What’s in a Benchmark? This is a pertinent question that all users need to ask themselves, because if you don’t know what a benchmark actually tests and how that relates to the real world, the scores are meaningless. Today, AMD has announced that they are resigning from BAPCo over a long standing dispute over the weighting of scores within the SYSmark suite. AMD specifically references SYSmark 2012 (SM12), but there have been complaints in the past and the latest release is apparently the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

You can read more about the decision on Cheif Marketing Officer (CMO) Nigel Dessau’s blog, but this announcement comes at an interesting time since BAPCo just shipped us copies of the final SM12 release. We haven’t had a chance to run the suite yet, and we’ll still have a look at the results and see how AMD and Intel platforms compare at some point, but it looks like we have a foregone conclusion: Intel will come out ahead. What we really need to examine is why Intel gets a better score.

If you’ve been reading AnandTech for any length of time, you’ll know that we place a lot more weight on real-world benchmarks rather than synthetic tests, but certain tasks can be very difficult to test in a meaningful way. How do you measure every day tasks like surfing the web in a meaningful way when most CPUs are 95% idle performing that task? When we really look at the market right now, in many cases we can conclude that just about any current computer will be fast enough for 90% of users. If you want to surf the Internet, write email, work in Office applications, watch some movies, listen to music, etc. you can do that on anything from a lowly AMD Brazos netbook to a hex-core monster system. Yes, we did leave out Atom, because there are certain areas where it falls short—specifically, certain movie formats prove to be too much for the current Atom platform, particularly if you’re looking at HD H.264 content (e.g. YouTube and Hulu).

Reading through AMD’s announcement and Nigel’s blog, it’s pretty clear what AMD is after: they want the GPU to play a more prominent role in measurements of overall system performance. On the one hand, we could say that AMD is simply trying to get benchmarks to favor their APUs, since Brazos and Llano easily surpass the Intel competition when it comes to graphics and video prowess. This would certainly be true, but then we also have to consider what users are actually doing with their PCs. SYSmark has always included a variety of tests, and certainly knowing how fast your computer is in regards to Excel performance can be useful. However, AMD claims that a disproportionate weight is given to some tests, with mention of optical character recognition and file compression activities in particular.

We don’t have the full SM12 whitepaper yet, but we can look at the list of applications that are tested, and a few things immediately stand out. There are two web browsers in the list, but both versions are now outdated. Internet Explorer 8 has been replaced by Internet Explorer 9, and Firefox 3.6 is replaced by Firefox 4.0—with Firefox 5 just around the corner. Without newer browsers, HTML5 is basically untested by SM12, and while we understand that SM12 has been in development for a while, for something calling itself 2012 to include mostly 2010 applications feels out of place. Considering IE9 and FF4 both shift to GPU-accelerated engines, AMD would certainly have benefited from the use of the latest versions. The remaining applications look reasonable, but again we have no information on weighting of scores, so we’ll have to see how the results pan out.

Ultimately, the main thing to take away from all of this is that, just like the PCMark, 3DMark, Cinebench, SunSpider, etc. benchmarks we routinely refer to, SYSmark 2012 is merely one more tool to analyze system performance. It will be interesting to see how other elements—like the presence or lack of an SSD—impact the score. In our opinion most users would benefit far more from running something like Llano with an SSD as opposed to Sandy Bridge with an HDD, so the CPU/GPU/APU are not the only factors, but it still depends on your intended use. If you’re running a server, obviously the demands placed on the system will be far different from the average home computer. Multimedia professionals that spend a lot of time in Adobe Photoshop and/or Premiere likewise have different needs.

Is AMD right? Is heterogeneous (e.g. CPU and GPU working together) computing more important now than raw CPU performance, or is SYSmark12 merely proving what we already know: Sandy Bridge is really fast? Let us know what you think, but as always remember that when you’re looking at benchmark charts, take a minute to think about what the bars actually represent. The full news release is below, but again you can find substantially more detail in Dessau’s blog.

Update: It turns out AMD is not the only party to have left the BAPCo consortium recently. We've just confirmed with NVIDIA that they have also left the BAPCo consortium. No reason was given.

