back to article AMD sued: Number of Bulldozer cores in its chips is a lie, allegedly

AMD lied about the true number of Bulldozer cores in some of its Opteron and FX processors, it is claimed. Mini-chipzilla boasted that, depending on the model, the chips had either four, six, eight or 16 Bulldozer cores. A class-action lawsuit [PDF] alleges the real figures are half that. The troubled California giant is …

That lawsuit is as American as it gets.

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Post eagle images!

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AMD gets it both ways

Remember when AMD tried to accuse Intel of not having true quad core cpus and then looking like asshats when their "true" quad cores came out and were significantly slower?

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Anonymous Coward

It's not the number of cores that's the problem for AMD, it's the performance per core that's crap. They are so far behind Intel I don't see them ever catching up and if Zen delivers I'll eat my shorts.

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Neither company matters in a decade unless they learn how to get by on high volume low margin manufacturing which is where the market is headed (thus layoffs both are doing). ARM for example is now fast enough for most things including games (check mobile game sales these days)

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Indeed, AMD do need to significantly improve their IPC. This is what Zen promises, so let's hope they deliver (and you eat your shorts) as a completely dominant Intel in the x86 space doesn't bear thinking about.

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Odds are decent in a decade there is hardly a x86 space at all. Good riddance as that instruction set and its bastard offspring should never have made it into the new millennium.

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I am not too sure about a statement like that about an architecture that powers what? 90+% of the current computer landscape?

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>90+% of the current computer landscape?

Including all those (now billion(s) of) handsets huh? Not to mention probably %90 of the code running in the wild actually runs on micro controllers. "A typical home in a developed country is likely to have only four general-purpose microprocessors but around three dozen microcontrollers. A typical mid-range automobile has as many as 30 or more microcontrollers." The future is the general purpose cpu market looking more like the microcontroller market of today. Stupid IoT money grab is actually already blurring the two.

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Anonymous Coward

@ asdf

Yes, would very much like to get a Tegra X1 board and play some Linux on it.

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90+% of the current computer landscape?

Depends a lot on how you define "computer landscape." Every automobile has several computers and has had for some years. Every smart phone contains a computer, as does every tablet. For some years, nearly every disk drive (either rotating or SSD) has had a computer, not to mention every router and most ethernet switches. Until quite recently, essentially none of those has been x86 architecture, and probably a relatively tiny fraction are even now. The "internet of things" is also unlikely to be built on x86 architecture. And there are quite a few Raspberry Pis free in the world.

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sorry

Basically general purpose CPU = commodity already for most people.

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You Know What He Meant

The OP was referring to desktop computers and perhaps laptops. I don't think most people conflate smart phones and desktops into a single "computers" category yet. It is also true that desktops/laptops still run big-boy games and applications that would not be possible on a phone, at least not for a while yet.

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There are way more ARM chips out there than Intel chips. When Intel shipped their billionth chip a few years back, ARM licences were shipping 1 billion chips every year.

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Boffin

There are almost certainly more ARM cores in your PC than Intel ones,

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Instruction set architecture hasn't mattered for about 20 years. Software compatibililty, on the other hand, will continue to matter as long as closed source is commercially significant. (In this context, I note that x86 emulation has been tried several times and has yet to catch on. I see no fundamental reason why it has failed, but merely note the experimental fact that it has, to date, done so.)

Promises of the imminent demise of x86 (and x64) sound about as convincing as promises of commercial fusion power. Both will almost certainly happen eventually, but it is anyone's guess when (and, indeed, which will happen first).

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My house: 13 general purpose, including phones and tablets. Micros... radio, other radio, three TVs, the STB, DVD player, microwave, cooker, washing machine, dishwasher, heating timer, 3d printer, scanner, printer, alarm clock, another alarm clock, bathroom fan...

Not the fridge though. That's good old-fashioned electromechanical logic.

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re: the demise of x86

"Promises of the imminent demise of x86 (and x64) sound about as convincing as promises of commercial fusion power"

Upvoted for the rest, but with this bit I disagree: the demise of x86 is on the way for sure, the only question is when it happens, and how quickly the demise occurs, wheareas only a fool would guarantee the arrival of commercial fusion power.

