Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Six New Phenom II And Athlon II CPUs From AMD

For the third time in 2010, AMD is adding more speed to its processor lineup. But this time, both the Athlon II and Phenom II CPUs are being included. We spill the beans about the new dual-, triple-, quad-, and hexa-core chips in today’s article.

It’s no secret that we’re on the verge of seeing a whole new generation of processors from the AMD/Intel duopoly. Bobcat, Bulldozer, and Sandy Bridge are some of the processor architectures the chip giants will introduce between now and the second half of 2011. From what we’ve already seen and heard, these new designs are going to be real game-changers.

However, months are like years when it comes to technology, and product refreshes are always welcome when they bring more performance to the table. We've already seen mobile-based demos of AMD's upcoming technology, but there has been little indication of how the company's new desktop parts will perform. Until that happens, we're left to play with existing Phenom II and Athlon II models. Similarly, though Intel talked a big game at IDF, its Gulftown-, Lynnfield-, and Clarkdale-based processors remain the only viable competition for anything AMD launches today. We'll have to wait for late 2010 to get a more concrete indication of how Sandy Bridge fits into the market.


AMD has delivered speed bumps across the Athlon II line twice this year, and the company is doing it one more time with six new processors released today. But it’s not just the Athlon II lineup that AMD is updating this time. We’re getting the first new quad-core Phenom II in just over a year, and we even have our hands on a fresh Phenom II X6.

This is the third time this year that AMD has provided a 100 MHz speed bump across the Athlon II line, while lowering prices on existing SKUs and selling the new processors at the same price as the previous flagship models. A 100 MHz speed bump is hard to get excited about, but a 300 MHz boost across the whole Athlon II portfolio over a year--with decreased pricing--is a respectable increase overall.

This time things are a little different, as the Phenom II lineup is also involved. The new dual- and quad-core models get the same 100 MHz bump we’ve seen before. But there’s also a new hexa-core model that sports a 200 MHz increase over the existing Phenom II X6 1055T.

All of these processors are built on the same 45 nm process and architecture that AMD has relied on since the Phenom II and Athlon II CPUs were introduced, so we don’t expect any miracles. We’ll probably see the same overclocking headroom to which we're accustomed from AMD’s existing models. Instead, we’ll have to wait for the new Fusion-based CPUs, slated for 32 nm manufacturing, to get a processor from the company to change that expectation. Of course, sometimes, a new processor revision increases overclocking headroom a little. We test this in the benchmarks below.

Phenom II X6 1075T

Phenom II X6 1055T
Phenom II X6 1075TPhenom II X6 1090T BE
Codename: ThubanThubanThuban
Process: 45 nm 45 nm 45 nm
CPU Cores: 6
Clock Speed (Max Turbo): 2.8 GHz (3.3 GHz)
3.0 GHz (3.5 GHz)3.2 GHz (3.6 GHz)
Socket: AM2+/AM3AM2+/AM3AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache: 6 x 128 KB
6 x 128 KB6 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 6 x 512 KB
6 x 512 KB6 x 512 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
6 MB6 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s4000 MT/s4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125 W
125 W125 W

The new hexa-core Phenom II X6 1075T fills the gap between the ~$200 Phenom II X6 1055T and the ~$310 Phenom II X6 1090T. The new Phenom II X6 1075T costs $245 and is also priced between Intel’s Core i5-760 and the Core i7 models.

This chip sports a 3.0 GHz base clock speed and can operate as fast as 3.5 GHz in Turbo CORE mode. It's interesting that the Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition processor offers a 200 MHz gain over the new Phenom II X6 1075T's base clock, but only a 100 MHz higher maximum turbo clock. This is likely due to the limitations of squeezing the processor within the same 125 W power envelope.

Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition

Phenom II X4 970Phenom II X4 965
Codename: DenebDeneb
Process: 45 nm 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 3.5 GHz
3.4 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache: 4 x 128 KB
4 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 4 x 512 KB
4 x 512 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
6 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125 W
125 W

It’s been a little over a year since the introduction of AMD’s Phenom II X4 965, a CPU that relinquished its flagship billing with the introduction of the Phenom II X6.

We’re a little disappointed that we’ve waited this long for a mere 100 MHz increase to the Phenom II X4 line. But at $185, the new Phenom II X4 970 remains slightly cheaper than its Intel rival, the Core i5-750. Of course, as a Black Edition processor, the CPU multiplier remains unlocked for overclocking enthusiasts.

