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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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  • mapesdhs - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link


    Anand,

    Thanks for the review! A good read overall, but a couple of niggles...

    Why are there no i7 860 results in the results charts for 7-Zip, Batman, Dragon Age and Dawn
    of War II? Likewise, why no 1055T data in the power consumption charts?

    On the rendering tests page, you said this about the Cinebench test, where the 1090T does well:

    "... if you've got a lot of CPU intensive threads there's no replacement for more cores."

    But this is contradicted by the earlier comment for the 3dsmax test:

    "Not all heavily threaded workloads will show the Phenom II X6 in a good light. Here Intel
    maintains the advantage:"

    Clearly, generalising here is unwise. For some reason, the Ph2 X6s lose out on the 3dsmax
    test; but why? Lack of cache? Insufficient RAM bandwidth? Any ideas?

    What kind of overclocking is possible with a good air cooler? Results with the stock cooler
    are not really that interesting. I've bought a Thermalright U120E RevC to go with my 860.

    Lastly, on the conclusions page, you say:

    "Applications like video encoding and offline 3D rendering show the real strengths
    of the Phenom II X6."

    Not so, IMO. The i7 860 did better for the 3dsmax test (I'd really like to know why),
    and although the 1090T was faster for the Cinebench multithreaded test, if you take
    into account the higher power consumption of the 1090T, it offers a virtually identical
    power/performance ratio under load. One of the reasons I chose an 860 system for
    video encoding was because of concerns about power consumption; I had expected
    the two extra cores in the 1090T would give a clear advantage in this respect, but it
    doesn't (slower for the DivX test anyway, which is the encoding system I use, and a
    worse power/performance ratio for the x264 2nd-pass test). In other words, where
    the 1090T offers a speed edge, it's small (2 entire extra cores not really helping that
    much at all), and its usefulness is negated by greater power consumption under load.

    Hmm, can you confirm that all six cores in the 1090T were being used during the
    DivX and 2nd-pass x264 tests? It just seems so odd to me that a 6-core chip isn't
    doing better. I notice the scaling over the Ph2 X4 965 isn't that great here.

    Btw, have you considered using V-ray as a render test? Studios using 3DSMax
    often use V-ray as it scales to loads of cores AFAIK - I've been speccing out
    32-core systems for a company in order to exploit this. Full details at vray.info.

    Also, re pricing, the 1090T appears to be about 238 UKP in the UK (eg. scan.co.uk),
    while the 860 is slightly less (234 from Scan), though after some shopping around I
    was able to find the 860 for just 205. Clearly, if Intel is even remotely concerned about
    the Ph2 X6, all they have to do is a minor price drop on Lynnfield to maintain a useful
    price/performance edge.

    Lastly, a word about BIOS support for these CPUs. Recently I've been scanning
    eBay for AM2+/AM3 mbds, seeing what's available for a friend I'm helping out
    with an upgrade; checking each board's specs, it's shocking just how many boards
    have not received BIOS updates to support even the Phenom2 X4 and Athlon IIs,
    never mind these new X6s. ASUS boards seem especially prone to this issue. So
    watchout, always check the CPU support before buying. I'm still peeved that my
    existing expensive M2N32 WS Pro can't use a Ph2 X4 (my gf's cheapo Asrock mbd
    can). For this reason I went with an Asrock P55 Deluxe for my 860 build as Asrock
    seem to be much more on the ball with BIOS updates.

    If it were up to me, I would make it compulsory for vendors to include CPU support on
    any board that has a theoretically compatible socket... :}

    Ian.

    PS. Perhaps a more concrete point to make is that the Ph2 x6s now definitely make the
    i7 870 utterly pointless given its price (85% more expensive than the 860 for less than
    5% higher clock).
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    The 3dsmax test was an outlier if you look at the full set of results in Bench (www.anandtech.com/Bench). It could be a number of problems. Not all applications do well with core counts that aren't powers of 2 for starters. I don't believe we're memory bandwidth limited, but the 6MB L3 might have something to do with it.

    Like many benchmarks it's very difficult to keep 6 cores fully pegged. The x264 HD test ranges from 50 - 94% CPU utilization across all six cores on the Phenom II X6.

