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AMD Bulldozer Review: FX-8150 Gets Tested

AMD Bulldozer Review: FX-8150 Gets Tested
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Perhaps the most hotly-anticipated launch in 2011, AMD’s FX processor line-up is finally ready for prime time. Does the company’s new Bulldozer architecture have what it takes to face Intel’s Sandy Bridge and usher in a new era of competition?

Editor’s Note: Eager to show off what is has done with AMD's Bulldozer architecture, system builder CyberPower PC is offering Tom’s Hardware's audience the opportunity to win a new system based on the FX-8150 processor. Read through our review, and then check out the last page for more information on the system, plus a link to enter our giveaway!

How much CPU do you really need? Two cores? Four? Six? In many ways, the answer depends on what you’re doing with your PC. We’ve found that most games run best on machines with at least three cores. We know that many video editing apps use as much processing horsepower as you give them. And many productivity-oriented titles don’t take advantage of parallelism at all.

Really, the key to a healthy machine is balance. Balance prevents bottlenecks. We’re long-time proponents of balance (see Paul Henningsen’s Building A Balanced Gaming PC series). And now, as a purveyor of processors and graphics, AMD stands to profit handsomely from preaching the very same message.

But when the marketing slides detailing a company’s upcoming flagship desktop processor demonstrate a trend favoring cheaper PCs, you have to expect a CPU designed for cheaper PCs. I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but enthusiasts who were hoping to see AMD’s Bulldozer architecture decimate Sandy Bridge and do battle with Sandy Bridge-E have to adjust their expectations. Instead, the company is going after a burgeoning chunk of the market looking to spend less on hardware than they did in the past.

That’s cool though, right? Sandy Bridge showed the power user community that they didn’t need a $1000 processor to get blazing-fast performance. An unlocked $200 chip capable of reliably hitting 4.5 GHz smoked Intel’s Gulftown-based Extreme Edition parts in a number of desktop-oriented tests (including the ever-important gaming scenarios). If AMD can offer a better value in that market, you won’t hear me (or anyone else) complain.

Meet The FX Family

At least on paper, the line-up of processors AMD plans to roll out looks both comprehensive and competitive. There are seven models in the FX family, ranging from the FX-8150 down to the FX-4100. They all center on AMD’s Zambezi design, manufactured on Globalfoundries’ 32 nm node and composed of roughly two 1.2 billion transistors (AMD recently revised-down its transistor estimate in a big way). The 315 mm² die is smaller than Thuban (at 346 mm²), but larger than Deneb (at 258 mm²). Sandy Bridge, in comparison measures 216 mm².

Model
Base Clock
Turbo Core Clock
Max. Turbo Core
TDP
Cores
Total L2 Cache
Shared L3 Cache
Northbridge Freq.
FX-8150
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
4.2 GHz
125 W
8
8 MB
8 MB
2.2 GHz
FX-8120
3.1 GHz
3.4 GHz
4.0 GHz
125 / 95 W
8
8 MB
8 MB2.2 GHz
FX-8100
2.8 GHz
3.1 GHz
3.7 GHz
95 W
8
8 MB
8 MB2.0 GHz
FX-6100
3.3 GHz
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
95 W
6
6 MB
8 MB2.0 GHz
FX-4170
4.2 GHz
-
4.3 GHz
125 W
4
4 MB
8 MB2.2 GHz
FX-B4150
3.8 GHz
3.9 GHz
4.0 GHz
95 W
4
4 MB
8 MB2.2 GHz
FX-4100
3.6 GHz
3.7 GHz
3.8 GHz
95 W
4
4 MB
8 MB2.0 GHz


The portfolio is most easily broken down into eight-core, six-core, and four-core CPUs (corresponding to four, three, and two Bulldozer modules). Model numbers do help you identify the chips somewhat: an FX-8xxx is an eight-core SKU, for instance; FX-4xxx is a four-core product.

The three digits that follow the core designator arbitrarily indicate performance within the stack. They aren’t consistent with clock rate, TDP, or L2 cache. You simply have to remember that, within the FX-8xxx segment, -8150 is better than -8120, which is better than -8100.

All of the FX processors are multiplier unlocked up and down the line-up, so there may turn out to be some interesting bargains, depending on how aggressively AMD is speed-binning these CPUs. Remember back to 2008, when Intel launched Nehalem? Enthusiasts jumped all over the 4 GHz-capable Core i7-920 because it was cheap. It remains to be seen whether Globalfoundries’ 32 nm process can achieve the same notoriety.

AMD makes it super-easy to avoid naming confusion at launch by making four CPUs available: the FX-8150, the -8120, the -6100, and the -4100.

