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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  • SmCaudata - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    It is very good to look at the CPU vs CPU cost for performance but look at the total cost. Comparing these chips isn't that fair really. I can go to Microcenter and pick up an x4 620 for $90 and get my choice of 2 motherboards from $20 - $60. Even without these package discounts the AMD motherboards are much cheaper. The cheapest Intel boards are dipping in the low $90s right now for the i3s and i5s. You do get a few added features with the H44/H57 boards but it is a big price difference in the end. I personally have owned intel for my last 3 builds but at the low end it isn't nearly as close of a competition as your article points out. Heck, even P45 boards are still in the $90 range for one with needed features. Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 - link

    BTW look at this deal, http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.asp...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.asp...

    It's not much. Sure you can get 785G boards for $42 after rebates and MIR. $138 USD total for 785G and X4 620. But the Intel is still a good platform for them money. Board comes down to $71 after rebates any how. I guess you can compare the $100 boards with AMDs $85-105 dollar 785G/790GX boards. You get quad-core, but a slower processor.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    And you would really trust a $20 motherboard? Reply
  • formulav8 - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    Yes I would and do. I've built many upon many computers and $20-$50 mobo's work very well. Its not like the older days. Manuf like ECS even make the higher end boards for the higher end names. I believe Abit is one of their customers.

    So yes a $20 mobo works just fine. Obviously don't expect all of the bells and such, but the bang for the buck systems is definitely on AMD's side.

    They give me a nice profit margin. Which is always a good thing. :)


    PS: Apart from my own desktop and my wifes desktop which both uses Intel chips, customer builds has been using AMD for quite awhile now do to the bang you get from them.


    Jason
    Reply
  • Penti - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 - link

    Abit had their own manufacturing, now they are owned by contract manufacturer USI or Universal Scientific Industrial Co., Ltd.

    ECS is a contract manufacturer (ODM) like all the others but mostly makes low end stuff especially under their own brand. (ECS/PC Chips). And of course supplies the OEMs. I wouldn't rank them higher then any of the others.

    Companies like EVGA, XFX and BFG are factory less and their products are produced (mostly) by Foxconn. They are of course also american companies so theres no surprise there.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    From a stability point of view, I've had better luck with cheaper motherboards, since they usually have very limited overclocking options. Cheaper boards also tend to run a little slower, but as i said I've always found them to be stable, since there is not much than can go wrong. Reply
  • medi01 - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    Agreed, motherboard costs should be taken into account. Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    Did you guys try and unlock the cores? I was a lucky sod that managed to get an Athlon 2 X4 620 to have all of it's cache unlocked, essentially turning it into a Phenom 2 X4 910 but at a much lower price. Reply
  • PCWizKid - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    I unlocked all 4 cores on the Phenom II X4 555 BE , check out my review here http://tinyurl.com/phenomii555">http://tinyurl.com/phenomii555 Reply
  • v12v12 - Friday, January 29, 2010 - link

    Wow... I don't know how old you are, but that was an excellently narrated review. Very few, if any hang ups or awkward pauses; you seem to have a talent for that... could be worth something to you in the future buddy. All these tech-TV shows/websites need competent reviewers and such for shows like CES etc. Could have a future out there doing something unusually nice!

    As for the 555... WOW now that's a legendary sized unlock! Where have chips like these been lately, in AMDs line up? I haven't seen something like that from AMD since the L1-L2 bridge Pen/super-glue gap-able AXPs and unlocked mobile XP-Ms. That was quite a long time ago... haha.

    Hope AMD comes with more than a few fancy OC tricks though... then again, Intel's pet project group will take notice of this very unusually easy unlock trick, and hopefully release a special batch of chips as retort. Gotta love CPU competition, esp when OC'ing potential comes into factor for the Manus... b/c really, they could completely lock up all these chips for no OC'ing period... so they do occasionally toss use nuggets.

    ...OC 4 Life.
    Reply

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