I build a new home development PC for myself every so often, with the last one being in early 2008–it will have been five years ago in just a couple months. That’s a long time to use the same PC in today’s “upgrade-or-fail” PC gaming culture. The thing is, I escaped that culture by doing most gaming on the Xbox 360 console which I prefer in the comfort of the living room. I work on a PC at a desk 8 hours a day already, so the last thing I want to do for leisure is sit in front of a PC during my off hours.
A second reason why that PC has lasted so long is the quality components I used for the build: Intel Q6600 4-core 2.4GHz CPU, 3-rail 12V 650W power supply (separating the CPU, motherboard, and drives on independent power lines for voltage stability), and a case with a separate closed-off area separating the power supply from the rest of the components to aid in cooling. It is still a great dev PC, but there are some exciting new components I want to use in a new build and finally make the transition to a 64-bit Windows.
I design my own PC build, I don’t just start buying components and assemble them. So, while designing this next PC, I had decided on the apparently awesome AMD FX-8350 8-core CPU at 4.0 GHz. How could that not be awesome!? Sadly, a friend pointed me to this review which dashed my hopes and dreams:
Okay, so it’s not that bad, not like Intel totally pwned AMD, but still I’d expected the AMD to pull ahead in the thread-heavy tests like encoding/decoding, while I didn’t expect it to beat the Intel at games & rendering. I also have no reason to doubt this review, but there are a number of factors that must be considered. Intel and AMD used to leap-frog each other in terms of processor performance from one year to the next, but in recent years AMD just hasn’t been keeping up. So, here’s this great processor, 8 cores, 4.0GHz, which is absolutely amazing on paper! However, it just can’t keep up with the Intel 4-core chip (the slightly newer model Core i5-3750K at 3.4GHz still competes at the AMD’s price) . All I can make out of this situation is that Intel’s architecture is superior as tested. And incidentally, it’s a fair comparison because the CPUs are similarly priced.
The AMD FX-8350 is unlocked in terms of overclocking ability and starts already at 4.0GHz (4.2 turbo boost). The Intel I-3750K is clearly the one to get just for playing games. In terms of Newegg reviews, both have a solid average of 5 stars, with the Intel at 830 reviews and the AMD at 244 reviews, which is a very telling figure. Not that one is absolutely better than the other, but that Newegg sold 586 more Intel chips than AMD chips, at least in terms of reviewer participation which isn’t an objective or scientific measurement. It’s subjective. But, it’s a good fact to consider.
I will not be building this new PC quickly so the decision hasn’t been made yet. I am really torn between the two. On the one hand, the AMD seems to have huge potential with overclocking, but that might require extravagant cooling hardware. At 125W, the 32nm AMD chip requires a lot more power. The Intel is 22nm, 77W, so it runs cooler and costs less in power consumption. The new Intel would be much faster than the 5-year old Q6600 so I wouldn’t complain either way, and it’s not a really hard decision since either one would be enjoyable to use. I’m also conscious of the TCO (total cost of ownership) factor, though I wouldn’t expect components to differ in cost too much between the two competing architectures.
As a programmer first, I’m interested in seeing what the AMD 8-core can do with threading, especially given that the world’s fastest supercomputer today was built with AMD 16-core Opteron server processors in conjunction with Nvidia GPUs: The Titan at Oak Ridge National Laboratory performs at 17.59 Petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second–that is 17,590 Teraflops).