AMD has been trailing Intel in the x86 performance space for years now. Ever since the introduction of the first Core 2 processors in 2006, AMD hasn't been able to recover and return to the heyday of the Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 X2. Instead the company has remained relevant by driving costs down and competing largely in the sub-$200 microprocessor space. AMD's ability to hold on was largely due to its more-cores-for-less strategy. Thanks to aggressive pricing on its triple and hexa-core parts, for users who needed tons of cores, AMD has been delivering a lot of value over the past couple of years.

Recently however Intel has been able to drive its per-core performance up with Sandy Bridge, where it's becoming increasingly difficult to recommend AMD alternatives with higher core counts. The heavily threaded desktop niche is tough to sell to, particularly when you force users to take a significant hit on single threaded performance in order to achieve value there. For a while now AMD has needed a brand new architecture, something that could lead to dominance in heavily threaded workloads while addressing its deficiencies in lightly threaded consumer workloads. After much waiting, we get that new architecture today. Bulldozer is here.

It's branded the AMD FX processor and it's only available in a single die configuration. Measuring 315mm2 and weighing in at around 2 billion transistors (that's nearly GPU-sized fellas), Bulldozer isn't that much smaller than existing 45nm 6-core Phenom II designs despite being built on Global Foundries' 32nm SOI process. Both die area and transistor count are up significantly over Sandy Bridge, which on Intel's 32nm HKMG process is only 995M transistors with a die size of 216mm2. This is one big chip.

CPU Specification Comparison
CPU Manufacturing Process Cores Transistor Count Die Size
AMD Bulldozer 8C 32nm 8 1.2B* 315mm2
AMD Thuban 6C 45nm 6 904M 346mm2
AMD Deneb 4C 45nm 4 758M 258mm2
Intel Gulftown 6C 32nm 6 1.17B 240mm2
Intel Nehalem/Bloomfield 4C 45nm 4 731M 263mm2
Intel Sandy Bridge 4C 32nm 4 995M 216mm2
Intel Lynnfield 4C 45nm 4 774M 296mm2
Intel Clarkdale 2C 32nm 2 384M 81mm2
Intel Sandy Bridge 2C (GT1) 32nm 2 504M 131mm2
Intel Sandy Bridge 2C (GT2) 32nm 2 624M 149mm2

 

Update: AMD originally told us Bulldozer was a 2B transistor chip. It has since told us that the 8C Bulldozer is actually 1.2B transistors. The die size is still accurate at 315mm2

Architecturally Bulldozer is a significant departure from anything we've ever seen before. We'll go into greater detail later on in this piece, but the building block in AMD's latest architecture is the Bulldozer module. Each module features two integer cores and a shared floating point core. FP hardware is larger and used less frequently in desktop (and server workloads), so AMD decided to share it between every two cores rather than offer a 1:1 ratio between int/fp cores on Bulldozer. AMD advertises Bulldozer based FX parts based on the number of integer cores. Thus a two module Bulldozer CPU, has four integer cores (and 2 FP cores) and is thus sold as a quad-core CPU. A four module Bulldozer part with eight integer cores is called an eight-core CPU. There are obvious implications from a performance standpoint, but we'll get to those shortly.


The FX Lineup

There are a total of 7 AMD FX CPUs that AMD is announcing today, although only four are slated for near-term availability.

CPU Specification Comparison
Processor Cores Clock Speed Max Turbo NB Clock L2 Cache TDP Price
AMD FX-8150 8 3.6GHz 4.2GHz 2.2GHz 8MB 125W $245
AMD FX-8120 8 3.1GHz 4.0GHz 2.2GHz 8MB 95W/125W $205
AMD FX-8100* 8 2.8GHz 3.7GHz 2GHz 8MB 95W N/A
AMD FX-6100 6 3.3GHz 3.9GHz 2GHz 6MB 95W $165
AMD FX-4170* 4 4.2GHz 4.3GHz 2.2GHz 4MB 125W N/A
AMD FX-B4150* 4 3.8GHz 4GHz 2.2GHz 4MB 95W N/A
AMD FX-4100 4 3.6GHz 3.8GHz 2GHz 4MB 95W $115
AMD Phenom II X6 1100T 6 3.2GHz 3.6GHz 2GHz 3MB 125W $190
AMD Phenom II X4 980 4 3.7GHz N/A 2GHz 2MB 125W $170

The FX-8150, 8120, 6100 and 4100 are what's launching today. The first digit in AMD's FX model numbers indicates the number of cores with the 8150 and 8120 boasting eight, while the 6100 only has six active integer cores (three Bulldozer modules). The FX-4100 features four integer cores. L2 cache scales with core count (2MB per module), while the L3 cache size remains fixed at 8MB regardless of SKU.

