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AMD FX-8150 Review: From Bulldozer To Zambezi To FX

AMD FX-8150 Review: From Bulldozer To Zambezi To FX
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Perhaps the most hotly-anticipated launch in 2011, AMD’s FX processor line-up is finally ready for prime time. Does the company’s new Bulldozer architecture have what it takes to face Intel’s Sandy Bridge and usher in a new era of competition?

How much CPU do you really need? Two cores? Four? Six? In many ways, the answer depends on what you’re doing with your PC. We’ve found that most games run best on machines with at least three cores. We know that many video editing apps use as much processing horsepower as you give them. And many productivity-oriented titles don’t take advantage of parallelism at all.

Really, the key to a healthy machine is balance. Balance prevents bottlenecks. We’re long-time proponents of balance (see Paul Henningsen’s Building A Balanced Gaming PC series). And now, as a purveyor of processors and graphics, AMD stands to profit handsomely from preaching the very same message.

But when the marketing slides detailing a company’s upcoming flagship desktop processor demonstrate a trend favouring cheaper PCs, you have to expect a CPU designed for cheaper PCs. I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but enthusiasts who were hoping to see AMD’s Bulldozer architecture decimate Sandy Bridge and do battle with Sandy Bridge-E have to adjust their expectations. Instead, the company is going after a burgeoning chunk of the market looking to spend less on hardware than they did in the past.

That’s cool though, right? Sandy Bridge showed the power user community that they didn’t need a $1000 processor to get blazing-fast performance. An unlocked $200 chip capable of reliably hitting 4.5 GHz smoked Intel’s Gulftown-based Extreme Edition parts in a number of desktop-oriented tests (including the ever-important gaming scenarios). If AMD can offer a better value in that market, you won’t hear me (or anyone else) complain.

Meet The FX Family

At least on paper, the line-up of processors AMD plans to roll out looks both comprehensive and competitive. There are seven models in the FX family, ranging from the FX-8150 down to the FX-4100. They all centre on AMD’s Zambezi design, manufactured on Globalfoundries’ 32 nm node and composed of roughly two billion transistors. The 315 mm² die is smaller than Thuban (at 346 mm²), but larger than Deneb (at 258 mm²). Sandy Bridge, in comparison measures 216 mm².

Model
Base Clock
Turbo Core Clock
Max. Turbo Core
TDP
Cores
Total L2 Cache
Shared L3 Cache
Northbridge Freq.
FX-8150
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
4.2 GHz
125 W
8
8 MB
8 MB
2.2 GHz
FX-8120
3.1 GHz
3.4 GHz
4.0 GHz
125 / 95 W
8
8 MB
8 MB2.2 GHz
FX-8100
2.8 GHz
3.1 GHz
3.7 GHz
95 W
8
8 MB
8 MB2.0 GHz
FX-6100
3.3 GHz
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
95 W
6
6 MB
8 MB2.0 GHz
FX-4170
4.2 GHz
-
4.3 GHz
125 W
4
4 MB
8 MB2.2 GHz
FX-B4150
3.8 GHz
3.9 GHz
4.0 GHz
95 W
4
4 MB
8 MB2.2 GHz
FX-4100
3.6 GHz
3.7 GHz
3.8 GHz
95 W
4
4 MB
8 MB2.0 GHz


The portfolio is most easily broken down into eight-core, six-core, and four-core CPUs (corresponding to four, three, and two Bulldozer modules). Model numbers do help you identify the chips somewhat: an FX-8xxx is an eight-core SKU, for instance; FX-4xxx is a four-core product.

The three digits that follow the core designator arbitrarily indicate performance within the stack. They aren’t consistent with clock rate, TDP, or L2 cache. You simply have to remember that, within the FX-8xxx segment, -8150 is better than -8120, which is better than -8100.

All of the FX processors are multiplier unlocked up and down the line-up, so there may turn out to be some interesting bargains, depending on how aggressively AMD is speed-binning these CPUs. Remember back to 2008, when Intel launched Nehalem? Enthusiasts jumped all over the 4 GHz-capable Core i7-920 because it was cheap. It remains to be seen whether Globalfoundries’ 32 nm process can achieve the same notoriety.

AMD makes it super-easy to avoid naming confusion at launch by making four CPUs available: the FX-8150, the -8120, the -6100, and the -4100.