Phenom II X2 560 Black Edition

Phenom II X2 560Phenom II X2 555
Codename: CalistoCalisto
Process: 45 nm 45 nm
CPU Cores: 2 2
Clock Speed: 3.3 GHz
3.2 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache: 2 x 128 KB
2 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 2 x 512 KB
2 x 512 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
6 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
80 W
80 W

The new Phenom II X2 560 replaces the Phenom II X2 555 in much the same fashion that the Phenom II X2 555 replaced the Phenom II X2 550 in January of this year. Despite the slight 100 MHz increase to 3.3 GHz, the price point remains the same, at $105. The new model also sports an unlocked multiplier ratio. And like any dual-core Phenom II processor, there is a chance that the dormant CPU cores might be successfully enabled through the unlocking features included with some motherboards.

Athlon II X4 645

Athlon II X4 645Athlon II X4 640
Codename: PropusPropus
Process: 45 nm 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 3.1 GHz
3.0 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache: 4 x 64 KB
4 x 64 KB
L2 Cache: 4 x 512 KB
4 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W
95 W

The new Athlon II X4 645 pushes budget quad-core performance 100 MHz over the 3.0 GHz level. At $122, it offers what seems like a solid combination of multi-threaded performance and a high clock speed.

Athlon II X3 450

Athlon II X3 450Athlon II X3 445
Codename: RanaRana
Process: 45 nm 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz
3.1 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache: 3 x 64 KB
3 x 64 KB
L2 Cache: 3 x 512 KB
3 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W
95 W

At 3.2 GHz, the Athlon II X3 450 is no slouch. The triple-core threat has become our favorite sub-$100 gaming processor, and we’re fans of the new model’s $87 MSRP. With three processing cores, this CPU naturally handles multi-tasking much better than its dual-core competitors.

Athlon II X2 265

Athlon II X2 265Athlon II X2 260
Codename: RegorRegor
Process: 45 nm 45 nm
CPU Cores: 2 2
Clock Speed: 3.3 GHz
3.2 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache: 2 x 64 KB
2 x 64 KB
L2 Cache: 2 x 1 MB
2 x 1 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
65 W
65 W

The Athlon II X2 260 is a dual-core CPU with a clock rate of 3.3 GHz, and is probably more powerful than what most productivity-based office users require. At $76, budget-constrained gamers and enthusiasts should instead spend the extra $10 on AMD's Athlon II X3 450. But the new dual-core option promises reasonable performance for basic budget PC users.

We recently tested the entire Athlon II lineup against the Intel competition in Game-Off: Seven Sub-$150 Processors Compared, and the new Athlon II models sport only a minor 100 MHz increase over the CPUs we tested in that article. Because of this, we’re concentrating on the new Phenom II models in today’s benchmarks.

The Phenom II X2 560 is priced identically to the Pentium G6950, and the Phenom II X4 970 retails for about the same as the Core i5-750, so we’re including all of these models in our tests. The new Phenom II X6 1075T is priced between the Intel Core i5-760 and Core i7-920. Since the Core i5-750 performs very closely to the Core i5-760, we don’t think it’s necessary to include that SKU, and we are adding the Core i7-920 to our tests.

Unfortunately, the Core i7-920 we have on hand is an engineering sample with a lower memory multiplier than the retail version. This will hurt the Core i7-920 in some memory-dependent tests. But for the most part, performance should remain comparable to the commercially available processor.

Test Systems
AMD System
Intel LGA 1156 System
Intel LGA 1366 System
MotherboardAsus M4A785TD-V EVO
Socket AM3, AMD 785G, BIOS 0410
Asus P7P55D-E LX
LGA 1156, Intel P55, BIOS 1003
Gigabyte X58A-UD3R
LGA 1366, Intel X58, BIOS version FA
ProcessorPhenom II X6 1075T
3.0 GHz (3.4 GHz Max Turbo)
Hexa-Core, 6 MB L3 Cache

Phenom II X4 970
3.5 GHz, Quad-Core
6 MB L3 Cache

Phenom II X2 560
3.3 GHz, Dual-Core
6 MB L3 Cache
Intel Core i5-750
2.66 GHz (3.2 GHz Max Turbo)
Quad-Core, 8 MB L3 Cache

