When Intel released their Nehalem architecture based on the 45nm process in 2008, AMD knew that they would once again be left trailing behind Chipzilla in their race to secure x86 performance dominance. A year later, AMD went ahead to release their own 45nm Phenom II processors which came as a surprise with AMD offering triple and hexa core processors within affordable price ranges but it still sparked less interest for consumers.
AMD knew that their K10 architecture just wasn’t upto the job so the company went all out to prepare a new line of FX processors up from scratch that would feature improved IPC over the older K10 architecture and would also deliver for the first time upto 8 cores to consumers. It should be noted that from 2009 till their release in 2011, AMD released nothing other than refreshed Phenom II core processors so that their R&D team can research on the new Bulldozer architecture.
After four years of wait came the most hyped about CPU platform ever in the history of computing world. Fans around the world were waiting for the moment when AMD would finally take the lead over Intel and offer them a true enthusiast platform to driver their needs. AMD’s Bulldozer is the first major architectural change in the company’s history since 2003 but did the new architecture live up to the hype or not?
AMD FX Makes a Comeback With Bulldozer Architecture
AMD made a comeback to the long forgotten FX brand with their new and improved Bulldozer architecture that’s based around a 32nm SOI process by Global Foundries. It features a die size of 315mm2, 1.2 Billion transistors and upto 8 core modules which was an update over the Sandy Bridge’s 995 Million transistors but located in a smaller die measuring 216mm2. The transistor count was first reported to be 2 Billion but it was later revealed that the total transistors available within the die were only 1.2 Million, the die size remained the same.
So coming to the architecture, the FX Processors come with two cores per modules with each CPU consisting of upto four modules that amounts to eight cores. These are two extra cores over the Phenom II architecture that featured 6 cores. Each module comes with 2 MB of L2 cache while a FX Processor features 8 MB L3 cache. The Fetch and Decode Logic is shared by both integer cores located within a single module, these fetch and decode the x86 instructions into AMD’s internal format and send it towards the scheduler for execution. Coming back to the L3 Cache, AMD says that they won’t remove their FX processors from it though it is only useful in server work loads. An APU such as Trinity is deprived from the L3 cache since its a cost effective product which doesn’t need to make use of the extra available cache on the Bulldozer-E “Piledriver” module.
The bulldozer core comes with its shared FPU “Floating Point Unit” that consists of Dual 128-bit FMAC pipes, Dual 128-bit packed integer pipes, PRF-based register renaming and a Unified scheduler for both threads. Each core also comes with its own Integer Scheduler, Instruction Retire, L1 Data Cache and L1 DTLB as detailed above. The latest FX-Processors based on the Bulldozer core feature the latest instruction set which include SSE 4.1 and 4.2; 256-bit AVX, -256-bit YMM registers, -Non-destructive source operand capability, -AES subset, -FMAC subset (AMD 4-operand form); XSAVE state space management; XOP Instructions. This is a huge update over Phenom II which lacked SSE4 and AVX support.
AMD released a few more slides that year which detailed the performance of their upcoming processor architecture releases such as the Piledriver (2012), Steamroller (2013), Excavator (2014). All of these bring 15-20% IPC improvement over their predecessors. The FX-Zambezi which is the codename for the desktop platform would later on go ahead and fused in the Interlagos and Valencia based server processors within AMD’s Opteron 6300 series chips. The integral architecture of the new processors would be carried over from the desktop parts.
More cores, the power you crave, at virtually every price point
- The industry’s only competitively priced 8-core consumer processor
- Designed for more speed and overall performance
- Maximum power available from virtually every core configuration
- Maximum multitasking
- Aggressive performance for intensive applications like video editing
- and 3D modeling
All-new architecture for maximum flexibility and efficiency
- Delivers advanced performance with lower power requirements
- Super-fast, unrestrained data flow
Outstanding Price Per Performance
All AMD FX processors are unlocked to allow the maximum tunable performance
- All AMD FX Processors are unlocked, allowing you to overclock your processor
- World’s first native 8-core desktop processor.
- Overclocking capabilities — Unlocked for a big boost in performance and speed.
