What a weird way to end the year; at the beginning of 2003 we expected AMD to fall short of clock expectations and for Intel to trample all over the Athlon 64 with Prescott. With 2004, still in its infancy, being a meager 6 days old we know that the outcome of the processor wars of last year was not as expected. AMD surprised us all with a far more competitive Athlon 64 launch than we had originally expected, and Prescott didn’t exactly make it out the gates.

Instead we were left with a new class of processors with the Athlon 64 FX and the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition; cash cow CPUs marketed for our community but priced well above our comfort levels. Granted if you look back at the $1000+ price tag the Pentium II had upon its release a $700 CPU today isn’t asking too much, but we’ve grown far too accustomed to sub-$200 CPU prices for that to work.

With just under three-and-a-half months under AMD's 64-bit belt, we're ready for the first speed bump for the Athlon 64 line.

You'll remember from our initial coverage that the major difference between the Athlon 64 and the Athlon 64 FX that the latter boasts a 128-bit memory controller as opposed to the 64-bit interface of the regular 64. The only other differences (other than price) were that the Athlon 64 FX was available at 2.2GHz (compared to the fastest 2.0GHz 64 offering) and the FX ships without a multiplier lock. With today's launch, the focus is further shifted away from the pricey FX and onto the latest reason not to buy AMD's most expensive CPU – the Athlon 64 3400+.

Now boasting a 2.2GHz clock, equaling that of the flagship FX51, the Athlon 64 has become an even more powerful force to reckon with. With a 10% increase in clock speed, can AMD begin to eat into Intel's lead in encoding/content creation applications? Let's find out…

A Diamond in the Rough

When we first looked at the Athlon 64 and FX we realized that the performance difference between the two was negligible at best, but what truly sealed the fate of the Athlon 64 FX in our eyes was the quiet release of the Athlon 64 3000+ based on AMD's Newcastle core.

Newcastle is the mainstream successor to Claw Hammer, what all current Athlon 64s are based on right now. The only difference between Newcastle and Claw Hammer is that Newcastle has half the L2 cache, totaling 512KB instead of the original 1MB L2 that AMD launched. Why AMD would introduce the Athlon 64 with a 1MB L2 only to scale it back a couple of months later is anyone's guess. Perhaps AMD felt that it would be necessary to compete with Prescott or perhaps there were design issues with getting it to market in time, needless to say that slowly but surely all Athlon 64's will be Newcastle derived.

You caught a glimpse of the performance of the Athlon 64 3000+ in our earlier preview, but you will get a full taste of the price-effective performance that Newcastle offers in this review. Performance close to the Athlon 64 3200+ (which was close to the Athlon 64 FX51) at about half the price can't really be beat, and you'll surely see that here.

The Test
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  • Insomniac - Wednesday, January 7, 2004 - link

    DAVIDS: Those are real important numbers. I know my favorite applicatiomn is Sandra and game is 3DMark...

    Seriously, those are just theoretical. It's nice to know what a processor CAN do, but it is much better to see what it ACTUALLY does.
  • Insomniac - Wednesday, January 7, 2004 - link

    Thanks Jason!
  • DAVIDS - Wednesday, January 7, 2004 - link

    It seems like Anandtech chose to ignore certain benchmark tests like Sandra or 3Dmark where the FX will clearly outclass the 3400+. If you look at the benches done by Amdzone, the FX annihilates the 3400+ in any test involving memory bandwidth.
  • mkruer - Wednesday, January 7, 2004 - link

    Last time I checked the "NewCastle" core was suppose to have a new memory controller, that would allow for dual channel. This core is not the NewCastle it’s just AMD pulling some of their under spec’ed chips disabling 1/2 the cache and re-branding it as a different model. Usually I would have a huge issue with this, but after looking at a bunch of benchmarks, I see the 1/2 the cache is not a big hindrance at all. All the information that I have and seen says the NewCastle core will be the 130nm equivalent of the Paris core, that’s it.

    But on top of that what I am surprised about was no mention that the AMD64 is handy caped at the moment. I am sure once 64-bit OS comes out and 64-bit Apps are available all the “multimedia” wins that the Intel chips currently have will instantly flip. Rule of thumb says that “multimedia” will benefit the most from the increase in bits, and in the case of 3DSMAX don’t be too surprised if you see 100%+increase in performance. Don’t believe me take a look at the LAME encoding on 64-bit OS with 64-bit lame.
  • mkruer - Wednesday, January 7, 2004 - link

  • destaccado - Wednesday, January 7, 2004 - link

    well at least he didn't publish anything until page 2 this time :)
  • raskren - Wednesday, January 7, 2004 - link

    Please don't feed the trolls.
  • CRAMITPAL - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    I must ask the obvious because it clearly escaped most folks here. Do you think AMD would release the 3400+ and kill FX51 sales and profits if it didn't have an FX53 ready to roll next month when Pisscott the Flame Thrower paper launches??? You folks must think this is AMD's first day on the job or something. You may recall AMD is the same company who made the PIII obsolete (4) years ago with the launch of Athlon and AMD made the Piss 4 and Xeon obsolete (6) months ago with Opteron/A64...

    If only you knew! :>))
  • TrogdorJW - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    Hey, is it just me, or is the Intel system rather handicapped by running on an Intel D875PBZ motherboard? From what I've seen on benchmarks, that board routinely finishes 2 to 10% slower than the top enthusiast boards. Given that Anandtech in the past has praised the Asus P4C800 (and P4C800-E), not to mention the A-Bit IS7 and IC7-MAX, why use the standard Intel 875 motherboard?

    No, it wouldn't help the P4 win the overall title. But it would have been a more accurate portrayal of the top performance we can expect from the systems. A 5-10% increase on several of the benchmarks would have closed the gap between A64 and P4.

    The end result, of course, is that the 3400+ still beats the best P4s in games and scientific work. With office type applications, it's probably pointless to argue for one or the other, since they're so fast. And the P4 still wins on 3D rendering and media encoding.

    So it's not a really major flaw, but I still have to ask: Why? Did you really have no other P4 enthusiast motherboards available? And yet you had an Intel motherboard. Seems a little odd, at best. It's the type of thing that makes people wonder.
  • edub82 - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    The message is clear!!! AMD and Intel both offer great CPUs at similiar price points.

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