AMD 'unleashes' unlocked FX processor family
Overclockers, rejoice. The rest of us, not so much
AMD has released its long-expected AMD FX processor line, and – as also expected – they're shipping them unlocked, thus warming the cockles of overclockers' hearts. Early testing, however, reveals others' cockles to be somewhat chilly.
"AMD FX CPUs are back with a vengeance," AMD client group headman Chris Cloran promised in a prepared statement, adding that even though the AMD FX family's unlocked natures make them naturals for overclockers, they're also just fine and dandy for users who just want to use them as-is.
"PC enthusiasts and HD media aficionados will appreciate the remarkable experience that AMD FX processors can provide as part of a balanced, affordable desktop system," he said.
The AMD FX processors, formerly code-named Zambezi, will initially come in four flavors – two eight-core, one six-core, and one four-core – but the company says that additional versions will be released over time.
The parts are based on AMD's long-awaited "Bulldozer" core, which will make its appearance on the sever side of the maket in the upcoming 16-core "Interlagos" Opteron processors. The AMD FX line slots in above AMD's former top desktop chips, the Phenom IIs.
AMD lists three clock speeds per part: the standard, just-chugging-along base clock rate; a Turbo Core clock, for when all cores are temporarilly bumped up for more-demanding tasks; and a Max Turbo clock, when only half the cores are active and bumped up still higher – useful for less well-threaded workloads.
Remember when quad-core desktop chips were top-of-the-line?
But don't automatically think that twice the cores give the FX-8150 and its slower sibling, the FX-8120, twice the performance of Intel's quad-core processors. Far from it. Early testing by such worthies as Tom's Hardware, AnandTech, and TechSpot have been lukewarm, at best.
Both Tom's Hardware and AnandTech, for example, point out the AMD FX's struggles with single- or lightly threaded workloads, are soundly thrashed by Intel's current "Sandy Bridge" processors, and TechSpot concludes that "when it came time to play games the FX range was really no better than the Phenom II."
But don't write the Bulldozer core off just yet. The li'l fellow is not even a toddler – it's an infant. You may not want to replace your Phenom II system with a Bulldozer-based AMD FX quite yet – well, you might if you're running heavily threaded workloads – but give the company some time to jigger and rejigger the core, and better performance should result.
With that goal in mind, AMD is currently slaving away on its "Enhanced Bulldozer" core, code-named "Piledriver", which should appear by this time next year. Beyond that is a full next-generation Bulldozer, scheduled for 2013.
And don't assume that the reputedly lackluster performance of the Bulldozer cores in the AMD FX line necessarily means that Interlagos will be equally lackluster – there's a world of difference between desktop and server microprocessor implementations.
Still, it's not a good sign.
Unless you're an AMD fan who's also a hard-core overclocker with access to liquid helium, like the chaps who cranked an AMD FX up to 8.429GHz, the AMD FX appears to be more a pitty-patty slap than a knockout punch. ®
I'm sure reality will set in
Some folks are disappointed that the FX series isn't an Intel i7 killer but it was never advertised to be. For all practical purposes almost any CPU will more than meet the demands of mainstream PC users. The overclocking potential of Zambezi based CPUs seems to be 4.5 GHz. on air which is pretty cool considering the price.
I have no doubt AMD will sell a bunch of Zambezi chips even if some folks are disappointed that they don't out perform Intel's i7s.
Outperforming i7 isn't the problem
They don't even seem to match it with i5s on a performance/dollar basis at those launch prices, much less on a performance/watt basis.
Still, historically AMD has taken a little while to sort out power issues on a new process or architecture, so the next revision will probably be a different story.
Time to look more carefully
The more comprehensive Bulldozer reviews show Zambezi has some strengths and depending on what you use your PC for Zambezi may be just fine for your use. While these CPUs are not chart toppers they do well enough in most applications at default speeds to be competitive on price and performance. If they OC well then they most definitely will sell well also.
"If it's designed for server loads why does it have only 4 FPUs to 8 cores?"
Because in a typical server environment about 99% of the work is integer.
But the FX moniker always disappointed
In my memory, the FX51 and FX53 where dual socket 3GHz ish Athlon X2s which were competing against the first core 2 and the Intel "two-chips in a box mashup" quad cores (a technique finally taken onboard in Magny Cours). And they lost.
My favourite review was XBitLabs who compared the IPC of Bulldozer with Thuban and Sandy Bridge where it only had 1/2 and 2/3 respectively. I wonder how well it would have fared against an E350.
Bulldozer is a core designed for server loads not as a desktop where software is poorly threaded. It would be a gross mistake to replace the Llano core with a bulldozer core. If AMD wants to compete on the desktop it needs to throw as many transistors into its core as it can: double the FPU and get a 5% speed increase, double the integer units and get another 5% etc. Bulldozer takes intelligent transistors out of the core and replaces them with dumb cache transistors. Going from 65nm to 32nm, AMD could fit 4 original Phenoms onto their die with 16 cores and 8Mb L3 cache, and it would probably be faster.
Over the last decade I've bought about 20 AMD CPUs and 2 Intel CPUs.
Icon - AMD CEO.