- “Bulldozer” architecture — Designed to increase core communication for unparalleled multitasking and pure core performance; also available with 6- and 4-core processors.
- AMD Turbo CORE Technology — A burst of speed for the task at hand. Delivers dynamic core performance boosts depending on users’ workload at frequencies of up to 900MHz faster.
- AMD OverDrive software — Tuning controls to push performance to the limits and monitors system stability when overclocking.
- 32nm die shrink — Stable and smooth performance with impressive energy efficiency.
- Advanced Instruction Support — accelerates a new generation of applications: SSE3, SSE4.1/4.2, AVX, AES, XOP, FMA4
- Larger Caches — increase everyday performance with support up to 8MB L2 Cache and 8MB L3 Cache
AMD Turbo Core and Power Management Technologies
AMD has also focused on power efficiency with the Bulldozer architecture by minimizing the silicon area through sharing various functions and components between two cores on a single module. Each module will have its own set of functions cross-shared between two cores hence saving space and power. Bulldozer also under goes an extensive flip-flop clock gating throughout design and the circuits are power gated dynamically to ensure less leakage within the new processors.
Various other power-saving features are added to the design through software/firmware which includes C6 and Low power C1E state that dynamically reduces clock speed when the processor is not being used. Application power management and DRAM power management is also include with the new processors.
A new feature introduced with AMD’s FX-Bulldozer processors is the addition of Turbo Core technology that allows the processor to dynamically boost up the turbo core speed for faster clock functionality. The Tech is already available on Intel’s processors starting with Nehalem generation of processors. AMD now brings the same yet improved Turbo Core tech to their processors and it allows them to run beyond 4 GHz clock speed.
The Turbo Core technology on AMD’s Bulldozer processors has improved dramatically since its first yet un-impressive introduction of Phenom II CPUs. With a more robust approach, AMD has now set various points which are configurable by the processor itself to adjust the Turbo Core limit. At base clock, a certain amount of TDP would be available which can be turned into extra clock speed when needed on all eight cores. Now suppose we have an application that doesn’t utilize all eight cores on the processor but instead makes use of four. The CPU would dynamically disable the four extra cores and configure the remaining four cores with the max available turbo core speed which would result in excess amount of performance improvement under demand.
AMD FX-Bulldozer CPU Lineup
AMD’s Bulldozer lineup consists of four FX processors all of which fall in three separate tiers. The high-end FX 8 Core series are labelled as “Black Edition” which feature 8 native CPU cores, enhanced gaming and faster task achieving. Next up are the FX 6 core processors followed by the entry level FX 4 core offerings. All of AMD FX-Processors come with an unlocked design allowing for unprecedented overclocking. The complete lineup is listed below:
|CPU Base||3.6 GHz||3.1 GHz||3.3 GHz||3.6 GHz|
|CPU Turbo Core||3.9 GHz||3.4 GHz||3.6 GHz||3.7 GHz|
|CPU Turbo MAX||4.2 GHz||4.0 GHz||3.9 GHz||3.8 GHz|
|Cores||8 Cores||8 Cores||6 Cores||4 Cores|
|TDP||125 W||125 W||95 W||95W|
|L3 Cache||8 MB L3||8 MB L3||8 MB L3||8 MB L3|
You can note that AMD didn’t only went with the “more cores are better” scheme but also bumped up the clock speeds to new heights. AMD’s CPUs easily reach the 4 GHz mark with turbo core technology although this means higher TDP of 125 W on the 8 core parts compared to 95 W on Sandy Bridge Core i7 processors.
AMD FX-8150 – 8 Cores and 4 GHz Achieved
Today, we will be testing the flagship FX-8150 processor that comes with an Octa-core design and features impressive clock speeds of 3.6 GHz base and 4.2 GHz Turbo. The chip is compatible with the latest AM3+ socket motherboards which will be detailed later on. The CPU comes with 8 MB of L3 cache and has a 125 W TDP. The AMD FX-8150 had a launch price of $245 (Current is $179.99) which made it a direct competition against the Sandy Bridge based Core i7-2500K.
