AMD FX-9590 Review; Piledriver at 5GHz
A few weeks ago AMD announced the latest additions to their FX-series processor lineup: the FX-9590 and FX-9370. Clocked at Turbo speeds of 5GHz and 4.7GHz respectively, these new CPUs made some waves in enthusiast circles due to the high frequencies and AMD’s decision to only offer them through system builders rather than normal retail channels.
Before we get too far into this, some of you may be wondering why AMD decided to soft launch two enthusiast-level processors at such a late point in Piledriver's life cycle. Aside from the usual marketing bullet points about being the first to reach 5GHz, AMD's focus here boils down to a simple question: why not? The cores (or at least some of them) can obviously handle the extreme frequencies, the architecture is more than adaptable enough and the AM3+ / 990FX platform is still well-positioned regardless of its lack of PCI-E 3.0. While these CPUs may not have mass market appeal, AMD's engineers are demonstrating what they can do when freed from the shackles of thermal limits and efficiency. Enthusiasts should be able to appreciate that.
The problem with this so-called launch boils down to availability. While The FX-9590 and FX-9370 can be bought online if you have quick reflexes and deep pockets, AMD isn’t planning for widespread availability. Media samples are all but nonexistent as well yet but over the coming days expect to see these processors begin to show up at some retailers, likely attached to bundles.
While it is odd to see AMD shy away from adequately marketing a processor that could finally compete with the best Intel has to offer, there is some valid reasoning behind their hesitation. For the time being at least, the number of units available for a widespread launch just isn’t there, hence the limited offering to system builders and now select retailers.
The FX-9590’s high clock speeds mean each individual processor has to go through a high level screening process to validate its ability to consistently hit its Turbo target of 5GHz and base clock of 4.7GHz. Not many Vishera cores will make the grade and these “failed” CPUs will eventually be rolled into the FX-9370’s embrace and may even cascade down into other FX SKUs. Even the FX-9370 has a stringent binning process in an effort to weed out any unfit chips.
At its heart, the FX-9590 isn’t all that much different from previous FX-series CPUs. Like the FX-8350, it uses AMD’s 32nm Piledriver architecture, comes with 8MB of L2 cache and eight cores, supports DDR3 speeds of up to 1866MHz and can be used in conjunction with any supporting AM3+ motherboard. The 5GHz core frequency has been attained through the use of AMD’s Turbo Core 3.0 which allows a base clock of 4.7GHz to hit higher levels when the right conditions present themselves. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen very often as our processor remained at 4.7GHz in most workloads.
As one might expect, actually getting a lower clocked architecture to hit such high levels requires some heavy-duty muscle alongside stringent binning. In this case, a massive amount of voltage -1.5V- has been applied and this has a secondary, nasty side effect: a substantial increase in heat production and power requirements. While the FX-8350’s TDP of 125W was deemed inefficient, the FX-9590 brings things to a whole new level with an estimated thermal output of 200W-220W. That’s an important number to remember when choosing a cooler since only the very best air-based solutions will be able to keep temperatures under control.
The motherboard support provides an interesting caveat to this whole equation since some manufacturers have yet to roll out BIOS updates which support the FX-9590 and FX-9370. In addition, we’re told that many boards can’t consistently supply the massive amount of input power required by these new processors. So, before assuming your board will safely run a 200W CPU over long periods of time, confirm with the manufacturer’s product page first. For our testing an ASUS 990FX Sabertooth was used.
Judging from the path this launch is taking, we can assume that AMD has refreshed their high-end FX series in an effort to drum up some attention. Steamroller-based processors are still some time away and this is an excellent opportunity to flex Vishera’s considerable multi-threaded muscles. However, other than the power and heat sacrifices we mentioned above, the FX-9590 will also come with a suitably high price. At the time of writing, it can be found for between $750 and $850 which translates to a $200 premium over an i7-3930K and $400 more than Intel's 4770K.