The first generation of AMD's Bulldozer-based processors have been around for good long while now and it's about time we had a little refresh. Duly the latest update to AMD's CPU lineup has arrived in the form of the Piledriver processor.
This AMD FX-8350 is the direct successor to the AMD FX-8150, the top-of-the-line eight-core chip from the first-gen Bulldozer range. This is a similarly-specced CPU, which means we have eight AMD cores in a four module array with eight threads of processing power. This time around, though, AMD has made sure the top chip is also clocked the fastest with a speed bump up from the AMD FX-8150's 3.6GHz up to an impressive 4GHz straight out of the box.
Straight line clock speed aside though, what's AMD changed in the Piledriver release of its chip architecture compared with the previous Bulldozer setup? Well, we're still looking at the same basic configuration with this top chip housing four modules based on the Bulldozer design, with a pair of almost traditional CPU cores in each. They're not the same as the cores you'll see in Intel chips though as they share a certain amount of low-priority chip architecture in the modular design instead of just having hardware purely dedicated to each.
It's a relatively efficient setup, but means while the multi-threaded performance is impressive, single-threaded pace - such as needed in most games - remained pretty limited. Things haven't changed too much in this Piledriver design, just a few tweaks made here and there inside, like improved branch prediction and scheduling. And that means gaming performance hasn't improved that much.
But performance has improved enough so that in multi-threaded applications the AMD FX-8350 absolutely hoses the rival Intel Core i5-3570K - our gamer's CPU of choice - in those tests. Considering its around £20-30 cheaper than the Intel chip, that's pretty good. In fact, it's actually much more competitive with the top Intel Ivy Bridge CPU, the Intel Core i7-3770K than the previous top AMD processor.
If you're looking at doing any sort of video editing or image manipulation the new Piledriver chip is a multi-threading beast even compared to a CPU that's around £100 more expensive, as the i7 is. In fact if you have a play with the clock speed with your overclocking hat on then you can actually get numbers way in advance of what a stock clocked Intel Core i7-3770K can manage.
I managed to get the AMD FX-8350 running happily at 4.7GHz and at those speeds the multi-threading performance of this AMD processor is pretty phenomenal compared to the last generation. The Intel i7 though can also be overclocked, and in doing so will once more pull ahead of the AMD CPU, but again that is a chip which costs another £100 more.
Sadly the gaming performance is still lagging behind - with the same GPU in each setup you're looking at around 10-15% slower frame rates in the our test suite of games. Even when you bring overclocking into the mix the AMD chips still show their relative weakness in that field.
Looking at CPU performance in a vacuum, then the Intel Core i5-3570K is still the money-no-object chip you want in your gaming rig. But in these times of global recession, money is most definitely an object, and, in general, the cheaper AMD platform costs mean you could have more money to spend on your GPU; an improved graphics card will yield greater gaming benefits than simply opting for the best gaming CPU.
This said, the AMD FX-8350 isn't that much cheaper than the i5, so it's still not the chip we'd recommend bargain hunters look at. The new six-core AMD FX-6300 should be that chip. At around £70 cheaper than the i5, you've still got a good chunk of multi-threaded performance, and competitive gaming speeds, but you've also got enough cash freed up so you could pick up a much faster GPU. The difference in cost between the six-core CPU and the i5 means you could have a Radeon HD 7870 in the Intel rig but could afford a Radeon HD 7950 in the AMD machine. In those circumstances the AMD rig is going to far outperform the Intel in-game.
So, while the arguments for the budget builders going for an AMD platform over an Intel one still ring true, it's not this eight-core version we'd be talking about. It may still be cheaper than an Intel Core i5-3570K, but not by enough to really make a tangible difference. When you're just talking around £20-30 then we'd say swallow the hit and go for the Intel. The six-core AMD Piledriver CPU is the one we'd suggest taking a look at for a budget build, though this AMD FX-8350 is still an impressive, competitive new chip from AMD.
And if there's one thing we truly need from AMD it's competition. If AMD can keep some pressure on Intel it will have to keep innovating and that can only be good for us PC gamers, driving costs down and bringing improved tech to our desktops.
Socket - AMD AM3+
Cores - 8
Threads - 8
Clock speed - 4GHz
Turbo speed - 4.2GHz
Lithography - 32nm
Level 2 cache - 4 x 2MB
Level 3 cache - 8MB
TDP - 125W
CPU rendering performance (multi-thread)
Cinebench R11.5 – Index score: higher is better
AMD FX-8350 – 6.71
AMD FX-8150 – 5.71
Intel Core i7 3770K – 7.14
Intel Core i5 3570K – 5.70
CPU rendering performance (single-thread)
Cinebench R11.5 – Index score: higher is better
AMD FX-8350 – 1.07
AMD FX-8150 – 0.92
Intel Core i7 3770K – 1.63
Intel Core i5 3570K – 1.58
CPU encoding performance - FPS: higher is better
AMD FX-8350 – 41
AMD FX-8150 - 35
Intel Core i7 3770K – 41
Intel Core i5 3570K – 33
CPU gaming performance
Shogun 2 CPU - FPS: higher is better
AMD FX-8350 – 25
AMD FX-8150 - 22
Intel Core i7 3770K – 35
Intel Core i5 3570K – 34
A decent update to the previous gen chip, but it’s still not necessarily the chip we’d recommend to the bargain PC builders.