Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Anand's Competence Reviewed: Crash And Burn

Anandtech's latest review, AMD's Phenom X4 9950, 9350e and 9150e: Lower Prices, Voltage Tricks and Strange Behavior shows a lot more about Anand's ability as a tester than anything about AMD's hardware.

My older brother used to work on aircraft avionics on the weekends while he was going to college at Purdue. Theoretically he was one of the junior technicians at the small, commuter airline. However, he had gotten in his experience in the Marine Corps working on HAWK missile systems which required an elaborate set of five separate radar units to operate. On one occasion he accompanied a senior technician to another airport where one of their planes was down for maintenance. The other technician worked on the avionics for three hours without success and then quit to go to lunch. By the time he got back from lunch my brother had diagnosed and fixed the problem. I have to say that Mr. Lal Shimpi reminds me a lot of that senior technician. Maybe because I've never heard of anyone or any other review site wrecking systems like Anand does.

But it isn't just destroying systems that is troubling. In this article Anand says:

The first processor is the Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition. Clocked at 2.6GHz, the Black Edition moniker indicates that it ships completely unlocked. Unfortunately the unlocked nature doesn’t really help you too much as the 65nm Phenoms aren’t really able to scale much beyond 2.7GHz consistently

This is a strange claim indeed because everyone else seems to be able to clock these chips to 3.2Ghz with no trouble, and I've seen claims as high as 3.6Ghz. He also insists that Intel's quads will overclock to 4.0Ghz on air. But, in reality when you stress all four cores on an Intel quad they will overheat at 4.0Ghz without water cooling. So, the real difference between recent Intel quads and recent AMD quads when overclocking on air seems to be between 300Mhz and 500Mhz. This means that Anand has taken a probable 500Mhz advantage for Intel and stretched it to a completely fictitious 1.3Ghz advantage. No wonder Anand is seen as a minor deity among the Intel faithful.

This article shows Anand's preferences. He likes Intel. He likes powerful chips. He likes newer chips. And, he likes a low price but he doesn't like giving up anything to get it. This is easy to see from statements like:

The new $133 golden boy, Intel's Core 2 Duo E7200, is actually selling for $129 these days - making it the new value leader from the boys in blue.

He chooses this 2.53Ghz, 45nm chip because he is ignoring the lower priced Allendales that are older, 65nm chips and have less cache. The lower priced Allendales are good chips but since they have less cache and don't overclock as well they are not clearly a better value than AMD chips. The more expensive E7200 is a bargain if you do overclock because it can easily run as fast as Intel's 3.2Ghz E8500 which costs twice as much. Similarly, the Q6600 had enjoyed the status of being the best value quad since it was introduced in 2006. But, Anand doesn't heap the same praise on the 2.5Ghz Q9300 that he does on E7200 perhaps because while Q6600 has dropped to just $210, Q9300 is still running $270. Anand's biggest problem at this point is that AMD is eroding Intel's lead and with it his perceived value of these chips. Keep in mind though that this is mostly in Anand's head; the Q6600 is still a good chip as are the Allendales. The problem for him is that he doesn't want a good chip; he wants a chip that is clearly better than AMD's, and that smug feeling of Intel superiority is getting a lot harder to come by.

For example, you could match the $130 (2.53Ghz) E7200 with an AMD $126 (2.9Gh) 5600X2. Both chips are 65 watt but even at 400Mhz slower the Intel chip will still be a bit faster. The problem is though that Intel motherboards have poor integrated graphics. An equivalent Intel motherboard would need at least a low graphic card to match AMD and you could apply this savings to a $160 (3.2Gh) 6400X2 which with its 26% faster clock is not markedly slower. In other words if you stay with integrated graphics and stock speeds then Intel has no advantage because you will pay more money to get a faster system. However, adding a robust discrete graphic card neutralizes AMD's superior integrated graphics motherboards. And the better overclocking on Intel duals tends to neutralize AMD's lower dual price. This is probably why Anand always pushes a system with overclocking and discrete graphics.

