6-3670K APU, ASUS F1A55-M motehrboard, and 1x 4GB AMD Entertainment Edition DDR3-1600 RAM. The bundle also includes a 120GB Kingston Hyper-X 3K SSD, although initially I will not be using this in the HTPC.

    Carrying over from one build to the next are my trust Antec Aria case, Sata DVD-RW drive, and 500GB hard drive. The Antec Aria PSU was replaced a couple of years ago with a 1U FSP Flex-ATX PSU.

    The computer is used by the entire family, for watching DVDs, web browsing, and gaming. I will therefore be performing a number of real world benchmarks to compare the APU bundle to my old Sempron bundle for these tasks.

  2. #2
    Not a good person scaryjim's Avatar
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    • scaryjim's system
      • Motherboard:
      • Dell Inspiron
      • CPU:
      • Core i5 8250U
      • Memory:
      • 1x 8GB DDR4 2400
      • Storage:
      • 128GB M.2 SSD + 1TB HDD
      • Graphics card(s):
      • Radeon R5 230
      • PSU:
      • Battery/Dell brick
      • Case:
      • Dell Inspiron 5570
      • Operating System:
      • Windows 10
      • Monitor(s):
      • 15" 1080p laptop panel

    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    APU - The Unboxing

    A well packed bundle arrived by courier within a week of being notified that I'd won the competition. Just as well really, I think I would have burst if I'd had to wait any longer! It was bad enough that it arrived just before I left for work, and had to spend a whole day at work dying to get home and unpack everything! So this first post is just my initial thoughts on receipt of the bundle.

    The Box:

    A cut down cardboard box, folded pretty accurately to size and shape. Minimal excess packaging. Yup, everything's here - motherboard, APU, RAM and SSD. Doesn't it look lovely

    The APU:

    The seal confirms it as an A6-3670K APU, which should mean a 2.7GHz Quad Core CPU and a 320 shader DX11 GPU all on one bit of silicon. TDP rates at 100W, which is quite a lot of heat to shift.


    The contents of the APU box; the APU itself, a data sheet/manual, and the stock cooler. The cooler is pretty much a square lump of aluminium fins with a fan bolted on top, and looks a little minimal at first glance. It will be interesting to compare it to the stock cooler from my old Sempron 140: it looks rather similar despite the difference in TDP.

    The Motherboard:

    ASUS's rather nice understated box design is somewhat spoiled by the large number of feature badges. Maybe that's why the box design is understated!


    Fairly standard contents: the board in an anti-static bag, a couple of SATA cables, driver CD, IO shield, and manual. A nice cardboard insert holds everything in place in the box.


    Nice to see VGA on the rear IO alongside DVI and HDMI; although I'll be using DVI I do still have high quality VGA-only monitors in the house and it's nice to see ASUS hasn't forgotten that a good monitor can outlast several new PCs. Only 6 USB ports on the back, but two (the blue ones!) are USB3. The placement of the USB3 ports seems odd to me though, just below the single PS/2 port: this is where I'd usually plug in a mouse/keyboard. For good measure, however, you can add a further 8 USB2 ports via motherboard headers, assuming you can find enough places on your case to house them!


    This is my one nit-pick with this ASUS board: the amount of empty space between the rear IO and the CPU socket. Look back at the first picture, and you'll see the CPU socket is very close to the RAM slots, whilst up here in the VRM section there's plenty of room. I'm sure won't matter with the stock cooler, but anyone wanting to use a large, low-profile cooler may find they're unable to use the first RAM slot. Given the 100W TDP of many Llano APUs, and that this motherboard would be a good choice for a low-cost HTPC, I don't think that's an unlikely scenario. I'll be exploring this later.

    The RAM:

    This was perhaps my biggest surprise on opening the bundle: a single stick of RAM. The specification is good: 4GB, 1600MT/s, CL9 at 1.5v, but given the widely-reported scaling of Llano graphics with memory frequency, a dual channel kit strikes me as a necessity. I will be testing the bundle as received, and expect it will still be a huge improvement over the HD4200 on my old system, but if I can get my hands on a dual channel 4GB kit I will also test with the (in my opinion) "right" choice for memory. This computer is used for quite a bit of gaming, so it will make an interesting test.

    The SSD:

    Kingston's Hyper-X is a Sandforce based drive, which I know will split opinion somewhat, and has a SATA3 (6gbps) interface. Sadly, the supplied A55 motherboard doesn't, so it would never reach its full sequential potential on this motherboard.


