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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  • Belard - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    While in general the upper end i5/i7 CPUs are a bit faster, there are other costs involved.

    Basic AMD boards are $80, upper end Cross-fire boards are $100~150, while typical P55 boards are $100~200, and X58s are $200~300.

    So, with cost of the intels is about $150~400 in price to get a few seconds performance improvements.

    Also, if someone buys a lower-end i3 CPU, they can't upgrade to a top end i7 CPUs because of different CPU sockets. While those who bought an AMD class board a year ago will most likely have the option to upgrade.
    Reply
  • Scali - Thursday, April 29, 2010 - link

    Who would want to run a six-core CPU on a two-year old board though?
    You wouldn't have things like USB 3.0, SATA 6 gbps, probably not even PCI-express 2.0 either.
    I don't think it's a good idea to upgrade a CPU in the same board in general.
    Usually the old board will severely hamper performance, so you're not getting your money's worth for the new CPU. And you'll miss out on the new features.
    In all the years that I've been building PCs for myself and for friends/family, I have never found a CPU-upgrade very compelling, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

    I wouldn't be surprised if it's better to get a 1055T instead of a 1090T, and spend the extra money on a new board, rather than running the 1090T on the old board. There's a very interesting article in there for Anand I suppose.
    Reply
  • stalker27 - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Tested on Crosshair IV, th 1090T did far better than any i7... proves how much MSI and Gigabyte suck at this thing. Reply
  • hooga - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Can you please make a note of wheather or not all power saving functions like C"n" Q and C1 for PhenomII is activated? Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    All power saving features were enabled on all chips - C1E and CnQ were enabled on the X6. You need to enable these features otherwise Turbo Core doesn't work.

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

    With 6 cores, memory bandwidth might be more important. The gain from DDR3 for Phenom II was minimal. Or is L3 cache bandwidth the bottleneck? Reply
  • hooga - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    I meant C1E obviously, and what about overcloking? Just a half heartet attempt? makes me wonder if there is some fanb** no, im not going to say that word, iv always seen you guys as very professional and cant quite believe that, im hopeing that you post the 4,2GHz results very soon. :) Reply
  • silverblue - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Bit-tech couldn't exceed 3.89GHz with their sample. Guru3d managed 4.1GHz using an OCZ Vendetta air cooler.

    These things are usually quite variable.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    That's certainly helpful.

    Considering the intended uses for this type of processor - i.e. heavily threaded applications - it offers more performance for the price as compared to anything Intel is throwing out.

    Yes, Intel's products are faster per clock, but they just can't match AMD for performance at a given price point. Guru3D touched upon the point that you could build a 1055T machine for $600; that's $400 less than the 980 on its own. How much would it cost to build a 980 setup, or even a 930 solution in comparison?
    Reply
  • fitten - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Depends on where you buy stuff... Microcenter runs great deals on the i7/930 (around $200), for example. Reply

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