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The AMD Closed Loop System
Closed loop water cooling is not new, but it certainly is a pretty hot topic now. Some of the first units out there had some interesting issues (like internal corrosion clogging everything up), but once those teething problems were solved the closed loop systems turned out to be pretty effective and easy to install. Initially these units had the performance of a top end air cooler, but with a lot lower noise. The latest generation of liquid cooling systems (LCS) is now further improved and provides performance approaching that of larger, more complex cooling systems. These products will not replace exotic systems like phase change, but they provide a lot of cooling in a fairly decent sized package.
Clean lines and graphics give this box a striking look without being tacky.
Last year with the introduction of the AMD FX-8150, AMD decided to create a SKU which not only included the CPU, but also a fairly robust LCS. This unit is based on an Asetek design which features a double wide cooler/reservoir with the push-me/pull-ya fan combination. Other manufacturers offer this particular product under a variety of names, but this is simply an AMD FX branded unit with some small cosmetic changes to differentiate it from other units.
AMD will eventually offer this cooler with the new Vishera based FX-8350 CPU (or at least we assume they will), and we wanted to take this combination out for a spin. In our FX-8350 review we did not hit the overclocking targets that AMD had set. In most literature that we were provided AMD stated that most FX-8350 parts would be able to hit around 5 GHz with some aggressive cooling. In our review I was able to get to around 4.6 GHz max and around 4.5 GHz stable with better than average cooling. The results were not as impressive as we had hoped, but we again did not have a top end cooling solution such as what AMD provides with this particular LCS.
With a brand new LCS in hand, I retested the FX-8350 to see how hard it could be pushed. I also wanted to see how this particular unit performance in terms of thermal properties. The results were quite surprising for me, as this is my first real experience with a LCS.
Intel Board Team Creates New Form Factor
In many ways the desktop computer needs to evolve. Yes, I know that PC gaming is not only thriving and growing but for the majority of consumers the need to have a box in their office that measures 2' x 3' x 1', taking up leg room under the desk is...exaggerated. Intel thinks they have a solution for this, a new form factor for a PC they are calling the NUC - Next Unit of Computing.
By utilizing low power versions of the Intel Ivy Bridge mobile processors Intel has shrunk the desktop PC to a size even smaller than mini-ITX and hopes they can address various market segments with this new design.
Check out our video right here and continue on for the full written review!
While the consumer that simply needs a basic computing box is definitely a target for Intel and its board division, they are hoping to hit the mainstream markets with interactive displays, digital signage, marketing, analytics and more. And though the design we are looking at today has a very specific form factor, the low power boards themselves could easily be placed into nearly any industrial design.
For a size reference, the Intel NUC is a 4-in x 4-in design that is noticeably smaller than even the mini-ITX form factor that is quickly becoming popular in the DIY markets. The NUC does not have a removable processor though so what you buy is what you get with only a few components that are upgradeable.
Moving Towards BGA Only?
The sky is falling. Does this mean that Chicken Little is panicking for no reason or is Chicken Little the Cassandra of our time? It has been widely reported that Intel will not be offering the next generation Broadwell architecture as a LGA based product. Broadwell is a 14 nm product that will integrate southbridge functions into the chip, making it essentially a SOC. It will be offered only as a BGA only product, which means that it will be soldered onto a motherboard with no chance of being able to be swapped out. Broadwell is the successor to the upcoming Haswell, itself a 22 nm product that features many architectural changes to both the CPU and graphics portion as compared to the current 22 nm Ivy Bridge.
Will Broadwell be the death of the desktop industry and enthusiasts? Will LGA become as scarce as chicken teeth? Will we ever see a product with a swappable CPU after 2014?
Broadwell is aimed at TDPs ranging from 10 watts to 57 watts. Current high end Ivy Bridge parts max out at 77 watts and do not feature any southbridge type functionality. So that means that another 5 to 7 watts are added in for the chipset when discussing basic system TDPs. So we are looking at around 87 watts for a top end product when including SATA and USB functionality. 30 watts is a pretty big deal in OEM circles. We see right off the bat that Intel is aiming this architecture at a slightly different market, or at least a changing marketplace.