    The full retail bundle here really is impressive: a 2.5" - 3.5" adapter plate for easy mounting, a Hyper-X branded screwdriver (it really is very nice!) to help screw everything together, and a USB2 drive caddy to slot it in to while using the bundled software CD, which claims to contain cloning software. I'll be exploring this later, although all benchmarking will be done with the existing 500GB drive.


    All told, this is a great bundle of components, for which I cannot thank Hexus and AMD enough. I do have a few concerns as highlighted above, and I'll be revisiting those later in the review to see how much of an issue they could be.
    Last edited by scaryjim; 19-07-2012 at 01:34 PM.

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  4. #3
    Not a good person scaryjim's Avatar
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      • Storage:
      • 128GB M.2 SSD + 1TB HDD
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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Jim's HTPC - The Old RepubSystem

    My old HTPC had done stalwart service almost since the release of the ASUS M4A785TD-M Evo, which I jumped on as soon as Scan had stock. It effectively replaced a socket A NForce 2 motherboard with GeForce 4 MX IGP, so as you can tell I tend to make my HTPCs last. The Socket A machine must have done around 4 year's service, and the Sempron/785G combination had kept me going for at least 3. Needless to say, I'm a little sad to see the old girl go (although given that she'sbeing replaced with younger, racier parts that I didn't pay for, not that sad!). I'll be keeping a few momentos though, so let's have a look:

    Old System Tear-down



    If any of my computer-related possessions could be described as a pride and joy, this is it. My trusty Antec Aria case, which has been with me for as long as I've had a HTPC. It has since been replaced by variants of the NSK1300, but none of them is (IMNSHO, at least) as good - only the original Aria comes with a card reader and Firewire (more on this later) ports built in.



    The IO of the old system, and if you compare it with the unboxing pictures you'll notice it's a little busier than the new motherboard. The M4A785TD-M Evo lacks USB3, but makes up for it with both e-SATA and Firewire - both at the rear and on a motherboard header which allowed me to connect up the Aria's front firewire port. Being brutally honest, I have no firewire devices so losing that isn't really an issue, but I am kind of sad that my case once again has an unused front port!



    One of the many reasons I love the Aria (and yes, this update is pretty much an homage ot the Antec Aria, I'm afraid) is the removable drive bay. I've got a SATA DVD-RW drive and a single 3.5" hard drive in there, but it will also take two extra 3.5" drives (hung vertically), giving it a pretty impressive storage capacity when fully loaded. Switching from IDE to SATA was a godsend in this case - the cabling was pretty tight otherwise.





    Most of the case is removable to ease building into it, making it one of the smallest mATX cases available. With the side and top panels, drive bay and PSU removed it's basically just an open frame.



    Undo a couple of screws, and out pops the old board. Being a recent ASUS/AMD motherboard, it's pretty similar to the incoming one.

    Old System Performance

    Qualitatively, performance for the old machine is good for both web browsing and watching DVDs. The computer remains responsive at all time, pages load quickly, and DVDs render without artefacts and with good picture and sound quality. Gaming is another matter. Whilst older and low requirement games run relatively smoothly, there are still noticable slow-downs and even pauses during busier sequences. Modern games are jerky and do not play smoothly. You'll see why when we get to the round-up!
    Last edited by scaryjim; 07-08-2012 at 12:56 PM.

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    • scaryjim's system
      • Motherboard:
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      • CPU:
      • Core i5 8250U
      • Memory:
      • 1x 8GB DDR4 2400
      • Storage:
      • 128GB M.2 SSD + 1TB HDD
      • Graphics card(s):
      • Radeon R5 230
      • PSU:
      • Battery/Dell brick
      • Case:
      • Dell Inspiron 5570
      • Operating System:
      • Windows 10
      • Monitor(s):
      • 15" 1080p laptop panel

    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Jim's HTPC - The New Hope

    No, I'm not likely to quit with the bad "puns" in my titles I'm afraid - sorry!

    Now, you may remember I raised a couple of concerns in the unboxing post - things that occurred to me as the components came out of their packaging and I saw them for the first time. So rather than just show you lots of pictures of components you've already seen being put back in a case, let's examine some of those concerns.

    The A6-3670k stock cooler

    When I pulled this out of the box, it looked surprisingly similar to the stock cooler for my 45W Sempron 140, despite the A6 having a TDP more than twice as high. As one of the areas I was unsure about, I decided to get a side-by-side picture of the two coolers whilst I was swapping the components over:



    Here's why it looks so similar - it's *incredibly* similar. I didn't measure up, but at a quick eyeball the heatsink's about 25% taller, but otherwise it's identical - same cross section, design, and fan. I'm even more dubious about its ability to deal with the increased heat output from the APU now - we'll be measuring temperature and fan speeds later to see what impact this has.

