Can AMD's Bulldozer Flatten Intel?


Advanced Micro Devices (NYS: AMD) has introduced the first processors based on the Bulldozer chip architecture, under the FX product banner. Sporting as many as eight processor cores per chip while Intel's (NAS: INTC) finest tops out at six cores (for twice the price), these chips have set a Guinness world record in brute clock speed.

Game over, Intel! AMD is returning to the glory days of the Athlon 64, when AMD chips were faster, cheaper, and probably even prettier than Intel's.


Well, not so fast. It's true that the Bulldozer chips look great on paper, but real-world benchmarking tests paint a slightly different picture.

Despite holding the advantage in both raw speed and the number of code-crunching cores, the FX chips often lose head-to-head comparisons to Intel's Core i7 products. Early reviewers are forced to ooh and aah when AMD's performance merely equals a four-core Intel chip (the expensive six-core beast would presumably crush the Bulldozer). Moreover, these things suck a ton of wall-socket power when cranked up to heavy workloads.

Oh, and that Guinness record is something you can't exactly achieve at home. That feat was performed using liquid helium cooling at nearly Absolute Zero temperatures. Keep that stuff out of the swimming pool, kids.

So this is actually nothing like the Athlon 64 revolution. At best, the FX line can hang with Intel chips at similar price points -- but a seemingly inferior spec sheet. Something's missing.

The high power draw for these desktop chips doesn't bode well for Bulldozer-based processors' use in laptops or servers, both of which prefer low-power chips for very different reasons (battery life and running costs, respectively). That's why NVIDIA (NAS: NVDA) is making inroads in both mobile and high-performance computing these days, with its very capable and power-sipping chips. Will NVIDIA and other ARM Holdings (NAS: ARMH) licensees become the serious Intel rival that AMD used to be?

A year ago, I thought AMD was worth about $10 per share based on the upcoming Fusion and Bulldozer products. I don't think so anymore if this is the best Bulldozer can do. And then we have a board that makes the CEO check his back for daggers every morning. The magic moment won't come.

Intel looks much more attractive than AMD today. The performance crown looks safe for the foreseeable future, the stock trades at a very reasonable 10.5 times trailing earnings, and you even get a generous 3.7% dividend yield. Or if you want to invest in the chip industry without picking favorites -- in case even mighty Intel stumbles again -- there's always the industry-spanning Semiconductor HOLDRs (ASE: SMH) ETF.

Can AMD rise above the odds and a suddenly lackluster product pipeline? The best way to find out is to keep a close eye on the company. Add AMD to your Foolish watchlist.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundholds no position in any of the companies discussed here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of NVIDIA and Intel, creating a diagonal call position in Intel, and writing puts in NVIDIA. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. You can check outAnders' holdings and a concise bio, follow him onTwitterorGoogle+, or peruseour Foolish disclosure policy.

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