At launch, AMD showed slides which advertised that with the FX-8150 users can save upto $800 on a PC compared to the one which uses Intel’s top dog at that time “Core i7 980X”. The slides they showed also compared the FX-8150 against the 980X in which both CPUs were equivalent of each other however FX-8150 came at a much lower price range.
AMD was for the first time not only aiming towards high-end performance users but also targeting gamers with their FX processors since a huge market for their discrete GPU solutions lied there and now they wanted to revisit it with their FX platform. Alot such slides were revealed which AMD thought would spark consumer interest and can be seen in the gallery below:
AMD 990FX Chipset and AM3+ Socket
With the launch of the new FX-Bulldozer platform, AMD released a new socket and chipset. While the previous generation processors have been socket compatible with each other, for instance an AM2 processor can be used on AM2+ and AM3 boards but the AM3+ socket is only compatible with the latest generation of FX processors.
AM3+ boards still come with a southbridge (SB950) and northbridge (990FX). The AMD 990FX chipset is the latest in the stack replacing the 890FX chipset though is alot similar to it. Both chips are directly connected to the AM3+ socket processor that offers a DDR3 Dual channel memory controller supporting memory with speeds of upto 1866 MHz. The chipset adopts the PCI-e 2.0 interface (3.0 isn’t available on 990FX chipset). The SB950 offers up to 14 USB 2.0 ports (USB 3.0 ports are offered through an separate chip), 6 SATA 6 GB/s ports, HD audio, Gigabit LAN and PCI interface.
The AMD 990FX chipset also features SLI multi-gpu functionality on AM3+ motherboards which wasn’t available on 890FX chipset.
- Ready to take AMD FX processors beyond all expectation
- Full socket compatibility for AM3+ and AM3 processors with Hypertransport 3.0 interconnects means you can upgrade your components when you’re ready to, and help ensure you get the most performance.
- Support for up to 4 AMD Radeon HD Graphics boards with AMD CrossFireX technology
- PCI Express 2.0 technologies enable 2×16 or 4×8 configurations to enable higher levels of performance on your graphics applications. The AMD 990FX enables our best scalable platform for game-dominating performance with support for 2,3, or 4 graphics cards.
- Get ready to take control of your PC with the next generation AMD OverDrive software for full FX control
- Customize your PC by getting full control of your different AMD components.
- Take advantage of advanced technology like SATA 6Gb/s to help accelerate your connectivity
- Enjoy the latest in performance benefits on your multiple RAID configuration support and enhanced SSD configurations with motherboards built around AMD 990FX.
|Graphics||Not IncludedUp to 4 slots for Graphics Upgrade|
|CPU Compatibility||AMD Athlon II, AMD Phenom II, AMD FX|
|Memory Support||AM3+ socket motherboards support DDR3|
|PCI Express||PCI Express 2.0|
|USB||Up to 14 USB 2.0|
|SATA||Supports SATA 6Gb/s devices|
Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 – Flagship AM3+ Motherboard
For testing, we used the Gigabyte GA-990FX-UD7 motherboard which we received as a sample for our test bed by AMD. The GA-990FX-UD7 motherboard is pure high-end and after two years of service has offered support for all Bulldozer and Piledriver processors including the recently launch 5 GHz FX-CPUs. This section of the review serves as a mini-article for the review of Gigabyte’s GA-990FXA-UD7 motherboard.
The Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 motherboard is the flagship part in the company’s AM3+ product stack and it incorporates the southbridge SB950 and northbridge 990FX chipsets. The AM3+ socket is powered by an ultra durable 3 design phase that provides unprecedented power to the FX series processors for stability and over-clocking. Let’s take a closer look at the board and learn more about the features it boasts.