Contrary to the earlier comment from td97402, who said "most people don't conflate smart phones and desktops into a single "computers" category yet.", most of today's and tomorrow's end users don't even want a "computer", they just want a device that does their emailing, web browsing etc. They don't care whether it's Intel Inside or some other chip. Outside the IT departments people don't even care about software compatibility (e.g. whether it runs Windows or not) these days, as the collapsing sales of desktop PCs (and laptops) illustrate only too clearly. And where the device manufacturers can choose something other than Windows, usually they choose something other than x86 too.

x86 can't compete on its own two feet where software compatibility (mostly meaning Windows) is unnecessary. There are basically no volume embedded x86 systems, no x86 volume smartphones, no volume x86 tablets, no volume x86-based consumer or professional electronics (TVs, routers, test equipment, whatever)... you get the gist.

So, the volume market for x86 client computers is already a dying market and non-x86 computers massively overtook x86 long ago. So what? x86 development will carry on, right?

Don't be so sure about that. The volume x86 revenue stream that has made ongoing x86 development possible and affordable isn't going to be there that much longer.

Elsewhere in the market, in the high performance numerical computing sector there are little things like high end GPUs being used in certain markets instead of high end x86.

So where's the money going to come from to pay for top end x86 development (the nicely profitable stuff, once development costs have been recovered)?

With a much smaller revenue stream from the volume market, and having lost some of the high performance revenue stream, etc, Xeons for the IT department are the only marketable option. But Xeons are going to have to be even more expensive to pay for the development costs. Some readers may recognise this as the Alpha challenge - chip development costs are the same whether you sell chips in the hundreds of thousands or hundreds of millions.

I wouldn't want to bet on x86 being significant (in the way it is today) in seven (maybe even five) years time.

And that's not good for Intel, as they don't seem to be able to get anything right in the last decade or two, except x86. As for the implications for Microsoft - you can work that out for yourself, I'm sure. I suspect they maybe already did.

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"AMD do need to significantly improve their IPC"

And their thermals.

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"I note that x86 emulation has been tried several times and has yet to catch on"

x86 emulation is _exactly_ what both Intel and AMD do.

The cores haven't been native x86 for a _very_ long time (486 days or earlier)

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"The cores haven't been native x86 for a _very_ long time (486 days or earlier)"

Have an upvote as it saved me from having to say exactly the same thing!

However: <pedant>I think the "big break" occurred between the Pentium and the Pentium Pro.</pedant>

It used to make me smile that the Pentium was marketed as this huge change, when it was basically just two 486DXs on the same die, but the Pentium Pro which was a HUGE change in basic architecture (micro instructions, out of order execution, pipelining, branch prediction etc etc.) was marketed as just a "better" Pentium.

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Frivolous legal case, should be tossed out

Can't see this case succeeding, nor should it. There is no doubt that Bulldozer has the AMD stated number of cores, the fact that some aspects of the design is shared between paired cores is well known, add to that if your workload is heavily FPU based you'd have to be an idiot (or a cheapskate) to choose AMD. I selected an 8-core/4-module FX-8350 specifically for kernel and OS builds, mainly because there is so little FPU action (and there is no doubt it has 8 cores).

Unfortunately the guy bringing this case failed to do his homework and is now able to bring a frivolous legal action - I hope he loses and I'd like to think it will cost him a fortune (but it probably won't, which might be part of the problem).

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Re: Frivolous legal case, should be tossed out

Can't see this case succeeding before AMD goes tits up regardless.

FIFY.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Frivolous legal case, should be tossed out

> I selected an 8-core/4-module FX-8350 specifically for kernel and OS builds

But what about memory bandwidth?

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Re: Frivolous legal case, should be tossed out

There is no doubt that Bulldozer has the AMD stated number of cores, the fact that some aspects of the design is shared between paired cores is well known, add to that if your workload is heavily FPU based you'd have to be an idiot (or a cheapskate) to choose AMD.

It's a difficult case. To "Joe Bloggs", more is almost always better. The case probably rests on whether a typical non-technical punter would have bought an AMD chip rather than an Intel chip purely because it claimed to have "more".