    The wasted VRM space

    My old motherboard, needing to fit in two chips and plenty of cooling, could be forgiven for being a little cramped around the CPU socket, but with only a single chip on this board I was surprised to see the CPU socket so off centre, being positioned very close to the RAM slots. Will that cause problems with large, low-profile heatsinks?



    Yes, yes it will. On a traditional 2-chip motherboard this cluttering near the CPU socket is kind of understandable, but on an APU board with a single small chip it borders on the insane. And whilst the free space behind the VRMs wasn't an obscene waste, it would only take about the width of a RAM slot for this cooler to fit perfectly with standard height RAM in the nearest slot. Look from a different angle and you'll see how much board space there was to play with:



    I don't think I'm being overly picky when I suggest that the CPU socket could have been moved a cm or so towards the IO, there's plenty of motherboard real estate there. Yes, I don't have to have that slot filled with RAM, but if I want to use my large, quiet cooler to dissipate the 100W of heat potentially produced by this APU, I have to limit myself to 2 sticks of RAM. Somewhat frustrating, especially given my reservations about the stock cooler.

    Single RAM stick

    The memory scaling of Llano when it comes to graphical performance is well documented. Running a single stick - effectively halving the available bandwidth on a dual-channel memory system - seems foolish, particularly on a computer that will occasionally be used for gaming. So have I been able to source an additional stick of memory to test the difference with dual channel v. single channel?



    Better than that, I've grabbed a 2x 2GB kit of low voltage Crucial memory, so I can test with the same amount of memory but running in a dual channel configuration. This will hopefully demonstrate how critical memory bandwidth is to graphical performance on a Llano APU.

    All that remains is to tuck everything safely back in the case, reactivate Windows and run some benchmarks!



    New System Performance

    Once again giving a qualitative assessment, the difference in DVD playback and web browsing was minimal. Picture and sound quality seem to be largely determined by my monitor and speakers, and performance under the old system was acceptable, so it was no surprise that everything ran smoothly under the new system. Gaming performance in older games felt a little smoother, largely thanks to a reduction in slow down during busy scenes. Gaming on newer games was transformed. Not only were framerates noticeably smoother, but I'm pretty sure image quality improved dramatically, despite using the same settings. The APU was simply able to render more scenery, faster, than the HD4200 graphics on the old motherboard.
    Last edited by scaryjim; 07-08-2012 at 04:33 PM.

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    Not a good person scaryjim's Avatar
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    • scaryjim's system
      • Motherboard:
      • Dell Inspiron
      • CPU:
      • Core i5 8250U
      • Memory:
      • 1x 8GB DDR4 2400
      • Storage:
      • 128GB M.2 SSD + 1TB HDD
      • Graphics card(s):
      • Radeon R5 230
      • PSU:
      • Battery/Dell brick
      • Case:
      • Dell Inspiron 5570
      • Operating System:
      • Windows 10
      • Monitor(s):
      • 15" 1080p laptop panel

    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Jim's HTPC - The Benchmarks Strike Back

    So, I've shown you the old bits, shown you the new bits, addressed a variety of concerns I had with the parts, and given you a teaser of performance with a qualitative assessment of each system's performance: Now it comes down to cold hard facts It's a 2.7GHz K10 single core vs. a 2.7GHz K10 quad core. Who wins!?

    DVD Playback
    Both systems cope well with DVD playback, with neither CPU needing to boost up out of its lowest Cool'n'Quiet state at 800MHz - essential they're running the DVD at idle. The Sempron stays steady around 30% CPU usage, whilst the A6 uses just 14%. Remember, however, that those percentages are based on the CPU being in it's lowest power state - they're pretty insignificant. The Sempron / 785G combination pulls a very acceptable 60W during this test, but the A6 - with better power management - manages to undercut it at 52W. One curiousity, however, is that the A6 system jumped up to over 100W for a couple of seconds when it first started reading the DVD - but it very quickly dropped back to ~ 50W and stayed there throughout playback. DVD Playback goes, narrowly, to the A6!

    Web Browsing
    Again, there was little to choose between the two systems during web browsing - both loading pages quickly and rendering smoothly. We have to turn once again to the power draw to separate the systems, and when we do we find that the Sempron drew around 50W during web browsing, whilst the A6 drew only 45W. Also, one particular advert on Hexus.net caused the Sempron to spike to over 60W whilst displaying that page - the A6 didn't display this behaviour during testing. Once again, web browsing goes to the A6!