The unease that we are seeing is essentially this; Intel appears to be trying to take more profits from this setup and pass more costs onto the motherboard industry. This is not necessarily new for Intel, as they did this when transitioning to the LGA socket. LGA sockets are more expensive and more troublesome for the motherboard manufacturers as compared to a more traditional pin based interface. AMD continues to use pin based chips as this lowers the cost that is incurred by the motherboard manufacturers, and it also lowers overall support issues. LGAs are pretty solid, but it is very easy to bend one or more of those contacts so that they in fact do not create a solid connection with the CPU. This is something that is uncommon with pin based CPUS, but the downside of pin based is that it is more expensive to produce the CPU in the first place as compared to a LGA chip which only features the pads on the substrate of the CPU.
Ivy Bridge without the HD Graphics
The processor market is kind of stale these days; there aren't a lot of releases and the dominance of Intel in the high-end CPU market kind of makes things uninteresting. We still have lot of great AMD processors in the low and mid-range markets but if you want a $200+ card part you will probably find your way into the world of Intel.
Today's processor review cuts across segments with a unique twist. The Intel Core i5-3350P can be picked up at Newegg.com for $189 putting it right in the price point of the AMD FX-8150 (Zambezi) and the AMD FX-8320 (Vishera). It also undercuts the very popular Intel Core i5-3570K by $50 or so while still offering some impressive performance results.
The only catch: this Ivy Bridge based processor does not include any integrated graphics.
The Intel Core i5-3350P
Intel recently released a couple of Ivy Bridge based processors that have disabled the integrated graphics completely, the 3350P being one of them. This allows Intel to sell processor die that might have a defect on the GPU portion to increase the relative yield rate of their 22nm process and also gives them another weapon to fight off any pricing competition from AMD.
We go inside the Wii U
Last night after the midnight release of the new Nintendo Wii U gaming console, we did what any self respecting hardware fan would do: we tore it apart. That's right, while live on our PC Perspective Live! page, we opened up a pair of Wii U consoles, played a couple of games on the Deluxe while we took a tri-wing screwdriver to the second. Inside we found some interesting hardware (and a lot more screws) and at the conclusion of the 5+ hour marathon, we had a reassembled system with only a handful of leftover screws!
If you missed the show last night we have archived the entire video on our YouTube channel (embedded below) as well as the photos we took during the event in their full resolution glory. There isn't much to discuss about the teardown other than what we said in the video but I am going to leave a few comments after each set of four images.
OH! And if you missed the live event and want to be apart of another one, we are going to be holding a Hitman: Absolution Game Stream on our Live Page sponsored by AMD with giveaways like Radeon graphics cards and LOTS of game keys! Stop by again and see us on http://pcper.com/live on Tuesday the 20th at 8pm ET.
During the stream we promised photos of everything we did while taking it apart, so here you go! Click to get the full size image!
Getting inside the Wii U was surprisingly easy as the white squares over the screws were simply stickers and we didn't have to worry about any clips breaking, etc. The inside is dominated by the optical drive provided by Panasonic.
Bulldozer to Vishera
Bulldozer is the word. Ok, perhaps it is not “the” word, but it is “a” word. When AMD let that little codename slip some years back, AMD enthusiasts and tech journalists started to salivate about the possibilities. Here was a unique and very new architecture that promised excellent single thread performance and outstanding multi-threaded performance all in a package that was easy to swallow and digest. Probiotics for the PC. Some could argue that the end product for Bulldozer and probiotics are the same, but I am not overly fond of writing articles containing four letter colorful metaphors.
The long and short of Bulldozer is that it was a product that was pushed out too fast, it had specifications that were too aggressive for the time, and it never delivered on the promise of the architecture. Logically there are some very good reasons behind the architecture, but implementing these ideas into a successful product is another story altogether. The chip was never able to reach the GHz range it was supposed to and stay within reasonable TDP limits. To get the chip out in a timely manner, timings had to be loosened internally so the chip could even run. Performance per clock was pretty dismal, and the top end FX-8150 was only marginally faster than the previous top end Phenom II X6 1100T. In some cases, the X6 was still faster and a more competent “all around” processor.
