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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  • Scali - Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - link

    I think people buying an Extreme Edition CPU know exactly what they're getting themselves into.
    Those CPUs are never good price/performance, you pay a premium to get the absolute fastest CPU on the market, that's the whole point of the Extreme Edition concept.

    Obviously Intel isn't going to offer only one expensive 32nm six-core forever. Perhaps this X6 CPU will trigger Intel to release more 'mainstream' six-cores and other 32nm CPUs.
    Reply
  • JGabriel - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    For home use, yes. For professional use, that 48.8 frames/second on the 980x vs. 28.5 on the 1090T, for x264 2nd pass encoding, looks quite justifiable. If that's your business, that'll pay for itself in a couple of weeks.

    .
    Reply
  • pjconoso - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Point taken. I was speaking for home users. ;) Reply
  • pow123 - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Exactly. A few seconds. I will not pay for an over priced processor for a few seconds. Keep it coming AMD. Reply
  • Lolimaster - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Watch tom's review
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/amd-phenom-ii-...

    More justice to the AMD cpu's. Just pass the synthetic intel compiler bugged benchmarks.
    Reply
  • haplo602 - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Actualy the results are what I expected and what was also explained in the review. Not stellar, but very good for the money spent ...

    I guess I'll buy one of the 4-cores.
    Reply
  • Hacp - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Anand, why do you not try to push the chip on overclocking? Also, why not do an I7 overclocked vs Phenom X6 overclocked performance comparison? Overall, I feel that this review was pretty limited and unenthusiastic for such an exciting product. Reply
  • ymetushe - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Second this. I was really hoping you'd do some overclocked benchmarks, say at 4GHz, so that we could see clock for clock performance of 6 Thuban cores vs. 8 Bloomfield/Lynfield threads. Reply
  • JGabriel - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Check the x264 and Cinebench results. Clock for clock, at 2.8 Ghz, two hyper-threaded Lynnfield cores seems to match three Thuban cores - at least for rendering & encoding purposes.

    .
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    I try to provide a look at what sort of headroom you can get out of the chip while feeding it as little voltage as possible. The idea is to keep power consumption at a minimum while increasing performance. I found that the jump from 3.8 to 3.9GHz required quite a bit of additional voltage, while just going to 3.8GHz was basically a non-issue - which to me is more impressive than trying to squeeze another 100 - 200MHz out of the chip.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply

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