AMD’s 3.5Ghz Bulldozer.The CPU Rumble in The Jungle

The CPU performance battle is about to heat up once more, the Intel vs AMD game of one up-manship continues.

Can AMD finally answer Intel’s domination of the market or will Intel once again squash them like a bug on the windscreen of the Intel juggernaut. No matter which one of the two 600 pound guerrilla’s wins we consumers are the true winners, with Uber fast kit coming up and neither AMD nor Intel being able to rest on their laurels.

According to the news announced at the ISSCC – International Solid-State Circuits Conference – in San Francisco AMD’s new processor – Bulldozer – will run at 3.5Ghz at release. This is quite a surprise as normally a completely new chip from AMD will run at slightly lower clock speed than the fastest of the old generation. The current fastest clock speed for AMD’s quad core CPU is 3.5Ghz so releasing the new chip at that speed is a great sign for the new design.

Over the past 6 months AMD has fallen behind Intel’s Core i7 and Core i9 chips, with Intels chips being consistently quicker than AMDs Phenom chips. AMD’s 8 core Bulldozer will be super fast but can it compete with Intel’s own Uber fast 990X processor- X for eXtremely expensive chip, which sells for $1,327 AUS -, currently the fastest consumer level processor on the market. The quickest processor title is still held by IBM with it’s Uber server processor the Power7. Generally the AMD chip will be vastly cheaper than the Intel 990X – generally AMD’s top processor are $350-$500 AUS -but if it can beat the 990X you can bet that AMD will up the price on these bad boys. On paper AMD has a good chance of taking the performance crown but remember this is all speculation until we have hardware to test.

AMD Opteron Silicon

The Bulldozer is a complete redesign from the ground up with some fairly radical changes that should make the chip much more efficient and even more powerful than previous AMD processors. Each Bulldozer core contains four dual-core modules, with each module containing it’s own 2MB L2 cache, Flex FPU – Floating Point Unit or maths processor -, with 8MB L3 cache shared between the four modules, giving the Bulldozer a total of 16MB of cache ram on board. Each module is made up of 213 million transistors and occupies 30.9mm2. Bulldozer processors are designed to operate from 0.8V to 1.3V voltages at 3.50GHz+ clock-speed. It is unclear whether 3.50GHz is average clock-speed or the peak turbo speed.

All applications that heavily use maths functions should see a big speed up from the new design. Applications like DVD ripping, audio, vieo production. The Flex FPU is a major upgrade to the processors FPUs – Floating Point Units, responsible for complex math on decimal numbers -. With each FlexFP having two 128-bit channels and their own scheduler there should be a considerable improvement in the Bulldozers ability to crunch numbers. Along with the new design there will be new instructions included in the updated FlexFP all in all this should make it one of the strengths of the AMD processor.

Multi core cpu’s are about to go extreme. Each core within a modern processor is an individual entity that can do a task or piece of work independently of the other cores. It has all of the resources available to complete a set of instructions – a thread -. Currently processors are made of up to 6 cores, allowing six tasks to be done simultaneously. The number of cores in a processor is climbing with each new generation of processor. The Bulldozer processors will come with 4 to 16 cores depending on the model. Intel is talking about 32 core processors and has even developed a technology demonstration chip Larabee that has over 50 cores.

For the last decade Intel has used a technology called Hyper-Threading to gain more efficiency from each core. Hyper-Threading allows Intel’s chips to keep a second task – thread – in the wings just in case there is a delay in the first task. So instead of sitting idle, waiting, the core will switch to the second task and keep busy. The core is still only doing one task at a time but it is keeping busy at least. Intel processors actually have only half the number of real cores that are reported in windows as the processor presents both of the threads as 2 cores. So a quad core processor will appear to have 8 cores in windows task manager. AMD has taken a different approach to how it organises it’s cores. They have built the opposite to hyper-threading, you might describe it as a multi-core module. Each AMD module has most of the resources available to do two tasks – threads – at once with some parts of the core being shared between the tasks. This effectively saves a lot of chip space but 80% of the time allows two tasks to be carried out at once. A nice balance. “This micro-architecture improves performance and frequency while reducing area and power over a previous AMD x86-64 CPU in the same process. The design reduces the number of gates/cycle relative to prior designs, achieving 3.5GHz+ operation,” according to AMD’s press release.

The Bulldozer processors should be available by mid year and will put pressure back on Intel to keep improving their own processors. A bit of competition is a beautiful thing. Let’s see if the AMD Bulldozer can shove all of the competition aside and take the crown, Uber Performance Desktop Processor.

Buddha’s Brother out…