GIGABYTE 990FXA-UD7 Specifications and Features
Support for AMD AM3+ FX processors
Support for AMD AM3 Phenom II processors / AMD Athlon II processors
|Hyper Transport Bus||5200 MT/s|
|Chipset||North Bridge: AMD 990FX
South Bridge: AMD SB950
|Memory||4 x 1.5V DDR3 DIMM sockets supporting up to 32 GB of system memory
Dual channel memory architecture
Support for DDR3 2000(O.C.)/1866/1600/1333/1066 MHz memory modules
|Audio||Realtek ALC889 codec
High Definition Audio
Support for Dolby Home Theater
Support for S/PDIF Out
|LAN||1 x Realtek RTL8111E chip (10/100/1000 Mbit)|
|Expansion Slots||2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x16 (PCIEX16_1, PCIEX16_2)
2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x8 (PCIEX8_1, PCIEX8_2)
2 x PCI Express x16 slots, running at x4 (PCIEX4_1, PCIEX4_2)
(All PCI Express slots conform to the PCI Express 2.0 standard.)
1 x PCI slot
|Multi-Graphics Technology||Support for 2-Way/3-Way/4-Way AMD CrossFireX and NVIDIA SLI technology|
|Storage Interface||South Bridge:
2 x Marvell 88SE9172 chips:
2 x Etron EJ168 chips:
|IEEE 1394||VIA VT6308 chip:
Up to 2 IEEE 1394a ports (1 port on the back panel, 1 port available through the internal IEEE 1394a header)
|Internal I/O Connectors||1 x 24-pin ATX main power connector
1 x 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
1 x PCIe power connector
8 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors
1 x CPU fan header
2 x system fan headers
1 x power fan header
1 x front panel header
1 x front panel audio header
1 x S/PDIF Out header
3 x USB 2.0/1.1 headers
1 x USB 3.0/2.0 header
1 x IEEE 1394a header
1 x Trusted Platform Module (TPM) header
1 x clearing CMOS jumper
1 x clearing CMOS button
1 x power button
1 x reset button
|Back Panel Connectors||1 x PS/2 keyboard/mouse port
1 x optical S/PDIF Out connector
1 x coaxial S/PDIF Out connector
1 x IEEE 1394a port
7 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
2 x USB 3.0/2.0 ports
1 x eSATA/USB Combo connector
1 x eSATA 6Gb/s connector
1 x RJ-45 port
6 x audio jacks (Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Rear Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out/Line In/Line Out/Microphone)
|I/O Controller||ITE IT8720 chip|
|H/W Monitoring||System voltage detection
CPU/System temperature detection
CPU/System/Power fan speed detection
CPU overheating warning
CPU/System/Power fan fail warning
CPU/System fan speed control
|BIOS||2 x 32 Mbit flash
Use of licensed AWARD BIOS
Support for DualBIOS
PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.4, ACPI 1.0b
|Unique Features||Support for @BIOS
Support for Q-Flash
Support for Xpress BIOS Rescue
Support for Download Center
Support for Xpress Install
Support for Xpress Recovery2
Support for EasyTune (Note 6)
Support for Easy Energy Saver
Support for Smart Recovery
Support for Auto Green
Support for ON/OFF Charge
Support for Cloud OC
Support for 3TB+ Unlock
Support for Q-Share
|Bundle Software||Norton Internet Security (OEM version)|
|Operating System||Support for Microsoft Windows 7/ Vista/ XP|
|Form Factor||E-ATX Form Factor; 30.5cm x 26.3cm|
A Closer Look At Gigabyte GA-990FX-UD7
Gigabyte ships the motherboard in a large boxed package that’s well featured with marketing logos and details. Both the front and back ends are engulfed with a wide variety of feature logos and details. A front cover can be opened up which reveals the motherboard itself through a clear plastic cut, we can also note the black and grey heatsink theme used on the motherboard.
Inside the cover is a large cardbox package which contains yet another box through which the motherboard can be seen at. Removing the motherboard box reveals another hidden package beneath it which consists of the bundled accessories and manuals.
There are a wide variety of accessories bundled with the motherboard which include an installation guide, User manual, Driver installation disc, 2-Way Crossfire cable, 4-Way SLI connector, 3-Way SLI connector, 2 Way SLI cable, backpanel shield, 2 SATA cables and a Gigabyte logo sticker.
Finally, the motherboard itself is taken out from the box and it may look bigger than a normal ATX sized board due to the E-ATX form factor. The socket AM3+ is colored black since it supports the black edition FX processors. The motherboard should have no problem equipping high-end coolers such as the NH-D14 or the Phantek’s PH-TC14 PE on it. Although liquid coolers are a must if you wish to overclock the 8 Core processors.