Model
Base Clock
Turbo Core Clock
Max. Turbo Core
TDP
Cores
Suggested Price (U.S)
FX-8150
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
4.2 GHz
125 W
8
$245
FX-8120
3.1 GHz
3.4 GHz
4.0 GHz
125 W
8
$205
FX-6100
3.3 GHz
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
95 W
6
$165
FX-4100
3.6 GHz
3.7 GHz
3.8 GHz
95 W
4
$115


That quartet of FXes picks up from where the Phenom II family left off, price-wise. AMD's FX-4100 overlaps the prior generation with a $115 price tag, serving up four cores and clocks between 3.6 and 3.8 GHz (max. Turbo Core). FX-6100, running at a base 3.3 GHz and maxing out at 3.9 GHz, sells for $165. The -8120, armed with eight cores, a 3.1 GHz base, and 4 GHz peak Turbo Core clock, is expected to go for $205. And the flagship -8150, which pushes frequency up to 3.6 GHz base and 4.2 GHz maximum Turbo Core, bears a $245 suggested retail price.

AMD only sent one of the four models for evaluation: the -8150. Our impressions on the other three processors will have to wait, unfortunately (that’s a hint, System Builder Marathon team). We don’t have any additional details as to when the other three FX processors will hit the channel, or how much they’ll cost. But we're finding it hard to care right now. We have the fastest model sitting on our test bench and a list of updated apps with which to test, based on your feedback. So, let's get to it.

Display 530 Comments.
Top Comments
  • 54 Hide
    Homeboy2 , October 12, 2011 4:38 AM
    killerclickAs I said before, it won't come close to beating Intel in performance or price. Now let's hear the fanboys whine.


    Everyone should cry, even the Intel fanboys, this is bad news for everyone, now Intel has absolutely no incentive to lower prices or accelerate Ivy Bridge.
  • 51 Hide
    jdwii , October 12, 2011 4:14 AM
    Been so long and i'm kinda sad.
  • 47 Hide
    gmcizzle , October 12, 2011 4:25 AM
    What I learned: the 2.5 year old i7-920 is still a beast.
Other Comments
  • 51 Hide
    jdwii , October 12, 2011 4:14 AM
    Been so long and i'm kinda sad.
  • 43 Hide
    compton , October 12, 2011 4:16 AM
    Not many surprises but I've been waiting for a long, long time for this. I hope this is just the first step to a more competitive AMD.
  • 29 Hide
    ghnader hsmithot , October 12, 2011 4:16 AM
    At least its almost as good as Nehalem.
  • 40 Hide
    gamerk316 , October 12, 2011 4:17 AM
    Dissapointing. Predicted it ages ago though. PII X6 is a better value.
  • 26 Hide
    Anonymous , October 12, 2011 4:18 AM
    As I expected - failure.
  • 25 Hide
    AbdullahG , October 12, 2011 4:18 AM
    I see the guys from the BD Rumors are here. As many others are, I'm disappointed.
  • 33 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , October 12, 2011 4:20 AM
    for the gaming community this is a FLOP.
  • 25 Hide
    phump , October 12, 2011 4:22 AM
    FX-4100 looks like a good alternative to the 955BE. Same price, higher clock, and lower power profile.
  • 40 Hide
    phatbuddha79 , October 12, 2011 4:25 AM
    Why bring back the FX brand for something like this?
  • 47 Hide
    gmcizzle , October 12, 2011 4:25 AM
    What I learned: the 2.5 year old i7-920 is still a beast.
  • 25 Hide
    Ragnar-Kon , October 12, 2011 4:36 AM
    Looks like solid chips, but I'll admit that the price point isn't low enough to compete in the gaming world with Intel.

    I am rather curious how the FX-4100 will stack up against the current Phenom II X4 chips.

    And even though the FX is a slight disappointment, I am rather impressed by the Windows 8 benchmarks. Having said that, by the time Windows 8 is ready for release I'm sure Intel will have an even better solution.
  • 25 Hide
    Tamz_msc , October 12, 2011 4:37 AM
    So Bulldozer is AMD's version of NetBurst?
  • 54 Hide
    Homeboy2 , October 12, 2011 4:38 AM
    killerclickAs I said before, it won't come close to beating Intel in performance or price. Now let's hear the fanboys whine.


    Everyone should cry, even the Intel fanboys, this is bad news for everyone, now Intel has absolutely no incentive to lower prices or accelerate Ivy Bridge.
  • 12 Hide
    the associate , October 12, 2011 4:41 AM
    killerclickAs I said before, it won't come close to beating Intel in performance or price. Now let's hear the fanboys whine.


    Waaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

    Bah, well, been with AMD since my first pc like 8 years ago...Guess I'll be going intel for the first time ever especially since I can get an overkill cpu for just 300 bucks. Hell that's how much I payed for my phenom II 955...
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