AMD is looking a lot more competitive in 2010 than I expected just a few months ago. Intel finally unveiled Clarkdale and thanks to the high cost of Core i5 ownership AMD hasn't really been threatened. The Core i3 530 is the biggest threat, but it only competes with one member of AMD's lineup at $113.

Thanks to continued improvements in Global Foundries' 45nm process, AMD is delivering slight clock bumps for its dual, triple and quad-core processors while dropping prices of others. This is what AMD is launching today:

Processor Clock Speed L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X4 910e 2.6GHz 2MB 6MB 65W $169
AMD Phenom II X2 555 BE 3.2GHz 1MB 6MB 80W $99
AMD Athlon II X4 635 2.9GHz 2MB 0MB 95W $119
AMD Athlon II X3 440 3.0GHz 1.5MB 0MB 95W $84
AMD Athlon II X2 255 3.1GHz 2MB 0MB 65W $74

 

It's nothing revolutionary. AMD already delivers good value below $130 and today's launch just improves upon that. What you won't see here is anything on AMD's 8-series chipsets, due out in the March - May timeframe.

  AMD 790GX AMD 890GX
CPU AMD Socket-AM3 AMD Socket-AM3
Manufacturing Process 55nm ??
PCI Express 22 PCIe 2.0 lanes ??
Graphics Radeon HD 3300 (DirectX 10.0) DirectX 10.1 integrated GPU
Core Clock 700MHz 700MHz
Shader Processors 8 (5-way) ??
Full H.264/VC-1/MPEG-2 HW Decode Yes (UVD) Yes (UVD2)
8-channel LPCM No Yes
USB 12 USB 2.0 ports 14 USB 2.0 ports
SATA 6 SATA 3Gbps ports 6 SATA 6Gbps ports

 

You also won't see anything about the new Thuban or Zosma cores, AMD's high end 6-core and 4-core products for 2010. We know model numbers but we don't know clock speeds, features or prices. Expect to see them in late Q2.

Processor Cores Clock Speed L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X6 1075T 6 ?? ?? 6MB 125W ??
AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 6 ?? ?? 6MB 125W/95W ??
AMD Phenom II X6 1035T 6 ?? ?? 6MB 95W ??
AMD Phenom II X4 960T 4 ?? ?? 6MB 95W ??

 

The Phenom II X4 910e - 65W Quad-Core

I'll start with the least interesting first. The Phenom II X4 910e brings us a 65W full-blown Phenom II quad-core at 2.6GHz. You pay a hefty premium for the lower voltage part; $169 normally buys you 3GHz in the Phenom II X4 lineup.

The power savings are measurable though, here we have the 910e at idle and under full load compared to a 125W Phenom II X4 965BE and the rest of today's lineup:

Processor TDP Total System Idle Power Total System Load Power (x264 Encode)
AMD Phenom II X4 965 BE 125W 89.7W 174W
AMD Phenom II X4 910e 65W 84.6W 134W
AMD Phenom II X2 555 BE 80W 82.3W 161W
AMD Athlon II X4 635 95W 79.5W 157W
AMD Athlon II X2 255 65W 76.3W 130W

 

Idle power improves a bit vs. the 125W quad-cores, but load power is respectable. The 2.6GHz quad-core 910e draws only 4 more watts than a dual core Athlon II running at 3.1GHz. You pay handsomely for the lower power consumption, but if you're an OEM looking for such a thing without undervolting a standard 125W processor it could be worth it.

The Phenom II X2 555 BE - AMD's Fastest Dual-Core

Remember the Phenom II X2 550 BE? That was a quad-core Phenom II with two cores disabled, but a full 6MB L3 cache. It was a beast of a dual-core CPU but AMD quietly pulled it off its price list months ago. You could still find the chips in retail and priced quite effectivley at $99, but the Core i3 530 manages to offer better performance at nearly the same price.

AMD's response? The Phenom II X2 555 BE. Still an unlocked Black Edition part, the 555 pushes its clock speed up to 3.2GHz. The extra 100MHz won't do much for performance but the price remains at $99. The problem with the Phenom II X2's architecture is that you get relatively small and high latency L2 caches (512KB, 15 cycle) and a large/high latency L3 cache (6MB, ~40 - 50 cycles). It's not ideal for a dual-core chip.With Clarkdale you at least get much lower latency caches (10 cycles and sub-40 cycles for L2 and L3 respectively).

I'm not particularly excited about the Phenom II X2 555 BE, but AMD has sweetened the deal a bit. This chip now supports hardware C1E, like the first Athlon IIs. And no, I haven't encountered any CnQ bugs with it.

The hardware C1E means lower idle power consumption (I explained it in greater detail here) and it's courtesy of the new C3 Phenom II stepping. A side effect of this newer silicon rev is that it should overclock better. Our old Phenom II X2 550 BE hit 3.5 - 3.6GHz on air at stock voltage, and our new chip did 3.8GHz in the same conditions:

Part of the success of our chip here is due to its nearly 1.4V default voltage. Lower default voltages may only see 3.6GHz without going any further. Pushing beyond 3.8GHz proved to be very difficult on air, at least with any amount of stability under Windows 7 64-bit.

The Athlon II X4 630 & 635 - Even More Affordable Quad-Core

For a thread-junkie, you can't beat the Athlon II X4. You get more cores for $99 than Intel would dream of selling and today AMD is making it even more affordable. The Athlon II X4 630 drops from $122 to $99, and the new 635 enters at $119. The 635 doesn't give you much, just an extra 100MHz for $20 more.