    I haven't looked at vray as a benchmark, I'll do some digging :) And I agree completely on the issue of BIOS support. You should see how these things work behind the scenes, motherboard manufacturers are often still fixing BIOS issues on brand new boards even days before a launch like this.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • mapesdhs - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link


    Anand writes:
    > The 3dsmax test was an outlier if you look at the full set of results in Bench

    Have you tried other render tests such as Maya Mentalray, or Alias Render?

    Note that I have a render benchmark which is extremely cache-friendly and scales to
    hundreds of threads, might be useful for ruling out the cache as an issue:

    http://www.sgidepot.co.uk/c-ray.html

    > applications do well with core counts that aren't powers of 2 for starters. ...

    Beats me why this should be. Threads are just threads afterall. If it's not scaling well
    because it's not a power of 2 then something somewhere has been badly coded
    or designed, either the 3dsmax renderer itself, or the chip in some way, or the OS.
    Hard to tell I suppose.

    > Like many benchmarks it's very difficult to keep 6 cores fully pegged. The x264 HD
    > test ranges from 50 - 94% CPU utilization across all six cores on the Phenom II X6.

    This confirms my conclusion then, the X6 doesn't offer anything significantly useful
    over the 860 in some cases, including DivX encoding. Where it's faster than the 860,
    the difference is too small to be useful given the higher power consumption, and in
    some cases even on multithreaded loads it's actually slower. I started reading the
    article fully expecting the 860 to be trounced for the DivX test; that it was actually
    slower was a bit of a shock.

    > I haven't looked at vray as a benchmark, I'll do some digging :) ...

    The systems I've been speccing out include the SGI Altix XE 340, BOXX 10400, SGI
    Altix UV 10, Dell R810, Dell R910, SGI Origin400, SGI Octane III, etc. ie. all dual or
    quad socket i7 XEON, 48GB RAM, that sort of thing.

    > And I agree completely on the issue of BIOS support. You should see how these things
    > work behind the scenes, motherboard manufacturers are often still fixing BIOS issues on
    > brand new boards even days before a launch like this.

    I dread to think...

    I don't know how the vendors are allowed to get away with it. Such policies force people to
    ditch their older motherboards even when in theory said board could use a modern CPU.
    My ASUS board *should* be able to use the X6, but instead it's stuck at the useless Phenom1.
    Asrock's approach couldn't be more different; that they would bother to add Ph2 X4 support
    to a board as cheap,old and quirky as the AM2NF3-VSTA is remarkable (socket AM2 with
    AGP), though I suspect they won't add X6 support for this board.

    Ian.
    Reply
  • Jamahl - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Please take a look at some of the other reviews around the web (like hexus, tomshardware) and ask yourself if you are using benchmarks that massively favour intel. Reply
  • Drazick - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Wouldn't you say that today most application are highly optimized towards Intel processors? Reply
  • Jamahl - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Yes I would however intel seem to have hit the jackpot on AT.

    Just look at the rest of the reviews to see how far out of whack Anand's is with the majority.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    I don't believe our full results are out of whack with what others have posted. Heavily threaded apps favor the Phenom II X6 (3D rendering, video encoding, 7z compression benchmark), lightly threaded or mixed workloads favor Lynnfield (gaming, everything else). It's more a question of what sort of balance do you strike between these applications. That's why I culled down the results for the actual review so we have a more balanced representation of all of the different potential scenarios.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Scali - Thursday, April 29, 2010 - link

    What I noticed is that a lot of sites didn't include the i7 860, but only the considerably more expensive, but barely faster 870.
    I'm glad you used the 860, as it is pretty much in the 1090T's pricerange.
    And as your tests show, most of the time the 860 comes out on top... while also having lower power consumption.
    Reply
  • kwm - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    I AM AN IT STUDENT AND USE A LOT OF VIRTUALIZATION IN LABS, VIRTUAL PC, HYPERVISOR AND SO FOURTH. WHAT I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO SEE IS A VIRTULIZATION COMPARRISION AND BENCHMARK. WE ARE MOVING SLOWLY IN THAT DIRECTION ANYWAY. Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    You must have been gone on the first day of IT class when they explained that typing in allcaps is bad netiquette. Reply

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