HD 7970: Bulldozer vs. Sandy Bridge vs. Nehalem Review 234

HD 7970: Bulldozer vs. Sandy Bridge vs. Nehalem Review

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Introduction

Just one week ago AMD released their new Radeon HD 7970 graphics cards which introduced a new shader architecture and a new manufacturing process. The company's new flagship is the fastest single GPU graphics card in the world, and reviews across the Internet were generally favourable. Today, we test the Radeon HD 7970's CPU scaling, pitting AMD's recently released Bulldozer-based FX-8150 CPU against two formidable Intel opponents.

According to the reviews online, AMD's latest processor architecture delivers surprisingly underwhelming performance, which quickly made it one of the biggest disappointments of the year according to some users. Loyal fanboys despise terms like "Faildozer" and have kept faith in AMD's promise to deliver a competitive high-end gaming capable processor.

Despite disappointing reviews, Bulldozer has gone on to sell quite well and has amassed a certain cult following with enthusiasts who would like to own this CPU regardless of benchmarks. Their purchasing reasons range from supporting the underdog, to setting records with its impressive overclocking abilities (8 GHz+ on LN2) and everything in-between. This has led some of these enthusiasts to clamour for a review of AMD's best in GPUs (Radeon HD 7970) and CPUs (FX-8150) to be compared working together against the Intel CPU competition to see just how well they do, as this seems to present an unknown variable in many end-users' buying decision.

In this review we will pit three CPUs from the popular ~$250 segment against each other using the Radeon HD 7970:
  • AMD FX-8150: This is the company's current flagship Bulldozer processor. It features four execution units that show up as eight cores in Windows, its Turbo clocks up to 4.2 GHz and it has plenty of cache, the processor is priced competitively at $270.
  • Intel Core i5-2500K: The processor most gamers and overclockers use. Thanks to its "K" suffix it enables significant overclocking unlike the cheaper Sandy Bridge processors, yet comes at an affordable price of $220. Actually this makes it the cheapest processor in today's test group.
  • Intel Core i7-920: While it does not use a sexy 32 nm production process and is based on Intel's last generation Nehalem architecture, it still packs a punch especially when overclocked. It is also an affordable choice if you are looking to run a multi-GPU gaming rig at full 2x PCIe x16 without breaking the bank (LGA 2011).


Market Segment Analysis
 AMD FX-8150Intel Core i7-920Intel Core i5-2500K
Number of Cores84 (8 threads)4
Core CodenameZambeziBloomfieldSandy Bridge
SocketAM3+LGA 1366LGA 1155
Core Speed3.6 GHz2.67 GHz3.30 GHz
Turbo Boostup to 4.2 GHzup to 2.93 GHzup to 3.7 GHz
L2 Cache4x 2048 KB4x 256 KB4x 256 KB
L3 Cache8 MB8 MB6 MB
Process Size32 nm45 nm32 nm
Die size315 mm²263 mm²216 mm²
TDP125 W130 W95 W
Price$270$270$220

Test System

Test System - Bulldozer
CPU:AMD FX-8150 3.6 GHz
(Zambezi, 8192 KB Cache)
Motherboard:ASUS Crosshair V Formula
AMD 990FX & SB 950
Memory:2x 2048 MB Crucial Ballistix Finned 1866 DDR3
@ 1333 MHz 8-7-7-16
Harddisk:WD Caviar Black 640 GB
Power Supply:Antec HCP-1200 1200W
Software:Windows 7 64-bit Service Pack 1
Drivers:HD 7970: Dec 16 Reviewer Driver
Display: LG Flatron W3000H 30" 2560x1600

Test System - Sandy Bridge
CPU:Intel Core i5-2500K 3.30 GHz
(Sandy Bridge, 6144 KB Cache)
Motherboard:ASUS P8H67-M LX
Intel H67 (B3)
Memory:2x 2048 MB Crucial Ballistix Finned 1866 DDR3
@ 1333 MHz 8-7-7-16
Harddisk:WD Caviar Black 640 GB
Power Supply:Antec HCP-1200 1200W
Software:Windows 7 64-bit Service Pack 1
Drivers:HD 7970: Dec 16 Reviewer Driver
Display: LG Flatron W3000H 30" 2560x1600

Test System - Nehalem
CPU:Intel Core i7-920 2.66 GHz
(Bloomfield, 8192 KB Cache)
Motherboard:Gigabyte X58 Extreme
Intel X58 & ICH10R
Memory:3x 2048 MB Mushkin Redline XP3-12800 DDR3
@ 1066 MHz 8-7-7-16
Harddisk:WD Caviar Black 640 GB
Power Supply:Antec HCP-1200 1200W
Software:Windows 7 64-bit Service Pack 1
Drivers:HD 7970: Dec 16 Reviewer Driver
Display: LG Flatron W3000H 30" 2560x1600
Benchmark scores in this review are not comparable to any other review.
  • We used the same Windows installation on all systems and moved the HDD between test rigs.
  • All games were set to their highest quality setting unless indicated otherwise.
  • AA and AF are applied via in-game settings, not via the driver's control panel.
Each benchmark was tested at the following settings and resolution:
  • 1024 x 768, No Anti-aliasing. This is a standard resolution without demanding display settings.
  • 1280 x 1024, 2x Anti-aliasing. Common resolution for most smaller flatscreens today (17" - 19"). A bit of eye candy turned on in the drivers.
  • 1680 x 1050, 4x Anti-aliasing. Most common widescreen resolution on larger displays (19" - 22"). Very good looking driver graphics settings.
  • 1920 x 1200, 4x Anti-aliasing. Typical widescreen resolution for large displays (22" - 26"). Very good looking driver graphics settings.
  • 2560 x 1600, 4x Anti-aliasing. Highest possible resolution for commonly available displays (30"). Very good looking driver graphics settings.

Aliens vs. Predator


Aliens vs. Predator is based on a merger of the Aliens and the Predators franchise: two legendary alien species that are in conflict with each other, fighting to the death with human marines caught in between. The first person shooter game was developed by Rebellion Studios, who also developed the first AVP PC title and released in February 2010. It is one of the first DirectX 11 games with support for new features like tesselation, which is why AMD heavily promoted it at the time of their DX 11 card launches. We use the AVP benchmark utility with tesselation and advanced DX11 shadows enabled.

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