Final Words

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?

Power Consumption
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  • bgd73 - Monday, April 28, 2008 - link

    I read a few pages from a 1360 page book about computer repairing, in the history section. It was big nm back then, big power going wild... it states 1mhz for 1mbyte transfer. No wonder I think my 2.8e from 2003 before all your multicore quibbling is still just as decent as modern times...with 2 cores not quite bragged about. They are simply organizing cpus more than ever and reducing the die size. Keeping performance of the first of dual cores is as far as it may go for years...until the mhz is increased. 2800 mhz as a width is as wide as it goes. Organizing it does bring performance, like defragging a drive. Furthermore, if software knows how to use it...other software running simultaneous is losing..just like an old "hack me cuz I am errored forever" single core. Single cores are done, clean up that room with at least 2 thread cpus, that is all I found to be with 2 or more threads..very strong stable,secure, won't blip to a light switching on in the same room on the same circuit. The rest is marketing, they have to say something don't they... Reply
  • gochichi - Saturday, April 26, 2008 - link

    These processors are all "good" but this performance mark is not the "holy grail", I'd like to see more performance over time, as I'm used to.

    I recently switched to Intel, and you know, I'm happy with their prodcuts. I think AMD needs to get moving, their product's weakness isn't good for the industry.

    Both Nvidia and Intel have no competition, their job is just to maximize their profits on old research and development rather than actually competing under pressure.

    Reply
  • hoelder - Friday, April 25, 2008 - link

    If AMD would create and express team on the Processor side, take the best die implementation they currently have, lock the doors and over and over 24/7 cast new dies until they have a mass producible Opteron 4 core or Phenom 4x with 4 GHz, then they are where the should be today. Because in the end it's the CPU clock. And with every smaller die add cores and cache, it is plausible. Intel can afford that of course, but has also a tail of people involved. With a smaller team you can create miracles and with good enthusiasm on the exec level, that works. Reply
  • haplo602 - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    What about linux kernel compilation with j2/3/4/6/8 ??? I'd like to see that comparison ...

    Reply
  • MrMilli - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    Your power usage chart is a bit deceiving.
    In the article you mention that Windows Media Encoder is actually hardcoded to only support powers of two number of cores. Still you use this for measuring the power on a Phenom X3. So basically the 3th core is just idling.
    I think that's the reason there is such a big gap between the X3 and X4.
    Reply
  • enjoycoke - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    I think Intel won't be releasing their new platform until 3rd Quater because they have been having such a good run with their current platforms already and will be taking a bit of a breather against AMD and other rivals.
    They really need constant profits to keep their stock price in line and thats what matter most.

    Reply
  • Archibald - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    It is appears, that if one ignores the 1-10% performance increase(s), the dual-core is plenty for a casual power user (i.e. non-gamer). After all, the multi-core Si-HW is here, but the SW arena is a chaotic battlefield:
    ....Justin Rattner, an Intel Senior Fellow, recently promoted to take over Intel R&D has been quoted as saying that the clock wars of the past two decades will be replaced with ?core wars? over the next few decades. ?Intel & Microsoft are working feverishly on developing ?Concurrent Programming Languages? to effectively take advantage of the concurrent processor architectures that represent the future of the industry. ?Multicore processors require concurrent software:?The Free Lunch Is Over? (for software developers)., for more see this: http://tinyurl.com/62986h">http://tinyurl.com/62986h.

    I tend to favor AMD's approach with 780/790 and Brisbane, although marketing of this combo might be a challenge, from an engineering point of view it may be a decent (quite usable) design.

    Comment: Is the UI design of this blog from the Stone Age?
    Reply
  • derek85 - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    I think AMD just released the perfect CPU to go with their 780G platform for a HTPC:

    - Low cost
    - Lower power consumption
    - HT3 to boot graphics memory bandwidth for better performance
    - Multi-core horsepower for better encoding/decoding

    Phenom is much mightier than Athlon X2 when it comes to multimedia. Now there is just no more reason to choose a similarly priced K8 over this.
    Reply
  • ap90033 - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    Wow "perfect"? Slower in gaming, check. Slower clock for clock than Intel check. Pehnom 9850 cost more than Q6600 check. lol Reply
  • derek85 - Thursday, April 24, 2008 - link

    If it's for a gaming PC I would agree ... but I think I said HTPC. Cheapset X3 is only $150, $50+ cheaper than a Q6600, and will do this job just fine with less heat and power consumption. Reply

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