There really was not a whole lot for AMD to do about the situation. It had to have a new product, and it just did not turn out as nicely as they had hoped. The reasons for this are legion, but simply put AMD is competing with a company that is over ten times the size, with the resulting R&D budgets that such a size (and margins) can afford. Engineers looking for work are a dime a dozen, and Intel can hire as many as they need. So, instead of respinning Bulldozer ad nauseum and releasing new speed grades throughout the year by tweaking the process and metal layer design, AMD let the product line sit and stagnate at the top end for a year (though they did release higher TDP models based on the dual module FX-4000 and triple module FX-6000 series). Engineers were pushed into more forward looking projects. One of these is Vishera.
Trinity Finally Comes to the Desktop
Trinity. Where to start? I find myself asking that question, as the road to this release is somewhat tortuous. Trinity, as a product code name, came around in early 2011. The first working silicon was shown that Summer. The first actual release of product was the mobile part in late Spring of this year. Throughout the summer notebook designs based on Trinity started to trickle out. Today we cover the release of the desktop versions of this product.
AMD has certainly had its ups and downs when it comes to APU releases. Their first real APU was Zacate, based on the new Bobcat CPU architecture. This product was an unmitigated success for AMD. Llano, on the other hand, had a pretty rocky start. Production and various supply issues caused it to be far less of a success than hoped. These issues were oddly enough not cleared up until late Spring of this year. By then mobile Trinity was out and people were looking towards the desktop version of the chip. AMD saw the situation, and the massive supply of Llano chips that it had, and decided to delay introduction of desktop Trinity until a later date.
To say that expectations for Trinity are high is an understatement. AMD has been on the ropes for quite a few years in terms of CPU performance. While the Phenom II series were at least competitive with the Core 2 Duo and Quad chips, they did not match up well against the latest i7/i5/i3 series of parts. Bulldozer was supposed to erase the processor advantage Intel had, but it came out of the oven as a seemingly half baked part. Piledriver was designed to succeed Bulldozer, and is supposed to shore up the architecture to make it more competitive. Piledriver is the basis of Trinity. Piledriver does sport significant improvements in clockspeed, power consumption, and IPC (instructions per clock). People are hopeful that Trinity would be able to match the performance of current Ivy Bridge processors from Intel, or at least get close.
So does it match Intel? In ways, I suppose. How much better is it than Bulldozer? That particular answer is actually a bit surprising. Is it really that much of a step above Llano? Yet another somewhat surprising answer for that particular question. Make no mistake, Trinity for desktop is a major launch for AMD, and their continued existence as a CPU manufacturer depends heavily on this part.
Ahead of the release of Windows 8 and the onslaught of Windows 8-based tablets that will hit the market next month, Intel is taking the cover off the processor that many of these new devices will be powered by, the Intel Atom Z2760 previously known by the codename of Clover Trail. Intel is claiming that the Atom Z2760 is the beginning of a completely new Atom direction, now a complete SoC (system-on-a-chip) design that lowers power requirements, extends battery life and allows Intel's x86 architecture to find its way into smaller and more portable devices.
At it's heart, Clover Trail is based on the same Saltwell CPU core design that was found in the Medfield processor powering a handful of smartphones over in Europe. That means the Atom lineup remains an in-order architecture with a dual-issue command structure - nothing incredibly revolutionary there.
Unlike Medfield though, the Atom Z2760 is a dual-core design that still enables HyperThreading for four-threaded operating system integration. The cores will run at 1.8 GHz and it includes 1MB of L2 cache divided between the two cores evenly. Memory is connected through a dual-channel 32-bit bus to low power DDR2 memory running at 800 MHz and capacities up to 2GB.
Trinity's GPU Performance
Editor's Note: Right before the release of this story some discussion has been ongoing at other hardware sites about the methods AMD employed with this NDA and release of information. Essentially, AMD allowed us to write about only the gaming benchmarks and specifications for the Trinity APU, rather than allowing the full gamut of results including CPU tests, power consumption, etc. Why? Obviously AMD wants to see a good message be released about their product; by release info in stages they can at least allow a brief window for that.
Does it suck that they did this? Yes. Do I feel like we should have NOT published this because of those circumstances? Not at all. Information is information and we felt that getting it to you as soon as possible was beneficial. Also, because the parts are not on sale today we are not risking adversely affecting your purchasing decision with these limited benchmarks. When the parts DO go on sale, you will have our full review with all the positives and negatives laid out before you, in the open.
