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A Close Race Today, But Tomorrow Shows More Promise For AMD

AMD FX-4170 Vs. Intel Core i3-3220: Which ~$125 CPU Should You Buy?
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AMD has the clock rate on its side. But Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture boasts superior IPC throughput. We pit the 4.2 GHz FX-4170 against Intel's new 3.3 GHz Core i3-3220 in an effort to determine which CPU is the better buy for $125.

We're already intimately familiar with the Bulldozer and Ivy Bridge architectures, so nothing that we saw today is particularly surprising. Single-threaded applications are going to hum on Intel's chip, while applications able to tax the FX's four integer clusters are going to treat two Bulldozer modules more like a quad-core processor (not quite, though, as the Core i5's stellar performance demonstrates).

The real questions, then, are: what does a dramatically higher clock rate do for AMD's offering, specifically, what does that bump up to a 125 W TDP do for power consumption, and how does Intel compare, given its dual-core implementation?

Despite proof that some of the games we tested do take advantage of quad-core CPUs, the dual-core Core i3-3220 takes a lead in this discipline, mostly a result of Skyrim. The FX-4170, on the other hand, serves up better application performance, and by a larger margin. When you consider the way people use their PCs, we're inclined to put more value on the larger productivity win favoring AMD, particularly since the apps where an FX excels are threaded. Those are the workloads that require more processing power. 

If we were to make our judgement on performance alone, AMD's FX-4170 would have the edge.

But there's another side to this story. It starts with power consumption, and ends with efficiency.

At idle, the FX-4170-based machine uses almost 20 W more than the Core i3-3220-based box. Under load, that gap grows to a staggering 103 W. The dual-module FX almost doubles the consumption of a quad-core Core i5, in fact. 

Yes, the load comes from a largely-synthetic Prime95 run, and yes, it's unlikely you'll ever see such nasty power numbers on a day to day basis. Nevertheless, two times the power consumption really puts AMD's small performance advantage into context. Efficient, this CPU is not. Whether or not that matters to you is a personal decision.

What we're really looking forward to, though, is Vishera. Intel put its cards on the table earlier this year with its Ivy Bridge architecture, and Haswell-based chips won't show up until the second quarter of next year. More immediately, we're expecting FX CPUs based on AMD's Piledriver architecture this month. We've seen evidence that Piledriver may add up to 15% more performance in the same thermal envelope as Bulldozer. If that holds true, then a processor with two Piledriver modules in the same $125 range should help the company claw back some of the performance/watt deficit it currently suffers.

You can bet we'll revisit this topic when those chips start showing up.

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  • 29 Hide
    jerm1027 , October 15, 2012 5:10 AM
    At $125, they should have included the FX-6100. That's $120 on Newegg, plus an additional $15 off on sale.
  • 26 Hide
    joytech22 , October 15, 2012 5:19 AM
    Damn it AMD, I really want you to pull a rabbit out of your cake hole and do well.
  • 21 Hide
    EzioAs , October 15, 2012 4:46 AM
    Nice review as always. Nothing really too surprising but I guess it was quite necessary to compare the 2 CPUs at the same price point (not everybody prefers Intel). If Piledriver pulls through (I hope it does), then maybe AMD will have the slight edge at performance per dollar against the i3 Ivy Bridge
Other Comments
  • 21 Hide
    EzioAs , October 15, 2012 4:46 AM
    Nice review as always. Nothing really too surprising but I guess it was quite necessary to compare the 2 CPUs at the same price point (not everybody prefers Intel). If Piledriver pulls through (I hope it does), then maybe AMD will have the slight edge at performance per dollar against the i3 Ivy Bridge
  • 29 Hide
    jerm1027 , October 15, 2012 5:10 AM
    At $125, they should have included the FX-6100. That's $120 on Newegg, plus an additional $15 off on sale.
  • 4 Hide
    Soma42 , October 15, 2012 5:12 AM
    Nothing too surprising I suppose. AMD is looking to cut 20% of it's workforce and I think I know why. Performance is hit or miss and at twice the power of Intel's offerings. Intel is getting close to competing with ARM with their mainstream lineup and AMD's dual module is still at 125W. What's wrong here?

    Hope Piledriver is all that it promises and more.
  • 26 Hide
    joytech22 , October 15, 2012 5:19 AM
    Damn it AMD, I really want you to pull a rabbit out of your cake hole and do well.
  • 14 Hide
    theabsinthehare , October 15, 2012 5:22 AM
    This hurts. I've been an AMD fan for a long time and I was really excited for Bulldozer. However, after seeing the lackluster performance, I put off upgrading until Piledriver. I'm not so sure about Piledriver now, though, and I think it might be time to throw in the towel and finally buy an Intel chip for once.
  • 16 Hide
    abitoms , October 15, 2012 5:25 AM
    One thing in the review's last page's title really piqued me

    "...but Tomorrow Shows More Promise for AMD".

