Questions of Compatibility: AMD, AM3, and Bulldozer

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It's been several weeks since Asus announced that certain socket AM3 motherboards would support AMD's upcoming Bulldozer processors. Since then, we've turned up additional rumors on the nature of such support. MSI has also announced its own plans to retrofit some existing AM3 boards with Bulldozer compatibility. What follows is the general shape of the situation as we currently understand it.

Will AMD Officially Support Bulldozer On The AM3 Platform?

No. The recent announcements from Asus and MSI make it clear that some AM3 boards will function with a Bulldozer-class processor installed. With that said, AMD originally justified moving from AM3 to AM3+ because not doing so would prevent certain Bulldozer features from functioning. AMD has not specified which features are affected yet; it's our belief, based on conversations with people in the know, that Bulldozer's advanced power management and clock gating capabilities require an AM3+ socket.


Gigabyte has also announced a new line 16 "Black Socket" boards that are AM3+ ready

What's The Difference Between Unofficial and Official Support?
Quite a bit. For one thing, "unsupported" is almost always code for "voids your warranty." Official support doesn't automatically translate into practical compatibility. AMD has officially supported two separate product introductions in recent history. First, all AM2 boards that supported Phenom officially supported Phenom II. Second, all AM2+ boards officially supported AM3 processors. In both cases, actual compatibility implementation was left in the hands of the motherboard manufacturers.

There are occasionally cases where neither official support nor proper BIOS implementation is sufficient. AMD's 780G chipset, which launched to considerable acclaim, was capable of supporting AMD's entire range of processors. It soon became apparent, however, that a number of mATX 780G  boards were incapable of handling AMD's 125W Phenom processors. Well-built boards using high-quality components had no problems. The rest were quickly restricted to 95W TDPs or less.


Asus' Crosshair IV actually *will* support Bulldozer. It's a fact that could significantly improve the board's marketability—if we knew more about the nature of that support.

What Have Asus / AMD Said?

AMD has officially said that it will support Bulldozer with the Socket AM3+ infrastructure. Questions regarding Bulldozer and AM3 support should therefore be directed to the motherboard manufacturers in question*. We attempted to talk to Asus, but were told that the company will no longer be talking publicly about AM3/Bulldozer support, at the request of AMD. Thus, Asus was unable to talk to us about the specifics of its own product based on an announcement it had already made.

What's The Bottom Line?
Some AM3 boards will support Bulldozer processors. The characteristics of that support and the degree to which performance, power consumption, and thermals will be affected is unknown. We generally expect that more expensive, enthusiast-class boards will offer a greater degree of support than bargain-basement models. Similarly, companies are more likely to update newer, better, boards than older ones.

The rumor mill indicates that multiple AMD chipsets will be capable of supporting Bulldozer. There's scant info on just how much various companies will implement support on older boards. Expect actual compatibility to vary considerably. The nature of this situation makes it very likely that some boards that should support Bulldozer, won't. Others may not be able to deliver power adequately given the CPU's different requirements.

The best thing to do is wait and see. We'll have to wait for launch to see what disparities exist between AM3 and AM3+ features and performance. We expect other motherboard manufacturers will make their own announcements about AM3 compatibility in the weeks ahead, but in lieu of the unofficial nature of support, we recommend waiting as opposed to buying a board now with a plan to drop an AM3+ processor in it.

*At the time this article was written, only Asus had announced that Bulldozer would be supported on AM3.
Multiple vendors have since made similar statements.
 

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"AMD has said only that they don't support Bulldozer on AM3." I think seeing as they are the CPU and chipset manufacturer that would be the final word.

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@Rapid1 - Official support and support are two different things. Remeber the Abit VP6? BP6? :) Motherboard makers can do lots of interesting things...

And keep in mind, Asus, MSI and GB have all said they will have some level of support for Bulldozer on some current boards. We're just trying to figure out exactly what that means.

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Do you guys have any idea when you will get boards/processors to test?

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Good write-up thanks. I've been wondering about this since the announcement. It just sounds like msi and asus want to sell some am3 boards now to those who want to wait for the am3+ boards/processors to come out. AMD boards aren't super expensive to begin with, it just seems like a good idea to me to buy a board to match the processor.

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Looks like the prudent thing to do would be to wait for the mainboard manufactures to get up to speed with possible revisions after Bulldozer's release.and I would not want to encounter any of the grey areas or the unknowns support with my cash.

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I am sure Asus, MSI, and GB would not have said this if they don't truly believe that they can update their boars to support these newer processors. I guess the biggest question is going to be how well they utilize the new chips. Only time will tell.

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First, let me say thanks for this article clarifying this muddy issue. It answers my questions about this subject enough to solidify my prior opinions about waiting or not.

I firmly believe that the only logical, prudent course of action is to wait for a true AM4 mainboard to be released that will utilize ALL of the features that Bulldozer will bring to the table.

Buying one that's "compatible", yet not supported by AMD, will be a waste of money unless you were to sell the compatible board when the proper boards are released. (this may be what some of you are planning)

I just can't imagine why AMD would release Bulldozer CPU's without ensuring that the proper Chipsets are in channel and being used on motherboards already.

I wonder if they will?

I'm going to wait until it's all released, CPU & Chipset together, and official too. Then I'll wait until the early adopters find the bugs and work through them. After that, I'll see what board everyone says is the best, and buy it.

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AM3+ will have official support, you do not need to wait for AM4. What this article is saying is that "old" AM3 will not have official support for Bulldozer from AMD. AM3+ will be a revision that has AMD support for Bulldozer, and I'm not sure when AM4 is slated to come out. AM3+ might be the only official choice for some time, I'm not sure.

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realneil:

Buying one that's "compatible", yet not supported by AMD, will be a waste of money unless you were to sell the compatible board when the proper boards are released. (this may be what some of you are planning)

I just can't imagine why AMD would release Bulldozer CPU's without ensuring that the proper Chipsets are in channel and being used on motherboards already.

I wonder if they will?

Well, one thing's for sure is that alot of these buyers of these "compatible boards" may as well be screwed.

I mean if the boards have to be high quality to support Bulldozer then we might as well be hoping those motherboards that proclaim to support AM3+ are at the highest quality possible.

Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

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Thanks, very well said Neil

This is exactly what i referring to as the 'grey aeas' of support and would not consider forking out any hard - earned cash.until about at least a month or so after it's ALL Official and the smoke clears Heck SB did not go 30 days before some 'snafus' appeared.somewhat minor but still...

We have all been patiently  waiting for Bulldozer & until it's clear in my mind of a mobo /  mem combo that's gonna rock' along with Bulldozer completely as intended from AMD

This way there's no doubt regarding full support & performance and ALL the speculation of critical components ends.

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