What’s in a Benchmark? This is a pertinent question that all users need to ask themselves, because if you don’t know what a benchmark actually tests and how that relates to the real world, the scores are meaningless. Today, AMD has announced that they are resigning from BAPCo over a long standing dispute over the weighting of scores within the SYSmark suite. AMD specifically references SYSmark 2012 (SM12), but there have been complaints in the past and the latest release is apparently the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

You can read more about the decision on Cheif Marketing Officer (CMO) Nigel Dessau’s blog, but this announcement comes at an interesting time since BAPCo just shipped us copies of the final SM12 release. We haven’t had a chance to run the suite yet, and we’ll still have a look at the results and see how AMD and Intel platforms compare at some point, but it looks like we have a foregone conclusion: Intel will come out ahead. What we really need to examine is why Intel gets a better score.

If you’ve been reading AnandTech for any length of time, you’ll know that we place a lot more weight on real-world benchmarks rather than synthetic tests, but certain tasks can be very difficult to test in a meaningful way. How do you measure every day tasks like surfing the web in a meaningful way when most CPUs are 95% idle performing that task? When we really look at the market right now, in many cases we can conclude that just about any current computer will be fast enough for 90% of users. If you want to surf the Internet, write email, work in Office applications, watch some movies, listen to music, etc. you can do that on anything from a lowly AMD Brazos netbook to a hex-core monster system. Yes, we did leave out Atom, because there are certain areas where it falls short—specifically, certain movie formats prove to be too much for the current Atom platform, particularly if you’re looking at HD H.264 content (e.g. YouTube and Hulu).

Reading through AMD’s announcement and Nigel’s blog, it’s pretty clear what AMD is after: they want the GPU to play a more prominent role in measurements of overall system performance. On the one hand, we could say that AMD is simply trying to get benchmarks to favor their APUs, since Brazos and Llano easily surpass the Intel competition when it comes to graphics and video prowess. This would certainly be true, but then we also have to consider what users are actually doing with their PCs. SYSmark has always included a variety of tests, and certainly knowing how fast your computer is in regards to Excel performance can be useful. However, AMD claims that a disproportionate weight is given to some tests, with mention of optical character recognition and file compression activities in particular.

We don’t have the full SM12 whitepaper yet, but we can look at the list of applications that are tested, and a few things immediately stand out. There are two web browsers in the list, but both versions are now outdated. Internet Explorer 8 has been replaced by Internet Explorer 9, and Firefox 3.6 is replaced by Firefox 4.0—with Firefox 5 just around the corner. Without newer browsers, HTML5 is basically untested by SM12, and while we understand that SM12 has been in development for a while, for something calling itself 2012 to include mostly 2010 applications feels out of place. Considering IE9 and FF4 both shift to GPU-accelerated engines, AMD would certainly have benefited from the use of the latest versions. The remaining applications look reasonable, but again we have no information on weighting of scores, so we’ll have to see how the results pan out.

Ultimately, the main thing to take away from all of this is that, just like the PCMark, 3DMark, Cinebench, SunSpider, etc. benchmarks we routinely refer to, SYSmark 2012 is merely one more tool to analyze system performance. It will be interesting to see how other elements—like the presence or lack of an SSD—impact the score. In our opinion most users would benefit far more from running something like Llano with an SSD as opposed to Sandy Bridge with an HDD, so the CPU/GPU/APU are not the only factors, but it still depends on your intended use. If you’re running a server, obviously the demands placed on the system will be far different from the average home computer. Multimedia professionals that spend a lot of time in Adobe Photoshop and/or Premiere likewise have different needs.

Is AMD right? Is heterogeneous (e.g. CPU and GPU working together) computing more important now than raw CPU performance, or is SYSmark12 merely proving what we already know: Sandy Bridge is really fast? Let us know what you think, but as always remember that when you’re looking at benchmark charts, take a minute to think about what the bars actually represent. The full news release is below, but again you can find substantially more detail in Dessau’s blog.

Update: It turns out AMD is not the only party to have left the BAPCo consortium recently. We've just confirmed with NVIDIA that they have also left the BAPCo consortium. No reason was given.

