AMD Bulldozer Review: FX-8150 Gets Tested

AMD FX-8150: The Bottom Line

So, let’s say someone puts Core i5-2500K and FX-8150 in front of you. The Core i5 costs $220 bucks, and the FX runs $245. Which one do you buy?

If it’s me, I’m going with the Core i5. I gave the -2500K a Tom’s Hardware Recommended Buy award back in January, and I stick by that recommendation almost a year later.

In the very best-case scenario, when you can throw a ton of work at the FX and fully utilize its eight integer cores, it generally falls in between Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K—which is where it should appear all of the time given a price tag between those two most relevant competitors. Sometimes FX manages to outperform the higher-end -2600K, but other times it’s embarrassingly bested by its predecessor in threaded workloads.

Toss a single-threaded app at the processor, though, and it underperforms Intel's three-year-old Core i7-920 running at its stock 2.66 GHz. AMD’s architects say they shot to maintain IPC and ramp up clock rate, but something clearly went wrong along the way.

Ironically, consistent, scalable performance is one of the attributes that AMD claims it gets from its Bulldozer module. The issue we see over and over, though, is that it relies on software able to exploit scalability in order to compete. When it doesn’t get what it wants, performance steps back relative to the previous generation. As a result, even though AMD implements a more advanced version of Turbo Core to help improve single-threaded performance, the difference between what you get in lightly- and heavily-threaded applications is anything but consistent.

AMD validly points out that Bulldozer is an architecture in its infancy accompanied by an aggressive roadmap. It incorporates future-looking ISA enhancements and a layout clearly conceptualized with threaded software in mind. Performance in the applications able to take advantage of those considerations is fair in light of AMD's asking price. But the compromises made elsewhere don't justify $245, in my opinion.

Is Bulldozer A Good Foundation?

AMD projects 10 to 15 percent performance gains per year for the next several years. Just as important as what the company does architecturally, though, will be how software continues to evolve. Given its modularity, expect the engineering team behind Bulldozer to ramp up performance through a combination of more frequency, critical improvements to IPC, and optimizations to power.

We’ve seen how well-threaded workloads let FX-8150 step right up to Sandy Bridge, and we’ve seen how the processor falls on its face in apps that clearly weren’t written for the “go wide” approach to procuring performance. Piledriver, expected next year, should derive at least some of its advantage from IPC-oriented fixes. Consider those absolutely critical to even out this architecture's idiosyncrasies.

Zambezi, AMD's first Bulldozer-based SoCZambezi, AMD's first Bulldozer-based SoC

But by the time it emerges for the enthusiast market, AMD will probably have to contend with Ivy Bridge, armed with advancements of its own. This isn’t a good thing. I want to see competition—a battle that keeps both Intel and AMD innovating. Does today’s FX invoke the Athlon 64 FX-51 that compelled Intel to rebadge a Xeon and come up with the Extreme Edition moniker back in 2003 just to compete? Not really, no. In fact, the chip giant didn’t have to do anything at all. Its nearly year-old 95 W parts fend for themselves without even a price adjustment.

Although I’m counting on Valencia and Interlagos to fare better against Xeon in the server space, where threaded workloads are the rule, it’s disappointing to see Zambezi suck down the power of Intel’s highest-end processors under load, perform like its competitor’s year-old mainstream chips, and wear the branding of a family that, eight years ago, actually made Intel squirm.

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  • btto
    yeah finaly, now i'll read it
  • ghnader hsmithot
    nOT Bad AMd!
  • jdwii
    Been so long and i'm kinda sad.
  • compton
    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.
  • ghnader hsmithot
    At least its almost as good as Nehalem.
  • gamerk316
    Dissapointing. Predicted it ages ago though. PII X6 is a better value.
  • As I expected - failure.
  • AbdullahG
    I see the guys from the BD Rumors are here. As many others are, I'm disappointed.
  • iam2thecrowe
    for the gaming community this is a FLOP.
  • phump
    FX-4100 looks like a good alternative to the 955BE. Same price, higher clock, and lower power profile.
  • phatbuddha79
    Why bring back the FX brand for something like this?
  • gmcizzle
    What I learned: the 2.5 year old i7-920 is still a beast.
  • jdwii
    This is sad, I'm still getting it as its my only option i'm getting a 8120 Toms why did you only review a 8150 when they have all of them on other sites?
  • ern88
    What I've learned is...AMD=FAIL!!!!!
  • killerclick
    As I said before, it won't come close to beating Intel in performance or price. Now let's hear the fanboys whine.

    Buh-bye AMD, buh-bye!
  • Ragnar-Kon
    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.
  • Tamz_msc
    So Bulldozer is AMD's version of NetBurst?
  • Homeboy2
    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.
  • killerclick
    homeboy2Everyone 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.

    Intel shouldn't lower prices, they should raise them. I'll gladly pay more to reward competent product development and nothing would please me more than AMD going down in flames for all their flops in the past 5 years. Intel doesn't need AMD to push them forward.
  • the associate
    killerclickAs I said before, it won't come close to beating Intel in performance or price. Now let's hear the fanboys whine.


    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...
  • liquidchild
  • joe nate
    Funny, how if you enter to win the test rig it says

    "Please Enter The Text Exactly As Displayed"

    and proceeds to give you a basic math problem. Yet, if you follow directions and enter it exactly as displayed it says it says it failed and you may not be human. But if you ignore the directions and solve the basic math problem and enter the answer, it lets you enter.

  • Crashman
    leeashtonwait for tpu benchmark, toms has always been an Intel fan site
    Talk to Don and Paul, the AMD fans. Chris doesn't care either way. But wait, two against zero would make this an AMD fansite wouldn't it?
  • fyasko
    leeashtonwait for tpu benchmark, toms has always been an Intel fan site

    how long have you been around? in the thunderbird-athlon xp/barton days intel was getting bashed left and right by toms.