Minimal Gains, But Hope Remains For AMD's FX
The nicest thing about working for a site that clearly separates the editorial and sales departments is that the reviewers are able to represent your best interests without any interference. Yes, we get hardware sent to us, but as you know, we don't hold back when it comes to telling you what we think about the components that land in our lab.
In this case, we decided to run our complete benchmark suite instead of testing the examples of software that AMD hand-picked as most-affected by Microsoft's scheduling efforts. Old games running at low resolutions, for example, are hardly worth running (beyond their value as synthetics, that is). That's why we spent a few days testing the hardware the way we would use it. And, at the end, we saw little to no improvement from the evolutionary changes implemented by Microsoft and some of AMD's motherboard partners to help augment performance.
On the other hand, the results of this little exploration suggest to us that there's really no good reason for fans of AMD's efforts to switch sides. Intel's biggest performance advantage surfaced in the same low-resolution gaming situations that no self-proclaimed enthusiast would ever want to use. If I had to pay more for power, like some of our European colleagues, it'd be a lot easier to steer you toward Intel's more mainstream Sandy Bridge-based chips. However, we've also noticed that many enthusiasts put less emphasis on power consumption than absolute performance or overclocking headroom.
AMD has certain advantages, such as its 990FX-based motherboards with nearly twice as many PCIe lanes than similarly-priced Z68-based boards. If you're in the Intel camp, getting that sort of connectivity requires LGA 2011, dinging you with much more expensive motherboards and processors that cost up to $1050. Ouch.
With all of that said, the point of this exercise was to test for improvements in AMD's most recent architecture after several months of patches to Windows 7 and firmware updates. Unfortunately, in our benchmark suite, which is largely made up of applications that our audience has requested over the past year, the speed-ups we were hoping for were not apparent. Only a single application benefited noticeably as a result of the HPC mode that prevents frequency drops in heavy workloads. Thus, most of the discussion surrounding scheduling optimizations remains theoretical, rather than practical.
The silver lining is that Microsoft tells us Windows 7, even patched, is not indicative of how Windows 8 will behave. In our own exploration of performance in the developer build, FX did, in fact, yield better numbers.