This week’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane brings us to the AMD AM3+ platform. Arriving in 2011 with a new enthusiast chipset and new range of FX branded CPUs, the new platform was AMD’s reinvigorated drive into the high performance PC space where Intel had long ago stolen a march. Let’s take a look at the most popular motherboards and processors of that era, the technologies involved and some of the more impressive scores submitted on HWBOT.
AMD Socket AM3+: Overview
In terms of technical detail, the AM3+ Socket was in many respects virtually identical to its predecessor, the AM3 Socket. Motherboards arriving with the new AM3+ Socket also sported revised and updated AMD 900 series chipsets, the most popular with HWBOT users being the top tier 990FX which effectively replaced the previous generation 880FX.
New AMD AM3+ series motherboards were officially launched in June of 2011, some months before the Bulldozer-based FX-series CPUs arrived on the scene. In terms of CPU support the new socket was backwards compatible with AM3 series processors that include Phenom, Athlon and Sempron chips that also used a DDR3 compatible memory controller. Previous AM2+ platform processors were not supported. Enthusiasts had to wait until October 2011 before they could complement the new socket and chipset with the revamped FX lineup of CPUs based on the Bulldozer and subsequent Piledriver architectures.
For the most part the chipset feature list remained largely unchanged. The new 990FX chipset communicates with the new Bulldozer CPUs via the same 2,600MHz HyperTransport bus. A total of 38 lanes of PCIe Gen 2.0 were available from the chipset with 32 lanes used for graphics card support in either 2x 16 slots, 2x 8 + 1x 16, or 4x 8 configurations. Crossfire support at this time had expanded to 4-way so 32 PCIe lanes were indeed welcome.
Interestingly, SLI (up to 3-way at this stage) was licensed by Nvidia on new AM3+ Socket boards, the first time ever on an AMD platform. 2x PCIe 2.0 lanes were used for communication with the AMD SB950 Southbridge (marketed as A-Link Express III) with the final two being used for Southbridge IO which included 14 USB 2.0 ports, a PCI interface, HD Audio, Gigabit Ethernet, a generous six SATA 6Gbps ports plus support for older IDE drives.
Most Popular AMD Socket AM3+ Motherboard, the ASUS Crosshair V Formula
In the era of Socket AM3+ and the AMD 990FX chipset motherboard, there really seems to be only two companies that offer enthusiast-class products that are attractive HWBOT members; ASUS and GIGABYTE. Indeed one could also argue that a) at this time GIGABYTE and ASUS were regarded as the ‘big two’ of the motherboard game, and that b) they were the only ones actually taking a risk and offering high-end, enthusiast-class boards for the AMD platform. Thus our top ten this week, contains five ASUS boards and five GIGABYTE boards.
- -ASUS ROG Crosshair V Formula – 17.25%
- -ASUS ROG Crosshair V Formula-Z – 13.07%
- -ASUS Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 – 9.19%
- -GIGABYTE 990FX-UD3 – 5.42%
- -GIGABYTE 990FX-UD5 – 4.89%
- -ASUS M5A97 R2.0 – 4.16%
- -GIGABYTE 990FX-UD7 – 3.87%
- -GIGABYTE 990FX-UD3 – 3.80%
- -ASUS Sabertooth 990FX – 3.63%
- -GIGABYTE 970A-UD3 – 3.15%
ASUS clearly has the upper hand, leveraging the strength of its ROG to produce two boards that dominate the AM3+ list in terms of submissions on HWBOT. The ROG Crosshair V Formula brought everything it could to the AMD platform with a comparable feature set to Intel ROG boards. It was followed up with the revamped ROG Crosshair V Formula-Z board which followed up on the success of ASUS’s first 990FX ROG board. Together, these boards represent more than 30% of all AM3+ submissions on HWBOT.
It’s notable to see that as ASUS dominates the top positions with its most expensive AMD platform offerings, while GIGABYTE finds more favor with its more affordable AM3+ boards. The flagship GIGABYTE 990FXA-UD7 has been used in only 3.87% of AM3+ submissions. Both the more affordable UD3 and UD5 options share greater part of the 990FX pie, with the 990FX-UD3 being the most popular GIGABYTE board of this era with 5.42% of all submissions.
The ASUS ROG Crosshair V Formula really helped cement the reputation of ASUS as the only motherboard vendor willing to give AMD fans a truly high-end experience. This is doubtlessly why it tops our ten – there is simply no other board that competes in terms of feature set which is why HWBOT members have taken to it (and it’s -Z follow up) with such enthusiasm. The ROG brand also offers more than just great hardware. This is a what a young Ian Cutress had to say back in April 2012:
As the most expensive board in our tests, the Republic of Gamers branded Crosshair V Formula has to pack a punch in every area. I found it surprisingly easy to test, and it comes with a good bundle in the box. For users wanting a little more of an experience from their product, ASUS also has dedicated forums to their ROG lineup so similar minded users can exchange setups, ideas, and read ASUS materials on how to get the most out of their system.
