AMD and Intel extreme desktop CPU workout
Feel the burn
Extreme PC Week
Comparing high-end desktop processors that use the latest architecture from AMD and Intel these days, is a bit like comparing apples to walnuts. To pimp up a PC, there is only one company that really offers extreme processing power, and that’s Intel. But it’ll cost ya. In the extreme arena, AMD gave up arm wrestling with Intel a while back, however, the company has some nifty desktop CPUs that hit a price/performance sweet spot. So what can you expect to find from these two players if you want a desktop PC that packs a punch?
While the focus of late has been on Intel’s recently launched Ivy Bridge architecture, at the time of writing, the really powerful desktop CPU’s come from the company’s Sandy Bridge E microarchitecture. Released before Ivy Bridge in late in 2011, the flagship Sandy Bridge E desktop processor is the mighty 6-cored Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition. If money is no object, then you’ve found your grail. Shop around and you’re looking at just under £800 – a CPU that costs as much as a many a complete off-the-shelf powerful PC.
Intel Core i7-3960X processor die detail: note the two 'greyed-out' cores
Thankfully, there is a cheaper Sandy Bridge E sibling that shaves off around £300 from the cost. It’s still an eye-watering £450 though, but the Intel Core i7-3930K retains those 6 cores and is undoubtedly quick. Consequently, it’s become a firm favourite among boutique system builders to power their extreme PCs. More on this chip in a moment.
When it comes to offering something akin to Sandy Bridge E, alas, AMD has nothing that can match it, but it doesn’t stop the company from hitting the headlines. In September last year, the AMD FX-8150 – the flagship CPU of the Bulldozer architecture line of processors – grabbed the Guinness World Record for highest CPU clock speed at 8.429GHz. Yet a glance behind this wonderful PR coup tells a slightly different story.
The machine only had to boot into Windows and allow the clock speed to be reported and, more importantly, it didn’t need to fire up any applications or have all eight of its cores running. The world record speed was attained by a single Bulldozer module under the influence of some pretty heavy liquid helium cooling – so nothing like the real world then.
AMD FX-8150 processor die detail
Perhaps more telling is that at launch, the marketing suits at AMD had priced the eight-core, 3.6GHz FX-8150 at around £200. With Intel’s Ivy Bridge not yet on the horizon, it was pitched at against the Sandy Bridge Core i5-2500K. Certainly the Core i5-2500K is a very good chip, but you wouldn’t call it extreme by any stretch of the imagination.
Next page: Core decisions
But is extreme what is needed?
It's touched on in the article in a couple of places, but not really expanded upon. Probably because the article is focused on "extreme CPU workout", but things like the socket compatability are quite significant. I have an old AMD Phenom II X6 processor. At some point I will likely want to put in a new CPU, perhaps when Piledriver (the next gen Bulldozer) arrives. At this point, I can just pop it into the existing motherboard. AMD have long been better on compatability. The AM2 socket lasted for a long time.
Also, the CPU is seldom the bottle neck for most users. So yes, if you have tonnes of money and the will to spend it, you can get yourself a high-end Intel and a top of the range SSD. But for the rest of us, it's better not to blow all the money on the processor and spend a bit more on the SSD in terms of performance. In terms of overall experience, it's even better to spend a bit more on a decent monitor if you're going to be staring at it all day. If you're a gamer, better spending the money on a better or second graphics card too.
It depends what you need. I guess my opinion is that you spend your budget on the priorities and pushing your processor to the best around is one of the last things you do if you still have budget left over. I think this will be especially true with the ultra-thin style laptops that are coming out where AMD's new APU designs make them more efficient and capable than Intel's (and hopefully cheaper). AMD is clearly targetting the vast majority of buyers, rather than the extreme performance market which must be tiny compared to everyone else.
Just some thoughts on AMD vs. Intel. I think AMD are actually going to have a few very good years coming up. Intel has seized the top of the hill and AMD is busy hoovering up the low-lands all around it, it seems to me.
Re: But is extreme what is needed?
Indeed, AMD (and Intel if it's honest) has realised that the CPU power race ended the minute dual core CPUS came out. At that point 90% of the worlds PCs users were sorted for life with regards to doing their day to day computing.
The fact Intel pushes out these £800 fastest CPUs is great and all but how many do they actually sell? Especially to the domestic market. Only a very small percentage of the worlds PC users actually read the tech reports on CPUs.
They are really nothing than a marketing tool and internet buzz creating. I've never seen one of these chips in the wild.
So AMD is wise to just concentrate of getting hold of Joe Average with a nice average CPU for a lower than average price.
Just waiting for the herd of ....
...socially awkward PC enthusiasts that class themselves as 'Hardcore' because they have the £800 to spend on a CPU (guess why folks) that they only use for running pointless benchmarks on all day and nothing else. To say that "OMFG the AMD is so lame and the IPC of the INTEL is just so much better cos in X benchmark it does this and in Y benchmark it does that...."
FFS quit with the benchmarks and lowering the timings on your Extreme Dragon Hell For Leather Quad Turbonutter ram to get that FPS score from 146FPS to 146.6FPS.
You are wasting your life! Go outside and find a girlfriend or some real friends at least.
It doesn't impress normal people with normal lives.
I prefer more cores to faster cores
because it runs my code faster. On 8 or 16 cores I also tend to get a slightly better load balance than on 6 and 12, because the binary tree structure used in the gather phase of many algorithms is nicely balanced. Furthermore, hyperthreading is great mainly if the different threads share a lot of the data they work on, so the you do not get cache contention issues. In my code I find it does not contribute anything, and can actually harm performance.
The same does not hold for a lot of code out there. Horses for courses. For my desktop, the AMD chip is best (but not with a AMD/Radeon graphics board, because we also use CUDA), others may be served better with Intel chips.
Re: Just waiting for the herd of ....
I spend most of my day in front of a PC. I run CAD applications where interactive mouse movements trigger hundreds of millions of processor cycles which I have to wait for.
A few hundred quid extra for a processor which saves me a fraction of a second thousands of times a day is money well spent, it is also a small fraction of the cost of the software it runs.
'socially awkward PC enthusiasts' are not the only people interested in and prepared to pay for high processor performance.