But, things are slowly changing and I think Anand is catching disturbing glimpses of the handwriting on the wall. As the price of AMD's tri-cores gets lower the power of three cores tends to remove Intel's higher clocking dual advantage. Secondly, the B3 stepping greatly improves the overclockability of both AMD's tri-cores and quads. For example, multiply the E7200's $130 by 1.5 for a third core and you get $195. This makes the slightly slower 2.4Ghz Phenom 8750 X3 arguably a good value at $175. And, with its higher pricetag Q9300 is not a bargain unless it can overclock significantly better than 9950 X4. Perhaps this is why Anand is in such denial about how well the newer AMD B3 chips can overclock.

I've also never heard of anyone wrecking so many motherboards during testing. This admission by Anand is a bit shocking:

Let's just say in the motherboard section of the labs that a halon fire extinguisher is now a standard item on the test bench. Call us unlucky, abusive, or having just dumb luck, but our results these past few weeks when overclocking IGP setups has not been good. In fact, it has been downright terrible as of this week.

You see, it is not every week when you can go through five boards in less than 48 hours while trying to make an article deadline.


However, we know that Anand has destroyed motherboards and systems before including systems that were working perfectly before he got his hands on them. This has been going on for a long time, not just this week as he implies. This explains why Anand does not work in a computer repair shop.

Finally, his power testing is typical Anand. He tests completely different motherboards with different integrated graphics and measures nothing but total system power draw. However, he then strangely claims that his results show only differences in CPU power draw:

With the exception of the Q9300, Intel's competing chips draw less power at idle than even the new energy efficient AMD chips

He then pretends he has a fair comparison because he is using top IGP boards from each:

The next set of tests is particularly interesting as we are comparing Intel's top integrated graphics platform (G35) to AMD's (780G). No external graphics card was used, this is strictly an IGP comparison

However, this comparison is laughable since Intel's G35 graphics are considerably less powerful than AMD's 780G and therefore probably draw less power. Anand then makes certain that he covers up Intel's weaker IGP by using discrete graphics cards for games testing. This bait and switch testing scheme is clearly and knowingly deceptive and shows that Anand is not merely incompetent but dishonest as well. Testing based on price, stock clock speeds, stock heatsinks, and integrated graphics would often favor AMD which is why these tests never end up in Anands cherry basket.

8 comments:

Amdzoner said...

Actually i think 780G has lower TDP than G35 while performing alot better. Clearly Intel has some issues on the IGP part. But still it feels like your dissing anand too much. Its by far one of the top reviewer-sites out there.

Even though you have "AMD eyes" you should be able to admit when AMD is in trouble, as they are in the CPU department. Hothardware also tested these "power efficient" cpus and found the systems with them to use a good deal more than similar Q6600 systems. This makes me wonder how AMD actually measures their TDP.

Christian M. Howell said...

I don't even care about any of those review sites anymore. They all suck.

Anand actually uses a SkullTrail system to test GPUs, BUT WHO HAS TWO 9775 chips?

Also, out of all the sites, NO ONE HAS SHOWN OC'd results for Phenom.

I would like to see a site OC the L3 and chip to the max stable values and run benches on it.

I've seen someone on XtremeSystems that got 9850 to 3.2GHz with a 2.4GHz L3 and he was basically tied with Intel chips in Cinebench.

Not even AMDZone will bench the OC 9850 or for that matter any other Phenom.

And as far as the 5600+ it seems like no one has ever heard of it. I would bet that it will clock to 3.4GHz, perhaps more on water.

And again, no one will put Phenom on water or TEC to test its limits. That shows a definite bias by people.

And AMD is still ahead as they have the first 65W quad core desktop(Barcelona is at 55W), 45W dual core up to 2.5GHz and 65W up to 2.9GHz.

And they just released a 35W dual that's on 90nm. It seems reasonable that a Brisbane may get down to 25-31W. That will make a perfect HTPC appliance.

But then it has been said that AMD buyers are usually smarter than Intel buyers.

Scientia from AMDZone said...

amdzoner

"Even though you have "AMD eyes"

I've never understood where these silly ideas about me come from.

