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AMD debuts long-awaited Bulldozer desktop CPUs

Bulldozer is the code name for AMD's first new CPU design since the Phenom in 2007. How much of a challenge does it offer to Intel?


For the sake of healthy competition in the CPU market, we wanted AMD to have a hit with its new Bulldozer CPU architecture. Sadly, reviews from around the Web indicate that AMD's new Bulldozer-driven FX-8150 CPU won't challenge Intel's leadership in performance and value.

Bulldozer is the code name for AMD's first new CPU design since the Phenom in 2007. In standalone product terms, the Bulldozer design is the core technology inside AMD's just-announced family of FX desktop chips. Technically speaking, Bulldozer brings some new architectural features--in particular, a new way to handle branched data processing. You will find excellent, in-depth Bulldozer architecture coverage at AnandTech, HotHardware, and PC Perspective, among other places.

Multi-flavored multicore
On shelves, you'll find three different series in AMD's new FX line, as outlined in the AMD-provided image below. Note, too, that FX is now a standalone product line, as opposed to AMD's older, "FX"-designated Athlon and Phenom performance chips. And similar to the K variants of Intel's Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs, all of the FX chips ship with the CPU multiplier unlocked, making them ripe for overclocking.

AMD's new FX Series desktop chips come in four-, six-, and eight-core variants.
AMD's new FX Series desktop chips come in four-, six-, and eight-core variants. AMD

Broken down into four-, six-, and eight-core series, at least the FX's number-based naming conventions make sense. AMD has also priced these chips aggressively. The $245 FX-8150 falls in between Intel's $315 Core i7 2600K and its $220 Core i5 2500K chips. If it competed well, it would be a steal.

Out of frequency
With those high core clock speeds, you might think the FX chips would give Intel robust competition. At its slowest, the FX-8150 operates at 3.6GHz per core, with the ability to ramp at least one core up to 4.2GHz when AMD's Turbo Core technology kicks in. Intel's Core i7 2600K operates from 3.4GHz to 3.8GHz.

That automatic speed scaling, by the way, is a now-common characteristic of modern CPUs. AMD's Turbo Core is different than Intel's Turbo Boost, but they offer the same capability, wherein the chips adjust the clock speed across the processing cores (and processing threads, in Intel's case) based on the thermal constraints of the chip and the demands of the current processing task.

Despite its higher clock speed range, across the various enthusiasts sites that tested the FX-8150, AMD's new chip fell flat compared with both the Core i7 2600K and the more affordable Core i5 2500K.

Following, a sampling of comments from FX-8150 reviews by the leading hard-core tech sites:

AnandTech's Anand Lal Shimpi: "In lightly threaded scenarios, Bulldozer simply does not perform. To make matters worse, in some heavily threaded applications the improvement over the previous generation Phenom II X6 simply isn't enough to justify an upgrade for existing AM3+ platform owners."

HotHardware's Marco Chiapetta: "In comparison to Intel's processors, the AMD FX-8150 performed right about on par with the quad-core Core i5-2500K... Versus higher-end Intel processors like the Core i7-2600K or i7-970, however, the FX generally couldn't compete.

PC Perspective's Ryan Shrout: "In applications that are very lightly threaded the FX-8150 does the poorest as you can see in our LAME MP3 encoding, Valve synthetic tests and more. Even with a clock rate as high as 4.2GHz in those cases, the FX-8150 was unable to to keep up with the likes of the Core i7-2600k and even the Core i5-2500k."

We encourage you to read each of those reviews in full for in-depth technical coverage of the FX-8150 and the Bulldozer architecture.

If the price of the FX-8150 comes closer to the Core i5 2500K, it might be worth picking up now, but in the larger picture, Bulldozer does not appear to offer AMD a competitive resurgence. AMD has also suggested that Windows 8 may improve the outlook of the FX line due to its ability to take advantage of the new chips' architecture more effectively than Windows 7 does.

Expect the Bulldozer architecture to last for a few years, and as AMD refines the design it may find a way to offer a more appealing FX chip. For the sake of driving competition, let's hope that possibility is enough to keep Intel honest.