AMD Has A Point…

Ever since Llano was released and reviews started pouring in, I’ve had mixed feelings about the platform. On one hand I felt betrayed that AMD had essentially thrown an Athlon II processor in the same die as a beefy IGP and strung them up with an underpowered memory controller. It seemed a waste for AMD to seemingly put no development into their aging CPU cores (other than making them smaller and therefore more energy efficient) and continue to ride on the backside of ATI’s GPU success.

Then I saw a letter from AMD, which I have unfortunately lost and cannot find the website I originally found it. It detailed what seemed at first to be an excuse from AMD, and a pretty typical one. In the letter they argued for the importance of a GPU for modern computing and downplayed the importance of the x86 processor. They claimed that the differences between most modern x86 processors for most users is negligible.

Well as a technophile, and one who has recently replaced his 3-year old Athlon x2 FX processor with a Sandy Bridge i7 Processor, my initial response was “Blasphemy!” How can AMD allege such a ridiculous notion? There’s a massive difference between an Athlon II X2 and an i7! I mean look at the reviews! Look at how much faster that cpu does cinebench! Look at how much faster that processor decodes video! Look at how much faster that processor can play that game!

Then I calmed down and thought about it. My new i7 gave me a performance advantage, for sure. For multitasking. Playing Supreme Commander now has no stutters where it might get a little dodgy in frame rates with lots of stuff on the screen. Decoding HD video was a bit quicker. But I also upgraded my motherboard, double my RAM to 8GB and even got faster DDR3 RAM. In *actual perception* there is a boost, but not that much. I would argue that I probably wouldn’t notice much difference between my i7 and a Phenom II X4. When you benchmark the two, the difference is incredible, but does the human brain notice the difference in numbers?

Benchmarks can help us decide which hardware part is the better deal but how much is that difference actually seen when you take away the benchmarks? How much is hardware limited by the inefficient design of software? Does Photoshop actually need a beefy CPU and tons of RAM or is it like Crysis in that it is so badly designed that it rapes computer resources without needing it?

And then there are laptops. Legendary for being low powered with the worst graphics you can possibly get. Intel changed it a bit this round by integrating a low end graphics chip with the CPU. Woot, now you get a ridiculously beefy CPU with a very less crappy GPU. Want to play games? Now you can…in low detail settings and resolutions. But hey you can encode that HD video without a problem, load 8 applications at once and do all that stuff that CPUs do…whatever that is.

Then there’s Llano. Great battery life, amazing GPU, low end CPU. This thing can game like a champ. It can play HD video. It can multitask like an i3. It can decode and encode video a bit slower than SNB, but its hard to say if its perceivable. But it has a slow cpu, according to the benchmarks. What does a CPU do again? Would I notice? I dunno. But I did notice that this is the first time ever that I’ve been able to go into a Best Buy and see a laptop under $800 with mid range graphics. Isn’t that something to be amazed of?

Is there something I’m missing? Does AMD have a point after all? I don’t notice as much of a difference as I feel I should but maybe its because I’m doing the wrong stuff. Maybe I have GPU dedicated needs. But in the age of HD Video, Streaming video, beautiful games, beautiful GUIs, etc., doesn’t it make sense to have a great graphics card instead of a great CPU?

I guess I’m just mainstream…

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