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 - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    I just upgraded my system to the following last night (running vista ultimate ed. 64bit).

    AMD Phenom 9850be (at stock speed for now, with packaged heatsink).
    4GB OCz DDR2 800 memory (at stock speed)
    ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe / WiFi-AP AMD 790FX
    DIAMOND Viper Radeon HD 3870
    Soundblaster x-fi Fatal1ty

    The rest of my system stayed the same, primary hdd = WD Caviar SATA 7200RPM, secondary = Segate SATA 7200RPM, page file running off of secondary disc rather than system disc etc.

    I can tell you right now that the all AMD platform is very strong. As my primary display I have a 19" LCD running 1280x1024 and I run all games with all graphics options set to max and never get below 70FPS on any game I know how to pull the FPS for. I'm able to run crysis very smoothly at the same resolution with medium graphics settings, I have not yet tried cranking things up though. Additionally I've had to take some of my work home which delt with converting a 3GB pipe delimited file in to several smaller files then converting those into valid CSV files (using excel), on my new system this process was very quick. For your reference below is a list of every game I've tried on my system, they ALL play silky smooth.

    Doom 3
    Quake 4
    Age of Empires III
    Half Life 2
    Half Life 2 EP1

    *only game I don't have graphics/audio settings fully maxed on.

    Since upgrading I've also taken to gaming on my 720P Toshi DLP using the DVI to HDMI converter packaged with my video card and audio running through my AVR via multi-channel analog inputs. All I have to say is damn is that fun!!!
  • Ensoph42 - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    I don't understand why every review I've seen for the Phenoms use DDR2-800. I thought one of the perks was that you were supposed to use DDR2-1066 to get max performance. Someone explain this to me. Reply
  • niva - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    I have a phenom 9600 with 8Gb of RAM, I had major issues getting the RAM to 1066 and remaining stable, simply stayed with 800 for stability reasons. Then again, I don't play games much so I'm not concerned about squeezing out an extra 1-5% performance for the sake of stability.

    Of course I didn't play with this too much, maybe I was doing something wrong but I've not found a good guide saying exactly what I need to set for the system to remain stable.
  • Ensoph42 - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    I hear you. Although is it that your mem is rated at 800 and wont OC to 1066? Or rated for 1066 but just isn't stable period at that speed?

    However the GIGABYTE GA-MA78GM-S2H, that is used in the review, has a memory standard of DDR2-1066. One of the selling points of the Phenom, I believed, was the memory controller supported DDR2-1066.

    I found this link here that takes a look at performance differences. I havent given it a close read since it's late, and seems limited but:">

  • perzy - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    Well unless the software is as well written as Unreal engine 3 (Tim Sweeney is a god),in 95% of the programs avrege Joe use (including windows itself) there is very little advantage even going from singlecore to dualcore!
    Which brings me to my question: Whats really going on with the 'Heat wall' 'Frequenzy wall' or whatever you call it that Intel hit so hard in 2004(-ish) ? (remember the throttling superhot 3.8 GHz P4's ?)
    What all users really need is higher frequenzy! Why arn't we getting it?
  • Clauzii - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    The frequency wall can be considered like cooking the electrons off of the DIE-surface, which is not so good. High frequency=High heat. Now Youre thinking, "But IBM got 6GHz?". It's a different design philosophy: Simpler pipeline, faster frequency.

    Until ALL programs/OSes support multi-threaded programs, we are bound to single-threaded OR the pseudo Hyperthreading which can do SOME multithreading, depending on the Code & Data used.

    If I've used a 8 GHz machine to write this on, I would still only be able to see the cursor rate one pr. sec.

    What I think we need are (even more!) intelligent CPUs (GPUs). If a CPU or GPU knew approx. what kind of performance and usage of power a program needs, a more sofisticated power scheme could be possible??

    Until then, All I know is that evolution goes forward. Not always fast, but forward :)
  • Nehemoth - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    ...(or give up 200MHz and get a quad-core X3 9550 at the same price)...

    Should be Quad-Core X4 no X3
  • MrBlastman - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    I'd like to see them include the X2 6400 in the benchmarks as well. I see that they might be trying to get the pricing in line, but for an AMD user looking to upgrade, all I really am considering right now is a 6400, X3 or X4, nothing else.

    The UT 3 benchmarks shed some hope for the Phenoms as they show with a properly coded game, the X4's can remain competitive. I still wish to this day they'd release 3+ GHz phenoms :(
  • ImmortalZ - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    Any MPEG4 AVC video encoded at Profile 4.1 or lower is fully accelerated by today's GPUs. Scene releases from the past few months confirm to this - and even with this, most of the older release are still compatible given you use the proper filters. Reply
  • ImmortalZ - Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - link

    * By Profile I meant Level. Reply

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