A large aluminum heatsink array which makes use of copper heatpipe to dissipate heat runs from the southbridge, all the way up to the 990FX northbridge and ends up at the top most VRM. The VRM and nortbridge sit beneath the larger section of the heatsink while the southbridge is also located underneath a separate heat-sink block.
By removing the heatsink, we can note that the motherboard features a 8+2 Phase power supply featuring Ultra Durable 3 design that offers 2x Copper PCB, Japanese solid state capacitors with 50,000 hours of lifetime, Low rds (ON) MOSFETs and Ferrite core chokes.
These are the features that allow for improved overclocking and stability on the GA-990FXA-UD7 motherboard. The CPU socket is powered through an 8-Pin connector.
There are four DDR3 DIMM slots on the board that support a max capacity of 32 GB of ram in dual channel mode with speeds of upto 2000 MHz O.C+. Right next to the DIMMs, we can spot the 24 Pin ATX connector along with the Power On/Off, Reset and Clear CMOS switches which come handy for overclockers.
For storage, the GA-990FXA-UD7 motherboard includes 8 SATA III 6Gbps ports. Six of the SATA ports are powered by the SB950 chipset while the rest of the two grey colored ports are powered by a Marvell 88SE9172 controller. Right next to the grey colored ports, a SATA power connector is spotted which provides additional power to the PCI-e slots for better stability while using upto 3 or 4 GPUs in either SLI or Crossfire modes. Beneath the black color ports, we can spot a DEBUG LED, fan port, CMOS Battery and the front panel connector along with TPM and USB 3.0 front panel connectors.
Expansion slots include a mighty 6 PCI-e x16 slots and a single PCI legacy slot. Although only two of the PCI-e slots offer x16 functionality while two offer x8 and the remaining two offer x4 functionality. The motherboard offers 4-Way CrossFireX and 4-Way SLI compatibility. As mentioned earlier, the motherboard can be provided extra juice through the SATA power connector when using multiple GPUs.
The I/O is also equipped with various ports that include upto 9 USB ports (2 USB 3.0, 7 USB 2.0), SPDIF out (optical and coaxial), Firewere (Ieee1394a), RJ-45 LAN, 6 Channel audio jack and two eSATA ports powered by the Marvell 88SE9172 controller. The Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD7 is truly a high end motherboard which is equipped with a wide variety of features and is available for $204.99.
|Power Supply:||Xigmatek NRP-MC1002 1000 Watt|
|Hard Disk:||Intel SSD 520 Series 256 GB (OS)Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.12|
|Memory:||4 x 4 GB Kingston HyperX 2133 MHz10th Anniversary Edition Memory Kit|
|Case:||Cooler Master HAF 932|
|Video Cards:||ASUS GeForce GTX 680|
|Cooling Solutions:||Phantek PH-TC14PE Triple Fan|
|OS:||Windows 8 Ultimate 64-bit|
Overclocking the FX-8150
Overclocking the FX-8150 was a fairly easy job, we just had to raise the multiplier from 21x to 23x (200 MHz BCLK) with a voltage adjustment of 1.48V and turbo core disabled across all cores so the CPU reaches 4.6 GHz clock speed. This is a good improvement over the base speed of 3.6 GHz. The FX-8150 can easily reach around 4.7 – 5 GHz overclocked frequencies with better coolers. AMD shipped review samples of their FX-8150 processor with their latest liquid cooler, we didn’t get it with our review kit but our air cooler matches any high tier liquid cooler.
We have included the overclock scores in the charts which are provided in the performance section.
AMD FX-8150 4.6 GHz Overclock:
X264 HD Encode Benchmark
This benchmark measures the encoding performance of the processor. It offers a standardized benchmark as the clip as well as the encoder used is uniform.
Cinebench is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D. It is used to compare graphics as well as processor performance. We are using the CPU performance numbers for our comparison.