The 620 was my pick for 3D rendering/video encoding on a budget. Now with the price drop, the 630 is the chip to get. The 635 isn't really worth the added dough at stock clock speeds. If you're going to be overclocking though, the news is good.

I got my Athlon II X4 635 up to 3.5GHz without any additional voltage, this is an improvement over the first Athlon II X4s I received. Back in September the best I could do was ~3.3GHz.

More than anything these new chips are examples of good old fashioned process technology improvements. Yields improve with time (at least they should for a company interested in being profitable) and with that comes improved overclockability over time.

The Athlon II X3 440 & Athlon II X2 255 - Value Speed Bump

The Athlon II X3 440 will set you back $84 and gives you three cores running at 3.0GHz. The best Intel will give you is a pair of cores running at 3.06GHz sharing a 2MB L2 cache - the Pentium E6600. You get more cache per core, but fewer cores than the Athlon II X3. It's the same story as the Core i3 vs. Athlon II X4. If you need more threads, go AMD, if you run lightly threaded apps you'll be faster with Intel at these price points. Interestingly enough, below $100 AMD actually offers more threads per dollar than Intel.

If you want a more even match there's the Athlon II X2 255. At $74 you get a pair of 3.1GHz cores with a 1MB L2 per core. Our 255 hit 3.6GHz without any additional voltage, but with some effort you can be in the 3.7 - 3.8GHz range.

Full Data in Bench & The Test
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  • Nfarce - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    "A huge number of us own a Core2Duo E8xxx series CPU. Can you please post the benchmarks of one of them in this review to give us an idea of how it compares to an overclocked I3 530 or Phenom 2 555? Thanks."

    Actually you can take their data on the E7500 here and extrapolate the information from that vs. where an E8600 (or whatever) is in other similar tests and then plug it back in here.

    At least, that's what I do. It doesn't take much time and usually there's a reason why AT will leave a certain chipset out (not sure why they chose the E7500 here over an E8500 however).
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    not sure why they chose the E7500 here over an E8500 however

    Because the E8000 series is in a different pricing universe compared to the CPUs discussed here. They should not under any circumstances be considered by any buyer in today's market.

    But indeed you can use the E7500 as a good baseline. The clockspeed is nearly the same so the performance will be marginally better than the E7500 based on larger cache and faster FSB, but not by a whole lot.
    Reply
  • Tamdrik - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    Wow, is the newer X58 platform that much more energy efficient than the X48? I was shocked to see the Core i3 system at load consuming less power than the Pentium E6300 at idle, especially considering the latter is a 65W TDP part, which is less than the i3 at 73W. I think the GT280 by itself idles at around 50W, so the rest of an X58 system idles at under 40W (presumably including ~10W or so of PSU losses) vs. twice that for an X48? That's crazy. Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    Anand seems to have completely forgot that X58 chipsets only run LGA1366 CPUs. The test page should show either a P55 or H55.

    The TDP of the Clarkdale's are with iGPU, so it'll fare better comparatively against Core 2 with discrete GPUs.
    Reply
  • ET - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    The Athlon II X2 255 beats the Phenom II X2 555 BE in Far Cry 2, and it's slower and has less cache. So what's its secret?

    BTW, it looks from these benchmarks that the slowest CPU works well for these games. I wonder if there's a larger difference in the minimum frame rate.
    Reply
  • nubie - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    Latency.

    The Phenom X2 is a cut-down X4 with level 3 cache.

    The Athlon II X2 is a designed Dual-Core with no level 3 cache (and LARGER level 2 caches per core.)

    Anandtech did a review on the Athlon II X2:

    http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...

    I for one had been waiting about 5 years for them to come out with this chip. And it is about time. The 65nm process never got 1MB level 2 Cache per core, we had to stick with 90nm and wait for these 45nm chips.
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    Actually, "ET" is right - something very weird is going on.

    Compare:
    Athlon II X2 250 @ 3.0GHz - 36FPS
    Athlon II X2 255 @ 3.1GHz - 45.8FPS

    That's got to be the most magical 3% clockspeed bump in the history of the PC.
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I am not seeing what you are talking about. I see 45.8FPS for the X2 255, but there is no 36FPS except for the quad-core. I don't see Athlon II X2 250 on any of these graphs...

    Anyway, I agree with nubie that the Athlon II X2 is the real gem in AMD's current lineup with the jacked-up clockspeeds and huge L2 cache per core. These allow for fantastic systems at unbelievable prices!
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    The benchmarks were taken from Bench (Anandtech’s CPU benchmark repository). Just so what’s going on is a bit clearer:

    Phenom II X2 550 BE @ 3.1GHz – 41FPS
    Phenom II X2 555 BE @ 3.2GHz – 43.6FPS
    100MHz gets you 2.6FPS or 6%

    Athlon II X4 630 @ 2.8GHz – 40FPS
    Athlon II X4 635 @ 2.9GHz – 40.2FPS
    100MHz gets you 0.2FPS or 0.5%

    Athlon II X3 435 @ 2.9GHz – 40FPS
    Athlon II X3 440 @ 3.0GHz – 42.8FPS
    100MHz gets you 2.8FPS or 7%.

    Athlon II X2 250 @ 3.0GHz – 36FPS
    Athlon II X2 255 @ 3.1GHz – 45.8FPS
    100MHz gets you 9.8FPS or 27%.

    To quote Firefly’s Jubal Early – “Does that seem right to you?”
    Reply
  • StormyParis - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    I conclude that I still wouldn't use 4 cores for anything... Reply

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