AMD's Piledriver And K10 CPU Architectures Face Off

Vishera, Deneb, Trinity, and Propus are code names for some of AMD's most value-oriented processor configurations from the past couple of generations. We get our hands on several models to compare in productivity, content creation, and gaming workloads.

Our story back in May, Is This Even Fair? Budget Ivy Bridge Takes On Core 2 Duo and Quad, put a spotlight on the per-clock performance and efficiency improvements made to Intel's architectures over the last five years. We were smacked in the face by the fact that the company's old Core 2 processors, tuned up through overclocking, were often able to fly past the newer budget-friendly Ivy Bridge-based parts.

Once you dip down under the Core i5 family, you're dealing with dual-core CPUs limited by locked multiplier ratios. Factor in a stubborn base clock that requires an enthusiast-oriented chipset to adjust, and we're left with an inability to coax extra performance from the Celeron, Pentium, and Core i3 families.

Thankfully, AMD isn't following suit. The company continues catering to frugal enthusiasts with numerous quad-core Black Edition and K-series processors sporting unlocked multipliers and a more receptive HyperTransport reference clock. Naturally, we felt compelled to explore AMD's offerings in the same way, hand-picking several options that were priced attractively.

Our oldest selection, the Phenom II, first appeared in 2009. Rather than use a four-year-old review sample, we went out and bought a Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition to get a more accurate snapshot of the chip's current overclocking headroom. This once-mighty flagship packs four cores running at 3.4 GHz and a hefty 6 MB of shared L3 cache.

Later in 2009, AMD released the affordable Propus-based Athlon II X4 processors, which were basically Phenom IIs without the on-die L3. We dug out an Athlon II X4 640 test sample running at 3 GHz to represent this configuration. Although the chip's multiplier is locked, we can still overclock it by manipulating the reference clock.

We knew we'd need a modern Vishera-based processor to pit against our former favorites, and AMD sent over FX-4350 and FX-6350 samples. The former sports a pair and the latter comes equipped with a trio of Piledriver-based modules, which in turn pack two integer cores each. Being a budget-minded experiment, the six-core FX is the fastest CPU we're testing.

Lastly, we noticed that the Athlon X4 750K finally reached North America. Although we couldn't get a sample from AMD, we went ahead and bought one to benchmark. This two-module Trinity-based processor lacks integrated graphics and represents the most affordable multiplier-unlocked quad-core chip available.

By comparing AMD’s K10 and Piledriver architectures, stock and overclocked, we hope to see where each excels, hopefully determining the CPUs most deserving of your hard-earned buck.

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  • KelvinTy
    So much BS, the old Phenom II X4 and X6 BE are still really competitive after all these years. Yet, if they bother to update the instruction set, and just shrink the thing, then change it to AM3+ socket, that would be great...
    K10 has so much more potential...
  • Personally, I was surprised to see the FX-4350 do so well. The bump up, compared to the FX-4300, has really done it some good.
  • MU_Engineer
    Kelvin, the tests showed that the Piledriver FXes are not that far off the Phenom IIs clock for clock and core for core. The Phenom II X4 965BE at 4.0 GHz was generally about as fast as the stock FX-4350 running 200-400 MHz faster so you figure about a 5% per-clock, per-core advantage for the Phenom II. However, each Piledriver core is quite a bit smaller than a K10 core and they also have a longer pipeline so they can clock quite a bit faster (K10 was pretty well tapped out.) So you get more cores and more clocks out of Piledriver with essentially the same performance per core and per clock. I'd say that the modular architecture used in the FXes finally got the vindication it deserved with this test. Way to go Tom's.
  • Onus
    As I was going through this, at first I was worried about the absence of comparison to Intel, but was relieved to see it at the end. Especially if I don't want to push my 970BE really hard (I'd rather play on my PC than with it), the FX-63x0 looks like a viable upgrade.
  • cmartin011
    I want some juice GPU news. I am aware they are not going anywhere fast with CPUs. My wallet will be open for 8 core in 2 years when performance Increases 20%
  • rmpumper
    I just want some solid numbers on Steamroller already.
  • magnesiumk
    Thank you so much for writing this article. Thank you also for including the Phenom II 965 processor to this test. I use it, and it is somewhat dated, and hard to find compared to newer cores. However it still kicks a lot of butt in gaming. I bought my Phenom II 955BE C3 last year with overclocking in mind

