AMD's Phenom X3 8000 Series: Fighting Two Cores with Three?by Anand Lal Shimpi on April 23, 2008 9:00 AM EST
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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?