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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  • Pumpkinierre - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    #15 I have'nt heard AMD call the 3000+ Newcastle and other sites dont refer to it as such. Many sites say that the die size and transistor count is the same (193mm2, 105million) as the 3200+. hardtecs4u has cpz on the 3000 and 3400:



    Same family, same stepping, same revision and code name:clawhammer. I havent found out whether cache associativity has been cut down from 16 but that is a minor point.

    If it looks the same and smells the same dont be prudish call it the same.
  • JohnrrDrake - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    I appreciate the VisualStudio compiler test.

    As a developer, I am much more interested how much compile time is saved instead of how many more FPS I get.

    You may also consider throwing in a GCC compiler test (linux kernal is fairly typical).

  • KF - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    >reljam is right, if it isn't CPU limited,
    >why include it? Or why not lower the res?
    Because it tells the truth about what people should expect? Gamers might like to know that they can use a slower (and cheaper) CPU. Very few people even have a graphics card as good as the testers used, so they don't even need CPUs like these. The real problem with benchmarks is how (or whether) they apply to real use. That makes null results like this important, IMO. Boring maybe. But useful.

    Older games were included, and they show a CPU difference. I suppose that is because the newer games use the GPU for things that older games did with the CPU.

    >But I think AMD may have shot themselves in the foot...

    Companies that are not in a monopoly position need to put forth the best product they can at the time, or else get crushed by the competition. If that means some products are short-lived...well it's better than losing. A few months at the top is actually not bad the way things go. If you won't beat yourself, then the competition will.

    I remember Intel putting out pin incompatible PPGA, FCPGA, and FCPGA2 PII/IIIs in quick succession, and then the totally incompatible P4. That was Intel scrambling with AMDs close competition.
  • KristopherKubicki - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    By AMD's definition, NewCastle is the same core as ClawHammer with half the cache. Regardless if it is a compeltely different core or not the performance is going to be the same between a 1/2 ClawHammer or a NewCastle.

  • dvinnen - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    reljam is right, if it isn't CPU limited, why include it? Or why not lower the res?

    And are yall sure this is newcastle? Always figured it was a clawhammer with half the cache turned off. If you take the heat spreader off, it should be easy to tell. I seeing the bang-for-buck comparisons in a few weeks after the price drops start to take effect would be nice.

    atir: they did some 64 bit to 32 comparisons in one of the opteron reviews.
  • atlr - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    Has anyone seen any performance comparisons of 32-bit versus 64-bit compiled programs?
  • reljam - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    The AquaMark DX9, Halo (both benchmarks), and GunMetal are graphics limited benchmarks and are not adding any value to the review.
  • Lonyo - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    Why run the games at 1024x768? I know it gives more real world performance, but if a game is limited by the graphics card, what use does the benchmark have in a CPU article (like the Aquamark benchmark numbers (not the CPU part though)
    Things such as UT2k3 are valid, and Comanche 4 woul dbe very good to look at differences (since unless I am mistaken, it used to be CPU limited most of the time).
    Of course, time constraints may be the issue, but it seems in a way wasteful to do tests which are more GPU tests than CPU tests.
    But otherwise, very good article in terms of non-gaming stuff, and it shows that the 3000+ is probably the best buy of the lot, good performance and a nice price.
  • EddNog - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    Well on NewEgg when U go to buy your CPU, check the memory (Single channel DDR, vs. Dual channel DDR), the number of pins/socket type (Socket 754, Socket 939) and most importantly, the cache size (512KB, vs. 1MB).

  • Icewind - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - link

    I wish they would give the freaking newcastle Athlons a different name, cause how the hell are you supposed to tell the difference cause they have the samen damn name??

    Sometimething tells me the Athlon FX 939 pin next year will change things.

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