    Gaming
    I'll ruin the suspense by telling you now that the A6 is going to win this one too. That's not going to surprise anyone. So let's have a look at a couple of interesting factors here.

    Firstly, let's look at single vs dual channel memory. For the sake of fairness, it's worth noting that the Sempron was run with a single stick of RAM *and* sideport memory, so it wasn't at the large disadvantage it might appear by being stuck on single channel memory; the A6 was tested both with a single stick as provided, and with the Crucial dual channel kit.



    As you can see, every game benefited from the upgrade, and the level to which they benefited is roughly in line with the complexity of the game: NWN gaining least, Skyrim gaining most (almost 150%). But the change from single to dual channel for the A6 also boosted every game: NWN was the most erratic with dual channel memory, with framerates rapidly fluctuating from mid 50s to over 70. Torchlight and Skyrim saw more consistent inprovements. All three games were noticably smoother on the A6, and skyrim was transformed, from an 8fps trudge on the Sempron/HD4200 to a very playable 23fps with A6 + dual channel memory.

    Secondly, as you might notice from the graph, Torchlight and NWN were both run with AA turned on for my main test. However, I was interested to see how much difference turning AA off made:



    All configurations saw significant improvement with AA disabled, and on a 24" 1080p screen there was minimal impact on visual quality - I really had to concentrate to identify noticeable "jaggies". I'd say there is definitely mileage in running modern integrated graphics with AA turned off at 1080p given the speed boost for a small image quality reduction. Of course, other games may vary in their IQ and performance.

    CPU Performance
    I was interested to see how much improvement had been made in the IPC between Sempron and LLano. This is a pretty fair test, as both CPUs run at 2.7GHz stock and have 1MB of L2 cache per core. I've used wPrime, although this means extrapolating the A6 single thread result slightly due to wPrime's poor handling of running with a lower thread count than logical cores:



    A reduction from 62.5 to 57.5 is a very respectable IPC increase of ~8% from Llano, however the 4 thread result shows its real strength - load the cores up and it tears up the single core opposition.

    Power Draw and Temperatures
    A final line to draw under the review, and the one I'm perhaps most concerned about, is power draw. The HTPC gets a lot of use (particularly during school holidays!), so keeping power draw in check is critical to managing fuel bills. And the A6 really impresses:



    In three of my four metrics it wins out against the Sempron, delivering equal or better performance at lower power draw. In gaming the peak draw across all tests for the A6 was Torchlight with AA turned on, and this put it at a higher peak draw than the Sempron (reached during NWN play) - however in all the other gaming tests it drew the same or less power compared to the Sempron rig. Presumably it's actually doing a lot more work when anti-aliasing Torchlight!


    I've previously voiced concerns over the ability of the stock cooler to handle the A6's heat output, however these were largely unfounded. The Sempron 140/785G saw idle temperatures of 41C/41C (CPU/Motherboard), and load temperatures (after 5 minutes playing Torchlight) of 50C/45C. The A6 had comparable temperatures: 42C/45C idle, 52C/46C after the same load. The ambient temperature was a little higher for the A6. However, the fan on the Sempron 140 span at only 2500rpm at idle and 2800rpm under load, and was barely audible from less than a metre away. The fan for the A6 started at 3600rpm just idling, and eventually ramped up to 4600rpm under load. The higher fan speeds made the system noticeably noisier, and anyone who values silence will definitely need to replace the stock cooler - making the lack of space between the CPU socket and RAM slots more of an issue. So this is one test where I'd award the win to the Sempron 140 rig.

    Conclusion
    There's no doubt that the A6-3670k is a great piece of technology. Combine it with a reasonable AMD A55-based motherboard and two sticks of DDR3-1600 RAM, and you get a low cost PC that handles media duties, web browsing, and low quality 1080p gaming comfortably. Meanwhile, good power management means system-wide power draw rarely peaks over 100W, and is generally kept below 80W. I was concerned that I'd be replacing my deliberately low-power HTPC with something of a power hog, but the A6 has belied its 100W TDP rating with a series of test results showing it draws less power than a 45W Sempron 140 + 785G chipset. And all of this is without diving into the BIOS to either unlock more performance or reduce power consumption by lowering voltages.