It's a stupid thing to claim. Your average punter shops first on price (unless they have a fetish for some particular fashion icon) and at the lower end of the price range for desktops, laptops and indeed bare processors(*), AMD has been cheaper than Intel for some time. And how many Joe Bloggses actually have workloads that require loads of independent, floating point-capable cores working simultaneously?

I know the article doesn't actually mention the A-series processors, but the other thing at this end of the price scale of course is graphics and it's fairly well accepted that Intel is still playing catch-up with AMD's integrated graphics. After a bit of web browsing, watching some movies and maybe writing an email, some light gaming is often on the cards for Joe Bloggs.

Oh, and doesn't the current version of Bulldozer double up on additional stuff (instruction decode? something to do with the FP unit being in two halves for some kinds of calculations?), so less stuff is shared than is shown in the diagrams in the article?

M.

(*)Just out of interest, Dabs currently lists 16 processors under £50. Only three of them are Intel. In the £50 - £100 bracket, 13 of 24 are Intel; the best Intel offerings being dual-core (four thread) i3 chips while AMD has the two module (four "core") A10 and three module (six "core") FX-something. I'm no expert but I would still choose an A10 over an i3 at the same price point, and if I'm building to a really tight budget, AMD is pretty much the only choice.

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Re: Frivolous legal case, should be tossed out

> But what about memory bandwidth?

At the time of purchase (about 3 years ago) I considered over 14GB/s of DRAM bandwidth to be perfectly adequate, and considering it consistently outperforms Intel i7 quad-core systems of a similar vintage the AMD memory bandwidth (or shared FPU) hasn't proved to be a handicap.

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Re: Frivolous legal case, should be tossed out

>>It's a difficult case. To "Joe Bloggs", more is almost always better. The case probably rests on whether a typical non-technical punter would have bought an AMD chip rather than an Intel chip purely because it claimed to have "more"

Great, so I can sue Intel because I bought an i3 that runs at 4.2GHz and it's not more powerful than the i7-5930 that runs at 3.8GHz. I mean it should, right? Because we thought that this higher number means it's more powerful so Intel owe me money for deceptive advertising. I mean what they advertise is true, but they didn't protect me from my ignorance about CPUs so that means they're guilty in my book!

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Re: Frivolous legal case, should be tossed out

so I can sue Intel because I bought an i3 that runs at 4.2GHz and it's not more powerful than the i7-5930 that runs at 3.8GHz. I mean it should, right? Because we thought that this higher number means it's more powerful

That is pretty much the point I'm making. In "the real world" most people, at first glance, probably would think that. Or indeed they might see that "i3" < "i7" (the number is bigger so it must be better). However, what they will also see is that the cost of the laptop containing the i7 is about twice that of the laptop containing the i3 (I'm guessing here) and since my theory is that the first thing people consider is usually price, that cost will probably trump the difference in numbers.

The problem isn't that people don't understand the differences, the problem is that people don't want to understand the differences and therefore they have to rely on marketing.

Bother. That almost makes it sound as if I'm agreeing with this idiot who's trying to sue AMD. I'm not. What I'm trying to say is twofold. Firstly, it's a non-case. The information was all there. The implication is that the bloke bought on price alone and so technical specifics weren't realistically part of his buying decision. Secondly, in bringing the action he implies that he "knows a bit" about these things, but the very first thing you learn when you start to look at the differences between the current crop of Intel and AMD chips is that the system AMD uses can be thought of in some ways as "hardware assisted Hyperthreading" so the very fact that he's brought the case proves that he does not know anything!

Personally, as I said, I quite like the AMD chips. I don't like hyperthreading as a concept and in my everyday practice I "feel" (entirely subjectively) that a 2-module, 4-"core" AMD system is just fractionally snappier than an otherwise equivalent 2-core 4-thread Intel offering, and it's usually slightly cheaper too.

Rambling. Sorry.

M.

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Re: Frivolous legal case, should be tossed out

I sell a 16 cylinder engine car, but it's only 1 litre and only does 0-30 in half an hour.

I publish all these stats.

Customer buys 100 thinking it must be the fastest car in the world because "it's common knowledge more cylinders means a faster car"! Is it my fault or theirs?