Intel Pentium G6950
2.66 GHz, Quad-Core
3 MB L3 Cache
Intel Core i7-920
2.67 GHz (2.93 GHz Max Turbo)
(8 Threads with Hyper-Threading)
8 MB L3 Cache
emoryCrucial DDR3-1333
Dual-Channel 2 x 2048 MB, 669 MHz,
CAS 9-9-9-24-1T
Mushkin PC3-10700H
Triple-Channel 3 x 2048 MB, 540 MHz,
CL 8-8-8-20-1T
GraphicsMSI GeForce GTX 470
1280 MB GDDR5-3348, 607/1215 MHz GPU/Shaders, 837 MHz Mem.
Hard DriveWestern Digital Caviar Black 640 GB
7200 RPM, 32 MB Cache SATA 3Gb/s
Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
CrysisPatch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit executable, benchmark tool
Ultra-High Quality, No AA, 1280x1024
DiRT 2
In-game benchmark
Ultra Quality Preset, 8x AA, 1280x1024
StarCraft 2
Custom Tom's Hardware Benchmark
Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 1280x1024
Audio/Video Encoding
Version: x64
Audio CD ("Terminator II" SE), 53 min
Default format AAC
HandBrake 0.9.4Version 0.9.4, convert first .vob file
from "The Last Samurai" (1 GB) to .mp4
High Profile
TMPGEnc 4.0 ExpressVersion:
Import File: "Terminator 2" SE DVD (5 Minutes)
Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
DivX 6.9.1Encoding mode: Insane Quality
Enhanced multithreading enabled using SSE4
Quarter-pixel search
XviD 1.2.2Display encoding status = off
MainConcept Reference 1.6.1
MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec
28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2)
Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 KHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s)
Mode: PAL (25 FPS)
Adobe Photoshop CS4 (64-bit)Version: 11.0 x64, Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image
Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Autodesk 3ds Max 2010Version: 11.0 x64, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus 9.0Version: 9.0.663, Virus base: 270.14.1/2407
Benchmark: Scan 334 MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
WinRAR 3.90Version x64 3.90, Dictionary = 4096 KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
7-ZipVersion 4.65: Format=Zip, Compression=Ultra,
Method=Deflate, Dictionary Size=32 KB, Word Size=128, Threads=8
Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks
3DMark VantageVersion: 1.01, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark VantageVersion: x64, System, Memories, Productivity, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks
SiSoftware Sandra 2010Version 2010.1.16.11, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / MultiMedia, Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark

These two applications clearly differ when it comes to support for threading, with iTunes barely differentiating between processors. Conversely, HandBrake clearly utilizes multiple threads, showing an advantage to the Phenom II X6 1075T over Intel's Hyper-Threaded Core i7-920.

The Core i5-750 shows an advantage over the Core i7-920 in iTunes. This is one of those artifacts of threading versus raw clock rate. The Core i5-750 enjoys a higher maximum Turbo Boost frequency than the Core i7-920, allowing it to hit higher frequencies in single-threaded workloads like this one. Were iTunes optimized to run across four cores, the Core i7 would have undoubtedly established a lead.

When it comes to video encoding, TMPGEnc’s DivX and MainConcept’s H.264 encoders take good advantage of the Phenom II X6’s extra processing cores, while TMPGEnc’s Xvid encoder performs faster on the Intel models.

As far as 2D and 3D graphics are concerned, multiple cores are a necessity. 3ds Max even shows a small advantage in favor of the Phenom II X6’s extra processing cores. But it also appreciates the Hyper-Threading capabilities of Intel's Core i7-920.

Photoshop demonstrates a definite performance advantage when run on Intel processors compared to AMD’s similarly priced counterparts, although the Phenom II X6 does place well here.

AVG shows it can use more than two CPU cores, but aside from that, it doesn’t seem to make a difference whether clock speeds or architecture changes.

WinRAR definitely performs better on the high-end Intel processors. The Pentium G6950 is bested by the Phenom II X2 560. 7-Zip appears to take better advantage of multiple threads, and the Phenom II X6 1075T edges out a slight win here.

Crysis is clearly graphics card-limited, but it’s interesting to see the Phenom II X6 1075T fall back a little here due to its relatively low clock speeds (compared to the Phenom II X4 970). Games rarely make use of more than three CPU threads, and while it performs well, the Phenom II X6 is not a top gaming processor for this reason.

