Tom's Hardware's Biggest CPU Shoot-Out, Ever


If you want to see the fastest processors compared, then go check out our performance charts, which were recently updated to include the three available Intel Core i7 processors (and are in the process of being updated to include Phenom II).

Today, I don’t really care how fast our test beds encode H.264 video, nor do I care about power consumption or overclocking. In fact, today’s shoot-out won’t even see us comparing different processors to competing models. Rather, you’ll only see one CPU in this shoot-out: AMD’s Opteron.

It just so happens that the gentlemen in AMD’s Austin, Texas office have a sense of humor, a proclivity for plinking, and two trays of what are referred to as mechanical samples—stillborn CPUs that look like the real deal; they just won’t boot…

…at least I hope not. After all, it’d be a shame to do what I’m about to do to these things if they were functional processors. Guess we’ll never know, though, because today’s shoot-out sees an arsenal of firepower tested using the destruction of Opteron processors as our sole benchmark.

How do heat spreaders, PCBs, and silicon die hold up to handguns, shotguns, rifles, and light machine guns? There’s only one way to find out…

A Word About Safety

Before we let loose on the firing line, I wouldn’t be doing due diligence here if I didn’t mention proper firearm handling. Our reference here is the NRA’s list of Gun Safety Rules.

It’s also worth mentioning that everything you see in the following pages was conducted at a sportsman’s club using California-legal equipment. Unfortunately, this means we were not able to toss a CPU with a trebuchet and fire an anti-tank gun at it, a la Jeremy Clarkson and his Ford Scorpio. But that also means we didn’t have to totally fake any of these chips getting shot, either—yes, that video was totally fake.

Enough with the political correctness, though. If you’re morally opposed to target practice, here’s your last shot to return home before we start rolling out the hardware.

9mm Handgun: Beretta 92FS

Let’s start off small. Beretta’s 92FS is the civilian version of the M9 pistol used by the United States military. It’s a semi-automatic, double action/single action pistol that fires a 9 x 19mm Parabellum  (9mm NATO) cartridge. The factory magazine holds 15 staggered rounds; however, California’s gun laws restrict magazines to 10 rounds, so that’s what you see here.

Not that we’ll even need 10 rounds. The Stig was already booked on the day of our shoot-out. However, we were still able to track down a crack shot who wears no helmet, but never shows his face, to do his worst using our collection of hardware.

9mm Hollow Points From 10y

From roughly 10 yards out, our mystery shooter takes aim at an unscathed Opteron processor taped to the club’s target board. This test would have been more scientific had the ambitious shooter standardized on jacketed ammunition, but a strange fascination of all things hollow-point sacrifices the penetration of our pistol tests in favor of more dramatic ballistics.

Let’s take a look at how the 9mm performed…

That’s Going To Leave A Mark

The 9mm hollow point bullet is powerful enough to ruin a perfectly good non-functional processor, but it doesn't have the velocity to penetrate AMD's heat spreader. Our shooters words: "Wow, heatspreaders would make great armor on the inside of Humvees."

Stepping It Up To .45

Next up is the Springfield Armory XD .45 ACP, a semi-automatic, double-action pistol that fires an 11.43 x 23mm Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge. This particular model is a compact with a four-inch barrel, suiting it well as a concealed carry.

Naturally, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding concealed weapons. But for the law enforcement officers and private citizens licensed to carry them, the internal struggle is over which caliber to carry. When size matters most, the consensus in most law enforcements forums is that a .380 is the minimum. But when it comes to stopping power (or heatspreader-destroying power), a .45 is the way to go.

.45 ACP Hollow Points From 10y

The way we’re going to be firing it here is in the configuration that’d be used to ward off an attacker—with hollow-point bullets, optimized for expansion rather than penetration. Let’s see how that affects the target.

Pure Pwnage

The carnage isn't as pronounced as it was with the 9mm--likely because the .45 ACP travels at about 1,000 feet per second to the 9mm's 1,200-1,300 feet per second. However,the .45 still hits incredibly hard. In the image above, you can see the impact pattern on the heatspreader itself. And if you were to look on the other side, you'd see the imprint left by the missing transistors on AMD's PCB.

Are We Bird Hunting Now?

Enough with the side arms. Let’s move on to something able to bruise your shoulder.

OK, so a 20-gauge probably won’t tenderize your arm right away, but put a hundred rounds through it on opening day and you’ll still be feeling it the morning after.

Our model here is a Ruger Red Label over and under shotgun. For the uninitiated, an over and under employs a break-action. With the action open, you’re able to insert a pair of shot shells. The gauge is representative of caliber. The 20-gauge here is 15.6mm.

From Point Blank

Shotguns are most effective from close range, where the shot pattern is tightest and moving at the highest velocity. The top barrel on the Ruger is outfitted with an Improved Cylinder choke, for a wider pattern and less range, while the bottom barrel employs a modified choke, tightening the pattern and extending range—convenient for hunting, when the target is further away by the time you fire your second shot.

Unfortunately for our Opteron targets, they’re completely immobile, so we took our shot from as close to point blank as possible. Amazingly, the damage was minimal (given we were only using size 7 birdshot). Let’s step up to something a little more…aggressive, shall we?

Home Defense, Winchester Model 1300-Style

While the Ruger is a purpose-built hunting/skeet gun, Winchester’s Model 1300 Defender is meant to discourage home invasion through a few different means. To begin, it’s a 12-gauge (18.5 mm), chambering a larger round. This particular model is all-black with a barely-legal 18” barrel and Improved Cylinder choke—clearly intended to put out a wide pattern at close range. The Defender’s tubular magazine holds seven shells, plus one in the chamber if you’re carrying it around loaded.

But perhaps its most intimidating spec is its pump-action. They say that if a robber were to break in during the middle of the night, the sound of a pump-action shotgun chambering a round is enough to turn him right around in search of new underwear. Here’s hoping we never have to find out.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • crisisavatar
    bit dumb but ok
  • cangelini
    Happy April Fool's? :-P
  • one-shot
    I am grateful that Toms had an article about firearms and CPUs. I target shoot and own several guns myself. This is very welcome. Did you use 55gr FMJs with the .223? I noticed the muzzle velocity was 3200FPS, which sounds about right for 55gr bullets. I have two .223 caliber rifles myself, one hunting, the other target. I use 50gr in one and 69gr in the other. It's too bad FMJs couldn't have been used in the SKS. Great April Fool's joke/article!
  • dirtmountain
    Best shootout ever!
  • mrubermonkey
    Finally an article that I can understand. Thanks Angelini.
  • cangelini
    one-shotI am grateful that Toms had an article about firearms and CPUs. I target shoot and own several guns myself. This is very welcome. Did you use 55gr FMJs with the .223? I noticed the muzzle velocity was 3200FPS, which sounds about right for 55gr bullets. I have two .223 caliber rifles myself, one hunting, the other target. I use 50gr in one and 69gr in the other. It's too bad FMJs couldn't have been used in the SKS. Great April Fool's joke/article!
    Glad you enjoyed it one-shot. Yes, these were 55 grain Wolf FMJ cartridges. And because they were Wolf, that just meant more clean-up after the fact! I had FMJ on-site for the SKS as well, but as mentioned in the story, that shooter was just obsessed with HPs, so he insisted on his own ammo for that one.
  • chaohsiangchen
    Though nothing to do with benchmarking, this is definitely one of the best story EVAR!!!!
  • kyeana
    shear briliance! totally made for a good laugh!
  • howarchaic
    You guys have been watching too much top-gear...
  • cangelini
    howarchaicYou guys have been watching too much top-gear...
    Is there such a thing?