North Bridge and L3 cache frequency alternate between 2.0GHz and 2.2GHz depending on the part. TDPs range between 95W and 125W as well, with the FX-8120 being offered in both 125W and 95W versions.

There's only a single Bulldozer die. The 6 and 4 core versions simply feature cores disabled on the die. AMD insists this time around, core unlocking won't be possible on these harvested parts.

The huge gap in clock speed between the 8120 and 8150 are troubling. Typically we see linear frequency graduations but the fact that there's a 16% difference between these two SKUs seems to point to process problems limiting yield at higher frequencies—at least for the 8-core version.

Outside of the quad-core and hex-core Bulldozer pats, the only other FX processor able to exceed the 3.3GHz clock speed of the Phenom II X6 1100T is the 8150. And if you include quad-core Phenom II parts in the mix, only two Bulldozer parts ship at a higher stock frequency than the Phenom II X4 980. Granted Turbo Core will help push frequencies even higher, but these low base frequencies are troubling. For an architecture that was designed to scale to clock speeds 30% higher than its predecessor, Bulldozer doesn't seem to be coming anywhere close.

The entire FX lineup ships unlocked, which allows for some easy overclocking as you'll see soon enough.


Motherboard Compatibility

AMD is certifying its FX processors for use on Socket-AM3+ motherboards. Owners of standard AM3 motherboards may be out of luck, although motherboard manufacturers can choose to certify their boards for use with Bulldozer if they wish to do so. From AMD's perspective however, only AM3+ motherboards with BIOS/UEFI support for Bulldozer are officially supported.

All existing AM2/AM2+/AM3/AM3+ heatsinks should work with the FX processor; they simply need to be rated for the TDP of the processor you're looking to cool.

For this review, AMD supplied us with ASUS' Crosshair V Formula AM3+ motherboard based on AMD's 990FX chipset.

AMD does offer six 6Gbps SATA ports on its 990FX chipset, a significant upgrade from the two 6Gbps ports on Intel's 6-series chipsets. Unbuffered ECC memory is also supported for those who desire the added security, once again a feature not supported on Intel's consumer grade 6-series chipsets.

Despite AMD's trend towards releasing APUs with integrated GPUs (thus requiring a new socket), AMD insists that the AM3+ platform will live to see one more processor generation before it's retired.

AMD's Liquid CPU Cooling System

Alongside its new FX processors AMD is introducing its first branded liquid cooling system manufactured by Asetek.

AMD's cooling system is similar to other offerings from companies like Antec and Corsair. The system is self contained, you never have to worry about adding any more liquid to it.

Attach the cooling module to your CPU socket via a simple bracket, and affix the radiator to your case and you're good to go. The radiator is cooled via two 120mm fans, also included in the box.

AMD doesn't have an exact idea on pricing or availability of its liquid cooling solution, but I'm told to expect it to be around $100 once available. My sample actually arrived less than 12 hours ago, so expect a follow up with performance analysis later this week.

The Roadmap

For the first time in far too long, AMD is actually being very forthcoming about its future plans. At a recent tech day about Bulldozer, AMD laid out its CPU core roadmap through 2014. The code names are below:

Piledriver you already know about, it's at the heart of Trinity, which is the 2—4 core APU due out in early 2012. Piledriver will increase CPU core performance by around 10—15% over Bulldozer, although it will initially appear in a lower performance segment. Remember that final generation of AM3+ CPU I mentioned earlier? I fully expect that to be a GPU-less Piledriver CPU due out sometime in 2012.

Steamroller will follow in 2013, again improving performance (at the core level) by around 10—15%. Excavator will do the same in 2014. AMD believes that these performance increases will be sufficient to keep up with Intel over time, however I'll let you be the judge of that once we get to the Bulldozer performance numbers.

The other thing to note about AMD's roadmap is it effectively puts the x86 business on an annual cadence, in line with what we've seen from the AMD GPU folks. Although AMD isn't talking about what process nodes to expect all of these cores at, it looks like AMD will finally have an answer to Intel's tick-tock release schedule moving forward.

The Architecture
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  • psiboy - Monday, February 06, 2012 - link

    What kind of retarded person would benchmark at 1024 x 768 on an enthusiast site where every one owns at least 1 1920 x 1080 monitor as they are 1. Dirt cheap and 2. The single biggest selling resolution for quite some time now... Real world across the board benches at 1920 x 1080 please! Reply
  • mumbles - Sunday, February 12, 2012 - link

    I am not trying to discount the reviewer, the performance of Sandy Bridge, or games as a test of general application performance. I have no connection to company mentioned really anywhere on this site. I am just a software engineer with a degree in computer science who wants to let the world know why these metrics are not a good way to measure relative performance of different architectures.