PCMark 7 is a complete PC benchmarking solution for Windows 7 and Windows 8. It includes 7 tests combining more than 25 individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video manipulation, web browsing and gaming. Specifically designed for the full range of PC hardware from netbooks and tablets to notebooks and desktops, PCMark 7 offers complete Windows PC performance testing for home and business use.
3DMark Vantage CPU Performance
3DMark Vantage is a DirectX 10 video card benchmark test for Windows that is designed to measure your PC’s gaming performance. While the overall benchmark is great, the utility also provides a good indication of the CPU performance.
Super PI is used by many overclockers to test the performance and stability of their computers. In the overclocking community, the standard program provides a benchmark for enthusiasts to compare “world record” pi calculation times and demonstrate their overclocking abilities. The program can also be used to test the stability of a certain overclock speed.
FX-8150 – Battlefield 3 Performance
Battlefield 3 is the award winning mutliplayer shooter from EA’s studio DICE. The game features an enhanced Frostbite 2.0 engine that implements DirectX 11 features such as tessellation, dynamic lightning and sub-surface scattering with per particle motion blur. Battlefield 3 relies heavily on graphics performance which is the reason we are looking at minimal differences in performance from each processor in the chart below:
FX-8150 – Elder Scroll Skyrim Performance
Bethesda released their Elder Scrolls Skyrim in 2011 and the hype level shattered the roofs. The game was met with wide success and is built with the latest Creation engine which meant a farewell to the much older game bryo engine from Bethesda. The game has one of the most biggest and well crafted world ever created. The game requires a good CPU for stable performance, most GPUs can handle the game well. It wasn’t until users started pouring in their custom content and mods for the PC version such as high-resolution textures and more which required GPUs with higher VRAM for adequate performance. Skyrim is known as one of the reasons by PC gamers for GPUs with higher VRAM.
FX-8150 – CRYSIS 3 Performance
Crysis franchise is the crown jewel for the PC gamers. Even after going multi-plat, the game is considered to be the most brilliant and gorgeous game ever brilliant, a visual marvel in short. The third and most probably the last title in the Crysis trilogy blends in the most deepest story line of the franchise with graphics that would make any other game cry in shame. Powering the game is the beastly and much user friendly CryEngine 3 that adopts all the features of DirectX 11 API. Simply speaking, the game demands a high performance graphics card than a high performance CPU to play well on higher settings.
The FX-8150 is built on a 32nm process and comes in a 125W TDP package which is higher than the mainstream processors from Intel. This means higher temperatures and more power consumption which is a major down side for the Bulldozer processors.
You may wonder why it took us so long to review the FX-8150? We received the processor last month and had to cover the Haswell Core i7-4770K first along with Computex 2013 which had put alot of load on me. But here we finally have the Bulldozer review and we thank AMD for giving us the chance to review the FX-8150 with a fantastic motherboard such as the Gigabyte GA-990FX-UD7.
So let’s get to the point, AMD released their FX-8150 two years ago and it was one of the most hyped up chip ever released. The hype went down after people noticed the lackluster performance it featured against Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors at the time and we can see that from the benchmarks posted above. The FX-8150 has given AMD a roadmap to follow but they are still years behind Intel in performance. The power consumption is high and the performance fails to attract the audience. But there are some good parts about Bulldozer too, the chip proven to be a overclockers dream, it overclocked for me easily to 4.6 GHz. The chip can even do 5 GHz with decent cooling and the current world record for the chip sits at 8.8 GHz which is with a doubt impressive.
The chip was priced at $220 at launch but went down to the sub-$200 price range shortly after launch which is good for budget users. It has eight cores which are well for multi-threaded applications although we didn’t see any actual benefit of those cores compared to Intel’s four core offerings. In the end, the FX-8150 Bulldozer was a missed opportunity one which could have been much more than what the end product was. Most of the issues and problems faced with Bulldozer were fixed with the revision of Bulldozer codenamed Piledriver. The review for Piledriver FX-8350 would be published shortly.
Here’s a tilt of hat to the good folks at AMD Middle East, who were kind enough to share a ‘AMD FX-8150 Bulldozer’ and ‘Gigabyte GA-990FX-UD7″ with us and made the review possible.