Update 2: BAPCo has released a statement in return. The consortium notes that AMD approved 80% of the development milestones and that AMD was never threatened with expulsion. The full statement is attached below.

Update 3: We've finally gotten official confirmation (as rumored earlier) that VIA has also left the consortium. They have sent a short statement to SemiAccurate which we have included below. The basis of their complaints are much the same as AMD's: they don't consider SYSMark 2012 to reflect real world usage.


AMD Will Not Endorse SYSmark 2012 Benchmark

— AMD Separates from Association with Industry Group BAPCo —

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — 21, 2011 — AMD (NYSE: AMD) today announced that it will not endorse the SYSmark 2012 Benchmark (SM2012), which is published by BAPCo (Business Applications Performance Corporation). Along with the withdrawal of support, AMD has resigned from the BAPCo organization.

“Technology is evolving at an incredible pace, and customers need clear and reliable measurements to understand the expected performance and value of their systems,” said Nigel Dessau, senior vice president and Chief Marketing Officer at AMD. “AMD does not believe SM2012 achieves this objective. Hence AMD cannot endorse or support SM2012 or remain part of the BAPCo consortium.”

AMD will only endorse benchmarks based on real-world computing models and software applications, and which provide useful and relevant information. AMD believes benchmarks should be constructed to provide unbiased results and be transparent to customers making decisions based on those results. Currently, AMD is evaluating other benchmarking alternatives, including encouraging the creation of an industry consortium to establish an open benchmark to measure overall system performance.

AMD encourages anyone wanting more details about the construction and scoring methodology of the SM2012 benchmark to contact BAPCo. For more details on AMD’s decision to exit BAPCo, please read AMD’s Executive Blog authored by Nigel Dessau.


BAPCo® Reaffirms Open Development Process For SYSmark® 2012

SAN MATEO, Calif.—(BUSINESS WIRE)—Business Applications Performance Corporation (BAPCo®) is a non-profit consortium made up of many of the leaders in the high tech field, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft, Samsung, Seagate, Sony, Toshiba and ARCintuition. For nearly 20 years BAPCo has provided real world application based benchmarks which are used by organizations worldwide. SYSmark® 2012 is the latest release of the premiere application based performance benchmark. Applications used in SYSmark 2012 were selected based on market research and include Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe Acrobat, WinZip, Autodesk AutoCAD and 3ds Max, and others.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) was, until recently, a long standing member of BAPCo. We welcomed AMD’s full participation in the two year development cycle of SYSmark 2012, AMD’s leadership role in creating the development process that BAPCo uses today and in providing expert resources for developing the workload contents. Each member in BAPCo gets one vote on any proposals made by member companies. AMD voted in support of over 80% of the SYSmark 2012 development milestones, and were supported by BAPCo in 100% of the SYSmark 2012 proposals they put forward to the consortium.

BAPCo also notes for the record that, contrary to the false assertion by AMD, BAPCo never threatened AMD with expulsion from the consortium, despite previous violations of its obligations to BAPCo under the consortium member agreement.

BAPCo is disappointed that a former member of the consortium has chosen once more to violate the confidentiality agreement they signed, in an attempt to dissuade customers from using SYSmark to assess the performance of their systems. BAPCo believes the performance measured in each of the six scenarios in SYSmark 2012, which is based on the research of its membership, fairly reflects the performance that users will see when fully utilizing the included applications.


VIA's Statement About Leaving The BAPCo Consortium

VIA today confirmed reports that we have tendered our resignation to BAPCo. We strongly believe that the benchmarking applications tests developed for SYSmark 2012 and EEcoMark 2.0 do not accurately reflect real world PC usage scenarios and workloads and therefore feel we can no longer remain as a member of the organization.

We hope that the industry can adopt a much more open and transparent process for developing fair and objective benchmarks that accurately measure real world PC performance and are committed to working with companies that share our vision.

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  • Xyllian - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    I don't want to come of as a total tool with my first comment here but the title is probably the most misleading one i have ever read.

