An AMD processor that takes the game to Intel - just with a 220W TDP
AMD ruffled the odd feather at E3 by announcing its latest CPUs: the 5.0GHz FX-9590 and 4.7GHz FX-9370. These are both serious game changers for the system maker and a bit of an oddity. We take a look at the world's first 5GHz stock CPU and what is inarguably a very exiting offering.
The story starts with AMD partner GlobalFoundries' 32 nanometer (32nm) manufacturing process. This has been around for a while and GloFo has tweaked it to within an inch of perfection, allowing for this update of the 'Vishera' line of processors. Concentrating purely on performance, TDP (Thermal Design Power) leaps to a rather alarming 220W but speeds... well they have been raised from the 4.0GHz (base) 4.2GHz (turbo) of the earlier FX-8350 to a record setting 4.7GHz (base) and 5GHz (turbo) on the fastest FX-9590.
These are the same Piledriver cores found in the enthusiast 'Vishera' CPUs that came close to delivering a competitive stance from AMD last year . As such it comes with that hardware's idiosyncracies - decent multi-threaded performance but somewhat lacking in single-threaded grunt. This is also where rubber hits road however: Vishera has always scaled well with extra MHz. With a ~18% speed boost to the core, we may finally see single threaded performance that can tangle with Sandy Bridge and even Ivy Bridge processors (if not the very latest Haswell i7 cores) along with top-tier multi threaded performance. It will be interesting to see exactly what our labs throw out in terms of real-world performance. These will still not quite be Intel beating chips, but make no mistake - we do expect this to be the closest AMD has come to matching Intel's performance since Core 2 debuted in 2006.
As these are enthusiast chips, overclocking will also be a significant factor - the top Ivy Bridge and Haswell (Intel i7 4000 series) can both overclock about 15% over stock speeds ; it's unknown whether there will be similar overclocking headroom left in AMDs latest. If these chips can hit 5.7GHz, and if doing so does not raise power draw to utterly intolerable levels, these chips won't be disadvantaged - however that is a very big if.
The FX-9590 and 4.7GHz FX-9370 are not for the faint-hearted even at stock; the 220W TDP makes sure of that. That is an unprecedented level of power consumption and heat generation in the CPU world and forms part of the reason AMD are is saying "FX-9000 Series CPUs will be available initially in PCs through system integrators". We expect water-cooling to be the standard here, whomever does the building.
That TDP is not quite as much of a competitive disadvantage as it may first seem however. For one, power draw of the mobile-optimised Haswell designs increase substantially with overclocking - closing on 200W when maxxed out. Another paradox is that Intel's more advanced and generally cooler (heat wise) 22nm manufacturing technology produces tiny chips. This is turn makes them difficult to actually get the heat out of, a situation compounded by the poor thermal glue used in their manufacture. Simply put, a ~200W Haswell is harder to cool than a ~200W Vishera. One more point in AMDs favour that Intel are unlikely to respond quickly with a significant MHz boost of their own - Haswell is already running close to as fast as it can without some serious redesigning.
OEM release of the FX-9000 chips is expected before the end of winter and our sources suggest we should see them hit shelves pretty soon after that. With the rather Impressive Jaguar cores (as used in the Xbox One and PS4) some vaguely competitive server processors, genuinely competitive APUs and faster FX-series enthusiast cores that will at the very least appeal to those that live in (Ant)arctic climates, AMD is on the up in general. In fact it's probably that AMD will briefly close-up the CPU speed gap further with the late 2013 release of further enhanced 'Steamroller' cores.
This is by no means the domination that AMD fans dream of, but it is a step up. For now we can say that we'll be almost as interested as the religiously pro AMD crowd to see how the FX-9000 cores perform in real life, which is saying something.
Just... Two hundred and twenty Watts? Jeebus.