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AMD FX-8350 Review: Does Piledriver Fix Bulldozer's Flaws?

FX-8350: Still Not The FX Us Old-Timers Remember…

We ran her through the twisties. We did the drag racing. We measured her mileage. We even popped her hood to figure out what makes this little speedster tick. In every way, today’s FX-8350 is better than the FX-8150 that preceded it. Faster. More efficient. Cheaper. And, when you look at the fairly minor improvements Intel made to its Ivy Bridge architecture, FX-8350 competes more readily against higher-end competition.

I’m going to have to resign myself to forgetting what the FX brand once meant, though. Almost a decade ago, an FX was something that made Intel scramble to respond. It represented cutting-edge. And it set you back more than $700 bucks. Today, we have to ooh and aah over performance victories against the middle of Intel’s desktop line-up—its Core i5-3470 and -3570K—all the while shrugging off fairly severe discrepancies in energy efficiency. There. I’m done. Back to 2012.

As I was saying, with my barometer of success recalibrated, FX-8350 is a much stronger contender than FX-8150 was. It reclaims ground that AMD’s Bulldozer architecture gave up. The Piledriver architecture doesn’t cure all that afflicted Bulldozer, but subtle design and process tweaks adjust power use down, allowing the company to nudge its flagship’s clock rate up without violating a 125 W TDP. The changes aren’t dramatic, but they’re substantial enough to create a good comparison against Intel’s highest-end Core i5. So there’s that.

Of course, if AMD had excitedly recognized good progress and tried to charge the same $245 it thought FX-8150 was worth a year ago, I’d be setting FX-8350 aside as quickly as I did with last year’s model.  Instead, the company is asking for less than $200. That puts the FX-8350 on par with Intel’s Core i5-3470—a multiplier-locked part that it outperforms in a great many demanding desktop apps. In those same applications, the FX is usually able to beat the $230 Core i5-3570K, too. It’s only when you look back at the single-threaded stuff that AMD continues to get creamed.

But then there’s power to consider. In the United States, we’re blessed to have relatively inexpensive energy. We tend not to flip out over 50 W unless dissipating that heat requires a noisy fan. But if you’re in Denmark paying $.40/kWh, just the 10 W difference between Core i5 and FX-8350 at idle costs you several bucks per month. Under load, you’re looking at up to a $15-a-month difference for a system running 24/7. Advantage: Intel.

So, let’s try to distill all of this down into a recommendation. Recognizing that the power user community gives AMD more latitude than Intel, I anticipate a greater number of enthusiasts getting excited about FX-8350 than any of the Bulldozer-based CPUs, and rightly so. More speed, significantly improved efficiency, and a sensible price tag are exactly what I was hoping to see, and AMD delivers them all. Are you asked to make compromises? Yeah. Single-threaded performance still isn’t impressive, and power consumption remains a sore subject. But for less than $200, I can certainly see FX-8350 at the heart of a budget-oriented workstation.

Would FX-8350 be my first choice in a new build, though? Probably not. Although I’m impressed by the work AMD’s architects have done in the last year, performance remains too workload-dependent. And, inexpensive energy aside, I’m going to go with the more efficient implementation when all else is close to equal.