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So like Intel's Hyper-Threading bullshit

Seeing this architecture, I am having a difficult time differentiating between the Bulldozer chips and Intel's HT-enabled chips.

So if AMD wins this one, could Intel start labeling their 12-core Xeons as having 24 cores?

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Re: So like Intel's Hyper-Threading bullshit

Unlikely because Bulldozer does actually have the physical cores (although as many as half of them may not always be fed with data/instructions, depending on the workload, and depending on who you believe, plaintiff or AMD) whereas hyperthreaded cores are entirely virtual, all of the time.

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Re: So like Intel's Hyper-Threading bullshit

As you sort of pointed out here, a big difference is that Intel does NOT market their 4 core HT chips as 8 cores, even though Windows shows it as 8.

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Re: So like Intel's Hyper-Threading bullshit

Why do you think hyper-threading is bullshit?

I get 100% speedups in some tasks.

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Re: So like Intel's Hyper-Threading bullshit

But it does have 8 cores in the 8 core model...

Each core is capable of symmetric integer mathematics.

Sure, there are some shared bits like cache and FPU, but most of those weren't even internal to the processor, if fitted at all only a few years back.

Yes, the shared bits could cause bottlenecks, but now you're arguing about the performance of the chip, not the definition of what is inside (the claim).

Just because "8 core" was read as meaning "will be 200% the speed of this 4 core intel chip we have" does not make AMD wrong... It makes the plaintiff naive.

For an encore they could try going after GM, and claiming the V8 model isn't a V8 because it doesn't reach twice the speed of the 4 pot.

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Re: "Why do you think hyper-threading is bullshit?"

Virtual Machines.

On the hosts for my company's VDI infrastructure, the VMs are supposed to get a single full core and its matching HT core, which works great; but many times it ends up with another full core's HT core which doesn't do so well, or ends up on two HT cores and becomes almost completely unusable.

The problem we have is that while we can get the configuration correct on the VMs when they rest on a single host, the processor affinity goes right out the window when the machines get migrated to another host. We can prevent the mess by disabling Hyper-threading, but only get half as many VMs per-host, or just accept that users will be angry at the random slow downs when their VM gets mis-configured.

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Re: "Why do you think hyper-threading is bullshit?"

Most VM activity (at least in our environment) is not CPU-heavy, so we can get away with having HT turned off.

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Re: "Why do you think hyper-threading is bullshit?"

Bugger!

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It's hard to see how this can succeed

1. I'm sure that technical documentation was available, both from AMD and review sites

2. Marketing bumf (not direct from Intel) often counts hyperthreaded "cores" as full cores

3. I'm sure that he had the opportunity to return the part as not matching what was offered, but declined to do so

4. As the article points out, what constitutes a core isn't well defined (and perhaps main ALU and supporting stuff does count)

5. Probably hard to prove AMD intended to mislead (though perhaps plaintiff doesn't have to go that far)

6. Balancing actual loss versus what he's claiming, did the loss of half an FPU core per "real" core really affect him that much (who saturates their FPU units in desktop/laptop PCs anyway?)

It's not nice when you buy something that doesn't live up to expectations, but seriously, I think this guy doth protest too much.

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Re: It's hard to see how this can succeed

Regarding point 6, these AMD "cores" share a lot more than just the FP unit.

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Re: It's hard to see how this can succeed

There is no need, whatsoever, to put the word cores in quotes.

Bulldozer has 2 complete integer cores. If you are doing integer work, they work as advertised (albeit slower than Intel cores due to the lower IPC, not because of the shared bits). As the vast majority of workloads are integer, the shared bits make little difference in the real world. Many others have already stated this, and benchmarks have shown that they operate as complete cores on such workloads.

This contrasts with Hyperthreading, which does not have any extra cores, just an alternative set of registers which the core can flip to if one workload stalls (waiting for data etc.)

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He's a dickhead

If he didn't check out what he was contemplating purchasing at Anandtech, Tom's Hardware, Ars Tecnica etc...

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Re: He's a dickhead

You could say maybe he's a dickhead for suing but not visiting those web sites (which even I haven't done in quite some time as current kit is good enough, see posts above) would also make %99 of the world dickheads including probably some of your relatives.

