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A very smart man once told me that absolute performance doesn’t matter, it’s performance at a given price point that makes a product successful. While AMD hasn’t held the absolute performance crown for several years now, that doesn’t mean the company’s products haven’t been successful.

During the days of the original Phenom, AMD started the trend of offering more cores than Intel at a given price point. Intel had the Core 2 Duo, AMD responded with the triple core Phenom X3. As AMD’s products got more competitive, the more-for-less approach didn’t change. Today AMD will sell you three or four cores for the price of two from Intel.

In some situations, this works to AMD’s benefit. The Athlon II X3 and X4 deliver better performance in highly threaded applications than the Intel alternatives. While Intel has better performance per clock, you can’t argue with more cores/threads for applications that can use them.

When Intel announced its first 6-core desktop processor, the Core i7 980X at $999, we knew a cheaper AMD alternative was coming. Today we get that alternative, this is the Phenom II X6 based on AMD’s new Thuban core:

It’s still a 45nm chip but thanks to architecture and process tweaks, the new Phenom II X6 still fits in the same power envelope as last year’s Phenom II X4 processors: 125W.

Update: AMD tells us that it gave us the wrong pricing on the 1090T. The part sells for $295, not $285, in 1000 unit quantities.

CPU Specification Comparison
Processor Clock Speed Max Turbo L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T 3.2GHz 3.6GHz 3MB 6MB 125W $295
AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8GHz 3.3GHz 3MB 6MB 125W $199
AMD Phenom II X4 965 BE 3.4GHz N/A 2MB 6MB 125W/140W $185
AMD Phenom II X4 955 BE 3.2GHz N/A 2MB 6MB 125W $165
AMD Phenom II X4 945 3.0GHz N/A 2MB 6MB 95W $155
AMD Phenom II X4 925 2.8GHz N/A 2MB 6MB 95W $145

You also don’t give up much clock speed. The fastest Phenom II X6 runs at 3.2GHz, just 200MHz shy of the fastest X4.

When Intel added two cores to Nehalem it also increased the L3 cache of the chip by 50%. The Phenom II X6 does no such thing. The 6 cores have to share the same 6MB L3 cache as the quad-core version.


The Phenom II X6 die. Monolithic, hexa-core

There’s also the issue of memory bandwidth. Intel’s Core i7 980X is paired with a triple channel DDR3 memory controller, more than enough for four cores under normal use and enough for a six core beast. In order to maintain backwards compatibility, the Phenom II X6 is still limited to the same dual channel memory controller as its quad-core predecessor.

CPU Specification Comparison
CPU Codename Manufacturing Process Cores Transistor Count Die Size
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Thuban 45nm 6 904M 346mm2
AMD Phenom II X4 965 Deneb 45nm 4 758M 258mm2
Intel Core i7 980X Gulftown 32nm 6 1.17B 240mm2
Intel Core i7 975 Bloomfield 45nm 4 731M 263mm2
Intel Core i7 870 Lynnfield 45nm 4 774M 296mm2
Intel Core i5 670 Clarkdale 32nm 2 384M 81mm2
AMD Phenom II X4 965 Deneb 45nm 4 758M 258mm2

The limitations are nitpicks in the grand scheme of things. While the 980X retails for $999, AMD’s most expensive 6-core processor will only set you back $285 and you can use them in all existing AM2+ and AM3 motherboards with a BIOS update. You're getting nearly 1 billion transistors for $200 - $300. Like I said earlier, it’s not about absolute performance, but performance at a given price point.

AMD 2010 Roadmap
CPU Clock Speed Max Turbo (<= 3 cores) L3 Cache TDP Release
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T 3.2GHz 3.6GHz 6MB 125W Q2
AMD Phenom II X6 1075T 3.0GHz 3.5GHz 6MB 125W Q3
AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8GHz 3.3GHz 6MB 125W/95W Q2
AMD Phenom II X6 1035T 2.6GHz 3.1GHz 6MB 95W Q2
AMD Phenom II X4 960T 3.0GHz 3.4GHz 6MB 95W Q2

We'll soon see more flavors of the Phenom II X6 as well as a quad-core derivative with 2 of these cores disabled. As a result, motherboard manufacturers are already talking about Phenom II X4 to X6 unlocking tools.

The new Phenom II X6 processors are aimed squarely at Intel’s 45nm Lynnfield CPUs. Both based on a 45nm process, AMD simply offers you more cores for roughly the same price. Instead of a quad-core Core i7 860, AMD will sell you a six-core 1090T. Oh and the T stands for AMD’s Turbo Core technology.

AMD’s Turbo: It Works
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  • Eeqmcsq - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Hey, found a typo, on the AMD Turbo page:

    "While mainstream CPUs are down at 65nm". I think you meant 65w.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Thank you! Fixed! Reply
  • falc0ne - Thursday, April 29, 2010 - link

    :O) lol Reply
  • Rick83 - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    there's also an "i7 670" in one of the charts on the first pages, which should clearly be an i5. Reply
  • msc_chandu - Tuesday, September 07, 2010 - link

    nm refers to nano-meter and 65nm is a technology node. So, the processor manufacturing has been rolling down. For example, 250nm to 130nm to 90nm to 65nm to 55nm etc...

    It is not a typo and was mentioned correctly. :)
    Reply
  • DaCentaur - Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - link

    Chandu naanna, if you take a look at the context, i.e. the sentences before and after the "wrong" sentence, you should be able to understand why it should be "W" instead of "nm".

    "High end desktop CPUs now spend their days bumping up against 125 - 140W limits. While mainstream CPUs are down at 65W. Mobile CPUs are generally below 35W. These TDP limits become a problem as you scale up clock speed or core count."

    Ardhamainada? :D
    Reply
  • creathir - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    As usual Anand, the article was great and really helped with figuring out where I am taking my wife's next computer. I was tempted to go AMD this time around for her next PC, but after reading this I believe I will stick with an Intel solution. Thanks man!

    - Creathir
    Reply
  • webmastir - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    yup. agree...very informative article. thanks! Reply
  • pow123 - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    You would have to be insane to pay $1000 for a chip that may be good for gaming. at $199 with slightly lower performance its a no brainer. When I build a system, I don't care if the frame rates etc is 10 to 15% better. Who cares ; the chip is fast and I have not problems playing high end games. I have no special setup and it does everything that my friends I7 can do. Good for me I get more pc for the buck . Go ahead and go broke buying just a motherboard and cpu when I can get a modern motherboard a cpu, 6gigs of ddr3 1600, a 1tb hd and a dvdrw. More for me. Reply
  • abd-jbr - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    i compared intel and AMD from almost AMD start ( K6 II ) CPU , i believe that AMD did not change their Policy much : they still offer more for less , with one different , in that time the market was also different from today , now a days , you can easly found all the hardware you need and it's compatible and works with AMD ,
    it's accurate Say : it's not about absolute Perf , it's about pref at a given price
    and in this , i think AMD wins .
    Reply

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