The DiRT2 benchmark shows us another graphics card-limited game benchmark. The high-end processors are neck and neck, but the dual-core CPUs fall behind. The Phenom II X2 560 does perform better than the Pentium G6950.

StarCraft 2 is more CPU-dependent than the other games we’ve tested, but the results remain similar.

We wanted to see if these new AMD models have more overclocking headroom than their predecessors, so we performed some quick and dirty overclocking tests.

In the case of the Phenom II X2 560 and Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition CPUs, we simply raised the voltage to 1.475 V, along with the CPU multiplier, until we figured out the limit of Prime95 stability. The Phenom II X6 1075T is a little trickier since it is not a Black Edition processor and its CPU multiplier is locked. In this case, we increased the voltage to 1.475 V and the reference clock speed until we achieved the highest stable setting (each processor's overclocking details are reported below).

The Phenom II X2 560 makes it to 4 GHz, which is just about exactly what we got out of our Phenom II X2 555 at the beginning of the year. However, our attempt to unlock dormant CPU cores (in order to turn the X2 into an X3 or X4) was met with failure. We were actually a little surprised, because this is the first Black Edition Phenom II X2 that we haven’t been able to successfully unlock. The 700 MHz overclock helps performance, regardless.

Our experience with the Phenom II X4 970 is slightly different. Our first sample was able to hit 3.9 GHz through multiplier-based overclocking, which is about what we expect to achieve with a Phenom II X4 965. However, we also have a Phenom II X4 970 on hand that benefits from an AMD process improvement.

The newer revision can be identified with the letters “AACDC” on the lid, as opposed to the previous sample that read “AACAC.” AMD's representative assures us that the newer revision is the only one that will make it to retail channels. Both CPUs are revision RB-C3 and Stepping 3, according to CPU-Z, but the new version does achieve a higher overclock of 4.1 GHz. Prime95 stress tests run fine, but SiSoft Sandra arithmetic benchmarks crash and we had to raise the voltage to 1.55 V in the BIOS to achieve stability. This is a little higher than the 1.5 V maximum we usually use, but the temperatures remained quite low, so we allowed ourselves to indulge a bit.

The multiplier-locked Phenom II X6 1075T managed to make it to 3.75 GHz at 1.475 V with a bus increase to 250 MHz. This overclock really revitalizes this CPU, as you can see in the benchmarks.

We also include the overclocked Core i5-750 results from our last System Builder Marathon:

In the SiSoft arithmetic CPU benchmark, the overclocked Phenom II X4 and X6 show large improvements over the stock speed, but the dual-core Phenom II doesn’t demonstrate much of an advantage when pushed. The Core i5-750 shows a huge boost in the Dhrystone results, but the Whetstone numbers fall short of the overclocked Phenom II X4 970 and the stock Phenom II X6 1075T.

We choose TMPGEnc for our application benchmark because it has two different encoding algorithms that take advantage of varying processor strengths. While the DivX codec demonstrates a huge performance increase with the Phenom II X6’s hexa-core architecture, the Xvid codec prefers raw speed and Intel’s design.

With StarCraft 2 as our game benchmark, you can see the overclocked Phenom II X6 1075T surpasses even the 4.1 GHz Phenom II X4 970 by a small margin. The overclocked Core i5-750 really shines here, though, sailing by all of the other processors.

The Intel Pentium G/Core i3/Core i5 processors are power-sippers compared to the Phenom II, although the Core i5-750 can be pushed to high power usage levels when overclocked.

The Phenom IIs have a reputation for running cool, and these results will do nothing to change that status quo.

Results in hand, let’s discuss AMD’s new processors from the top to the bottom:

Phenom II X6 1075T

AMD’s Phenom II X6 1075T processor offers performance that is somewhat inconsistent, but for the price, there is potential for value. If the user is actively involved in selecting applications that take the best advantage of all six processor cores, the rewards are undeniable. However, buyers who blindly choose the Phenom II X6 expecting great performance across the board will be a little disappointed.

At $245, the new Phenom II X6 1075T fills a large gap between the ~$200 Phenom II X6 1055T and the ~$310 Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition. The 200 MHz boost is appreciated over the somewhat anemic 2.8 GHz base clock of the 1055T, and according to relative performance, the new model is priced right, so there’s little to complain about. It’s nice to see another Phenom II X6 to fill the ranks, and for those knowledgeable about its strengths, the Phenom II X6 1075T does not disappoint.

