In today's hyper-connected world, technology buyers can find an answer to almost any question with a web browser and an internet connection. We can all do a little research before we sign the check or hand over the credit card. In the personal computer market, performance benchmarking has been an important part of evaluating computers for years, but what do benchmarks really tell us and which ones can we rely on?
History shows the way computers have been evaluated continually changes. For decades computers were primarily sold on the basis of the clock frequency of its processor, but as the frequencies rose higher and more architectural differences were introduced, the link between clock frequency and performance experienced by the user became increasingly tenuous. Additionally, increases in power consumption and decreases in performance scaling with clock speed ultimately killed clock speed as a performance measurement. Microprocessor core counts became the next marketable way many mainstream users were sold computers.
Benchmarks were developed to help take the guess work out of how much frequency or core counts really deliver in terms of performance, and to provide objective guidance from parties outside of the hardware ecosystem itself. As these software companies maneuvered to become the gold standard of benchmarking against each other, cracks in the model began to appear with hardware companies fighting for optimizations to achieve the highest score resulting in diminished credibility of frequency as a measure of performance.
As processor architectures have evolved, some benchmark suites have not evolved with them. However, they remain a staple to decision makers when judging the performance of computers. To serve today's PC user, there is a need to tap into previously underutilized compute resources which are available in the form of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) and their massive parallel compute capabilities. Modern processors, like the Accelerated Processing Unit (APU), have both Central Processing Unit (CPU) and GPU processing engines as well as specialized video and audio hardware, all working together to contribute to the user's experience and process modern workloads efficiently for outstanding performance with minimal power consumption.
Users today expect a rich visual experience and engage with computers like never before. They're consuming, creating, integrating and sharing high quality audio and video while interacting with their computers through touch, voice and gesture. There is seemingly less interest in what is happening behind the screen and more of an expectation that the system will just work to provide a great experience whether at home or at work.
Advanced APUs utilize the latest CPU and GPU technologies in heterogeneous system architecture (HSA) optimized designs that allocate the software work to the processing engine best suited for the task. HSA was developed to work in conjunction with new programming models and languages like OpenCL and C++AMP to optimize compute capabilities. While computing has reached levels with traditional microprocessor advancements where higher clock speeds require increased power and typically provide diminished rates of return on performance, HSA design is an improved approach to enabling the experiences that people expect today and tomorrow.
Given this seismic change in usage and user expectation, you would think that benchmarks would have changed to reflect the technology and users' needs and expectations. The sad reality is that many benchmarks haven't. Measuring just one task or one type of processing, such as single-core CPU performance, these benchmarks provide a limited view of system performance that does not easily translate to an evaluation of the experience of using the system the user is concerned with.
Is it valid to base buying decisions on benchmarks that only measure one aspect of the processor or are more heavily weighted toward a single, rarely used application? When buying a car is horsepower the only specification you consider on the window sticker at the dealership? Ultimately you are the best judge of what is good for you. In an ideal world, hands-on evaluation of a computer can determine if it will either satisfy your needs or it won't, simple as that.