AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

Summary: Starting this month, AMD will finally have a chip designed to go head-to-head with the fastest Core i5 and Core i7 Sandy Bridge processors. AMD has been working on Bulldozer for six years and it has a lot riding on the new chip design.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Processors
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Chipmaker AMD has had a busy 2011. Its low-power E-Series and C-Series processors have found a niche in netbooks and ultra-thin laptops. The A-Series, its first 32nm processor, is just now finding its way into laptops bringing a new level of graphics performance to mainstream PCs without discrete GPUs. As a result, AMD has been regaining a little market share.

But even with the A-Series AMD's CPU performance falls short of Intel's second-generation Core processors. Starting this month, though, AMD will finally have a chip designed to go head-to-head with the fastest Core i5 and Core i7 Sandy Bridge processors.

The high-end processor, code-named Zambezi, has been the subject of steady leaks for months on everything from the name to model numbers and prices to early benchmark numbers (which turned out to be fake). AMD even created a comic book and video trailer to drum up excitement for the chip.

During AMD's recent quarterly earnings call, executives confirmed that Zambezi would begin shipping this month. AMD will resurrect the FX enthusiast brand for the line, which will reportedly include four processors, the quad-core FX-4100, six-core FX-6100 and eight-core FX-8100 and FX-8150.

Though it uses the same 32nm manufacturing process as the A-Series, the FX Series is a very different product. For starters, the FX Series is a CPU, not an APU (or Accelerated Processing Unit) with an integrated graphics processor. The Scorpius high-end desktop platform will include an eight-core FX-Series processor, Radeon 6000 HD discrete graphics and AMD's 9-series supporting chipset. AMD demonstrated the platform at the E3 Expo in June. Later this year AMD plans to release its Radeon 7000 series, or Southern Islands, which is likely to be the first 28nm GPU (though Nvidia now says it will begin shipping Kepler by the end of the year as well).

The FX Series is also based on an entirely new architecture, which AMD refers to as Bulldozer. Each Bulldozer module has two integer cores that share other components including the floating-point unit, instruction cache and front-end logic. AMD's roadmaps refer to the integer cores as Bulldozer "cores," which makes things a bit confusing. An eight-core FX Series processor actually has four Bulldozer modules with a total of eight integer cores and four floating-point units; a quad-core has two Bulldozer modules with four integer cores and two FPUs. Intel's core, by comparison, has a single integer core and dedicated floating-point unit, but the integer core is capable of processing two threads simultaneously, a feature the company refers to as Hyper-Threading.

By the end of the quarter, AMD also plans to begin shipping server processors based on the same Bulldozer architecture. The Opteron 4200 (code-named Valencia) will have six or eight integer cores and the Opteron 6200 (Interlagos) mainstream server processor will have eight, 12 or 16 integer cores. Like the current 12-core Opteron 6100 (Magny-Cours), the 12- and 16-core Opteron 6200s are actually multi-chip packages with two processors. In a video posted this week, John Fruehe, AMD's Director of Product Marketing for servers, showed a Supermicro single-socket server running a 16-core Opteron 6200.

How it will stack up to the Core i7 (or Xeon) Sandy Bridge depends on how you look at it. On a core vs. core basis, a single Bulldozer integer core is unlikely to be as fast as an Intel core with two threads. But by sharing the FPU and other components--and jumping to a more advanced 32nm manufacturing process--AMD was able to design a module with room for two separate integer cores in roughly the same space as the Phenom's K10 core. That means AMD should be able to position an FX-8100 with four Bulldozer modules and eight integer cores against a Core i7-2600 with four cores and eight threads. In this scenario, the FX Series should be very competitive on multi-threaded applications since, all things being equal, eight physical cores should outperform eight threads. (This positioning would also make sense given that the FX series is rumored to cost up to $300 and the Core i7-2600 lists for $294.) AMD also claims that the shared components help to reduce overall power consumption.

