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Exposing The Phantom x86 Bottleneck

Posted March 1, 2011 by Kevin in Hardware

These are exciting times for AMD as we are seeing a very positive reception by consumers of our C- and E-Series APUs. Soon these APUs will be joined by their big brother, the A-Series APU (codenamed ?Llano?). ?Llano? is aimed squarely at mainstream notebooks and desktop PCs.

There is rampant speculation on how ?Llano? will perform versus Intel?s ?Sandy Bridge? processors. To address this issue, I will begin by calling out the divergence in silicon investment strategies between AMD and our blue competitor as well as how AMD?s strategy matches with how people use their computers today.

Four years ago, our engineers began determining the capabilities AMD Fusion APUs should offer. They took a good look at how people have been using their computers over the past decade compared to the first 25 years of personal computing.

The first 25 years of personal computing revolved around x86 performance. If you had a fast x86 CPU, you generally had the best experience. It wasn?t until the invention of the modern GPU in the mid-2000?s that another piece of silicon could effectively offload tasks from the x86 CPU.

Classic workloads like spreadsheet manipulation, word processing, database searches and general use all benefited from faster x86 CPUs. You were really a ?baller? back in 1987 if you had an Intel i387 co-processor to augment the Intel i386. However time and technology have marched on.

Today, modern CPUs are hundreds or thousands of times faster than the CPUs from the late 1980s; however, classic x86 workloads haven?t changed that much. They might be fancier and Windows-based but they are basically the same as they were in the 1980s.

I would classify these classic x86 workloads as short and ?bursty? in nature. The CPU sits and waits until you hit that ?Enter? key and then it scrambles to execute your commands. Does it surprise you that the vast majority of time a modern computer sits around and idles while awaiting your command? Even after you hit ?Enter? or click the mouse to start an action, the work is done basically before you can blink. Since this is how quick most modern x86 based CPUs workloads are executed, the difference in performance for different brands of x86 processors is virtually indistinguishable for an average user.

Software applications have changed how consumers use their personal computers. People are using more modern workloads like 3D graphics, HD video and Internet surfing in a much more prevalent manner. Sure, we all dabble with spreadsheets and word processing once in awhile, but any modern x86 CPU-based PC can handle these workloads with ease. But with these modern applications, the capacity to multitask, improve image quality and enhance power efficiency are much more important than raw x86 performance in determining how good a consumer?s experience is with a particular PC.

With these changes in consumer behavior and workloads, the question for AMD was really, ?where should we invest?? AMD, like any semiconductor company, had a series of choices to make and these choices would determine how good AMD Fusion APUs would be for their intended use.

AMD?s ?Llano? and Intel?s ?Sandy Bridge? are roughly equal in size and transistor count. But that?s where the similarities end. An analysis of the two components? die area shows that AMD has invested much more heavily in graphics, parallel compute and video whereas Intel has invested much more of its silicon area in improving classic x86 performance.

It is great to see our competitor acknowledge the importance of graphics and video, but AMD has made much more tangible investments in these modern graphical and video centric workloads. Our CPUs are not x86 slouches, but our goal is not to achieve x86 benchmark supremacy because it just doesn?t matter. x86 performance no longer determines a consumer?s overall experience with their computer. The ability to handle graphics and video are much more critical.

We are no longer chasing the Phantom x86 Bottleneck. Our goal is to provide good headroom for video and graphics workloads, and to this effect ?Llano? is designed to be successful. To be clear, AMD continues to invest in x86 performance. With our ?Bulldozer? core and in future Bulldozer-based products, we are designing for faster and more efficient x86 performance; however, AMD is seeking to deliver a balance of graphics, video, compute and x86 capabilities and we are confident our APUs provide the best recipe for the great majority of consumers.

Want to see how a ?Llano? does against a shipping Intel Core i7-2630QM? See this YouTube video here:

As you can see, we handle graphics and video with ease and with much better power efficiency. With ?Llano?, we have geared up for the 21st century and did not remain dogmatic about x86 performance benchmarks.

Article Blog: http://blogs.amd.com/fusion/2011/03/01/exposing-the-phantom-x86-bottleneck/


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