    Tomorrow...as in ... Oct 16, 2012 or is it only figurative?
  • 10 Hide
    abhijitkalyane , October 15, 2012 5:26 AM
    Hope Vishera changes this - a $125 chip that can beat i3 at stock (apps & games) and can ALSO be overclocked would be a great thing for budget enthusiasts, who right now are stuck with either locked Intel CPU or not-so-great-performing AMD CPU. Power numbers still don't look good. Probably due to the 32nm process (and also due to architectural differences I suppose). Is Vishera 32nm or 22? Fingers crossed for healthy competition :) 
  • 18 Hide
    cleeve , October 15, 2012 5:27 AM
    jerm1027At $125, they should have included the FX-6100. That's $120 on Newegg, plus an additional $15 off on sale.


    At 3.3 GHz, the 6100 doesn't fare well. It's easily out-gamed by the FX-4170, and only gets a bit of a break in highly threaded apps.
  • -5 Hide
    user32123 , October 15, 2012 5:33 AM
    Why not compare with Trinity? It has higher performance, lower power and modern chipset
  • 16 Hide
    abitoms , October 15, 2012 5:35 AM
    @user32123, i guess it's because that's already done
  • -3 Hide
    tomfreak , October 15, 2012 5:49 AM
    Looking at those slow the softwae developer adopting multi-threaded app, it seems it is clear that i3 is the clear winner.
  • 15 Hide
    esrever , October 15, 2012 6:01 AM
    Would have love to have seen a phenom II in there too.

    In my opinion, if you are on a budget, the FX4170 can be a decent cpu, it is $10 cheaper than the i3, it isn't much but might be able to give you a slightly bigger budget on graphics. Its not a complete wash either. The power consumption might be high but nothing a desktop can't handle, would be more expensive for people who pay more for power but generally in north america, power is pretty cheap.
  • -5 Hide
    e56imfg , October 15, 2012 6:14 AM
    As an Intel fanboy and a ex-AMD fan, this article was both enjoyable and depressing, since AMD is just losing the CPU game.
  • 10 Hide
    army_ant7 , October 15, 2012 6:20 AM
    I seriously squealed when I saw this article on the front page. These kinds of articles make really excited. I'm looking forward to (really anxious for) the Vishera review. Will now read... :lol: 
  • 0 Hide
    army_ant7 , October 15, 2012 6:47 AM
    Quote:
    Is Vishera 32nm or 22?
    I forgot where I read it, but I believe it's still 32nm... Oh wait... Maybe that's just Trinity. I may've actually been hoping Vishera were 28nm or something. I hate it when my memory fails me. Anyway...

    Quote:
    jerm1027At $125, they should have included the FX-6100. That's $120 on Newegg, plus an additional $15 off on sale.


    At 3.3 GHz, the 6100 doesn't fare well. It's easily out-gamed by the FX-4170, and only gets a bit of a break in highly threaded apps.

    Does that mean the FX-4170 and 6100 really share the same MSRP? Because I was thinking that it may just be a Newegg (shop-specific) price thing (possibly a sale/discount).
    I don't think it would've been a bad idea to have it around if that were the case (though I don't mean to impose more work on you guys). It might've been something to see what relative application performance score it would've gotten compared to the i5, as well as how much it performs less compared to the FX-4170. (I imagine by not so much since a lot of the games were GPU-limited already.) :) 
  • 16 Hide
    fe1ixdcat , October 15, 2012 7:07 AM
    I buy whatever CPU and GPU will do the best at the time I decide to upgrade...

    NO fanboi here....

    My current AMD powered laptop plays Skyrim reasonably, something that would have easily required another $100 to do with an Intel laptop at the time of upgrade.

    Next time? Whatever has the best numbers will be what I buy... (I always wait to see if a chipset or CPU/GPU is plagued with problems before I buy - usually 3-6 months after they hit market)

    Brand loyalty is something companies try to instill in consumers, and nowadays it has no place in a consumer's choice of hardware or software.

    Buy what will do the things you NEED to do... forget about joining the war one way or the other.

    If more people would buy what is on top instead of supporting only one company, more companies would have to innovate and improve their products more substantially.
  • 9 Hide
    theabsinthehare , October 15, 2012 7:41 AM
    churfyo guy who wrote this is dumb. look at what he says, 'significant' fps advantage in some game or another. the difference was 10 fps and not just any fps. the fps from 55 to 65 is nothing on a 60hz monitor that can only play 60 fps, basically. intel biased guy who wrote this needs to drink a cup of reality.


    A: 10 frames is significant. It's 16.6%
    B: This is about benchmark performance, not whether you'll notice the drop in frames or not.

    However, I will note that if your display is 60hz, and the game you're playing has vsync, then that small 5 frame difference between the game running at 55 fps and the display's 60hz actually changes to a HUGE frame drop, because the FPS will drop to 30 to stay in sync with the display.
  • 13 Hide
    division_9 , October 15, 2012 8:36 AM
    They should've included the Phenom II X4 965 BE just for comparison's sake. Its $90 as well.
  • 0 Hide
    ModernKamikaze , October 15, 2012 9:28 AM
    I built my PC with the 2120, should I get the 3220 instead?
  • 6 Hide
    amdfangirl , October 15, 2012 10:32 AM
    I wish they included overclocked results... but those power consumption figures...

    Not something you'd like with Australian electricity prices.
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