AMD Vishera - FX 8350 Performance Review

Company: AMD
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: October 23rd, 2012


At the end of 2010, AMD was positioning their top end desktop processor, the Phenom II X6 1100T in the mid to high $200USD range. In 2011, AMD changed their line up strategy with the low and mid range processors being A-series APUs and the mid and high end enthusiast platform served by the FX series, of which the range topping FX 8150 introduced at the same point the 1100T did, mid to high $200USD range. This year, the FX-8350 is coming in at a more accessible price point, 25% under the FX-8150's starting point. In our testing we see that the FX-8350 is a win some, lose some proposition against our pseudo-Core i5 2500K. AMD priced the FX-8350 under the lowest unlocked overclockable Core i-series, largely because of the performance/watt deficient, perhaps also because of the integrated graphics capability the Core i-series has which FX doesn't and so respecting their own marketing of APUs.

Piledriver doesn't appear to be huge jump for Bulldozer architecture. The power profile is improved, leading to higher clocks but not revamped enough to enable new lower TDPs. Tweakers still don't have the ability to directly set their own TDP limits via AMD Overdrive, although some mainboards offer overcurrent protection (OCP) limit adjustments that kinda work in a similar manner. The additional instruction sets added with Bulldozer architecture and enhanced in Piledriver are only useful to customers writing code to target those functions, precluding consumer software producers who want to stick with common platform or de facto features that are handled by compiler libraries. AMD is making progress with OpenCL, working to get code paths that support CPUs, GPUs and APUs into popular mainstream applications like GIMP, Photoshop, WinZip and Handbrake. AMD showed 10-11% improvements in OpenCL Handbrake benchmarks, which interestingly also benefited Intel CPUs too, although to a lesser degree (~5%). We couldn't verify this however, as the publicly available build would crash trying to run on our test systems.

While the backwards compatibility is very welcomed, the lack of ongoing development in enthusiast platform discrete chipsets is worrisome. With APUs integrating more and more into the main chip every year, discrete north bridges and south bridges are going away, being replaced with platform controller hubs which are too being absorbed into the SoC mentality of HSA. However, by not making a new chipset with the existing AM3+ socket, AMD missed out on a golden opportunity to bring more value to their platform. Top of the list is PCI-Express 3.0, followed by storage improvements; on AMD's A85X I can get 8 SATA 3 ports in a single controller, but not on the flagship FX? Six is four more than Intel's two, but Intel offer SSD caching. No native USB 3.0, where there are 4 on last year's A75? No SAS support? AMD Quick Stream? Not even a wafer thin mint? At least there's no rebrand, but a die shrink and lower power chipset would have been nice.

Many of these features can and are being added as third party add-ons, but if you're not going to outright win on straight CPU performance and instead market on overall platform, you've got to at least match the big bullet points like PCI-E 3.0, a feature of AMD's latest discrete graphics products, and making the most of increasing SSD availability. At least the free AMD Radeon RAM Disk will let you have fun with the gobs of memory FX supports, which is getting cheaper too. There's also been no mention of Trustzone technology, but that was also only announced this year at AFDS so it may be too soon in the product cycle to expect that yet.

AMD's platform longevity is its saving grace here, if you haven't upgraded to an Intel Sandy or Ivy Bridge system yet then it's an option to look for a drop in upgrade to FX. AMD's official position on FX is that you need an AM3+ socket and 970, 990X or 990FX chipset due to the power plane upgrade for the socket. However, many mainboard manufacturers offer official or beta BIOS support for FX on different chipsets, like our ASUS Crosshair IV Formula with 890FX although we haven't yet tested that first hand.

If you're a tweaking enthusiast, the FX platform offers a lot of dials to turn - cores to disable, turbo clocks to adjust, base HT clock to tweak, NB-CPU clock to ramp up, and memory speeds to play with. If you're a current AMD platform user on a budget, the Piledriver based FX series could be a good way to catch up to most of the Intel lines for less. If you're a performance enthusiast or high end gamer then you will be left wanting more than the platform provides, despite its acceptable level of performance; there's just more to be had on the blue side of the fence if you've got more to spend. AMD is serving the performance enthusiast who wants to spend less; if you're aren't able to stretch to a $230 or higher CPU and ~$150 Z-series mainboard, an FX 8350 and 9-series chipset will let you overclock and surpass any non-K series processor, and maybe leave you a little cash leftover to improve your overall experience somewhere else as well.

The AMD FX 8350 is what should have been launched last year, and it's arrived this year with a minimum of fuss (well, except for AMD breaking their own NDA by giving out FX 8350's at their Austin fan day...) and at the right price point. For the next iteration AMD need to give the CPU-NB some attention and get the clock up to provide more memory controller bandwidth, as well as get PCI-E 3.0 on the chip. For the AMD enthusiast who wasn't convinced by the first generation FX, this is the chip to jump on. For the performance enthusiast who is value orientated this is a worthy consideration, if overclocking is on the must-have list. AMD is competitive in the entry level to $120 CPU market with their new second generation A-series APUs and now have an answer for the $100-$200 range market who want more powerful CPU as well as more powerful discrete graphics, too.

With a decent value proposition, acceptable stock performance, interesting enthusiast features but poor performance/watt, the Piledriver FX 8350 isn't a huge let down (unless you've been living in a dream world about how CPU development works) and isn't a huge surprise, either (same reason). It's where we expected, but not where AMD really needs to be for the enthusiast market as it is a product of a single design being used to address multiple roles. AMD CPU performance is better now than a year ago, but Intel has widened the gap in the meantime. We award 3 1/2 stars, and are thankful for AMD's new faster CPU improvement cadence and look forward to 2013's Steamroller architecture - if AMD can keep to their schedule given the next 3 Quarters' anticipated 'restructuring' changes.