It has been months since AMD's Bulldozer architecture surprised the hardware enthusiast community with performance all over the place. The opinions vary wildly from “server benchmarks are here, and they're a catastrophe” to “Best Server Processor of 2011”. The least you can say is that the idiosyncrasies of AMD's latest CPU architecture have stirred up a lot of dust.

Now that the dust has settled, the Bulldozer chips now account for more than half of Opteron shipments and revenues. Since AMD's Financial Analyst Day (February 2, 2012), we have new code names: the improved Bulldozer architecture "Piledriver" will power the "Abu Dhabi" chip, a replacement for the current top server chip "Interlagos". AMD is clearly committed to the new "Bulldozer" direction: fitting as many cores as possible into a certain power envelope to improve thread throughput, while trying to "hold the line" on single-threaded performance.

In theory, the new 16-core Interlagos should have offered somewhere around a 33% boost in most highly-threaded applications. The reality is unfortunately not that rosy: in many highly-threaded server applications such as OLAP databases and virtualization, the new Opteron 6200 fails to impress and is only a few percent faster than it's older brother the 12-core Magny-Cours. There are even times where the older Opteron is faster.

Some, including sources inside AMD, have blamed Global Foundries for not delivering higher clocked SKUs. Sure, the clock speed targets for Interlagos were probably closer to 3GHz instead of 2.3GHz. But that does not explain why the extra integer cores do not deliver. We were promised up to 50% higher performance thanks to the 33% extra cores, but we got 20% at the most.

The combination of low single-threaded performance, the failure to really outperform the previous generation in highly-threaded applications, the relatively high power consumption at full load, and the fact that the CPU is designed for high clock speeds gives a lot of people a certain sense of Déjà vu: is this AMD's version of the Pentum 4 ?

One of our readers, "Iketh", spoke up and voiced the opinion of many of our readers:

" Unfortunately, the thought still in the back of my mind while reading was why did AMD reinvent the Pentium 4? I just don't get it."

Another reader nicknamed "Clagmaster" commented:

"A core this complex in my opinion has not been optimized to its fullest potential. Expect better performance when AMD introduces later steppings of this core with regard to power consumption and higher clock frequencies."

Although there have already been quite a few attempts to understand what Bulldozer is all about, we cannot help but not feel that many questions are still unanswered. Since this architecture is the foundation of AMD's server, workstation, and notebook future (Trinity is based on the improved Bulldozer core with the codename "Piledriver"), it is interesting enough to dig a little deeper. Did AMD take a wrong turn with this architecture? And if not, can the first implementation "Bulldozer" be fixed relatively easily?

We decided to delve deeper into the SAP and SPEC CPU2006 results, as well as profiling our own benchmarks. Using the profiling data and correlating it with what we know about AMD's Bulldozer and Intel's Sandy Bridge, we attempt to solve the puzzle.

Setting Expectations: the Front End
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  • thunderising - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    Glad AMD has "Greater Performance" planned sometime in the future. Wow! Reply
  • themossie - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    "There are also other factors at play, though, as it's already known that StarCraft II doesn't use more than two cores; theinstead, it's likely the..."

    (feel free to remove comment after fixing this)
    Reply
  • Nightraptor - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    I am wondering if it would be possible to compare the processor performance of the Trinity A10 with a underclocked FX-4100 set to the same frequencies (I don't know if it is possible to disable the L3 cache on the FX-4100). This might give us a rough idea of how much the improvements of Piledriver have bought us. Just doing rough math in my head it would seem that they have to be pretty significant given how a FX-4100 compared to the Phenom II X4's (it lost alot, if not most of the time t of the time). The new A10 Trinity's on the other hand seem to win most of the time compared to the old architecture. Given that the A10 is a Piledriver based FX-4XXX series equivalent minus the L3 cache it would seem that Piledriver brought very significant enhancements. Either that or the Phenom II era processors responded much more poorly to the lack of L3 than Piledriver does. Reply
  • coder543 - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    I was hoping they would be doing the same thing, even though it would be challenging to draw real information out of comparing a desktop processor and a mobile processor. Reply
  • SleepyFE - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    +1 Reply
  • kyuu - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    +2

    If you can figure out some way to do a comparison and analysis of Piledriver's performance vs. Bulldozer, I think a great many of us are interested to see that. From benchmarks, it seems like Piledriver improved a great deal over Bulldozer, but it's difficult to tell without being able to compare two similar processors.
    Reply
  • Aone - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    You can compare A10-4600M or A8-4500M versus mobile Llano or Phenom or even Turion to see tweaked BD is nothing of spectacular. For instance, in most cases A8-4500M (2.3GHz base) loses to Llano A8-3500M (1.5GHz base). Reply
  • Nightraptor - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    Where are you getting the benchmarks from that a Trinity loses to Llano. In almost all the benchmarks I have been able to find (with the exception of a few) it seems that Trinity beats Llano, hence the original post. If the Piledriver enhancements were very minor I would've expected Trinity (a hacked quad core) to lose to Llano most of the time (a true quad core). This didn't appear to happen - at least not in the anandtech review. Reply
  • Aone - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    "http://www.notebookcheck.net/AMD-A-Series-A8-4500M...
    Look at "Show comparison chart". Great info!
    Reply
  • Nightraptor - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    I'm not a big fan of the reliability of that website - They tend to be pretty scant on the test circumstances and configurations. Furthermore I'm curious where they are getting the informaiton for the A8-4500 as to the best of my knowledge the only Trinity in the wild at the moment is the A10 which AMD sent out in a custom made review laptop. All they list is a "K75D Sample". Reply

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