AMD Bulldozer: The fightback begins in 2011

What about the performance?

Ultimately, of course, the war of words will give way to a more relevant battle for the real world performance crown. Much will come down to the number of modules AMD manages to cram in. Early indications suggest that the first Bulldozer chips will have four modules and hence will probably be marketed as eight-core chips.

But by then, Intel could well be flogging CPUs with eight full-on cores. In that context, Bulldozer is unlikely to be the fastest CPU you can buy when it arrives. What it very probably will do, however, is lift AMD out of its current budget niche and allow it to take on Intel in the meaty, lucrative market for midrange performance CPUs.

Power not price

No longer will AMD chips compete almost purely on price, in other words. That said, there are doubts that will need to be addressed. It's not clear, for instance, how well a Bulldozer module will perform in the floating point workloads that are increasingly common in our modern multimedia world.

The problem here is twofold. Not only does Bulldozer have just a single floating point unit for each pair of integer units. It's also limited to executing floating point instructions in 128-bit chunks. By early 2011, Intel should have launched its Sandy Bridge architecture complete with 256-bit floating-point power.

The upshot of which is that in certain scenarios, Intel's chips could have four times the floating point performance per integer unit. That's a bit scary. Maybe it will Intel rolling out the "Our cores aren't like your cores" gag after all.


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