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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  • Alexvrb - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Jarred, I think the point is that with an AMD Fusion chip, most users would get the benefit of some pretty solid GPU acceleration compared to a competing part, without the need for a dedicated GPU. In case you didn't notice, most people don't build their own systems. They use OEM boxes, and even adding an entry-level dGPU could easily add $100 to the system cost - assuming they don't force you to bundle a faster processor or upgrade to a fancier model to get a dGPU in the first place.

    So for things that people use every day, like IE9/Chrome/FF4, Flash, etc, that all benefit from hardware acceleration, I think it's a little unfair to not factor that in properly. GPU acceleration isn't fading away, it's growing. If SYSmark says that a $100 Intel chip is 50% faster than a competing AMD product at the same price, when the AMD product in actual use is as good if not better, I can see AMD's problem.

    As for Nvidia, their angle is a little different I think, but no less valid. If you test a system with Intel's integrated HD3000, and then test it with a "costly" (OEM) add-in Nvidia GPU, SYSmark may tell people that it's not significantly better. "Don't bother, it's not worth the extra money." That might not sit well with Nvidia, and I can't really blame them.

    Oh, and that's just for desktops. How much to "add a $50 GPU" to an Intel laptop, you think there, partner?
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    If you want a laptop with dGPU, it's about $50 to $100 more than a laptop without (depending on dGPU). Considering you can already get Optimus with GT 525M level graphics and better CPU performance for around $700, well, I've already covered this plenty in the Llano review. Plus you're discounting how well Intel's HD 3000 handles things; sure, Llano is faster, but on average it's about 30-50% in games, and for things like viewing YouTube or surfing the web, it's really no faster (and sometimes slower). Outside of gaming, name me one area where an Intel Sandy Bridge system truly struggles. I've tested several, and I can help out: they don't struggle. With anything. Neither does Llano, but again outside of gaming Intel is still faster.
  • Lemon8or - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    HD 3000 can't handle Direct X 11 titles so in there you'd see an infinite performance improvement. :P
  • Alexvrb - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    You beat me to it. But not just DX11 games. It also lacks CS 5.0. So for HD3000 you'd have to fall back to what, 4.1? Above and beyond that, performance using CS or OpenCL will not be as good as it is with Llano or a dGPU.

    But according to SYSmark, that isn't relevant. That's their beef with BAPCo. I mean really, IE8? FF 3.6? Gee I wonder why they chose pre-hardware-acclerated browsers... oh hello there Intel-logo briefcase stuffed full of cash!
  • TrackSmart - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Exactly my point. What do you mean by "overall system performance"? It's obvious that all modern processors can handle basic word processing and internet usage. But there are also lots of forum posts from sad 14 year-olds wondering why their brand new laptop can't run any games despite the fact that the salesmen said it was a really fast computer.

    How can you tell if your single number is high because the processor is ridiculously fast, but the GPU still can't play games. Or if the GPU is fast, but the processor doesn't have enough muscle for running simulations? And if both systems get the same overall score, but are so clearly different in capabilities, what's the point of your single score for overall system performance?
  • TrackSmart - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    To finish the thought: In a world where laptops have several scores next to them, little johnny could pay attention to the one that has a high score for gaming and use that to make a semi-informed decision for his needs. Sure the gaming tests themselves will be subject to debate, but less so that the "overall system" score.
  • jleach1 - Sunday, June 26, 2011 - link

    In what situations are AMD CPUs faster than same generation Intel chips?

    I can only think of 1 case-- 3d applications.

    We can go on all day about performance/frequency ratios, and performance/watt ratios, but only one thing matters:

    And I'm paraphrasing here: "virtually all current CPUs will be more than adequate for 90% of users (or usage scenarios-- whatever it was)."

    Intel is flat out faster at that 90%.

    And if you fall within the other 10%, and that 10% matters to you at all, you need to be looking at discrete solutions.

    I could say this: AMD GOT ROMPED at the 90% that matters to most people.

    Now, I could play devils advocate and say that Intel is in fact muscling it's way through to better bench scores... But I could just as easily say that AMD VIA and Nvidia made this decision because they were lacking on that 90%.

    It boils down to this: amd is going to do what's in it's best interests...and if that means crying wolf and forming a gang with the people who really care about iGPUs to boycott a benchmark, they're gonna do it.

    They have a huge interest in seeing that integrated graphics scores matter in benchmarks...just like intel has an interest in seeing that it's strengths score well.

    If you think this is about justice, your sadly mistaken. It's pure business, plain and simple.
  • Stargrazer - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    If you’re 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

    Except for when it comes to SSDs. :)
  • TrackSmart - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Ha ha. I often think the same thing when I see the SSD reviews (in a good natured way). Anand and company have to work pretty hard to find tests that show a large spread in SSD scores. And they have to do things that most users would never do.

    But the reviewers often mention that once you've gone SSD, the differences are not huge.
    Though maybe those disclaimers need to appear more often. And they might advise folks that at at given price point, it may be better to step-up in capacity (from 90GB vs 120GB) than to step-up in SSD performance (from really-fast to really-really-fast). But Anandtech readers are hopefully smart enough to figure that out themselves (or by looking at the PCMark Vantage scores that show only small differences from the slowest to the fastest SSDs).
  • Wierdo-X - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Intel's the only company left, all other companies joined AMD in abandoning the benchmark!

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