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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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  • Boogaloo - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    That's pretty disappointing scaling from the 965 to the 1055T.. I'd be willing to bet the lack of added cache (not to mention the memory controller issues the article raises) are really holding back the performance. Unfortunately, 6 cores at 45nm hasn't left them with much of a choice as far as that goes. Reply
  • SonicIce - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    looks like the 7z compression rate went down with turbo core enabled? an error? Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Yeah, we accidentally flipped the chart. It has been fixed. Reply
  • FragKrag - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    A bit underwhelming since before I read this bench, I saw overclock3d benches (they had 1090T at stock absolutely thrashing an i7 at 4GHz). Seems like the ideas that most of the people had with threading were true though. Overall I think they should be decently competitive because they do hold the advantage in cores.

    It's nice to see AMD pushing Intel a bit, though this does not make me regret my earlier purchase of the i7 860 as much as I would have liked it to.

    Is there some kind of error with TurboCore? It doesn't look like it's working because those Dragon Age (optimized for quads?) and Dawn of War FPSs were a bit disappointing! :(
    Reply
  • beginner99 - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Well as always for the last couple of years. This can't go on forever. Just if you think about the margins that intel has and the one that AMD has (if any...).
    The Problem I see is that in the cheaper price regions (=mainstream) users do not need a ton of cores. In the end most could easly live with 1 core even though 2 would probably lead to a "feelable" difference.

    So I'm not sure if it's very intelligent to invest money in these designs. Just look at the die shot. I'm not an expert but you don't need to be to see that the just attached 2 more cores to an existing design probably having to make a ton of trade-off's (like the l3 cache).

    I mean it is theoretically great. The easy upgrade path but again, how many users actually ever upgrade? IMHO a tiny fraction.
    Of course thise i3/i5 dual cores from intel are overpriced. But that's what most company PC's will use. Huge profits for intel.
    I hope at least AMD's answer to atom will be very good (=alot faster, same power consumption). But I doubt it...
    Reply
  • ET - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    The entry level crowd isn't the problem. Someone who only requires basic performance should buy the cheapest CPU, and AMD has that slot. For the performance crowd, Intel is the clear winner, but it's not the majority of the market. The real issue here is the price performance crowd, the people who want good performance for a good price. This is a pretty large market and AMD is trying to win here by reducing the price, but it's not doing great by this review.

    I think AMD still makes money on all CPU's, just not nearly as much as Intel.
    Reply
  • Scali - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    "Someone who only requires basic performance should buy the cheapest CPU, and AMD has that slot."

    I think that's his point though?
    This CPU is not the 'cheapest'. Why invest in a design like this?
    As Anand says in the conclusion, for 'mixed' usage, the i860 is a better choice. Only people who need heavily threaded performance may want this CPU. Especially at the pice at which AMD is selling these six-cores, can they really get a good return-on-investment on the development of this CPU?
    Seems like dualcores and quadcores is where the bulk of the sales will be.
    Reply
  • jamyryals - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    Your argument is short-sighted. You can't stay with 4 core models indefinitely and expect to remain competitive in the future. R&D money has to be spent on the new technology even if your niche is the Price/performance budget sector. Reply
  • Scali - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    I think it's short-sighted to just look at the number of cores.
    What AMD REALLY needs is a core architecture with a good IPC and relatively cheap to produce. That is what made the K7 and K8 so successful.
    Currently AMD is just throwing more transistors at the problem, which is not a good thing, given their position (45 nm process vs Intel's 32 nm).

    If anything Intel proves that it's not the number of cores, since Intel's quadcores generally outperform AMD's six-core. So as it stands today, Intel can stay with quadcores just fine.
    Reply
  • beginner99 - Tuesday, April 27, 2010 - link

    exactly my thought.
    But I must admit I did not think about servers at all. If it was easy to adopt a server cpu which had to be made anyway then it's a different story. (is it a half-magny-cours?)
    But generally i would say a complete new architecture is needed soon to stay competitive.
    Phenom architecture is quite old now and never was that good anyway especially compared to core architecture...
    Reply

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