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CORE Or Boost? AMD's And Intel's Turbo Features Dissected

CORE Or Boost? AMD's And Intel's Turbo Features Dissected
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Intel arms its Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs with Turbo Boost. AMD's hexa-core Phenom II X6 chips sport Turbo CORE. Both technologies dynamically increase performance based on perceived workloads and available thermal headroom. Which one does the better job?

Automotive turbochargers increase torque and power output, which is why they're used to increase the air-fuel mixture rate per combustion cycle. AMD’s and Intel’s performance-improving technologies don't actually a require an additional piece of hardware bolted on like a turbo would be, but they both invoke the gas compressor namesake anyway.

Instead, both companies' latest six-core models dynamically increase their clock rates to deliver better performance under workload conditions that allow for faster frequencies. We wanted to see whether Intel's Turbo Boost or AMD's Turbo CORE is the better implementation.

Intel was first to offer this performance-enhancing feature. Its Nehalem architecture and the Core i7-900 family first introduced Turbo Boost in late 2008. The technology is capable of accelerating all cores by one clock speed bin (133 MHz) and one or two cores by two speed increments (depending on the particular model). In 2009, the Lynnfield Core i5/i7 quad-core processors for LGA 1156 enabled a more advanced implementation able to accelerate one or two cores by four clock speed increments. The 800-series even bumps clock speed up by five clock speed bins for a single core. One speed bin equals 133 MHz at stock speed, so we’re effectively talking about a 133 to 533 MHz dynamic increase. Turbo Boost is also an available feature on the Clarkdale-based Core i5 dual-core chips.

AMD introduced Turbo CORE with its six-core Phenom II X6 and will keep adding the feature to new models. While Intel's implementation allows the CPU to specifically accelerate one or more cores, AMD’s approach only accelerates three cores in the case of a six-core CPU and only two with quad-core processors.

We grabbed the latest AMD Phenom II X6 and Core i7-980X six-core processors to find out which implementation works best across our benchmark suite in terms of performance and power efficiency. Since the performance level of these two chips is rather different—Intel has more punch—we decided to compare benchmark results with and without the Turbo feature and normalize these to 100% for the non-Turbo results. This way we can compare the relative impact on the respective configurations despite the absolute performance difference. In short, which Turbo implementation gives you more bang for the buck?

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Top Comments
  • 17 Hide
    tony singh , July 28, 2010 6:29 AM
    Not as powerful but at least amd is doing some thing to stand up to the monster named i7...
  • 12 Hide
    eddieroolz , July 28, 2010 7:11 AM
    While AMD's implementation is more crude, I think they did okay in this test. I hope they will continue improving their Turbo CORE so it can become more competitive against Intel. After all, Intel had nearly 2 years of head start to perfect their Turbo feature.
  • 10 Hide
    antlee , July 28, 2010 6:52 AM
    It would be nice to include i3 530/i5 750/i7 860 so that we can see if a more aggresive speed bump worth its cost.
Other Comments
  • 17 Hide
    tony singh , July 28, 2010 6:29 AM
    Not as powerful but at least amd is doing some thing to stand up to the monster named i7...
  • 10 Hide
    antlee , July 28, 2010 6:52 AM
    It would be nice to include i3 530/i5 750/i7 860 so that we can see if a more aggresive speed bump worth its cost.
  • 3 Hide
    Emperus , July 28, 2010 6:57 AM
    With manual overclocks being as easy as changing numbers due to unlocked multipliers on both those CPU's, i guess the turbo effect is not that much of a consideration.. Moreover, most of us (IMO) prefer running at single stable clock readings rather than allowing frequent dynamic changes..
  • 12 Hide
    eddieroolz , July 28, 2010 7:11 AM
    While AMD's implementation is more crude, I think they did okay in this test. I hope they will continue improving their Turbo CORE so it can become more competitive against Intel. After all, Intel had nearly 2 years of head start to perfect their Turbo feature.
  • -1 Hide
    rohitbaran , July 28, 2010 7:56 AM
    AMD's Turbo CORE is not that good, but I will give it that it came up with a trick that works, at least for single threaded applications.
  • 0 Hide
    Hamsterabed , July 28, 2010 8:22 AM
    I couldn't tell was Hyper threading on or off for these tests? Also I agree seeing the other i5 and i7 implementations that have more aggressive turbo boost parameters would be good to see in that we could see if the efficiency holds up and what % increase per clock is, like if it is a linear gain or a diminishing returns game.
  • 0 Hide
    SpadeM , July 28, 2010 8:40 AM
    When was this article actually written? I'm asking because the Drivers and Software section for the AMD motherboard isn't present and the BIOS on the Asus and Intel boards are old.
    I'm not saying that with new bios-es and drivers the outcome would be different(or would it be?) but what I am saying is that if this was written a couple of months ago, why wasn't it published then?
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , July 28, 2010 9:15 AM
    Quote:
    The 800-series even bumps clock speed up by five clock speed bins for a single core. One speed bin equals 133 MHz at stock speed, so we’re effectively talking about a 133 to 533 MHz dynamic increase.