ASUS was clearly realizing that brand creation and loyalty was not just about creating good products. Anandtech Crosshair V Formula Review
Most Popular AMD Socket AM3+ Processor: AMD FX-8350
AM3+ Socket motherboards with the new 990FX chipset arrived in June 2011 with enthusiasts restricted to using previous generation AM3 processors based on Denab and Thuban architectures. By October 2011 AM3+ processors based on the Bulldozer (Zambezi) architecture market arrived with the promise of improved performance that would help close the gap between AMD and Intel. The AMD FX-8150 was the flagship model at launch. It was manufactured on the Globalfoundries 32nm process, had a TDP of 125 watts, featured eight 64-bit cores clocked at 3.6GHz (boostable to 3.9Ghz and 4.2GHz depending on load), 8MB of shared level 3 cache and a dual-channel DDR3 memory controller supporting up to four DIMMs of 1866/2133 memory.
The AMD FX-8150 was not well received by tech media at launch with poor single threaded performance that actually failed to outshine previous generation AMD parts. Needless to say, it was far behind Intel’s Sandy Bridge-based Core i7 processors. Even in heavy multi-threaded workloads it failed to shine, despite having more cores and a higher TDP. In short, Bulldozer was difficult to recommend. This is emphatically reflected in the usage data we have for the AM3+ platform. Only 3.56% of AM3+ submissions used an FX-8150 processor, despite being the flagship model available at launch for a retail price of around $245 USD.
To say that Bulldozer failed to grab the hearts and minds of overclockers would be a massive understatement. AMD was forced to market the Bulldozer series as a forward-looking processor line-up. A stepping stone that was ultimately necessary to get to the real deal. Piledriver.
Fast forward to October 2012 and we have the second family of CPUs to arrive on the AM3+ socket. The Piledriver (Vishera) architecture promised the higher clock speeds that were evidently missing from Bulldozer. The new processor series arrived with the octa-core AMD FX-8350 leading the pack. It was manufactured on the same 32nm process as the FX-8150. It also had the same TDP, cache sizes and core counts. It did however have a higher base clock of 4GHz (boosting to the 4.2GHz the 8-core part). Thanks to architectural and largely frequency improvements, AMD managed to improve performance significantly without increasing power consumption. Despite these improvements however, AMD still lagged behind Intel, who was enjoying an even better performance lead in single threaded applications due to its new Ivy Bridge series.
Our data shows that the Piledriver-based FX-8350 Black Edition (a suffix that largely means it retailed without a cooler) is the most popular AM3+ processor, accounting for 15.65% of all submissions. The more affordable FX-8320 BE is the second most popular with 11.45% of all submissions. AMD’s Piledriver CPUs could actually compete reasonably well in multi-threaded benchmarks like Cinebench, but remained well off the pace in single threaded benchmarks such as SuperPi. In terms of overclocking, all AMD FX-series processors were fully unlocked which made them a reasonably good platform for cheap, worry-free overclocking fun. Retailing for $199 USD, the FX-8350 and $169 USD FX-8320 are still fondly remembered by many overclockers today.
As a side note, AMD tried to refresh its flagging high-end desktop lineup almost two years later with the AMD FX-9590, a Piledriver based octa-core chip with a base-clock of 5GHz. If AMD was trying to woo overclockers with one last push, it clearly failed. The FX-9590 has been used in only 4.53% of all AM3+ submissions, despite being marketed as the highest binned FX-series chip ever.
AMD Socket AM3+: Record Scores
We can now take a look at some of the highest scores posted on HWBOT using AMD’s Socket AM3+ platform.
Reference clock overclocking may not be the most important benchmark in today’s world, but back in the AMD Socket AM3+ era, it remained an important way to determine a motherboard’s ability to perform well. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using the AMD AM3+ platform involved an ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z motherboard. It was used by Swiss overclocker splmann who managed to eek out a reference clock of 462.05 MHz using an LN2 cooled AMD FX-4320 clocked at 6,006MHz (462.05 x 13).
You can find the submission from splmann here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2331502_splmann_reference_frequency_crosshair_v_formula_z_462.05_mhz
Although raw CPU frequencies are not really treated as true benchmarks today, they remain an important performance metric for most overclockers. The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT on the AM3+ platform came from The Stilt from Finland who pushed an AMD FX-8370 to a monumental 8722.78Mhz (+106.82%) using LN2 and a ASUS Crosshair V Formula-Z. This is a particularly interesting score because it is in fact the highest ever CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT.
Here’s a shot of the World Record breaking rig put together by the Finnish legend:
You can find the submission from The Stilt here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2615355_the_stilt_cpu_frequency_fx_8370_8722.78_mhz
Finally, we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, an important benchmark in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT on the AM3+ platform was submitted by British overclocker HiVizMan who managed a run of 9min 19sec 828ms using an AMD FX-8350 clocked at 7,910MHz (+97.75%).
Here’s a shot of the HiVizMan rig in action:
Check out the submission from HiVizMan here: http://hwbot.org/submission/2466566_hivizman_superpi___32m_fx_8350_9min_19sec_828ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return next week when we hone in on the AMD Socket FM2 platform, plus the motherboards, chips and scores that defined that particular era.