This kind of stuff happens often in our world - NVIDIA sent out GTX 660 cards but not GTX 650s because of lack luster performance for example - and we balance it and judge it on a case by case basis. I don't think anyone looking at this story sees a "full review" and would think to make a final decision about ANY product from it. That's not the goal. But just as we sometimes show you rumored specs and performance numbers on upcoming parts before the NDAs expire, we did this today with Trinity - it just so happens it was with AMD's blessing.
AMD has graciously allowed us the chance to give readers a small glimpse at the performance of the upcoming A series APUs based on the Trinity processor. Today we are covering the SKUs that will be released, general gaming performance, and what kind of power consumption we are seeing as compared to the previous Llano processor and any Intel processor we can lay hands upon.
Trinity is based on the updated Piledriver architecture, which is an update to Bulldozer. Piledriver improves upon IPC by a small amount over Bulldozer, but the biggest impact is that of power consumption and higher clockspeeds. It was pretty well known that Bulldozer did not hit the performance expectations of both AMD and consumers. Part of this was due to the design pulling more power at the target clockspeeds than was expected. To remedy this, AMD lowered clockspeeds. Piledriver fixes most of those power issues, as well as sprinkles some extra efficiency into the design, so that clockspeeds can scale to speeds that will make these products more competitive with current Intel offerings.
The top end model that AMD will be offering of the socket FM2 processors (for the time being) is the A10 5800K. This little number is a dual module/quad core processor running at 3.8 GHz with a turbo speed of 4.2 GHz. We see below the exact model range of products that AMD will be offering. This does not include the rumored Athlon II editions that will have a disabled GPU onboard. Each module features 2 MB of L2 cache, for a total of 4 MB on the processor. The A10 series does not feature a dedicated L3 cache as the FX processors do. This particular part is unlocked as well, so expect some decent overclocking right off the bat.
The A10 5800K features the VLIW 4 based graphics portion, which is significantly more efficient than the previous VLIW 5 based unit in Llano (A8 3870K and brethren). Even though it features the same number of stream processors as the 3870K, AMD is confident that this particular unit is upwards of 20% faster than the previous model. This GPU portion is running at a brisk 800 MHz. The GPU core is also unlocked, so expect some significant leaps in that piece of the puzzle as well.
That is about all I can give out at this time, since this is primarily based on what we see in the diagram and what we have learned from the previous Trinity release (for notebooks).
Apple Produces the new A6 for the iPhone 5
Today is the day that world gets introduced to the iPhone 5. I of course was very curious about what Apple would be bringing to market the year after the death of Steve Jobs. The excitement leading up to the iPhone announcement was somewhat muted as compared to years past, and a lot of that could be attributed to what has been happening in the Android market. Companies like Samsung and HTC have released new high end phones that are not only faster and more expansive than previous versions, but they also worked really well and were feature packed. While the iPhone 5 will be another success for Apple, for those somewhat dispassionate about the cellphone market will likely just shrug and say to themselves, “It looks like Apple caught up for the year, but too bad they really didn’t introduce anything really groundbreaking.”
If there was one area that many were anxiously awaiting, it was that of the SOC (system on a chip) that Apple would use for the iPhone 5. Speculation went basically from using a fresh piece of silicon based on the A5X (faster clocks, smaller graphics portion) to having a quad core monster running at high speeds but still sipping power. It seems that we actually got something in between. This is not a bad thing, but as we go forward we will likely see that the silicon again only matches what other manufacturers have been using since earlier this year.
Ah, IDF – the Intel Developer Forum. Almost every year–while I sit in slightly uncomfortable chairs and stare at outdated and color washed projector screens–information is passed on about Intel's future architectures, products and technologies. Last year we learned the final details about Ivy Bridge, and this year we are getting the first details about Haswell, which is the first architecture designed by Intel from the ground up for servers, desktops, laptops, tablets and phones.
While Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge were really derivatives of prior designs and thought processes, the Haswell design is something completely different for the company. Yes, the microarchitecture of Haswell is still very similar to Sandy Bridge (SNB), but the differences are more philosophical rather than technological.
Intel's target is a converged core: a single design that is flexible enough to be utilized in mobility devices like tablets while also scaling to the performance levels required for workstations and servers. They retain the majority of the architecture design from Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge including the core design as well as the key features that make Intel's parts unique: HyperThreading, Intel Turbo Boost, and the ring interconnect.