Phenom II X4 970

Offering a 100 MHz clock boost over its Phenom II X4 965 predecessor, the Phenom II X4 970 demonstrates slightly superior overclockability in our tests thanks to a recent process improvement. At stock clocks, this new CPU compares well against its Core i5-750 competition, winning and losing some tests. But it costs a few dollars less.

As a brand-new alternative to Intel’s Core i5-750, this CPU is a viable choice for folks who operate their processors at stock speeds. If overclocking is part of the equation, Intel's solution has a lot more to offer. Because of its unlocked multiplier, I suppose a case can be made for the Phenom II X4 970 as an easy-to-overclock solution for tinkerers who aren’t comfortable raising bus speeds and putting their entire platform out of spec. But for serious enthusiasts who want to get the most out of their system, the Intel option is superior.

Phenom II X2 560

We’re of two minds when it comes to the Phenom II X2 560. On one hand, the potential for a Phenom II processor with four cores and an unlocked multiplier is very tempting at $105. On the other hand, core unlocking has always been a bit of a black art, and we remain hesitant to make any recommendations based on "what could be," especially since there remains no way to tell if a given chip is unlockable.

At the $100 price point, we do believe that the Phenom II X2 560 is the best dual-core option available. But AMD is fighting against itself here, since $18 less buys an Athlon II X3 450 with three guaranteed functional CPU cores and a mere 100 MHz deficit. Yes, we’re giving up that fat 6 MB of L3 cache, but we’ll choose that third CPU core any day of the week.

The New Athlon II CPUs

The lowest-priced Intel quad-core CPU is $190. While Intel’s Hyper-Threaded dual-core Core i3-520 makes a strong case at $115, AMD continues to offer the only true sub-$125, quad- and triple-core processors on the market.

At $122, there is no competition for the 3.1 GHz Athlon II X4 645 when it comes to multi-threaded applications and multitasking. The 3.2 GHz Athlon II X3 450 at a retail price of $87 sets a new standard for a sub-$100 multi-purpose processor that’s great at gaming, applications, and multi-tasking. And for $76, the 3.3 GHz Athlon II X2 265 delivers the highest-speed budget dual-core CPU available.

On a final note, we should mention the release of new energy-efficient Athlon IIe CPU models into the OEM channel: the 3.0 GHz Athlon II X2 250e, the 2.6 GHz Athlon II X3 420e, and the 2.5 GHz Athlon II X4 615e. While AMD has no plans to release these CPUs at retail, this hardware will find its way into energy-efficient OEM products in the near future. With a 45 W maximum TDP, these CPUs make ideal candidates for powerful mini-ITX computers, and we hope that they'll be available for purchase by the public in the future.

ZoomYou’ve done a nice job watering the grass, but the storm’s just about here.

There’s absolutely nothing to complain about when a CPU manufacturer offers processor speed bumps without a price increase. This is a no-lose scenario for the consumer.

Particularly, the power user with an inclination to step up is happiest with AMD’s new CPU models. Do you have a cheap Socket AM3-based Athlon II X2 system? Feel free to upgrade to a Phenom II X4 or even an X6 model, depending on your needs. Still, sitting on a Socket AM2+ motherboard with a single-core Athlon 64? The performance increase with an upgrade to an Athlon II X4 is staggering. No need to change anything else--AMD has an upgrade path that Intel users can only dream about.

But if you’re buying new, Intel’s LGA 1156 platform does look appealing on many fronts, especially for overclockers (just be aware that it's a dead platform; Sandy Bridge will see a shift to LGA 1155). More importantly, if you’re about to invest some hard-earned cash in a new system and can wait a while, the game has the potential to change significantly with the introduction of Sandy Bridge, Fusion, and Bulldozer--particularly if you’re interested in the prospect of low-cost integrated graphics as powerful as today’s entry-level discrete solutions. Even AMD will introduce a revised Socket AM3+ interface to support the next-generation models, although it does offer some backwards-compatibility with AM2/AM3 CPUs.

Then again, folks interested in a low-cost platform with a lot of room to grow can confidently start with an Athlon II/Socket AM3 combo. No matter what the next year brings, the AM3-based upgrade path includes flexible choices that will remain viable for some time to come--especially if you plan on using discrete graphics.

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