Physical Register Files to Save Power

The original x86 instruction set has a very limited number of registers (8). In order to maintain backwards compatibility with legacy x86 code, the ISA and associated registers were preserved. To scale performance with wide out of order architectures however, we needed larger register files. The solution was to enable register renaming, where the hardware could have additional registers not defined in the x86 spec and rename them on the fly.

Register renaming is done in all modern day x86 processors. There are two approaches to register renaming. The current Phenom II/Opteron approach actually carries the data from renamed registers along with the instruction as it moves through queues before it gets executed. You effectively create very wide instructions, which is horribly power inefficient (moving data on a chip takes a lot of power) although it gets the job done from a performance standpoint.

The alternative is something that we don’t see used in any current generation microprocessors. Instead of carrying data along with the instructions, you simply carry pointers to the data with those instructions. There’s added management complexity but you don’t have to worry about moving lots of data around, and therefore avoid much of the power penalty.

Bobcat (as well as Bulldozer) uses physical register files to save power. Intel actually did this in the Pentium 4 but hasn’t used PRFs since. AMD argues that with power as a major driver of design, PRFs will be necessary in future architectures.

Bobcat’s Performance Expectations

With nearly the same pipeline depth as Atom (15 vs. 16 stages), nearly the same cache latencies, the same instruction issue width and presumably competitive clock speeds (~1.5GHz), Bobcat based microprocessors should inherently outperform Atom thanks to its out of order architecture.

Atom does hold an advantage in that each core is multithreaded, so heavily threaded apps may have an advantage on Intel’s architecture. That being said, by far the biggest issue we have with Atom based netbooks is their single threaded performance that contributes to an overall slow user experience. Bobcat should hopefully address that.

On the threaded side, AMD does have another solution. As I mentioned before, Bobcat won’t be used in a microprocessor by itself - Ontario will feature two of them. AMD said that future designs are expected to integrate 2 or 4 Bobcat cores, while there are no plans to produce a single core version it’s always possible.

I believe a dual core Ontario based on Bobcat, if clocked high enough, could deliver a good enough balance of single and multithreaded performance to really challenge Atom in the netbook space. The assumption is that graphics performance will be much better than Atom with Ontario integrating an AMD GPU.

AMD’s official line is that Ontario will be able to deliver 90% of the performance of a mainstream notebook in less than half the die area. AMD isn’t just looking to compete with Atom, but go after even the CULV market with Ontario. Only time will tell if the latter is over zealous.

Power Concerns

AMD calls Bobcat sub-1W capable, which seems to imply that short of a smartphone Bobcat could go anywhere Atom could go. Technically, if AMD wanted to, even getting one into a smartphone wouldn’t be impossible - it would just require a healthy investment in chipsets.

It remains to be seen how good TSMC’s 40nm process will be compared to Atom’s Intel-manufactured 45nm transistors in terms of power consumption. Presumably the out of order aspect of the design will guarantee higher power consumption than Atom, but for the netbook/CULV notebook market the added performance may be worth the added power consumption.

It’s an Out of Order Atom Bulldozer
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • stalker27 - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    Those "some of you" don't make them R&D money... which, silly boy that you are... got you those fast chips in the first place.

    Oh boy, how important some people think they are.
  • iwod - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

  • iwod - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    I am not a Professional Engineer, but i do have my degree in Electrics Engineering. I fully understand how Models and Simulations, MatLabs, Video Encoding, or CG Rendering requires as much Performance as it can get.

    But to the world, I am sorry you are right. You are exactly not counted in "the rest of the world". You are inside a professional niche whether you like it or not. That includes even Hardcore PC gamers, which is shrinking day by day due to completion from consoles. No this is not to say PC Gaming to going to die. It just means it is getting smaller. And this trend is not going to change until something dramatic happens.

    The rest of the world, counted by BILLIONS, are moving, or looking to move to iPad, Netbook, Cheap Notebook, or something that just get things done as cheaply as possible. It is the reason why Netbook took off. Why Atom based All in One PC took off. No one in the marketing department knew such Gigantic market exists.

    Lastly, i want to emphasis, by the "world" i really mean the World. Not an American view of the world which would just literally be America by itself. China, India, Brazil, and even countries like Japan are having trouble selling high end PC.
  • jabber - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    Yep, all you computer engineer folks and render farms etc. account for a very small minority in the "world of computer users". You are not mainstream users.

    In general terms the world isnt really that interested anymore in CPU performance improvements.

    Most folks out there just want smaller and lower power so they can carry a computer around with them. They dont give a damn what the CPU architecture is.

    The leviathan CPU approach by AMD and Intel could go the way of the dinosaur for mainstream computing. ARM could well be the new mainstream CPU leader in just five years.

    Just think outside your own little box.
  • B3an - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    Ridiculous small minded comment.

    Render farms and the like may not be mainstream, but gaming is, then theres things like video encoding, servers, workstations, databases, all very popular mainstream stuff that millions of people use and the internet also relies on.

    A very large percentage of computer users will always want faster CPU's.