    Dousn't 5 times 133Mhz equals 666Mhz ?
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , July 28, 2010 9:30 AM
    Wow, the benchmark graphs in this article are absolutely nonsensical! What are they calibrated against? Sometimes the Turbo value is at 100%, sometimes the non-turbo value, and it's different for AMD and Intel in the same graph.
  • 0 Hide
    BruceOTB , July 28, 2010 11:04 AM
    Probably amd's development is hindered by intel's patents.
  • 2 Hide
    frozentundra123456 , July 28, 2010 12:48 PM
    Am I reading the graphs correctly?? AMD's 400 mhz overclock is more than 10 percent on half the cores, but performance only increased a few percent at max and in most cases only a percent or two??? Doesnt seem to scale very well with the speed increase. I think intel is the same but their overclock is less so it is hard to say.
    Also, I know it has already been published, but I would like to see the absolute performance of the two chips vs one another. The percent increase does not address at all which chip is actually faster. I know that was not the point of the article, but that is still the most inportant factor, after all.

    And how about some gaming results??
  • 0 Hide
    halls , July 28, 2010 1:03 PM
    Cool article. In the future, when there are cheaper processors available that use these features from both manufacturers, I would like to see a similar article related to games!
  • -1 Hide
    kikireeki , July 28, 2010 1:16 PM
    AMD's 300$ processor on par with Intel's 1000$ !! I think this is more than enough to declare AMD as a clear winner here.
  • 0 Hide
    scook9 , July 28, 2010 1:36 PM
    If on par means taking about 30% longer to complete the same tasks....lol

    And it sounds like the authors "ideal turbo" is exactly what the socket 1156 parts all use....an i7 870 should have been included in these tests
  • 4 Hide
    gxpbecker , July 28, 2010 1:39 PM
    Good to see AMD trading blows with Intel. The main reason i have stuck with AMD is the price/performance. Even with the boosts intel is clearly superior and in most cases really doesnt need the boost.. though it never hurts. Will be interesting to see if Bulldozer come to fruition in early 2011 how much things will change.
  • 0 Hide
    lradunovic77 , July 28, 2010 1:41 PM
    Turbo feature -> retarded. Do old style overclocking!
  • 0 Hide
    saint19 , July 28, 2010 1:48 PM
    Nice article and doesn't exist a winner here just depends of what do u want to do with the CPU. Intel is much better is somethings and AMD have better results in others.

    The price of both Intel and AMD CPUs aren't important here since is a performance chart with stock and turbo features not a price/performance comparative.
  • 2 Hide
    ta152h , July 28, 2010 1:52 PM
    These two write the most boring articles, and come up with a conclusion anyone would have guessed.

    The Lynnfield processors already have a more aggressive turbo boost, by the way.

    The last statement is really poor. The specifics of the processor should determine how much boost they give it, not a blanket statement of discrete amounts. While I agree the boosting could have been improved on these processors, it's got to be a case by case basis depending on the processors' characteristics, and the companies design goals with that specific unit.
  • -1 Hide
    hundredislandsboy , July 28, 2010 2:14 PM
    I liked the article because for me it further justifies why my last CPU purchases made this year were for AMD's 955BE and hexacore 1055T. This article shows that AMD not only can compete with their own version of turbo boost but more importantly, AMD offers better value - $180 for an AMD hexacore versus nearly a grand. $1,000!!, for Intel's hexacore.
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