FX-8350 CPU Review; AMD's Vishera Arrives

Author: SKYMTL
Date: October 22, 2012
Product Name: FX-3850
Part Number: FD8350FRHKBOX
Warranty: 3 Years
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A Quick Refresher:
Bulldozer: 1st generation architecture
Zambezi: Code name for FX-series CPUs with Bulldozer cores
Piledriver: 2nd generation Enhanced Bulldozer architecture
Vishera: Core name for FX-series CPUs with Piledriver cores

Hot on the heels of a successful launch for their desktop Trinity APUs, AMD is back again with yet another refreshed architecture: the Vishera FX-series processors. Based off of AMDís Piledriver architecture, these new CPUs are supposed to be an evolutionary step forward rather than an revolutionary leap into the unknown.

Bulldozer and its associated Zambezi brand name have been around for over a year now so it was high time AMD began updating what could be construed as an outdated product stack. Intel on the other hand has been busy marching to their own ďtick / tockĒ drummer by continuing onwards to Ivy Bridge and an efficient 22nm manufacturing process. Unfortunately, AMDís Piledriver is still at 32nm but that hasnít stopped them from improving in other areas to reduce some of Zambezi's shortcomings.

AMDís current lineup is quite straightforward with very little segment overlap. At the top end is the FX-series of unlocked CPUs Ėthe subject of todayís review- which donít include onboard graphics processors and are aimed at systems with discrete graphics capabilities. The A-series of Trinity APUs hit the mid tiers and are lumped in with AMDí ďFusionĒ, an initiative which promotes a heterogeneous environment where the central processing cores and integrated GPU work together to accelerate overall performance. The APUs are closely followed but a trio of Athlon X4 and X2 processors which, like the FX-series, make do without an integrated graphics subsystem. They target budget-conscious entry level users who want a CPU but donít want to be tied at the hip to lower end gaming performance. Finally, AMDís E-Series of energy efficient APUs brings up the rear.

All in all, this is very much the same product stack as last yearís but drilling down towards the individual FX-series processors shows us a slightly different story.

When Bulldozer / Zambezi was first introduced, the FX-8150 was the only true 8-core processor in the mainstream desktop market. Now, one year later that still holds true for its spiritual successor; the FX-8350. While similarities abound, there are some telltale changes here as well. Piledriverís first and foremost goal is to improve upon Bulldozerís performance per watt and that carries over into the FX-8350 which has 10% higher clock speeds than an FX-8150 but it still retains a TDP of 125W. Naturally, due to the design equivalencies between the Piledriver and Bulldozer architectures, transistor count remains at 1.2 billion and die size is still 315 mm≤. AMDís Turbo Core makes a comeback as well and pushes this new processorís frequencies up to 4.2GHz where situations permit.

Other than the flagship FX-8350, AMD is rounding out their lineup with a number of lower end offerings, all of which feature unlocked multipliers for easy overclocking and Turbo Core. Replacing the FX-8100 is the 8-core, 125W FX-8320. It follows closely in its big brotherís footsteps but comes with much lower clock speeds. Meanwhile, the 6-core FX-6300 and quad core FX-4300 take over from the FX-6100 and FX-4100 respectively. These may look like lower-end parts but they serve to complete a top to bottom lineup for AMD that will be in place until the second half of 2013.

One of the most important aspects of Vishera is pricing. AMD may be talking about eight core processors that operate at 4GHz but they arenít meant to compete against the $1000 Extreme Edition CPUs of this world. The most expensive FX-8350 will be priced at a mere $195 with the FX-8320 and FX-6300 coming in at approximately $30 intervals below that. Other than the $122 FX-4300, this strategy represents a full court price decrease from the last generation even though Visheraís performance could be substantially higher.

Clock speeds and introductory pricing may be changing this time around to account for the marketís new realities but past that, not much has changed from one evolutionary step to another. All of the distinguishing features from Zambezi CPUs have carried forward into the refreshed generation. L2 cache, L3 cache, memory support and even the venerable AM3+ motherboard compatibility have returned.

AMD is aiming Vishera at a market segment that wants more processing power for less money and that mantra seems to hold true when the new FX-series is placed up against similarly priced solutions from Intel. In addition to high clock speeds, more cores and every processorís unlocked multiplier, AMD believes their architecture has a leg up with additional instruction sets which arenít supported by lower end Intel SKUs.

If performance could be easily distilled down to a combination of the above-mentioned points, then AMD should have a winner on their hands. Unfortunately, CPUs donít work with such a straightforward dynamic and because of this; Vishera may be facing an uphill battle. While the core / thread count seems like a cakewalk for the FX-8350 and FX-8320, we canít forget these are 32nm 125W processors going up against 22nm parts that have TDPs of just 77W or less. In addition, the Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge architectures are known for their strong single thread performance while Piledriver continues to lag behind in this respect.

Going further down market, AMD is once again throwing core counts and high clock speeds at the same issues they faced with Zambezi. Intel has traditionally (for the last two years at least) retained a lead in per-thread horsepower so both the FX-6300 and FX-4300 go with the same focuses as their higher end FX siblings: price, frequencies and cores.

One feature everyone should give AMD credit for is their willingness to sell every one of their FX-series products as unlocked. This makes overclocking a breeze, even if you donít have a serious background in system tweaking. Intel on the other hand has separated enthusiasts into neat little segments with their premium K and X-series processors. If you are looking for a budget-friendly overclocking experience, AMD is currently the only route to go.

From an intergenerational perspective, AMD seems to be moving at about the same pace as Intelís Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge transition with an approximate 15% (or more) performance bump between Zambezi and Vishera. Of that fifteen percent, roughly 10% comes from clock speed improvements while the other 5% has been gained through some architectural optimizations.

Bulldozer represented the first step in a long trek for AMD and some hard lessons were learned throughout the course of its design process. The Piledriver cores within Vishera processors are the first step towards refining these basic principles in an effort to create a CPU architecture that is both adaptable and highly scalable as future generations are rolled out.

AMD are still firm believers that thereís a market for CPUs without integrated graphics processors and we tend to like this approach. The day of truly heterogeneous CPU / GPU computing is coming but it isnít here yet. Not everyone wants an IGP or the cost and increased TDP that's associated with them. However, in this day and age, selling mid-level processors with TDPs of 125W may be tough for AMD regardless of overclocking capabilities and core counts.

Even though Vishera can be considered an incremental update rather than a brand new ground up redesign, the principles used in its architecture will be used by AMD for years to come. These FX-series CPUs along with the Trinity APUs are AMDís current answer to Intelís Ivy Bridge and the hope is they will tide the company over until 28nm products are introduced to battle Haswell. But will the FX-8350 and its ilk be enough and do they even represent enough of a performance increase to remain viable alternatives against Intelís juggernaut?


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