We know Intel quads can't run at 4.0Ghz so we need to estimate something lower. An actual die hard AMD fan would assume that the most optimistic 3.6Ghz number was correct and probably knock Intel down to 2.8Ghz and proclaim a mere 200Mhz gap.

In contrast a die hard Intel fan might would probably stick with Anand's bogus 4.0Ghz number but reduce AMD to 3.1Ghz and insist that there was a full 900Mhz difference. The average between these is 550Mhz which is very close to the 500Mhz I mentioned in my article. If this isn't in the middle then what would be?

"you should be able to admit when AMD is in trouble, as they are in the CPU department."

Again, where do you get this nonsense from? You certainly haven't gotten it from anything I've said here or at AMDZone. With 2.6Ghz quads AMD is finally able to cover the mid range. As far as being in trouble goes, AMD's biggest trouble is losing money. I would have to say the low point in CPU's was the hot and slow 2.3Ghz B2's with almost no server chips because of the TLB bug. Things have improved since then, but I suspect that it will take until Q3 for AMD to make much revenue headway.

"Hothardware also tested these "power efficient" cpus and found the systems with them to use a good deal more than similar Q6600 systems."

Yes, I noted this comment from HotHardware:

"The 65W Phenom X4 9350e, however, was much more power friendly and consumed only slightly more power than a dual-core Athlon 64 X2 4600+. Also note, that with a different motherboard, the AMD power consumption scores would likely be even lower, as the early revision Gigabyte 790FX motherboard we used for testing consumes more power than some other 790FX-based products."

They also show what an obvious liar Anand is:

"we were able to take our Phenom X4 9950 to an respectable 3.1GHz using nothing but a stock AMD PIB cooler . . . we re-ran some tests and also monitored core temperatures and found that the chip never broke the 60ºC mark, and hovered around 58ºC under load - at least according to AMD's Overdrive software. That is one heck of an overclock and relatively cool temperatures for a Phenom in our opinion. If the majority of chips have the same amount of headroom as ours, we suspect the 9950 Black Edition will be appealing to AMD CPU enthusiasts looking for the best the company has to offer."

Pop Catalin Sever said...

I think journalists should move to different benchmarking models, current methods of benchmarking just don't cut it anymore, PC platforms are much more varied now then the platforms of the past. Now we have many possible combinations of integrated graphics, discrete graphics, soon on die graphics cores, accelerator cards and many combinations of these.

The benchmarking done by journalists should include Performance/Watt as efficiency and all comparisons should be done in price ranges, I simply find graphs with tens of cpus from different price ranges mixed up to be rather insufficiently informative for the buyer.

On the other hand if grouping based on price ranges ($0-$100, $100-$200, $200-$300, $300-400$, $400+ for example) would be used, the graphs would be more meaningful for the end buyer.

But I guess journalists are having a hard time letting go of the old ways, and the benchmarking is done in the same way it was done 15 years ago when the platforms were not that segmented and hardware makers had far fewer offerings with much less price gap.

Scientia from AMDZone said...

gutterrat

You can stop trying to troll. The Toms's Hardware preview says:

As we mentioned earlier, this article was meant to give a brief introduction into some basic performance figures for Nehalem. Keep in mind that the CPU launch is still several months away. This is not meant to be an in depth review covering all CPU comparisons and charts.

I want to see in depth reviews of Nehalem compared with Shanghai and I want to know what speeds are available.

tech4life said...

Sorry this is off topic, but it looks like AMD has pushed Brisbane to 3.0 Ghz finally.

Also with the release of the Phenom 9950 at 140W TDP does that mean Phenom has reached its thermal ceiling at 2.6 Ghz? That would be disappointing.

Bradley Coleman said...

sci, great post! this industry is so shady, it needs lots of solid investigative reporting like this. its good to know anand is on the take.

Scientia from AMDZone said...

tech4life

I don't see how AMD can release anything higher than 9950 until 45nm.

bradley

I never said that Anand was on the take. However, that his website is biased in favor of Intel is not difficult to see. If you look at either CPU/Chipsets or Motherboards you will see a tab at the top that takes you to the Intel Resource Center. There are no quick tabs to any other company.