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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  • silverblue - Thursday, April 29, 2010 - link

    I agree. If it's a struggle to utilise all six cores at 100%, just add another program to the mix. This may just prove once and for all if a physical Stars core can beat a logical i- core, and thus whether AMD were right to launch Thuban in the first place.
  • Scali - Friday, April 30, 2010 - link

    I'll say a few things to that...
    A physical Stars core actually has to beat TWO logical i-cores. After all, we have 6 Stars cores vs 8 logical i-cores.
    So if we were to say that the 4 physical cores on both are equal (which they're not, because the i-cores have an advantage), that leaves 2 physical cores against 4 logical cores.

    Another thing is that if you have to work hard to set up a multitasking benchmark that shows Thuban in a favourable light, doesn't that already prove the opposite of what you are trying to achieve?

    I mean, how realistic is it for a consumer processor to set up Virtual Box/VMWare benchmarks? Doesn't that belong in the server reviews (where as I recall, AMD's 6-cores couldn't beat Intel's 8 logical cores either in virtualization benchmarks)?
    Virtualization is not something that a consumer processor needs to be particularly good at, I would say. Gaming, video processing, photo editing. Now those are things that consumers/end-users will be doing.
  • wyvernknight - Thursday, April 29, 2010 - link

    Theres no such thing as an AM3 board with DDR2. Only an AM2+ board with DDR2 that has AM3 support. The MA770-UD3 you gave as an example is an AM2+ board with AM3 compatibility. "Support for Socket AM3 / AM2+ / AM2 processors". AM3 boards do not have support for AM2+ and AM2 processors.
  • mapesdhs - Thursday, April 29, 2010 - link

    Strange then that the specs pages specifically describe the sockets as being AM3.

  • Skyflitter - Thursday, April 29, 2010 - link

    Could someone please tell me the difference between the Phenom II X6 1090T & 1055T.

    I would like to put one of these new chips into my Gigabyte DDR2 MB but the Gigabyte web site says my board only supports the 1035T and the 1055T chips. My board is rated @ 140 W. ( GA-MA770-UD3 )

    I am currently running a Athlon 64 x2 6400+ ( 3.4Ghz ) and I do not want to loose to much clock speed by going with 1055T ( 2.8 Ghz ).

    Do all the new Phenom II X6 support DDR2?
  • cutterjohn - Friday, April 30, 2010 - link

    I'm waiting for them to cough up a new arch that delivers MUCH better per-core performance.

    There is just no value proposition with their 6 core CPU that mostly matches a 5 core i7 920 which can be had for a roughly similar pricepoint, i.e. i7 930 $199 @ MicroCenter.

    Either way unless I win the giveaway :D, I'm now planning at least until next year to upgrade the desktop to see how Sandy Bridge comes out and IF AMD manages to get out their new CPU. I figure that I may as well wait now for the next sockets LGA2011 for Intel, and what I'm sure will be a new one for AMD with their new CPU. As an added bonus I'll be skipping the 1st generation of DX11 hw, as new architectures to support new APIs DX11/OGL4 tend to not be quite the best optimized or robust, especially apparently in nVidia's case this time. (Although AMD had an easier time of it as they made few changes from R7XX to R8XX as is usual for them. AMD need to really start spending some cash on R&D if they wish to remain relevant.)
  • silverblue - Friday, April 30, 2010 - link

    The true point of the X6 is heavy multi-tasking. I'd love to see a real stress test thrown at these to show what they can do, and thus validate their existence.
  • pow123 - Wednesday, May 5, 2010 - link

    You would have to be insane to pay $1000 for a chip that may be good for gaming. at $199 with slightly lower performance its a no brainer. When I build a system, I don't care if the frame rates etc is 10 to 15% better. Who cares ; the chip is fast and I have not problems playing high end games. I have no special setup and it does everything that my friends I7 can do. Good for me I get more pc for the buck . Go ahead and go broke buying just a motherboard and cpu when I can get a modern motherboard a cpu, 6gigs of ddr3 1600, a 1tb hd and a dvdrw. More for me.
  • spda242 - Sunday, May 2, 2010 - link

    I would really like to have seen a World of Warcraft test with there CPUs like you did with the Intel 6-core.
    It would be interesting to see if WoW can use all Core's and to what performance.
  • hajialibaig - Wednesday, May 5, 2010 - link

    Not sure why there is no Power vs. Performance vs. Price comparison of the different processors. As for the performance, it could be anything that you want, such as Gaming Performance or Video Encoding.

    Such a comparison should be interesting, since you may as well pay back the higher initial price via power savings.

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