    The world has changed drastically in the hardware world and the software world has no chance to keep up with it these days. Developing software implementations that utilize multiprocessors efficiently is extremely expensive and usually is not prioritized very well these days. Business requirements are the primary driver in even the gaming industry and "performs well enough on high end equipment(or in the business application world, on whatever equipment is available)" is almost always as good as a software engineer will be allowed time for on any task.

    In performance minded sectors like gaming development and scientific computing, this results in implementations that are specific to hardware architectures that come from whatever company decides to sponsor the project. nVidia and Intel tend to be the ones that engage in these activities most of the time. Testing an application on a platform it was designed for will always yield better results than testing it on a new platform that nobody has had access to even develop software on. This results in a biased performance metric anytime a game is used as a benchmark.

    In business applications, the concurrency is abstracted out of the engineer's view. We use messaging frameworks to process many small requests without having to manage concurrency at all. This is partly due to the business requirements changing so fast that optimizing anything results in it being replaced by something else instead. The underlying frameworks are typically optimized for abstraction instead of performance and are not intended to make use of any given hardware architecture. Obviously almost all of these systems use Java to achieve this, which is great because JIT takes care of optimizing things in real time for the hardware it is running on and the operations the software uses.

    As games are developed for this architecture it will probably see far better benchmark results than the i series in those games which will actually be optimized for it.

    A better approach to testing these architectures would be to develop tests that actually utilize the strengths of the new design rather than see how software optimized for some other architecture will perform. This is probably way more than an e-mag can afford to do, but I feel an injustice is being done here based on reading other people's comments that seem to put stock in this review as indication of actual performance of this architecture in the future, which really none of these tests indicate.

    I bet this architecture actually does amazing things when running Java applications. Business application servers and gaming alike. Java makes heavy use of integer processing and concurrency, and this processor seems highly geared towards both.

    And I just have to add, CINEBENCH is probably almost 100% floating point operations. This is probably why the Bulldozer does not perform any better than the Phenom II x4.

    Also, AMD continues to impress on the value measurement. Check out the PassMarks per dollar on this bad boy:

    http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=AMD+FX-815...
    Reply
  • djangry - Sunday, February 19, 2012 - link

    Beware !!!! this chip is junk.
    I love Amd with all my heart and soul.
    This fx chip is a black screen machine.
    It breaks my heart to write this.
    I am sending it back and trying to snag the last x6 phenom 2 's
    I can find.
    The fact that this chip is a dud is too well hidden.
    When I called newegg they told me your the second one today with
    horror stories about this chip.

    msi would not come clean ...this chip is a turkey....
    yet they were nice.

    I will waste no more time with this nonsense.
    my 754's work better.

    We need honesty about the failure of this chip and the fact windows pulled the hot fix.
    tlb bug part two.
    Even linux users say after grub goes in Black screens.
    Why isn't the industry coming clean on this issue.
    Amd's 939 kicked Intel butt for 3 years- till they got it together,we need Amd ,but I do not like hidden issues and lack of disclosure.
    Buyer beware!
    Reply
  • AMDiamond - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    Guys you are already upset because you spent your lunch money on Intel and even with higher this and that boards and memory AMD (even with half as much memory onboard [32GB] & Intel has [64GB] ) Intel is misquoting thier performance again...no matter what you say AMD= Dodge as to Intel=Cheverolet ..and when it gets down to AMD on the game versus Intel ...Intel has another hardcore asswhipping behind and ahead... its the same thing as a Dx4 processor(versus the pentium) even though Pentium had 1 comprehesion level higher ..when running the same programs DooM for example Pentium couldn't run DooM anywhere near as good as a simple DX4 amd..same stays true ...this Bulldozer has already broken unmatched records...AMD only lacks in 1 area..when you install windows the intel drivers already match at least 80 percent performance of Intel ...where AMD needs a specific narrow driver to run...once that driver is matched ..AMD =General Lee versus (Smokey & the) Bandits POS =Intel's comaro and its true ashamed that Intel even with 2x as much ddr3 memory ..cant even pickup the torch when AMD is smoking a Jet on the highway to hell for Intel -Hahahamauhahaha...sorry as intel qx9650 ahahahaahahahahahahahhahahah Reply
  • AMDiamond - Monday, March 05, 2012 - link

    watch AMD take Diablo 3 (1 expansion by the next/it will be so ) Intel always lags hard on gaming compared to a weaker AMD class...point proven ...everest has alot of false benchmarks for Intel example NWN2 Phenom x3 8400 (triple core hasa bench 10880) yet a Intel Core 2 Duo e7500 has a bench of 12391 thats a 2.9ghtz cpu versus a 2.1ghtz CPU ..ok the kicker is intel is a dell amd is an aspire..DDR2 memory on the AMD and ddr3 memory on the intel ..all the intel bus features say higher (like they always do) but try running the same dammned video board on both systems then try running 132 NWN2 maps each medium size...no way the intel can do it ..the AMD can run the game editor and the maps at once..Intel is selling you a number AMD is selling you true frames per second..but your going to say oh but my Intel is a better core and this and that..ok now lets compare the price of the 2 systems...Intel was $2,500 the AMD was $400 ..why do you think that phenom just stomps the ass off that intel?(always has always will) Reply
  • zkeng - Wednesday, May 09, 2012 - link

