What a weird way to end the year; at the beginning of 2003 we expected AMD to fall short of clock expectations and for Intel to trample all over the Athlon 64 with Prescott. With 2004, still in its infancy, being a meager 6 days old we know that the outcome of the processor wars of last year was not as expected. AMD surprised us all with a far more competitive Athlon 64 launch than we had originally expected, and Prescott didn’t exactly make it out the gates.

Instead we were left with a new class of processors with the Athlon 64 FX and the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition; cash cow CPUs marketed for our community but priced well above our comfort levels. Granted if you look back at the $1000+ price tag the Pentium II had upon its release a $700 CPU today isn’t asking too much, but we’ve grown far too accustomed to sub-$200 CPU prices for that to work.

With just under three-and-a-half months under AMD's 64-bit belt, we're ready for the first speed bump for the Athlon 64 line.

You'll remember from our initial coverage that the major difference between the Athlon 64 and the Athlon 64 FX that the latter boasts a 128-bit memory controller as opposed to the 64-bit interface of the regular 64. The only other differences (other than price) were that the Athlon 64 FX was available at 2.2GHz (compared to the fastest 2.0GHz 64 offering) and the FX ships without a multiplier lock. With today's launch, the focus is further shifted away from the pricey FX and onto the latest reason not to buy AMD's most expensive CPU – the Athlon 64 3400+.

Now boasting a 2.2GHz clock, equaling that of the flagship FX51, the Athlon 64 has become an even more powerful force to reckon with. With a 10% increase in clock speed, can AMD begin to eat into Intel's lead in encoding/content creation applications? Let's find out…

A Diamond in the Rough

When we first looked at the Athlon 64 and FX we realized that the performance difference between the two was negligible at best, but what truly sealed the fate of the Athlon 64 FX in our eyes was the quiet release of the Athlon 64 3000+ based on AMD's Newcastle core.

Newcastle is the mainstream successor to Claw Hammer, what all current Athlon 64s are based on right now. The only difference between Newcastle and Claw Hammer is that Newcastle has half the L2 cache, totaling 512KB instead of the original 1MB L2 that AMD launched. Why AMD would introduce the Athlon 64 with a 1MB L2 only to scale it back a couple of months later is anyone's guess. Perhaps AMD felt that it would be necessary to compete with Prescott or perhaps there were design issues with getting it to market in time, needless to say that slowly but surely all Athlon 64's will be Newcastle derived.

You caught a glimpse of the performance of the Athlon 64 3000+ in our earlier preview, but you will get a full taste of the price-effective performance that Newcastle offers in this review. Performance close to the Athlon 64 3200+ (which was close to the Athlon 64 FX51) at about half the price can't really be beat, and you'll surely see that here.

The Test
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  • AtaStrumf - Friday, January 09, 2004 - link

    This is just a quick test not an in-depth review, since I'm sure Anand is rather short on time, but was swept up in all this A64 hysteria and just had to do the test.

    Is's an OK test though, and I really liked the BFBI (bang for buck index). I also like the conclusion, which is one of the more clear ones in recent history. bussines/games/compile --> AMD64, encoding, 3D rendering programs --> Intel. Then just pick your BFBI and you have your CPU.

    Gotta try to keep things simple or else all you get is confusion.

    Maybe reviews should be written like some books, which keep simple information in normal size font, and more detailed in fine print, since it is intended for the more informed and interested readers and would only confuse the rest.
    Reply
  • Evan Lieb - Friday, January 09, 2004 - link

    TrogdorJW,

    Intel's 875P motherboard is at worst 2% slower than ASUS, ABIT, Gigabyte, etc. 875P motherboards. Anand may have used Intel's 875P board merely to guarantee as best he could that no problems would arise during testing, as Intel motherboards are usually the most reliable on the market.

    Take care,

    Evan
    Reply
  • EZDEALZ - Thursday, January 08, 2004 - link

    Athlon 64 3200+ processor locked? I have my K8V running at 2.2gHz (220 x 10) with no problems.. Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - link

    Still no comment on the use of the Intel motherboard? Oh, well. How about the actual memory timings that the tests ran at? I know the RAM says it's rated for 2-3-2-6 timings, but just because RAM is rated at a certain speed doesn't mean it was actually run at that speed. (Motherboard and chipset issues can often cause problems.)