    I always wanted to see how it would compare to newer models, and even intel counterparts. Thank you for this. I loved reading the article. Keep comparisons like this coming.
  • magnesiumk
    I also wanted to add, thank you for listing the 965BE with overclock at 4Ghz. It's easy to clock this processor up to those speeds. That's about what I run at, and it also runs much greater than stock speeds. This is important in future comparison tests. Thanks again.
  • envy14tpe
    Wanted to see i3 and i5 CPUs on the charts. Not just in the "Wrapping things up" section. Also, why not compare to a i5-3470? It's locked, cheaper, and still fast.
  • crisan_tiberiu
    if the 6350 is so close to the 3570k the 8350 eats it alive..and everybody recommends the i5 ^-. AMD has still good value
  • razor512
    You should have added some Phenom II X6 CPU's

    The main thing I hate about FX CPU's in the IPC. companies like intel have steadily increased the IPC of their CPU's while with AMD, going from Phenom II to the latest FX, they significantly reduced the IPC of their CPU's, and furthermore the resource sharing of the cores (by going with core modules instead of true cores). if similar resources are stressed, performance suffers as shown in the link below

    AMD would have done better by improving upon the phenom II and making an 8 core version.

    I currently use a Phenom II x6 1075t overclocked to 3.9GHz
    in cinebench 11.5 I get 7.01 points Which is still acceptable even by todays standards.

    Northbridge is at 2.6GHz and hyper transport is at 2.08GHz

    The highest I can push the CPU is about 4.4GHz but those speeds require around 1.575 volts, meaning I cant load the CPU to 100% for very long unless I take more drastic measures of connecting a vacuum hose from the case air intake to the air output of an air conditioner (to siphon off some of the cold air)

    If you want to see just how bad the fx is compared to phenom II, clock some phenom II's and some FX's at the same clock speed, then do a range of benchmarks.
  • emad_ramlawi
    Athlon X4 750K is the King of budget, its replaces Phenom 955 and it gives the same performance and sells for dirt cheap = 80 USD + lowest power usage.
  • emad_ramlawi
    if i had dime every time i hear :

    if Only AMD optimized there K10 arch ..., 8 core k10 will be much better ...

    Are you serious, K10 have evolved for years and reached its wall, we talking about semprons --> athlons ---> Phenoms 1 ---> Phenoms 2 ---> AMD FM1 APU`s

    And The Phenom 965 using 45nm as seen in the above chart uses 180Watts on load and upwards ...

    So wake up people, if there was any untapped resources in k10 AMD would have popped them.

    Also an index of cinebench single threaded performanc results from my research is :

    Sandy Bridge/ivy/and haswell (no real innovation since SB, and those 10% CPU improvements, only adds 0.0x) :

    i3 = ~1.3x Point
    i5 = ~1.5x point
    i7 = ~1,8x point

    AMD :

    AMD Athlon a8-3850 k10 CPU 0.8 Point
    AMD Phenom x6 1100T (BEST AMD K10 CPU) 1.08
    Richland A10-6800K ~1.11 point.

    All above results all from my research and wether you want to simply belive or better go research yourself is your choice, but AMD have problem in Single threaded perfomance, and the way they hided back day was giving more cores, like the Phenom x6 in CInebench Multi threaded it scores ~6.0 points even the lowert 1050T scores 5.9 point, and all intel i5 CPU does not go up than 5 points.

    but adding real 6 cores is trouble and problematic and too much power and resource hungry for BULK designs using BULk materical, remeber those x6 can reach 200W and upwardes, and more there costly and there prices does not budge.

    Since Bulldozer first design, there have been many fixes and improvements, and Pilediver is only the first step forward, next step is steam roller, with each step steadily enhancements are being made, not can be much said about k10 that after 3-4 steps forward it froze.
  • frederico
    I have been waiting for this test since I first heard mention of it.

