More MHz for the Masses

AMD had a small refresh of the Bulldozer series and we dig in.

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.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for many users was the launch of the FX-6100. This chip originally sparked a lot of interest as it was a 3 module/6 core product with a 95 watt TDP for under $200 that promised to be something of a budget enthusiast’s dream. When performance figures came out, the chip did not hold up to the lofty expectations held by users. At a stock 3.3 GHz, it was simply outclassed by products such as the i5 2500 and 2500K variants, which were again in the same price range. Even though the processor had a maximum Turbo Core of 3.9 GHz, it just could not keep up in most applications with the smaller and less power hungry Intel Sandy Bridge based products.

Hope springs eternal though, and when news leaked out that AMD would be introducing refreshes for the FX-4000 and FX-6000 chips people were expecting there to be an improvement in thermals and perhaps even a minor revision update to the design. The chatter turned to potential per clock improvements, better overclocking headroom, and a couple of products under $200 that could hold their own against Intel’s mighty Sandy Bridge. Then the actual details came out. These chips were of the same revision as the previous parts, and the speed increase they saw was due to the TDP ceiling being raised from 95 watts up to 125 watts. Still, there was hope that these products could more than hold its own against the i3 and i5 in the same price range. Does the FX-6200 succeed? I guess we are about to find out.

The FX-6200

Ryan and I have covered the Bulldozer architecture in previous articles, so I will not go over the finer details here. I will discuss some of the basics of the chip and the architecture.

The FX-6200 is based off of the same Bulldozer revision as the previous FX series of parts that was released last October. There may have been some minor changes along the way, but they would have more to do with manufacturing rather than any kind of base silicon or extreme metal layer change. The product is still built by GLOBALFOUNDRIES on their 32 nm HKMG SOI process. The chip is a native 4 module/8 core product, but one of the modules has been fused off and is unavailable for unlocking. This leaves 3 modules/6 cores for the processor to work with. Each module features 2 MB of L2 cache to be shared between the two integer units and the single FPU/MMX/SSE/AVX unit, for a total of 6 MB of L2 for the entire CPU. The L3 features the full 8 MB of cache that is available on fully enabled CPUs.

The full meal deal of a retail/boxed processor.  The 3 year warranty and heatsink/fan are likely worth it to most users.

The base clock is now set at 3.8 GHz, which is faster than the 3.6 GHz stock clock for the FX-8150. To achieve this clock AMD raised the TDP to 125 watts, which is up from the 95 watts of the FX-6100. The max Turbo Core speed of the FX-6200 is 4.1 GHz. AMD did raise the Northbridge/L3 cache speed on the FX-6200, and it runs at 2.2 GHz rather than the 2.0 GHz that the FX-6100 was set to. The memory controller is heavily revised from the previous Phenom II generation of parts, and it can handle official speeds up to DDR-3 1866 MHz.

The retail package comes with a pretty hefty heatsink and fan combination that should be able to handle the extra thermal load that the 125 watt CPU provides. The CPU has a standard 3 year warranty for the boxed version, while a tray chip has a 30 day warranty. The boxed product retails for $169 US, but can often be found cheaper with instant rebates and sales.

The FX processors are all unlocked so it makes them very easy to overclock. Most retail motherboards cover all of the settings needed to increase the multipliers on the CPU and overclock the chip. Success of any overclock is not guaranteed and the choice of motherboard will also directly affect the ability of the chip to reach higher speeds.


« PreviousNext »