The three pillars that Intel wanted to address with Haswell were performance, modularity, and power innovations. Each of these has its own key goals including improving performance of legacy code (existing), and having the ability to extract greater parallelism with less coding work for developers.
Ah, the end of August. School is about to start. American college football is about to get underway. Hot Chips is now in full swing. I guess the end of August caters to all sorts of people. For the people who are most interested in Hot Chips, the amount of information on next generation CPU architectures is something to really look forward to. AMD is taking this opportunity to give us a few tantalizing bits of information about their next generation Steamroller core which will be introduced with the codenamed “Kaveri” APU due out in 2013.
AMD is seemingly on the brink of releasing the latest architectural update with Vishera. This is a Piledriver+ based CPU that will find its way into AM3+ sockets. On the server side it is expected that the Abu Dhabi processors will also be released in a late September timeframe. Trinity was the first example of a Piledriver based product, and it showed markedly improved thermals as compared to previous Bulldozer based products, and featured a nice little bump in IPC in both single and multi-threaded applications. Vishera and Abu Dhabi look to be Piledriver+, which essentially means that there are a few more tweaks in the design that *should* allow it to go faster per clock than Trinity. There have been a few performance leaks so far, but nothing that has been concrete (or has shown final production-ready silicon).
Until that time when Vishera and its ilk are released, AMD is teasing us with some Steamroller information. This presentation is featured at Hotchips today (August 28). It is a very general overview of improvements, but very few details about how AMD is achieving increased performance with this next gen architecture are given. So with that, I will dive into what information we have.
A selection of parts
AMD is without a doubt going through some very tough times with massive personnel issues as well as some problems with products and profitability. But that doesn’t mean the current product line from AMD is without merit and that you can’t build a great system for various environments, including those users looking for a mainstream and small form factor gaming and home theater PC.
While preparing for Quakecon 2012 we needed to build a system to take on the road for some minor editing and presentation control purposes. We wanted the PC to be small and compact, yet still powerful enough to take on some basic computing and gaming tasks. I happen to have some AMD Llano APUs in the office and thought they would fit perfectly.
If you are on the hunt for a small PC that can do some modest gaming and serve as an HTPC, then you might find our build here interesting. And while it isn't nearly as exciting as building a Llano PC while blindfolded - it's pretty close.
Case: Lian-Li PC-Q08B
A slightly lower cost Ivy Bridge
Just a couple of short months ago, Intel released the desktop versions of its latest CPU architecture codenamed Ivy Bridge – and officially named the Intel 3rd Generation Core Processor. Ivy Bridge has a much cleaner sound to it if you ask me.
At launch, we tested and reviewed the highest-end offering, the Core i7-3770K, a quad-core HyperThreaded part that runs as fast as 3.9 GHz with Turbo Boost. It included the highest end processor graphics Intel has developed – the HD 4000. Currently selling for only $350, the i7-3770K is a fantastic processor, but isn't the bargain that many DIY PC builders are looking for. The new Core i5-3470 from Intel – the processor we are reviewing today – might be just that.
I am not going to spend time discussing the upgrades and benefits that the new Ivy Bridge processors offer over their predecessors, or the competition, from an architectural stand point. If you want some background on Ivy Bridge and why it does what it does, you'll want to read the first few pages of our original Core i7-3770K / Ivy Bridge review from April.
The Core i5-3470 Processor
Interestingly, in the initial information from Intel about the Ivy Bridge processor lineup, the Core i5-3470 wasn't even on the list. There was a 3450 and 3550, but nothing in between. The Core i5-3470 currently sells for about $200 and compares with some other Ivy Bridge processors with the following specifications:
When the Fermi architecture was first discussed in September of 2009 at the NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference it marked an interesting turn for the company. Not only was NVIDIA releasing details about a GPU that wasn’t going to be available to consumers for another six months, but also that NVIDIA was building GPUs not strictly for gaming anymore – HPC and GPGPU were a defining target of all the company’s resources going forward.