    I work as a building architect and use this CPU on my Linux workstation, in a Fractal Design define mini micro atx case, with 8GB ram and AMD radeon hd 6700 GPU.

    I usually have several applications running at the same time. Typically BricsCAD, a file manager, a web browser with a few tabs, Gimp image editor, music player, our business system and sometimes Virtualbox as well with a virtual machine.

    I do allot of 3D projects and use Thea Render for photo rendering of building designs.

    I use conky system monitor to watch the processor load and temperature.

    These are my thoughts about the performance:

    Runs cool and the noise level is low, because the processor can handle several applications without taking any stress at all.

    Usually runs at only a few % average load for heavy business use (graphics and CAD in my case).

    When working you get the feeling that this processor has good torque. Eight cores means most of the time every application can have at least one dedicated core and there is no lag even with lots of apps running. I think this will be a great advantage even if you use allot of older single core business applications.

    The fact that this processor has rather high power consumption at full load is a factor to take into consideration if you put it under allot of constant load (and especially if you over clock).
    For any use except really heavy duty CPU jobs (compiling software, photo rendering, video encoding) temporary load peaks will be taken care of in a few seconds, and you will typically see your processor working at only 1,4 GHz clock frequency. When idle the power consumption of this CPU is actually pretty low and temporary load peaks will make very little difference in total power consumption.

    I sometimes photo render jobs for up to 32 hours and think of myself as a CPU demanding user, but still most of the time when my computer is running, it will be at idle frequency. I consider the idle power consumption to be by far the most important value of comparison between processors for 90% of all users. This is not considered in many benchmarks.

    It is really nice to fire up Thea Render, use the power of all cores for interactive rendering mode while testing different materials on a design and then start an unbiased photo rendering and watch all eight cores flatten out with 100% load at 3,6 GHz.

    Not only does this processor photo render slightly faster compared to my colleagues Intel Sandy Bridge. What is really nice is that i can run, lets say four renderings at the same time in the background, for a sun study, and then fire up BricsCAD to do drawing work while waiting. Trying to do this was a disaster with my last i5 processor. I forced me to do renderings during the night (out of business hours) or to borrow another work station during rendering jobs because my work station was locked up by more than one instance of the rendering application.

    ....................

    To summarize, this is by far the best setup (CPU included) I have ever used on a work station. Affordable price, reasonably small case, low noise level, completely modular, i will be able to upgrade in the future without changing my am3+ mother board. The CPU is fast and offers superb multi tasking. This is the first processor I have ever used that also offers good multi tasking under heavy load (photo rendering + cad at the same time)
    This is a superb CPU for any business user who likes to run several apps at the same time. It is also really fast with multi core optimized software.

    AMD FX-8150 is my first AMD desktop processor and I like it just as much as I dislike their fusion APUs on the laptop market. Bulldozer has all the power where it is best needed, perfectly adopted to my work flow.
    Reply
  • la'quv - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    I don't know what it is with all this hype destroying amd's reputation. The bulldozer architecture is the best cpu design I have seen in years. I guess the underdog is not well respected. The bulldozer architecture has more pipelines and schedulers that the Core 2. The problem is code is compiled intel optimized not amd optimized. These benchmarks for a bunch of applications I don't use have no bearing on my choice to by a cpu, there are some benchmarks where an i5 will outperform and i7 so what valid comparison's are we making here. The bulldozer cpu's are dirt cheap and people expect them to be cheaper and don't require high clock speed ram and run on cheaper motherboards. AMD is expected to keep up with intel on the manufacturing process. Cutting corners and going down to 32nm then 22nm as quickly as possible does not produce stable chips. I have my kernel compiled AMD64 and it is not taxed by anything I am doing. Reply
  • brendandaly711 - Friday, September 06, 2013 - link

    AMD still hasn't been able to pull out of the rut that INTEL left them in after the Sandy Bridge breakthrough. I am a (not so proud) owner of an FX-4100 in one of my pc's and an 8150 in the other. The 4100 compares to an ivy bridge i3 or a sandy bridge i5. I will give AMD partial credit, though, the 8150 performs at the ivy bridge's i5 level for almost identical prices. Reply

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