Final Words

If you step back and look at it, the triple-core Phenom story isn't unexpected at all. In applications where quad-core benefits, triple-core does too and in those applications where it doesn't, we don't see much from the new Phenom X3. In video encoding and 3D rendering tasks we see triple-core do quite well, but quad-core does even better. Take this train of thought one step further and you come to a very interesting conclusion: AMD's triple-core Phenom is a quick and dirty way of using Phenom to compete in the dual-core space.

AMD doesn't have the resources to spin a dual-core Phenom die, so what better way of repurposing the quad-core die (especially if one core is defective) than to make a Phenom chip with less than four cores. Sure it's not the most efficient way to manufacture, but AMD doesn't have the luxury of producing a number of different Phenom die at this point. The triple-core Phenom strategy makes perfect sense if you're AMD, the question is: does it make sense if you're an end user?

Let's start at the Phenom X3 8750; it's priced too closely to the X4 9750 to make sense, if you need more than two cores spend the extra $20 and get a quad-core (or give up 200MHz and get a quad-core X4 9550 at the same price) and if you don't need more than two cores then you're looking at the wrong CPU to begin with.

The Phenom X3 8650 manages to perform at about the level of a 2.00GHz - 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo processor in many applications, the problem is that it needs to compete with a 3.00GHz Core 2 Duo to make economic sense. In many cases, the 8650 is competitive but with higher power consumption it's hard to call it a winner here.

The Phenom X3 8450 on the other hand is a little too slow for most applications, it's often times no faster than the Athlon X2 5600+ despite a higher IPC and having a third core. AMD needs frequency; the X3s should start at 2.4GHz and then we might be having a very different discussion, but right now the best AMD can muster is to only hold on while competing with Intel.

For any sort of 3D rendering (or other application that scales well with four cores), AMD's triple-core CPUs can offer mostly competitive performance with Intel's equivalently priced dual-core CPUs. However, as we showed early on in this article, many applications don't scale well beyond two cores and thus in the rest of our tests AMD is competitive but can't clearly be recommended.

Now if we look at the platform, AMD does actually have an advantage. The AMD 780G's integrated graphics is a far better solution for the casual gamer than what Intel offers with its G35 but on top of that, 780G offers full H.264/VC-1/MPEG-2 decode acceleration making it a far better platform for watching Blu-ray movies. With the format war over and Blu-ray drives unbelievably affordable right now, this is a serious issue for Intel.

If you're building something with integrated graphics for use as a casual gaming box or HTPC, then your best bet is AMD despite the slower CPU. Intel's G45 chipset should resolve the HD movie playback issue by also accelerating H.264/VC-1/MPEG-2 and alleviate some of the integrated graphics gaming issues with a faster 3D core, but the platform isn't due out until later in Q2 so until then there's very little choice.

The balance here is very interesting: Intel has CPU superiority with platform deficiency, and AMD has platform superiority with a serious CPU deficiency. The problem is that, in theory, G45 will fix a major issue with Intel's platforms but what will AMD do for its CPUs?

Power Consumption
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  • Locutus465 - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    how do you justify this position when comparing the platforms as a whole, particularly taking into consideration budget platforms with integrated graphics. Reply
  • Roy2001 - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    For HTPC, 780G paired with a 5600+ is enough. Actually, a E2200 can decode any HD/BD movies, who cares chipset?

    For multicore usage, get a Q6600/Q9450, gamers wang a E8400/E7200. Period.
    Reply
  • Roy2001 - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    For HTPC, 780G paired with a 5600+ is enough. Actually, a E2200 can decode any HD/BD movies, who cares chipset?

    For multicore usage, get a Q6600/Q9450, gamers wang a E8400/E7200. Period.
    Reply
  • Nihility - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    Great review!
    The power consumption test seems to indicate the X3 requires less power per core than the X4. A 25% decrease in system power consumption after removing 1 core seems to prove that.
    I was hoping for an overclocking test. Naturally I assume it would be just as bad as the X4 version but due to the lower power requirements I'm curious if AMD managed to improve it.
    Reply
  • Schugy - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    The Phenom X3 is a great CPU just as the X4 but there's a lot of outdated software. It's obvious that the Phenom likes software that is frequently updated with its capabilities in mind. The Phenom has a lot of horsepower for Nero Recode (Imagine 45nm and 3GHz or more), Main Concept-Encoder, LDAP, UT3, AutoMKV but some software makers are extremely good in wasting it. Reply
  • bpl442 - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    Nvidia Geforce 7100 / nforce 630i based motherboards like the Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2.


    "Unfortunately, Intel is in a not-so-great position right now when it comes to its platforms. It can't turn to ATI anymore for integrated graphics solutions, and with a full out war on NVIDIA brewing, it's left alone to provide chipsets for its processors as NVIDIA's latest IGP solutions are not yet available for Intel CPUs."
    Reply
  • nubie - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    I think they are referring to the 8200/8300 series, and the like with full HD decode, also possibly 65nm/55nm so that the power usage is less.

    nVidia isn't ready yet for Intel. (personally I don't care for onboard graphics, mainly because of their lack of TV outputs, and it seems that they are being skipped over entirely and switched to HDMI/DisplayPort if anything, I did once own a 6150 with S-Video/Composite/Component output, but that is the exception to the rule. And still no HD decode.)
    Reply
  • FodderMAN - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    Why does no one test these at faster HT speeds?

    I still stand by the statement I have made time and again that these processors are being castrated by the 200FSB HT speeds. If you run a classic athlon64 at 233, 250, or even 266 ( when attainable ) these processors start to really outshine Intel’s procs. And I can only see phenom being that much stronger. Now I know this is considered an overclock as AMD has zero procs at the higher bus speeds. This would help AMD's revenues as they would be able to add another product code for procs running various FSB / HT speeds even though they would shrink the multiplier range as these cores seem to run into stability problems at about 2.6 - 2.8ghz.

    PLEASE someone do a test at higher bus speeds so we can refer AMD to published numbers. I guess for the time being I will have to wait for a good 6 phase powered board before I buy my phenom and do the testing myself. But I always had great luck with the classic ath64's when upping the FSB / HT speeds and lowering the multipliers. The athlon64 always showed great promise at 250-266 FSB/HT and I can only imaging how well they would run at a 333 FSB / HT speed.

    Time will tell,
    The Goat
    Reply
  • retrospooty - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    "a classic athlon64 at 233, 250, or even 266 ( when attainable ) these processors start to really outshine Intel’s procs."

    There isnt any situation at all, where AMD is outshining Intel CPU these days. If you OC the AMD to 266, you can OC the Intel to 500+ FSB, and AMD isnt outshing anything, not in speed, performance, power, overclockability, or bang for your buck. Intel is winning by all measurements.
    Reply
  • Assimilator87 - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    According to the guys at XS, raising the HT reference clock doesn't affect Phenom's performance in any way. It's the effective HT clock that matters, which is currently 1800Mhz using a multi of 9. Reply

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