AMD has been working on Bulldozer for six years and it is arguably the first major change since the introduction in 2003 of the K8 architecture, which brought 64-bit instructions and an integrated memory controller. The high-end desktop market may be shrinking, but for AMD it's still an important audience, and the company needs to regain some ground in the lucrative server market. On top of this, AMD plans to use Bulldozer in its Trinity APUs for mainstream laptops and desktops next year. In short, AMD has a lot riding on Bulldozer.

Topics: Hardware, Processors

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  • Just a miscellaneous question

    If we continue this evolution of moving chipset components onto the CPU (which makes perfect sense IMO), what will we have when the Southbridge (or MCH, as they like to call it) functionality is embedded in the main processor? An SoC? Wouldn't that give us the ability to have an extremely fast storage subsystem though?
    Joe_Raby
    • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

      @Joe_Raby Moores Law still has tricks left over till quantum computers come into the picture. At the moment he's laid up in a lab being poked a prodded. So we're stuck with the old man for right now. lol
      bpstone
  • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

    When I first started as an engineering tech we had discrete components. Then packaged components and chips. Then chips with all of the above inside. Then the whole board inside a chip. Now the computer is starting to get stuffed into a chip.
    I think it is cool.
    MoeFugger
    • Message has been deleted.

      ParsonsJon
  • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

    I am benchmarking my new intel 2.3 GHz i5 on parallel applications agains my old quad core 2.8 GHz phenom II - each intel core outperforms an AMD core, but 4 hyperthread cores perform like 2 real cores. The old Phenom is nearly 2 times faster.
    eegomez
    • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

      @eegomez The only thing I'd note is that these are not Phenom CPUs or variants being released here soon.
      bpstone
  • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

    Running circles around Intel's awful integrated graphics is not enough. AMD needs to find a way to get retailers and manufacturers to make/sell AMD products, despite the fact that Intel bribes and threatens manufacturers and retailers for exclusivity.
    RichardEich
    • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

      @mgcguy - Allegedly, Intel execs like to feature baby seal as a delicacy in their executive dining room. They also are singularly responsible for the disappearing rainforests and global warming...
      tdogg219
  • All AMD is doing is musical chairs

    All I see AMD doing is moving dies around and combining them. I don't see any real speed increases or formal performance gains. The e series made some video gains in the netbook lines. But its CPU still lacked any punch. AMD is still losing money and I don't see them making huge gains in a desktop market that already shrinking anyway?
    jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
    • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

      @jscott418 So wait let me get this straight. AMD, despite gaining ground in the market share, is losing money? Not sure how that ones works.
      Bates_
    • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

      @jscott418 - "moving dies around" That's a pretty terrible way to put it but the idea has some awesome benefits. By making the Bulldozer module have two integer and one floating point units, they can optimize die space for actual usage which really is more integer work. Optimizing die space causes manufacturing efficiency as well and results in reduced cost for better performance. There is real interest in this in server markets especially because they believe they can get a lot more integer performance and more efficiently in cost and power. This also makes a lot of sense in the context of integration with video components (GPUs) like we're seeing because eventually the on-die GPU will be taking on the floating point duties and doing it much better than a CPU can. It's conceivable AMD might just remove the floating point unit from the CPU portion entirely in the future. And the GPU is a place where AMD has a an edge on Intel so it's an advantage for it to have things moving that way.
      Lindo_wvw
      • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

        @jscott418 - (cont.) ...As for the "real speed increases", they are moving to the smaller process so they can put in more transistors and still reduce power consumption and heat. They aren't just using cores from existing processors and mashing them together in a new way. AMD's Turbo Core is really taking shape also. Have you read about that? It's pretty exciting and leads to quite a large increase in performance based on CPU thermal performance. Overclockers will be losing a bit of their niche because it will do the overclocking on its own to some degree. Since Turbo Core bases its activity on current usage and heat measurement, you could actually boost your CPU (or allow it to boost itself more in other words) by getting a better heatsink. In addition to Turbo Core, they are adding more cores themselves and there will be an 8 core enthusiast desktop CPU for sale which is pretty exciting.