Update 2: BAPCo has released a statement in return. The consortium notes that AMD approved 80% of the development milestones and that AMD was never threatened with expulsion. The full statement is attached below.

Update 3: We've finally gotten official confirmation (as rumored earlier) that VIA has also left the consortium. They have sent a short statement to SemiAccurate which we have included below. The basis of their complaints are much the same as AMD's: they don't consider SYSMark 2012 to reflect real world usage.

AMD Will Not Endorse SYSmark 2012 Benchmark

— AMD Separates from Association with Industry Group BAPCo —

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — 21, 2011 — AMD (NYSE: AMD) today announced that it will not endorse the SYSmark 2012 Benchmark (SM2012), which is published by BAPCo (Business Applications Performance Corporation). Along with the withdrawal of support, AMD has resigned from the BAPCo organization.

“Technology is evolving at an incredible pace, and customers need clear and reliable measurements to understand the expected performance and value of their systems,” said Nigel Dessau, senior vice president and Chief Marketing Officer at AMD. “AMD does not believe SM2012 achieves this objective. Hence AMD cannot endorse or support SM2012 or remain part of the BAPCo consortium.”

AMD will only endorse benchmarks based on real-world computing models and software applications, and which provide useful and relevant information. AMD believes benchmarks should be constructed to provide unbiased results and be transparent to customers making decisions based on those results. Currently, AMD is evaluating other benchmarking alternatives, including encouraging the creation of an industry consortium to establish an open benchmark to measure overall system performance.

AMD encourages anyone wanting more details about the construction and scoring methodology of the SM2012 benchmark to contact BAPCo. For more details on AMD’s decision to exit BAPCo, please read AMD’s Executive Blog authored by Nigel Dessau.

BAPCo® Reaffirms Open Development Process For SYSmark® 2012

SAN MATEO, Calif.—(BUSINESS WIRE)—Business Applications Performance Corporation (BAPCo®) is a non-profit consortium made up of many of the leaders in the high tech field, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft, Samsung, Seagate, Sony, Toshiba and ARCintuition. For nearly 20 years BAPCo has provided real world application based benchmarks which are used by organizations worldwide. SYSmark® 2012 is the latest release of the premiere application based performance benchmark. Applications used in SYSmark 2012 were selected based on market research and include Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe Acrobat, WinZip, Autodesk AutoCAD and 3ds Max, and others.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) was, until recently, a long standing member of BAPCo. We welcomed AMD’s full participation in the two year development cycle of SYSmark 2012, AMD’s leadership role in creating the development process that BAPCo uses today and in providing expert resources for developing the workload contents. Each member in BAPCo gets one vote on any proposals made by member companies. AMD voted in support of over 80% of the SYSmark 2012 development milestones, and were supported by BAPCo in 100% of the SYSmark 2012 proposals they put forward to the consortium.

BAPCo also notes for the record that, contrary to the false assertion by AMD, BAPCo never threatened AMD with expulsion from the consortium, despite previous violations of its obligations to BAPCo under the consortium member agreement.

BAPCo is disappointed that a former member of the consortium has chosen once more to violate the confidentiality agreement they signed, in an attempt to dissuade customers from using SYSmark to assess the performance of their systems. BAPCo believes the performance measured in each of the six scenarios in SYSmark 2012, which is based on the research of its membership, fairly reflects the performance that users will see when fully utilizing the included applications.

VIA's Statement About Leaving The BAPCo Consortium

VIA today confirmed reports that we have tendered our resignation to BAPCo. We strongly believe that the benchmarking applications tests developed for SYSmark 2012 and EEcoMark 2.0 do not accurately reflect real world PC usage scenarios and workloads and therefore feel we can no longer remain as a member of the organization.

We hope that the industry can adopt a much more open and transparent process for developing fair and objective benchmarks that accurately measure real world PC performance and are committed to working with companies that share our vision.