Model
Base Clock
Turbo Core Clock
Max. Turbo Core
TDP
Cores
Suggested Price (U.S.*)
FX-8150
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
4.2 GHz
125 W
8
$245
FX-8120
3.1 GHz
3.4 GHz
4.0 GHz
125 W
8
$205
FX-6100
3.3 GHz
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
95 W
6
$165
FX-4100
3.6 GHz
3.7 GHz
3.8 GHz
95 W
4
$115


That quartet of FXes picks up from where the Phenom II family left off, price-wise. AMD's FX-4100 overlaps the prior generation with a $115 price tag, serving up four cores and clocks between 3.6 and 3.8 GHz (max. Turbo Core). FX-6100, running at a base 3.3 GHz and maxing out at 3.9 GHz, sells for $165. The -8120, armed with eight cores, a 3.1 GHz base, and 4 GHz peak Turbo Core clock, is expected to go for $205. And the flagship -8150, which pushes frequency up to 3.6 GHz base and 4.2 GHz maximum Turbo Core, bears a $245 suggested retail price.

AMD only sent one of the four models for evaluation: the -8150. Our impressions on the other three processors will have to wait, unfortunately (that’s a hint, System Builder Marathon team). We don’t have any additional details as to when the other three FX processors will hit the channel, or how much they’ll cost. But we're finding it hard to care right now. We have the fastest model sitting on our test bench and a list of updated apps with which to test, based on your feedback. So, let's get to it.

*UK pricing not yet available.

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  • 5 Hide
    jaksun5 , 12 October 2011 15:14
    Fuck this, I'm over your comments sections. They either don't work, are flooded by spam or I lose everything I've written and have to rewrite
  • 3 Hide
    jaksun5 , 12 October 2011 15:21
    OK, here it goes again... :-)

    Unfortuante that there wasn't a more competitive showing by AMD. Up until recently we could still say that performance pre dollar was still with them in alot of cases. Now it seems even that point is going to Intel for some time to come.

    One the bright side it appears that here in Oz that a new segment in the full size (14-15") notebook market in the last few months created by the release of the AMD Radeon on die processor powered notebooks in the $330-$450 space, where previously new notebooks could barely be had under $500, and even then they were powered by awful Celeron processors with even worse graphics. If AMD can move enough of these low end units then maybe they'll have a chance to improve their line up, if the talk of scaling isn't just hot air.
  • 4 Hide
    bobbyp86 , 12 October 2011 15:23
    Looks like I've saved myself a load of money upgrading my x4 955 this year, Bring on the 7000 series GPUs :D 
  • 3 Hide
    technogiant , 12 October 2011 15:59
    AMD is becoming a "promising pete", it's always jam tomorrow but NEVER performance delivered today.
    Be that with their roadmap of promised performance increases or the promise of increased performance on apu's via gpgpu applications.
    I will believe it when I see it if ever.

    I don't think they are even plan that effectively, I mean their proposed utilization of core/module parking in win8, great for power efficiency, but what about performance? For that you would need to spread the threads evenly across the single cores of each module so they don't share resources and only start using the second core in each module when the first core approaches max load.

    The implementation in win8 will only reduce performance and enhance power efficiency.
  • 1 Hide
    doive1231 , 12 October 2011 18:41
    I feel like the hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who have just been given the answer of 42 to their question ie. disappointed and fed-up I have to wait for something better. Perhaps we should leave it to Intel to build a computer capable of finding the question.
  • 2 Hide
    blubbey , 12 October 2011 18:53
    I would say I'm disappointed but it's not like we didn't know this already - surely there'd have been some 'leaked' benchmarks on the internet to promote it more if it was as good, if not better than SB.
  • 2 Hide
    codefuapprentice , 12 October 2011 20:47
    I'm actually disappointed in bulldozer, i was hoping it would give intel a massive shake up like the athlon series did for a few years, as it stands i'm not gonna be upgrading from my Phenom II 955 any time soon
  • 2 Hide
    das_stig , 12 October 2011 22:56
    Not the best review for AMD but look on the bright side, the prices will drop like a stone and aslong as it can play all your games at the highest resolution and all the eye candy on, without needing its own power plant and pipeline to the south pole for cooling, then why worry.

    Can we all afford these super computers sucking 1000 watts from the socket, no, I would rather wait a fraction of a second and save a few quid each month.