Kepler on the other hand seemed to go back in the other direction with a consumer graphics release in March of this year without discussion of the Tesla / Quadro side of the picture. While the company liked to tout that Kepler was built for gamers I think you’ll find that with the information NVIDIA released today, Kepler was still very much designed to be an HPC powerhouse. More than likely NVIDIA’s release schedules were altered by the very successful launch of AMD’s Tahiti graphics cards under the HD 7900 brand. As a result, gamers got access to GK104 before NVIDIA’s flagship professional conference and the announcement of GK110 – a 7.1 billion transistor GPU aimed squarely at parallel computing workloads.
With the Fermi design NVIDIA took a gamble and changed directions with its GPU design betting that it could develop a microprocessor that was primarily intended for the professional markets while still appealing to the gaming markets that have sustained it for the majority of the company’s existence. While the GTX 480 flagship consumer card and the GTX 580 to some degree had overheating and efficiency drawbacks for gaming workloads compared to AMD GPUs, the GTX 680 based on Kepler GK104 has improved on them greatly. NVIDIA has still designed Kepler for high-performance computing though with a focus this time on power efficiency as well as performance though we haven’t seen the true king of this product line until today.
GK110 Die Shot
Built on the 28nm process technology from TSMC, GK110 is an absolutely MASSIVE chip built on 7.1 billion transistors and though NVIDIA hasn’t given us a die size, it is likely coming close the reticle limit of 550 square millimeters. NVIDIA is proud to call this chip the most ‘architecturally complex’ microprocessor ever built and while impressive, it means there is potential for some issues when it comes to producing a chip of this size. This GPU will be able to offer more than 1 TFlop of double precision computing power with greater than 80% efficiency and 3x the performance per watt of Fermi designs.
An update to a great architecture
This article will focus on the new Ivy Bridge, 3rd Generation Core Processor from a desktop perspective. If you are curious as the performance and features of the Ivy Bridge mobile processors, be sure to check out our Core i7-3720QM ASUS N56VM review here!!
One of the great things about the way Intel works as a company is that we get very few surprises on an annual basis in terms of the technology they release. With the success of shows like the Intel Developer Forum permitting the release of architectural details months and often years ahead of the actual product, developers, OEMs and the press are able to learn about them over a longer period of time. As you might imagine, that results in both a much better understanding of the new processor in question and also a much less hurried one. If only GPU cycles would follow the same path...
Because of this long-tail release of a CPU, we already know quite a bit about Ivy Bridge, the new 22nm processor architecture from Intel to be rebranded as the 3rd Generation Intel Core Processor Family. Ivy Bridge is the "tick" that brings a completely new process technology node as we have seen over the last several years but this CPU does more than take the CPU from 32nm to 22nm. Both the x86 and the processor graphics portions of the die have some changes though the majority fall with the GPU.
Ivy Bridge Architecture
In previous tick-tock scenarios the "tick" results in a jump in process technology (45nm to 32nm, etc) with very little else being done. This isn't just to keep things organized in slides above but it also keeps Intel's engineers focused on one job at a time - either a new microprocessor architecture OR a new process node; but not both.
For the x86 portion of Ivy Bridge this plan stays in tract. The architecture is mostly unchanged from the currently available Sandy Bridge processors including the continuation of a 2-chip platform solution and integrated graphics, memory controller, display engine, PCI Express and LLC along with the IA cores.
More MHz for the Masses
AMD has had a rough time of it lately when it comes to CPUs. Early last year when we saw the performance of the low power Bobcat architecture, we thought 2011 would be a breakout year for AMD. Bulldozer was on the horizon and it promised performance a step above what Intel could offer. This harkened back to the heady days of the original Athlon and Athlon 64 where AMD held a performance advantage over all of Intel’s parts. On the graphics side AMD had just released the 6000 series of chips, all of which came close in performance to NVIDIA’s Fermi architecture, but had a decided advantage in terms of die size and power consumption. Then the doubts started to roll in around the April timeframe. Whispers hinted that Bulldozer was delayed, and not only was it delayed it was not meeting performance expectations.
The introduction of the first Llano products did not help things. The “improved” CPU performance was less than expected, even though the GPU portion was class leading. The manufacturing issues we saw with Llano did not bode well for AMD or the upcoming Bulldozer products. GLOBALFOUNDRIES was simply not able to achieve good yields on these new 32 nm products. Then of course the hammer struck. Bulldozer was released, well behind schedule, and with performance that barely rose above that of the previous Phenom II series of chips. The top end FX-8150 was competitive with the previous Phenom II X6 1100T, but it paled in comparison to the Intel i7 2600 which was right around the same price range.
