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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  • JGabriel - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Good point - and yes, it does. But revenue from the microprocessor unit also increased by 23%, according to Businessweek ( http://www.businessweek.com/idg/2010-04-15/amd-swi... ).

  • kenupcmac - Wednesday, December 1, 2010 - link

    so now amd x6 is better for 3dmax compare to intel i7?
  • Drazick - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Could you add some Matlab Benchmarks?

    Moreover, do you think most of the performances advantage of Intel processors comes from highly optimized code (Towards Intel Cores)?

    It's something that should be investigated.
  • gruffi - Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - link

    Yes, absolutely. I wished more GCC builds would be benchmarked. Intel's architecture is not as good as many people believe. Most of Intel's advantages come from better software support.
  • pjconoso - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Intel 6-core early adopters will feel like they were ripped-off. I have the Asus USB 3.0 (for review) for a few weeks now and I'm waiting for this processor to test it with - thanks for the review, I'm sure it'll help me a lot.
  • Scali - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Ripped off? Why?
    The performance of this six-core is nowhere near the Intel 980X.
    This six-core can barely keep up with Intel's faster quadcores.
  • pjconoso - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Well, in my opinion the difference in performance versus the price doesn't justify it. They look nice in a bar graph and all like the video encoding performance but in reality, its just a few seconds.
  • fitten - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    It's all "just a few seconds". I'm going to wait for the Intel's consumer-priced hex-cores before I do anything. Right now, AMD needs 50% more cores to even match Intel's parts in heavily threaded code. Running out right now and buying all new kit might be leaving you feeling like "cores on the ground" if Intel comes out with the consumer-priced stuff. ;)
  • Scali - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Price/performance has always been on an exponential scale.
    AMD was no different when their Athlon FX were the fastest CPUs around.
    Intel doesn't call them Extreme Edition for nothing.
    I just get tired of people who go around on the internet telling everyone that Intel only has $1000 CPUs, and therefore Intel is overpriced.
    The fastest PC on the market is just $1000, has been like that for decades, regardless of whether it was an AMD or Intel. Just seems to be how the market works.
  • pjconoso - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    I just get tired of people who go around on the internet telling everyone that Intel only has $1000 CPUs, and therefore Intel is overpriced.

    Sorry man, but this isn't what I'm implying which is why there is a "in my opinion" on my explanation. It was really just a personal opinion, nothing else.

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