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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  • chrnochime - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Even with the 930 being 200 at MC(I got one nearby so yes I know that), X58 motherboards are still more expensive overall. The cheapest is 160+, and goes to 400. The thing is with x58, just finding a decent board that doesn't have a bunch of weird problems voiced by owners on forums/newegg is very very difficult. One has to either spend around 300 to perhaps have a higher chance of buying a relatively problem-free board, or just pray the board that arrives doesn't have one of the memory slot DOA(seems to plague quite a few mobos).

    I don't think the situation is anywhere nearly as bad on AM3 side.

    Too bad it's not like the old days (5+ years ago) when boards would just WORK without having to eff around to even keep it stable at stock speed.
    Reply
  • vectorm12 - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    I'd really like to see how the 1055T stacks up in terms of overclocking ability.

    Seems to me as if the 1055T overclocked to around 3.4-3.6 GHz would result in a good stepstone from the current Phenom X4 (non black edition) lineup.
    Reply
  • Etern205 - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Just to give a heads up that Maxxon released a new Cinebench
    version R11.
    Reply
  • Roland00 - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    If you are building a new system, of course you will want to use DDR3 memory for there is little to no price difference between the two.

    But some people have older systems. I wouldn't be surprised if people are upgrade from their AMD 5000+ or 6000+ and they have a compatible motherboard and memory. I am just wondering how much of a bottleneck is the DDR2 and will it cause any rational not to do a partial upgrade but instead a full upgrade.

    It doesn't have to be all the tests, just a couple.
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - link

    IIRC the tangible performance benefit from DDR3 over DDR2 is in the range of 2%

    Higher speed but higher latency.
    Reply
  • Goopfruit - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    w00t! Go Netburst!

    xD
    Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    That my Q9450 clocked to QX9770-spec is still very competitive.

    I think it will be awhile before I change platforms, especially what with Intel planning socket changes for 2011. By then, we should see some more interesting options and maybe DDR3 will drop in price --I can always dream.
    Reply
  • bigboxes - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    When testing your 1366 i7 CPUs you need to use 6gb of ram. Why? Because they can utilize that extra bandwidth for increased performance. You stated that early on, but since 1156 came out your tests have been only with 4gb of ram. Drop 6gb of ram in the 1366 and retest. I'm sure that is what most 1366 owners are using in their systems. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    In order to keep memory size constant we use 4GB on all systems (4x1GB on the LGA-1366 boards). You get full triple channel access for the first 3GB of memory, only the final 1GB is limited to dual channel. It's the only compromise we could come up with short of giving LGA-1366 a memory size advantage.

    The vast majority of our tests fall in the 2 - 3GB range, so I don't believe we're holding back the Nehalem/Gulftown performance much if at all here.

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

    if most of the benchmarks use only 2-3GB's what differenece then does it make to have the i7 with 6gb of ram? Reply

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