    Future chips may just come with a few surprises, once AMD wake up and smell the coffee.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 12 October 2011 23:26
    Well common boys don't expect AMD to come out of the blue and own SB. AMD is in a very different situation, they went the GFX route awhile back and hence much of potential RnD money was taken away. Intel simply spends huge amounts of cash on their manufacturing process and micro-architecture development, which is why it's leading atm. IMSO (in my subjective opinion) Bulldozer was a strategic move intended to compete in the long run, so perhaps we will see what comes of it.
  • 1 Hide
    wild9 , 13 October 2011 00:36
    I really don't know what to say about Bulldozer, I've got very mixed feelings. In the meantime thank you Chris Angelini, for the in-depth analysis.
  • -1 Hide
    jrtolson , 13 October 2011 05:45
    to all those expecting the bulldozer to be a "holographic chip from the future, running at 200 ghz" to have turned itslef on browsed porn for u before u got home from work? then u are fools lol (no offence)

    im pretty sure the current business models for both amd and intel are not "spend 200 squillin dollars" in r&d on making processor chips that can run the main computer of a galaxy class starship, using exotic materials (other than silicon) etc etc

    im running an amd64 3200+ single core (venice) in my rig, and it does everything and more than i want it to do.. i can play all the latest games run the most demanding software.. my point is my pc 7 years old im running windows 7 on it and it does me fine.. the market does not need nor are consumers ready for a leap in processor tech so for a business model why not realease minor improved chips and keep the dollars rolling in? than gamble everything on something that might break your company before it is even ever realeased?
  • 1 Hide
    theFatHobbit , 13 October 2011 07:16
    I was hoping this would make intel nervous and lower their prices to compete with bulldozers price/performance. but no luck.
  • 0 Hide
    miklatov , 14 October 2011 02:37
    These results are a real shame. I'm neither AMD or Intel inclined, prefering to stay agnostic, but I do like healthy competition (It works well for us buyers, right? :D ) and this offering just doesn't really cut it on performance or price.


  • 0 Hide
    dillyflump , 15 October 2011 03:43
    Have to say i'm a little disappointed at the raw power per core of these FX chips in games, but i'm pretty sure the intel sandybridge and other core i7's are out in front due to hyperthreading on each core. World of Warcraft is programmed to only use two physical cores, but the intels get around it with hyper threadings 2 extra logical cores to process on. If game engines were better programmed to actually work on a cpu's physical cores and not logical ones i'm pretty sure the FX chips would beat the sandybridge processors. Perhaps the tested could look it up, but last year I was reading an article on how to force the warcraft engine to use multiple cores not just the 2. Looked complex to do but having ordered a bulldozer FX 8-core and a new 990FX board i think i'll try and get this work around to use all the chips power and see what results i get teamed with crossfire 6870's
  • 0 Hide
    HEXiT , 17 October 2011 10:35
    lolz... seriously m8 try to at least understand... the 2500K doenst support hyper threading so how can it be out in front because of it... AMD promised the world a cpu that could compete with intel's latest and they delivered 1 that can compete with there last gen only. as for you being pretty sure... well im pretty sure you think you know a lot more than you actually do, and its gonna cost you a fair bit of cash...

    not only does the part not perform consistently and never will in a gaming environment. its power inefficient to the tune of 180+watts. seriously guy rethink your choice... you would be no worse off performance wise buying a P'II 970 and waiting for the next iteration that will still underperformed against intels ivy bridge...

    as for your theory on how WOW is processed your off the mark there too.. intel only use hyper threading when a game/application asks for it. on a single core wow will use hyper threading (if available) as i needs 2 Cores to work best, on a dual core it will use 2 cores without hyper threading and on a quad it will use 2 cores without hyper threading. just because a core shows 75 percent usage doesn't mean its using 25 percent hyper threading.
    case in point wow performs no better on an intel 2500k than it does on the intel 2600k 1 has hyper threading the other doesnt.

    seriously m8 i aint trying to be a jerk, but it defiantly looks like you have a case of "thinks he knows"... you seem to be operating on assumptions about intel rather than fact... use places like wiki, toms, hardware secrets and other places to get the rite info b4 you make a misinformed choice.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 12 November 2011 22:48
    But between the i5 and i7 which is best on cost vie performance to be honest i have not look at an AMD chip based PC in years, why would you? and based on the excellent review / bench mark i will not be changing my mind for some years to come.