    Fantastic work! am always harvesting older chips to cobble together some frankenstein machines - or even just buying newer parts to do the best possible super budget machines for friends - so this is a godsend. Thanks for the wide selection of games too - some reviews just do a handful which doesn't give a broad enough picture. Icing on the cake is the comparison to the intel chips, including that 8400. Even the global (fix the spelling on the chart) wattage is v interesting. Very nice.
  • lithium6
    Oh man, I would have loved to see Richland-based Athlons in the test!
  • _zxzxzx_
    Thanks for the article but I would have liked to see the Thubans in action and I reckon' the 8350 would have topped the results.
  • de5_Roy
    i missed the fx8320 in the crysis 3 benches. compared to the core i5 3570k stock framerates, the fx6350 (stock and o.c.) seemed ahead in these articles' crysis 3 benches.
  • razor512
    Many people like the Phenom II (including me) because it had a better IPC. the FX8350 can beat many of the high end core i7 CPU's if something is perfectly multithreaded, but for most tasks, it loses out to a 4 core intel CPU (even if they disable hyper threading), and that is because current intel CPU's offer a higher IPC. a single fast core is better than 2 separate cores at half the speed each.

    Intel is offering a good balance between multi threading and single threading performance by having CPU's that can give more than 2 points per core in applications such as cinebench.

    Clock for clock, the phenom II is significantly faster than the FX series.

    If they cannot put 8 true cores on a single CPU, then they need to work on releasing a quad core with an IPC that rivals the intel CPU's.

    Lower IPC is a step in the wrong direction, FX is the wrong choice.
  • Giordano Squadroni
    I want see a clock to clock single core comparison between Athlon FX 57 (939, ddr), Phenom (AM2, ddr2), Phenom II (AM2+ ddr2 and AM3 ddr 3 1333/1600), "new" Athlon FX (AM3+, ddr3 1866).
  • cheesyboy
    Really enjoyed this one. Thanks Tom's

    (minor quibbles...) For completeness, it would have been nice to see the FX-8350 lining up. And perhaps include the 3570k in the individual results as a benchmark, for context (Though I realise this was an AMD roundup, of course).
  • rmpumper
    427362 said:
    if the 6350 is so close to the 3570k the 8350 eats it alive..and everybody recommends the i5 ^-. AMD has still good value

    Yes, AMD has great value, but Tom's shows 4.7GHz 6350 close to stock 3570K. OC'ed 3570K would destroy OC'ed 6350 in games. Thing is, 6350 competes with i3 in price - no need to compare it to i5. That is why people recommend i5 over 8350, 6350 over i3 and i3 over 4350.
  • bustapr
    considering how AMD created their modular IPC from scratch with the less than a handful of the mountain of money intel has for R&D, I think AMD has done a great job. they modular IPC has vast space for improvement and is seeing significant leaps in performance every gen. K10 was great in its time, but AMD has shown that the modular IPC was a step in the right direction. they arent very far off behind intel with vishera and steamroller is coming with better performance and a die shrink. sure, they wont be able to reach intel node size obviously because of the shear amount of money intel pours into that research, but they are maintaining themselves quite relevant.

    K10 hit the wall, as some people here have said. Modular IPC is far from hitting any wall.
  • iam2thecrowe
    can you please test another bench from C3 other than welcome to the jungle. a couple other sites have and amd doesnt fare so well.

    Oh, and, wow, its not as good as the old phenom II core/core clock/clock. WTF are you doing AMD?
  • silverblue
    I think you're forgetting something. The modular architecture within Bulldozer and Piledriver has two small integer cores and a hyperthreaded-style shared FPU. They are fed via a shared decoder which is certainly harming performance. For FX to get anywhere near Phenom II, clock for clock, is certainly an achievement - they're far bigger cores, after all. With even a mere 10% IPC boost, FX can quite clearly say goodbye to PII and C2 in the IPC stakes, and that's before we know how much of an IPC boost Steamroller is going to provide.

    Piledriver was a tweaked Bulldozer designed to eke more performance out of the same headroom (mainly from higher clocks). Don't assume that Steamroller will be the same once again.

    An overclocked Richland Athlon II might be interesting, but its Kaveri counterpart should blow it apart. Should.