        @jscott418 - ...As for the desktop market shrinking, yes it is, but AMD is basing their future designs on these ideas. Their integrated APUs will also soon use this architecture and will probably have a big boost in performance in the process.
        Lindo_wvw
  • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

    Next we'll have 16 cores, then 32 cores, 64 cores, 128 cores; we know where this is going.
    Aboleyn
    • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

      @Aboleyn Well, we already got commercial quantum computers from Dwave capable of chewing through the most complicated algorithms in less than n to the nth time it takes silicon based computers to compute and chew the data. Eight to ten years from now, some of us may have quantum desktop computers. Also, silicon-based computer knowledge may be replaced by quantum mechanics, quantum computer engineering, quantum programming, quantum information technology, etc. But before this happens, Moore's theory predicts that from 20XX-2020/2030 we will experience obsolescence with semiconductors and related products. In other words, we may experience a time when computer manufacturers manufacture increased CPU cores from every 6 months to every month. With Intel or AMD releasing new and more powerful processors every month or even maybe every 2 weeks, the processors that we buy at a certain point in time will be quickly outdated a few weeks after. The question now is, "How will we, the consumers, deal with that?" The answer would be quantum computing.
      vinax89
      • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

        The introduction of quantum computer?s will be when things really take off. Many scientists are now saying that even quantum computers will hit a barrier too, physics.
        bpstone
      • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

        @vinax89 Trolling much? Designing new processors tends to take longer than 2 weeks. Also, making your own product obsolete in only 2 weeks makes for poor retail distribution.
        dew111
      • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

        @vinax89 I'm not sure from where you've gotten your faulty predictions about Moore's Law, but the idea behind it is that the number of transistors that can be crammed onto a semiconductor substrate at minimum cost per transistor doubles about every 12 months. That's the number of transistors, mind you, and not performance. However, it also carries with it a timescale of 1 year. Therefore Moore's Law does not predict that anybody's going to be releasing truly new silicon-based processors every 6 months, and certainly not every other week. That's just nonsense. It took 6 *years* for Bulldozer to arrive, and high-end desktop chips are becoming more complicated, not less so. Just being able to put more components on a substrate (at lower cost) does not mean that one knows how to make effective use of them.

        Also, D-Wave's first commercially available quantum computer may not be quantum after all. AFAIK, it still hasn't been shown to support quantum entanglement. It's not very fast either.
        marisano
  • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

    I am eager to see how Bulldozer Stacks up in real world performance. I have been very happy with my Phenom II and do not plan to upgrade anytime soon but I have been a long time AMD Fan after witnessing first hand how Intel strong-armed OEMs and retailers to not use and bash AMD. Their processors have always given me a excellent computing experience and saved me money overall in my personal computer builds for my performance dollar.
    bobiroc
    • RE: AMD bets on Bulldozer to take back the desktop

      @bobiroc I have been an Intel builder up until my last system which I made a Phenom II build and I'm very happy with it. It was the best performance I could get for what I wanted to spend. It does fantastic actually. The technology has really come a long way in a short time. I'm excited about AMD's future products and might be becoming an AMD fan now too.
      Lindo_wvw
  • Intel threatening manufacturers or the retailers?

    "Running circles around Intel's awful integrated graphics is not enough. AMD needs to find a way to get retailers and manufacturers to make/sell AMD products, despite the fact that Intel bribes and threatens manufacturers and retailers for exclusivity."


    I'm just curious as I have never heard of Intel threatening manufacturers or the retailers before, and I'm not sure which retailer your speaking of, (Walmart, bestbuy, target, radio Shack all deal in both) but what is your source material that intel is doing these things?
    RadioShark