    "AMD resigns from BAPCo, NVIDIA joins them" makes it seem like AMD left and NVIDIA joined BAPCo doesn't it?

    "AMD resigns from BAPCo, NVIDIA leaves too" would be 400 times more accurate and impossible to misinterpret.

    On the topic at hand however, did anyone trust SysMark before? Since 2002 Intel has been making the test continuously more biased towards their processors. Everyone should know this.
    Reply
  • Allswell - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    The simple fact is, if you want to have the best PC experience you can get... you use an Intel CPU. Reply
  • Regenweald - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Indeed, buy an intel cpu and do spreadsheets all day long. As long as you don't use the graphically intense internet, value quality visual entertainment or game casually or seriously, you'll be fine with HD 3000 integrated. Reply
  • Targon - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    That's a joke, right? The low-cost Intel based machines(Under $550 USD) may have faster processors in them, but the rest of the components in the system are cheap and have many problems. To get many low-cost Intel based machines to be stable, doing things like turning off the power conservation stuff, keeping the machine from going to sleep(since in many cases waking up from standby causes system instability), and other things.

    AMD based machines may have a slower processor, but the supporting components in the low-cost machines really are better quality overall.
    Reply
  • Allswell - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Jarred,

    Are you sure you are accurate in saying Llano surpasses Sandy Bridge in Video prowess?

    As I understand it, the only thing AMD has going for them is 3D graphics.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    I suppose the "video" part is debatable when comparing Llano with SNB, but Brazos is clearly superior to Atom in that area. I'll defer to Ganesh for the video stuff; I believe he is working on an article showing how Llano fares in various HTPC scenarios. Reply
  • mino - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    Sandy Bridge vs. ANYTHING current from AMD/NV:

    2D: SB is a bit slow and buggy
    3D: SB is slow, CHOPPY and BUGGY (well, compared to previous Intel efforts, it hass really good drivers...)
    2D video: SB is OK but the image quality in line with Geforce before the FX series.

    Amateur video encoding: SB wins easily thanks to QuickSync. Not thta this has anything to do with Graphics ...

    Calling Anandtech's assessment of SB vs. Llano graphics unfair to Intel is crazy BTW. AT is one of the biggest fans of GPU awesomeness SB brought.

    So when AT is forced to admit SB IGP is not better than Llano IGP, it is really something ...
    Reply
  • bgold2007 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    I don't see any comments about software versions. The Anandtech article mentions old versions of IE, etc.
    As a low-level employee of a local government, we use older versions of software - XP Pro, older IE etc.
    Office 2010 is soon to be rolled out. And the BAPCo response does mention Sysmark is for organizations.

    So maybe it is more useful for governments and large, slow-to-upgrade organizations, and less useful for on the ball individuals and small businesses. Plus, remember the adage 'no one ever got fired for buying IBM".
    No one will get fired for buying Intel either.

    I think AMD Nvidia et al did the right thing; consumers have to be informed and decide on their total needs.
    Reply
  • frozentundra123456 - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    what I meant by that statement is that AMDs attitude seems to be to talk up their products, then be late to market with a product that does not measure up to the hype.

    And when they get criticized, they say they are still better, you are just using the wrong test. You hurt my feelings (made my product look bad), so I am just going to ignore your.
    Reply
  • Targon - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    No, AMD has the attitude that the entire system is what people use, not just a single component at any one time. Now, if you saw a gaming benchmark that tested both CPU and GPU performance, but then discounted the CPU results, wouldn't that leave Intel looking like the platform to ignore?

    The problem isn't that Sysmark ends up showing Intel being ahead, but that in any benchmark that shows AMD doing well, it ends up not really affecting the OVERALL score.

    When it comes to doing web based benchmarks, it stands to reason that Firefox 4(which came out back in March) would be used since it has been out for three months, and IE 9 would be used as well. Both of these browsers have been out for long enough where a NEW benchmark that is labeled as 2012 would use them.

    I agree with other posters when they say that tests like doing an Excel calculation on 32,000 rows should be seen as not being terribly important, so why let THAT test result have a higher value in the overall result than some other tests?
    Reply

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