    The bundle as reviewed is not without issues though. The ASUS motherboard provided positions the CPU socket close to the RAM slots, which could potentially cause issues with after-market coolers, and this is exacerbated by the small, fast-spinning fan on the stock cooler which will be noticable, particularly in an HTPC. The curious placement of the USB3 ports, as mentioned during the unboxing, almost caused me issues too - I very nearly plugged my keyboard and mouse into them, which would a) have been a waste of the USB3 ports, and b) made them unusable when I booted windows, as the USB3 controller requires a separate driver to be installed. Finally, specifying a single stick of memory in an APU based system makes little sense. If there is even an outside chance of a game ever being played on the system, dual channel memory is a must.

    All that said, however, it would be unfair to take away from the prowess the A6-3670k has shown as a great all-rounder and, with careful choice of accompanying components, I wouldn't hesitate in recommending one.
    Last edited by scaryjim; 10-08-2012 at 03:07 PM.

  7. Received thanks from:

    Apex (24-09-2012),CAT-THE-FIFTH (31-08-2012),Zak33 (16-08-2012)

  8. #6
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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Looking forward to the HTPC angle!!


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    Not a good person scaryjim's Avatar
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      • Dell Inspiron 5570
      • Operating System:
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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Thread update: the Unboxing has been completed

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    • scaryjim's system
      • Motherboard:
      • Dell Inspiron
      • CPU:
      • Core i5 8250U
      • Memory:
      • 1x 8GB DDR4 2400
      • Storage:
      • 128GB M.2 SSD + 1TB HDD
      • Graphics card(s):
      • Radeon R5 230
      • PSU:
      • Battery/Dell brick
      • Case:
      • Dell Inspiron 5570
      • Operating System:
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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Quote Originally Posted by CAT-THE-FIFTH View Post
    Looking forward to the HTPC angle!!
    Well, I say HTPC - mostly it's a glorified DVD player What will really be interesting for me is how much power the system uses for DVD playback. This should be relatively low stress, and if the idle power management is good then the APU shouldn't be any more power hungry than the Sempy for this. I'll include more detailed benchmarks later, but for the Sempron it didn't move out of its lowest C&Q state (800MHz) during playback. Of course, temperature and fan noise will both come under consideration for that, too.

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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Another thing to consider,is that the chipset is probably more energy efficient on socket FM1 too.


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    • scaryjim's system
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      • CPU:
      • Core i5 8250U
      • Memory:
      • 1x 8GB DDR4 2400
      • Storage:
      • 128GB M.2 SSD + 1TB HDD
      • Graphics card(s):
      • Radeon R5 230
      • PSU:
      • Battery/Dell brick
      • Case:
      • Dell Inspiron 5570
      • Operating System:
      • Windows 10
      • Monitor(s):
      • 15" 1080p laptop panel

    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Thread update: system rebuilds done tonight, pics taken. The next instalment of write-up will be coming, probably, tomorrow. Then I need to install drivers and benchmark the new system before I can complete the review, which will probably happen over the weekend.

    In the meantime, here's a spot-the-difference competition for you

    Last edited by scaryjim; 24-07-2012 at 11:57 PM. Reason: tweaking picture

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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Doesn't seem to be an obscene amount of empty space between the HSF and IO compared to your old board but I agree there is certainly room that could have been put to better use considering the proximity to the RAM slots.

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    • scaryjim's system
      • Motherboard:
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      • CPU:
      • Core i5 8250U
      • Memory:
      • 1x 8GB DDR4 2400
      • Storage:
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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    It's not obscene, but there is more. The CPU socket is, AFAICT, the same distance from the RAM slots, but the RAM slots are nearer the edge of the board due to the lack of an IDE connector. And of course the old board had a northbridge to worry about fitting in as well, so it had a bit of an excuse for not having much space round the CPU socket. On this board it just feels like ASUS have stuck to a formula of the CPU socket being xmm from the RAM slots. Perhaps there are sound engineering reasons for it, but it feels like the extra space on the board could have been put to good use making sure there's ample clearance around the CPU socket.

    But, more on that tomorrow

  15. #13
    Not a good person scaryjim's Avatar
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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Thread update: benchmarking is now complete, with some very interesting outcomes! Had a busier-than-expected week, and am out tonight, so the write up won't happen until Saturday afternoon at the earliest, but I should be able to complete the review in one go now I've done all the practical bits.

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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    I'll be watching with interest.

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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Thanks for taking the time for a nice review, waiting for the next update with baited breath

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    Re: Scaryjim's HEXUS-AMD Bundle review

    Be interesting to see what you find on the power consumption side of things

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