The Pursuit of Clock Speed

Thus far I have pointed out that a number of resources in Bulldozer have gone down in number compared to their abundance in AMD's Phenom II architecture. Many of these tradeoffs were made in order to keep die size in check while adding new features (e.g. wider front end, larger queues/data structures, new instruction support). Everywhere from the Bulldozer front-end through the execution clusters, AMD's opportunity to increase performance depends on both efficiency and clock speed. Bulldozer has to make better use of its resources than Phenom II as well as run at higher frequencies to outperform its predecessor. As a result, a major target for Bulldozer was to be able to scale to higher clock speeds.

AMD's architects called this pursuit a low gate count per pipeline stage design. By reducing the number of gates per pipeline stage, you reduce the time spent in each stage and can increase the overall frequency of the processor. If this sounds familiar, it's because Intel used similar logic in the creation of the Pentium 4.

Where Bulldozer is different is AMD insists the design didn't aggressively pursue frequency like the P4, but rather aggressively pursued gate count reduction per stage. According to AMD, the former results in power problems while the latter is more manageable.

AMD's target for Bulldozer was a 30% higher frequency than the previous generation architecture. Unfortunately that's a fairly vague statement and I couldn't get AMD to commit to anything more pronounced, but if we look at the top-end Phenom II X6 at 3.3GHz a 30% increase in frequency would put Bulldozer at 4.3GHz.

Unfortunately 4.3GHz isn't what the top-end AMD FX CPU ships at. The best we'll get at launch is 3.6GHz, a meager 9% increase over the outgoing architecture. Turbo Core does get AMD close to those initial frequency targets, however the turbo frequencies are only typically seen for very short periods of time.

As you may remember from the Pentium 4 days, a significantly deeper pipeline can bring with it significant penalties. We have two prior examples of architectures that increased pipeline length over their predecessors: Willamette and Prescott.

Willamette doubled the pipeline length of the P6 and it was due to make up for it by the corresponding increase in clock frequency. If you do less per clock cycle, you need to throw more clock cycles at the problem to have a neutral impact on performance. Although Willamette ran at higher clock speeds than the outgoing P6 architecture, the increase in frequency was gated by process technology. It wasn't until Northwood arrived that Intel could hit the clock speeds required to truly put distance between its newest and older architectures.

Prescott lengthened the pipeline once more, this time quite significantly. Much to our surprise however, thanks to a lot of clever work on the architecture side Intel was able to keep average instructions executed per clock constant while increasing the length of the pipe. This enabled Prescott to hit higher frequencies and deliver more performance at the same time, without starting at an inherent disadvantage. Where Prescott did fall short however was in the power consumption department. Running at extremely high frequencies required very high voltages and as a result, power consumption skyrocketed.

AMD's goal with Bulldozer was to have IPC remain constant compared to its predecessor, while increasing frequency, similar to Prescott. If IPC can remain constant, any frequency increases will translate into performance advantages. AMD attempted to do this through a wider front end, larger data structures within the chip and a wider execution path through each core. In many senses it succeeded, however single threaded performance still took a hit compared to Phenom II:

 

Cinebench 11.5 - Single Threaded

At the same clock speed, Phenom II is almost 7% faster per core than Bulldozer according to our Cinebench results. This takes into account all of the aforementioned IPC improvements. Despite AMD's efforts, IPC went down.

A slight reduction in IPC however is easily made up for by an increase in operating frequency. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that AMD was able to hit the clock targets it needed for Bulldozer this time around.

We've recently reported on Global Foundries' issues with 32nm yields. I can't help but wonder if the same type of issues that are impacting Llano today are also holding Bulldozer back.

The Architecture Power Management and Real Turbo Core
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  • TekDemon - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - link

    Yeah I paid $179 for my i5 2500K and it hums along at 4.8Ghz (can hit 5Ghz+ but I wanted to keep the voltages reasonable). Clock for clock bulldozer is slower since it's only competitive when the higher clocked part is compared to a stock 2500K. Reply
  • jleach1 - Friday, October 21, 2011 - link

    Their cores offer, what 75% the speed of a normal core?

    The fact is, this supposed "8" core processor performs worse than AMDs own 6 core processor. There's no way we can get away with calling it an 8 OR a 6 core.

    For all intents and purposes, it's a quad core.
    Reply
  • estarkey7 - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - link

    You took the words right out of my mouth! I am a big AMD fanboy, and I was waiting with baited breath to jump on the bulldozer bandwagon for my next rig (and I probably still will). But this is ridiculous! I'm a computer engineer and where the hell were the simulations AMD? Seems like you could have halved the L3 and kept in the extra FP resources and been better than what you are doing now.

    Also, don't bitch about that Windows 7 doesn't realize the architecture of Bulldozer, you knew that 18 months ago, so you should have been writing a patch so that would have been a non issue.

    The absolutely, positively only reason i will by an 8150-FX is that my current desktop is a dual core Athlon running at 2.2GHz. So to me, the performance increase over my current desktop would be massive. But on second thought, if I have stuck with such a slow system this long, I might another 3-5 months for Piledriver.
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - link

    <i>The power consumption is absolutely through the roof -- unacceptable for 32nm, really!</i>

    Uhh, you did see the bar graph for idle power usage, right? And keep in mind this is an 8-core CPU compared to 4- and 6-core competitors.

    Like you, I'm also very interested in the 4- and 6-core Bulldozers. Anand let us down by only reviewing the flagship Llano. Hopefully he doesn't do the same with Bulldozer.
    Reply
  • Tom Womack - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - link

    Yes, the idle power is significantly worse than either of the Sandy Bridge platforms he's comparing it to Reply
  • JasperJanssen - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - link

    What Anand reviews is mostly down to what AMD will let him have -- even sites the size of Anandtech don't simply get to call and order parts from a catalogue for review samples. Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - link

    AMD doesn't have much control over "review samples" that can be purchased at retail, as you can do with the A4-3300 et al. for weeks now Reply
  • enterco - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - link

    I read that 'at 1920x1200/1080 the gaming performance depends much mure on the GPU. Anyway, I'm happy with my i5-2500k ;-), Bulldozer does not seem to worth the wait. Reply
  • ninjaquick - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - link

    Blame shitty game developers. Reply
  • AssBall - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - link

    Kinda what I was thinking. When they are all developing games for a 6 year old 3 core PowerPC system with 512MB RAM (xbox) instead of a computer, its no bloody wonder. Reply

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