AMD's Quad FX: Technically Quad Coreby Anand Lal Shimpi on November 30, 2006 1:16 PM EST
- Posted in
More Sockets, but Lower Performance?
When AMD briefed us on Quad FX, the performance focus was on heavy multitasking (AMD calls this "Megatasking") or very multi-threaded tests. We figured it was an innocent attempt to make sure we didn't run a bunch of single threaded benchmarks on Quad FX and proclaim it a failure. Given that the vast majority of our CPU test suite is multi-threaded to begin with, we didn't think there would be any problems showcasing where four cores is better than two, much like we did in our Kentsfield review.
However when running our SYSMark 2004SE tests we encountered a situation that didn't make total sense to us at first, and somewhat explained AMD's desire for us to strongly focus on megatasking/multithreaded tests. If we pulled one of the CPUs out of the Quad FX system, we actually got higher performance in SYSMark than with both CPUs in place. In other words, four cores was slower than two.
|CPU||SYSMark 2004SE||Internet Content Creation||Office Productivity|
|2 Sockets (4 cores)||261||373||182|
|1 Socket (2 cores)||288||393||211|
You'll see that in some of the individual tests there is an advantage to having both CPUs installed, but in the vast majority of them performance goes down with four cores. It turns out that there are two explanations for the anomaly.
|CPU||Internet Content Creation||3D Creation||2D Creation||Web Publication|
|2 Sockets (4 cores)||373||245||514||411|
|1 Socket (2 cores)||393||364||453||369|
First, in Internet Content Creation SYSMark 2004SE, there appears to be an issue with having two physical CPUs in the system that results in the 3dsmax rendering test only spawning a single thread, lowering performance below that of a normal dual-core processor. This problem may be caused by a licensing violation within the benchmark where it is expecting to see one physical CPU with multiple cores and isn't prepared to deal with multiple CPUs. Regardless of the exact cause of the problem, it doesn't appear to be anything more than a benchmark issue. It's the performance in the Office Productivity suite that is far more worrisome because there is no issue with the benchmark that's causing the problem.
|CPU||Office Productivity||Communication||Document Creation||Data Analysis|
|2 Sockets (4 cores)||182||171||259||137|
|1 Socket (2 cores)||211||187||285||176|
The Office Productivity suite of SYSMark 2004SE wasn't the only situation where we saw lower performance on Quad FX than with a single dual core setup. 3D games seemed to suffer the most; take a look at what happens in our Oblivion and Half Life 2: Episode One tests:
|CPU||Oblivion - Bruma||Oblivion - Dungeon||Half Life 2: Episode One|
|2 Sockets (4 cores)||67.3||78.3||155.8|
|1 Socket (2 cores)||75.2||90.9||165.7|
Once again, populate both sockets in the Quad FX system and performance goes down. The explanation for these anomalies lies in the result of one more benchmark, CPU-Z's memory latency test:
|CPU||CPU-Z Latency (8192KB, 128-byte)|
|2 Sockets (4 cores)||55.3 ns|
|1 Socket (2 cores)||43.3 ns|
With both sockets populated, memory latency goes up by around 27% and thus in applications that are more latency sensitive and don't necessarily need all four cores, you get worse performance than with a single dual-core CPU. The added latency comes from the additional probing over the HT bus that's done for coherency whenever a memory request is made to see where the latest copy of the data resides.
It's a problem that will go away if you have a single quad-core CPU with one memory controller, but one that makes Quad FX a tougher pill to swallow compared to Intel's quad-core offerings.