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  • TrackSmart - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Benchmarks clearly have their place, but the danger is always in the interpretation. Some folks will always look for that simple, single number to define "overall system performance", but how can you ever fairly create such a metric? Maybe it's better to end the single-metric game and just list a few simple subscores that better represent several common usage scenarios. I don't know what the best categories would be, but they might include Gaming, Video and Content Creation, Office and Productivity, and Statistics and Computation.

    And then you'd have to resist the urge to somehow weight these individual categories into a somewhat meaningless single metric...
  • mgl888 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    I absolutely agree with the idea of using several subscores.

    I've long stopped look at "overall" PCMarks, Sysmarks because how your computer performs no doubt depends on what you're doing.

    However, I am more on AMD's side regarding this dispute. The significance of the GPU has certainly increased in the past decade for the general consumer and Sysmark should adjust their weights accordingly.
  • BSMonitor - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    "However, I am more on AMD's side regarding this dispute. The significance of the GPU has certainly increased in the past decade for the general consumer and Sysmark should adjust their weights accordingly. "

    But, the software and compilers aren't there yet. Now that AMD has a more forward thinking hardware, they want the benchmarking companies to jump on board right away with their design?? Or they'll take their ball and go home.

    What if Intel dropped out back in the P4 days because software/benchmarks weren't taking full advantage of SSE. Eventually they did, and P4 dominated Athon XP by the end.
  • Myrandex - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    At the end the P4 was fighting against the Athlon 64. There was a time when there was a period of the P4 being better than the AthlonXP chips, but I don't think it was that drastic. But the Athlon 64 came out and suddenly the tables were turned all the way until Core 2.
  • Belard - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    Sorry, but in general - the P4 was POS CPU since it first farted out of intel's FABs. Even the P3 had a higher IPCs.

    When the first P4s came out (Socket 423 1.4~1.8GHz) were battling out with PIII and AMD Athlon. Not the AMD64 or AMD-XP class CPUs.

    So clock for clock, the Athlon 1.4s were up there or better than P4s (same with PIII, up to a point). Even thou P4s had double the memory bandwidth.

    Then AMD-XP CPUs were a good series against the first P4's 478s.
    Then came the AMD64s and the trend continued... 2.0Ghz AMD64s that were equal to 3.2+Ghz P4s.

    The area that P4 did well was rendering 3D graphics or video - liner work. Gaming, everyday work... they were slow. At one of my jobs, we have some 3.0Ghz P4s that feel so sluggish compared to any AMDs of that era.

    Intels anti-competition business practice kept AMD down (AMD with more money would have more money for R&D).

    Intel was smart when they made their Centrino platform with the Pentium-M, not based off of P4's Netburst. Its very much a PIII / AMD design layout. Intel realized that Netburst was crap and the Megahertz race didn't amount to squat anymore.

    When Core2 came out (based off the Pentium-M design), AMD had just reached 40% desktop CPU market share. Walk into an Office Depot/Staples - you would see 8 out of 10 PCs with AMD CPUs.

    Core2 kicked AMD in the balls. :)
  • SlyNine - Thursday, June 23, 2011 - link

    Yea, and like he said, There was a period that the P4 (northwood B and C) out performed the Athlon XP. This was a period before the Athlon 64s came out.

    But Even an old Athlon 64 3800+X2 (dual core) is fine for 90% of the population, a 6 year old chip. When the 3800X2 came out, there was not a 6 year old chip that could say the same. Boy times have changed.
  • silverblue - Thursday, June 23, 2011 - link

    Not per clock though. Athlons were still faster for most things. It's just that we were getting 2.6 - 2.8GHz P4s and the Athlon XPs were still lurking around 2GHz.
  • yuhong - Saturday, June 25, 2011 - link

    I think memory bandwidth helped too.
  • phu5ion - Thursday, June 23, 2011 - link

    And if it wasn't for the Athlon 64, we'd all still be using single-core Netburst arch in 2011. :P
  • yuhong - Saturday, June 25, 2011 - link

    Yea, when AMD Opteron came out in April 2003 around the same time as Northwood C, it was based on the B3 stepping which had more errata and was limited to DDR333, which is why they waited until C0 stepping that fixed these problems to release the Athlon 64 even though releasing it earlier would have killed the Northwood C immediately.

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