    As for the suggestion of benchmarking with different memory speeds, johnsonx, I have to think that it would prove to be largely useless. Tests on numerous hardware sites have shown repeatedly that running the memory and system bus asynchronously seriously impairs performance. If you're running a 200 MHz FSB and then OC the memory to 233, you'll probably end up running slower in many applications. Synchronous clocking is the way to go right now, IMO.
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - link

    gee, screwed up again... in my corrected line I left out "controller", as in "memory controller is relatively inefficient"

    But again, I'm guessing you all knew what I meant. I just hate leaving out words...
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - link

    nuts... I didn't finish an edit before I posted. That line in the 6th paragraph should read "this suggests the memory is relatively inefficient in dual-channel mode".

    But I'm guessing you knew what I meant anyway...
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - link

    Seems to me that the extremely close scores between the single and dual channel 2.2Ghz A64 chips suggests:

    1. Any bandwidth benefit of dual-channel memory with the A64FX is offset by the latency penalty of registered memory. With the memory controller on-die, latency is apparently everything.

    2. The single-channel version of the A64 memory controller is extremely efficient.

    3. The dual-channel version of the A64FX memory controller is perhaps somewhat inefficient, or perhaps the cpu-core to memory controller interconnect is not as fast as it should be. Latency penalty aside, all that extra bandwidth should amount to a bigger performance gain.

    Our intrepid friends at Anandtech could shed some light on this by testing the 2.2Ghz chips with different memory speeds. I believe both chips will support memory speeds down to 133Mhz/PC-2100.

    This might provide interesting results. If the numbers increase fairly linearly with memory speed, but are relatively close between single and dual channel, this suggests the memory controller is fairly relatively in dual-channel mode. If the numbers for single channel scale much more with memory speed than with dual-channel (i.e. if single DDR-266 is much slower than single DDR-400, but dual DDR-266 (with roughly DDR-533 equivalent bandwidth) is not much slower than dual DDR-400), then that suggests that the A64 is architecurally limited somehow, and at current speeds is well fed by 3200Mb/s bandwidth, (or whatever the tests show), dual-channel or not.

    A related interesting test would be to repeat the same set of tests using an A64 and A64FX running at the same 2.2Ghz, but using a 220Mhz clock speed and a 10x multiplier. For this, obviously an A64 3200+ would be overclocked... This would tell us whether the memory controller's performance (and the performance of the on-die link between the core and memory controller) is dependant on the base clock speed.

    just my lofty ideas I can't test myself since I don't have any A64 at all....
    Reply
  • Icewind - Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - link

    Fudge.....I really wanted Dual Channel with my Athlon FX next summer, but god I just can't swing a $750 cost, I wanna get a R420 also. Damnitm why cant AMD give the A64 dual and just let the FX have the unlocked multiplier for ethusisasts?

    For some reason, Tejas is starting to sound pretty good now
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - link

    In my benchmarking of the FX versus the 3400+, the FX is the clear winner in Workstation Performance, Media Encoding, and some of the more demanding games. The point is not whether the FX is faster, because it is in some applications, it is whether it is now worth the 40% higher price asked for it.

    The P4 wants all the bandwidth you can give it, and there is a big difference in perfromance between Dual-Channel and Single-Channel memory. The A64 architecture is not as dependent on Memory Bandwidth for performance. Having said that, Dual-Channel on the A64 is faster in some applications and it may be even more important to 64-bit performance.

    The upcoming Socket 939 IS dual-Channel, so we will be seeing more Dual-Channel solutions from AMD.
    Reply
  • DAVIDS - Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - link

    Insomniac: yes, what you say is true. But is no consistency to the way Anandtech tests CPU's. Look at the benchmarks used for the 3000+ and the original Athlon64 review from 9/23. Also, the FX does not have a multiplier lock, a fact this article seems to downplay. Anyone who overclocks understands the importance of an unlocked CPU. Reply

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