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Re: He's a dickhead

"You could say maybe he's a dickhead for suing but not visiting those web sites etc"

Fair enough comment for that. But did he download and read the spec sheet from AMD before he bought. If the manufacturer's spec matches what he's bought then how can he complain? I bought the 1.6 turbo - why wasn't I given the 2.6 V6 4-wheel drive? Should I sue?

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Re: He's a dickhead

I take it then that when I am in the market for new computer bits I am the dickhead for checking out what a variety of commentators have to say about the hardware, especially performance. Since when can we rely on manufacturers and salesdroids to reveal all that we need to know about their product before making an informed purchase?

Example: I recently purchased an ASUS R7250 video card when the fan died on my previous card. It supposedly is capable of 2560 x 1440 pixels. Nothing I could do to make it work at that resolution so I contacted ASUS support who told me that resolution is "only available on the digital interface". The interface I was using is DVI using a dual-link cable. Apparently that's not a digital interface these days.

I glued a case fan onto the old card and put it back.

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Mr PG

That is a limit of the cable IIRC not the graphics card. Effectively advertising a car can go 120mph, you cannot sue if the road is limited to 60mph.

Most companies will offer a swap for a fitting model though. It's not really either of your fault as it's down to some of the changes in spec and usage between VGA-DVI-HDMI etc.

Though I agree it's annoying when one card will do certain resolutions over one socket, and not another, even when both support it.

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Re: He's a dickhead

>I take it then that when I am in the market for new computer bits I am the dickhead for checking out what a variety of commentators have to say about the hardware, especially performance.

No of course not. Research is good and only rational when spending serious dosh but where nerds on here do research and where other people's Grandma gets her information may be very different. Granny is probably not reviewing AMD white papers.

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Mini-Chipzilla

Shirley you mean Chimpzilla?

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Re: Mini-Chipzilla

I thought we had previously established their nickname was Chipzooki?

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Once upon a time...

(not so) Long ago, CPUs came without a FPU. That's right, you had to buy a separate chip for all of that floating point math. When I worked on the Celerity mini computer, the 1260 model could have two processor boards in it with, get this: one integer coprocessor, and two floating point coprocessors. Yes, that's right, there were three Weitek coprocessors per CPU!

And of course, there were Weitek coprocessors for 386 and 486 CPUs, too.

So: does a lack of a FPU coprocessor for each CPU mean that people were ripped off? If I had bought one, I wouldn't feel ripped off unless I was doing a lot of scientific work. The real question is, how flexible is the execution scheduling? For instance, say there are two processes that do heavy FP math. If they wind up on the same Bulldozer module, is the chip (or OS) smart enough to put them on different modules, or are they stuck on the same module?

If someone were doing heavy FP and expected 16 FPUs for 16 cores, then I would say there were ripped off. Otherwise, I don't think it's that big of a deal.

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Re: Once upon a time...

(not so) Long ago, CPUs came without a FPU. That's right, you had to buy a separate chip for all of that floating point math.

Even less long ago, lots of things were different. The first '386 computers I built came without any processor cache. You could buy a bunch of little DIL cache chips as an option for the motherboard. The '386SX came without half its data lines, the '486SX came without an FPU and the FPU "add on" was actually a full '486 with FPU, which disabled the original chip.

And all the while there were companies such as AMD and VIA and NEC and others whose names escape me, who made "clones" or "compatibles" that were cheaper, faster and had more facilities than the Intel originals. Aah! Dallas. They made an 8086 clone which had a real-time clock and battery on board. Might even have had some general purpose RAM and ROM IIRC.

The first computer I really got my hands on was an RML-380Z. Everything was optional on that, apart from the case and the backplane to plug your processor card, memory card, tape controller card, disc controller card, mono graphics card, colour graphics card, serial card, parallel card etc. etc. into.

People think it's amazing that I build my own computers, but compared with back then (how many jumpers and DIP switches were on those 286/386/486 motherboards?) it's as easy as slotting together a piece of Ikea furniture these days. If you have the right number of screws, it (mostly) "just works". The most complicated part (just as with Ikea) is choosing between hundreds of almost-identical components!

M.

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