    If Intel or AMD did what you think most people want, then nothing would progress either. No 3D interfaces, no artificial intelligence, no anything, as the power needed for it would never be there.
  • BitJunkie - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    It all comes down to usage models right? The point is that AMD and Intel are trying to capture as many usage models as possible within a given architecture.

    This is why modular design is kind of appealing - you can bolt stuff together to hit the desired spot in the thermal-computational envelope.

    The thing that "engineers" fall foul of is that there is a divergence going on. On the one hand general computing is dominating, with a desire to drive down power usage. On the other hand there is the same appetite for improved computational performance as we get smarter and more ambitious in the way we tackle engineering problems.

    The issue is that both camps are looking to the same architecture for answers.

    The reason why that doesnt work for me is that some computations just don't benefit from parallelism - more cores doesn't mean more productivity. Therefore I want to see the few cores that I do use become super efficient at flipping bits on a floating point calculation.

    Right now there's no clear answer to that problem - but it will probably come with Fusion and the point at which the GPU takes the role that math co-processors did before being swallowed into the CPU. For this to work we need Microsoft to handle the GPU compute stuff natively within windows so that existing code can execute and not think about what part of the hardware is lifting the load.

    Therefore my sincere hope is that GPUs will become the new math co-processors and Windows 8 will make that happen.

    Oh, and there's no need for any tribalism here wrt to usage models. It's all good.
  • jabber - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    No its not small minded. Its looking at the big picture.

    The big picture is that for most users their CPU power needs were reached and surpassed some time ago.

    CPUs are not the bottle neck in modern PCs. Storage systems are.

    We need better, cheaper and faster storage.

    I've been pushing out 1.6Ghz dual core Atoms to 95% of my small business customers and a good chunk of domestics for the past year.

    I havent had one moan or complaint that the PCs were not fast enough. Very few customers are hardcore gamers. Gamers are still a small subsection of the computing world.

    I'm not asking AMD/Intel to stop research in new and faster CPU designs. Keep going boys its all good.

    I'm just saying that the majority of mainstream computing lays along a very different path going forward to those that require power at all costs.

    Not all of us need octa-cores at 4Ghz+. A lot of us can get by with a 2Ghz dual core and a half decent 7200rpm HDD.

    Most of the PCs I see are still single core. Folks are managing just fine right now.

    Plenty folks are now managing with just 1Ghz or less on a mobile device. Thats why Intel are taking ARM more seriously as they see that future mainstream being more low power, mobile based than leviathan mega-core-mega-wattage beasts.

    Things will change rapidly over the next three or four years.
  • Aries1470 - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link


    "We need better, cheaper and faster storage.

    I've been pushing out 1.6Ghz dual core Atoms to 95% of my small business customers and a good chunk of domestics for the past year.

    I havent had one moan or complaint that the PCs were not fast enough. Very few customers are hardcore gamers. Gamers are still a small subsection of the computing world.

    Well, I for one totally agree. I purchaed last year an Atom 330 dual core, and it does more than enough.
    I already had a much more powerful system, of which I use about.... one or twice a month if that! It is a quad core, has 4 gigs and a 2gb 9600 gpu.

    I have moved away from gaming and encoding and all that stuff.

    The motherboard I have is:
    ATOM-GM1-330 of which I imported to Australia from the U.S.A., since the distibuter here does not bring this model.
    I have paired it with 4Gb of memory, but using only 3gb, since I am running 32bit systems (XP & win 7)
    A Blu-ray writer....
    and a LP 5450 used with an adapter from 16x -> 1x

    It plays blu-ray great while browsing at the same time!
    I browse the internet at the same time as my wife and kid watch a movie on the 50" plasma, with NO stutter.

    Needless to say, I got it as a secondary pc... and has become my main pc. It is left on basically 24/7, with NO fan on the cpu! Low power consumption too.

    It performs great for the functions I want, and can even play Civ IV on it... but not much else. If I want to play real gaming, I use my other pc.

    So for what it is, it works great for my needs! No useless power consumption, does its Boinc too, albeit slow, but still better than my older P2-550... that was still alive a few years ago.

    Most people I know, don't use their pc for gaming anymore, mostly for facebook/ twitter and video calling, they have their Wii's & Xbox and one has a PS3...

    Ok, end of rant, but to conclude, I concur, your average Joe, has his gaming machine, and his pc is for htpc or not a gaming power pc.
  • gruffi - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Sandy Bridge, the architecture that is suppose to leap again like Pentium 4 to C2D? Thanks for the joke of the day.

    Sandy Bridge looks more like a minor update of Nehalem/Westmere. More load/store bandwidth, improved cache, AVX and maybe a few other little tweaks. Nothing special. I think it will be less of an improvement as Core 2 (Core successor) and Nehalem (Core 2 successor) were.

    In many ways Bulldozer looks superior to what Intel has to offer in 2011.
  • Lonbjerg - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    I don't care for "Bobcat"...mediocre performance in a cramped formfactor (netbooks) have as much interest to me as being dragged naked across field filled with broken glass.

    The "Bulldozer" looks fine on paper...problem is that so did Phenom.
    I look forward to the real reviews, and not PR slices :)

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now