There are few people in the gaming industry that you simply must pay attention to when they speak. One of them is John Carmack, founder of id Software and a friend of the site, creator of Doom. Another is Epic Games' Tim Sweeney, another pioneer in the field of computer graphics that brought us the magic of Unreal before bringing the rest of the gaming industry the Unreal Engine.
At DICE 2012, a trade show for game developers to demo their wares and learn from each other, Sweeney gave a talk on the future of computing hardware and its future. (You can see the source of my information and slides here at Gamespot.) Many pundits, media and even developers have brought up the idea that the next console generation that we know is coming will be the last - we will have reached the point in our computing capacity that gamers and designers will be comfortable with the quality and realism provided. Forever.
Think about that a moment; has anything ever appeared so obviously crazy? Yet, in a world where gaming has seemed to regress into the handheld spaces of iPhone and iPad, many would have you believe that it is indeed the case. Companies like NVIDIA and AMD that spend billions of dollars developing new high-powered graphics technologies would simply NOT do so anymore and instead focus only on low power. Actually...that is kind of happening with NVIDIA Tegra and AMD's move to APUs, but both claim that the development of leading graphics technology is what allows them to feed the low end - the sub-$100 graphics cards, SoC for phones and tablets and more.
Sweeney started the discussion by teaching everyone a little about human anatomy.
The human eye has been studied quite extensively and the amount of information we know about it would likely surprise. With 120 million monochrome receptors and 5M color, the eye and brain are able to do what even our most advanced cameras are unable to.
A New Chip for a New Year
When Intel launched the Sandy Bridge-E platform in November, there were three processors listed on the specification sheet. The Core i7-3960X is the flagship, 6-core processor with the ~$1000 price tag, the Core i7-3930K still had 6-cores but a much lower cost and similar clock speeds and the Core i7-3820 was the only quad-core option and was listed for a Q1 release. We reviewed the Core i7-3930K in December and found that it offered nearly the same performance as the more expensive unit at about half the price.
Today we are getting a preview of the Core i7-3820 that will be released likely in early February and will come with a much more reasonable price tag of $285 to fill out the LGA2011 socket. The question that we must ask then is can the quad-core Core i7-3820 compete against the currently available quad-core Sandy Bridge parts that fit in the widely available LGA1155 socket? We not only have to consider performance but also the features of each platform as well as the total cost.
Same Feature Set, New Die
While most of the features of the Core i7-3820 are going to be identical to those of the previous SNB-E processors we have seen, there are some important differences with this chip. Let's see what is familiar first. The Core i7-3820 is based on the Sandy Bridge-E design that works on the LGA2011 socket and the X79 chipset and motherboards currently on the market. It includes a quad-channel memory controller and 40 lanes of PCI Express that are actually capable of PCIe 3.0 speeds. HyperThreading is still enabled so you are getting the benefit of being able to run twice as many threads as you have cores.
There are some very important changes on this CPU as well though starting with a quad-core design. This directly pits this Sandy Bridge-E part against the currently existing Sandy Bridge processors running on the Z68/P67 chipset and LGA1155 socket. Also, the L3 cache on the Core i7-3820 is at 10MB, 5MB less than the Core i7-3960X and 2MB less than the Core i7-3930K. We are basically talking about a processor that bridges the gap between the original SNB and newer SNB-E parts and it creates some interesting battles and comparisons.
Speed Bumps and Unlocked Processors
AMD has announced the latest members of their fairly successful APU series for both the desktop and the mobile markets. The original release in June of this year saw the first fully integrated 32 nm APUs from AMD. These proved to be quite popular with their decent CPU performance and outstanding integrated graphics speed and quality. The launch was not entirely smooth for AMD though, even though the company had been shipping products to partners and OEMs for some months.
The desktop saw limited SKUs, and the availability of the top end parts was disappointing to say the least. AMD and their partners at GLOBALFOUNDRIES were not able to produce enough usable chips to supply demand. Quantities were tight throughout the summer, and the mobile market did not see as big of a boost for AMD as was hoped. AMD did get a lot of new business though, as the thermal and power envelopes of these A-series chips were able to match that of Intel.