AMD is looking a lot more competitive in 2010 than I expected just a few months ago. Intel finally unveiled Clarkdale and thanks to the high cost of Core i5 ownership AMD hasn't really been threatened. The Core i3 530 is the biggest threat, but it only competes with one member of AMD's lineup at $113.

Thanks to continued improvements in Global Foundries' 45nm process, AMD is delivering slight clock bumps for its dual, triple and quad-core processors while dropping prices of others. This is what AMD is launching today:

Processor Clock Speed L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X4 910e 2.6GHz 2MB 6MB 65W $169
AMD Phenom II X2 555 BE 3.2GHz 1MB 6MB 80W $99
AMD Athlon II X4 635 2.9GHz 2MB 0MB 95W $119
AMD Athlon II X3 440 3.0GHz 1.5MB 0MB 95W $84
AMD Athlon II X2 255 3.1GHz 2MB 0MB 65W $74

 

It's nothing revolutionary. AMD already delivers good value below $130 and today's launch just improves upon that. What you won't see here is anything on AMD's 8-series chipsets, due out in the March - May timeframe.

  AMD 790GX AMD 890GX
CPU AMD Socket-AM3 AMD Socket-AM3
Manufacturing Process 55nm ??
PCI Express 22 PCIe 2.0 lanes ??
Graphics Radeon HD 3300 (DirectX 10.0) DirectX 10.1 integrated GPU
Core Clock 700MHz 700MHz
Shader Processors 8 (5-way) ??
Full H.264/VC-1/MPEG-2 HW Decode Yes (UVD) Yes (UVD2)
8-channel LPCM No Yes
USB 12 USB 2.0 ports 14 USB 2.0 ports
SATA 6 SATA 3Gbps ports 6 SATA 6Gbps ports

 

You also won't see anything about the new Thuban or Zosma cores, AMD's high end 6-core and 4-core products for 2010. We know model numbers but we don't know clock speeds, features or prices. Expect to see them in late Q2.

Processor Cores Clock Speed L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X6 1075T 6 ?? ?? 6MB 125W ??
AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 6 ?? ?? 6MB 125W/95W ??
AMD Phenom II X6 1035T 6 ?? ?? 6MB 95W ??
AMD Phenom II X4 960T 4 ?? ?? 6MB 95W ??

 

The Phenom II X4 910e - 65W Quad-Core

I'll start with the least interesting first. The Phenom II X4 910e brings us a 65W full-blown Phenom II quad-core at 2.6GHz. You pay a hefty premium for the lower voltage part; $169 normally buys you 3GHz in the Phenom II X4 lineup.

The power savings are measurable though, here we have the 910e at idle and under full load compared to a 125W Phenom II X4 965BE and the rest of today's lineup:

Processor TDP Total System Idle Power Total System Load Power (x264 Encode)
AMD Phenom II X4 965 BE 125W 89.7W 174W
AMD Phenom II X4 910e 65W 84.6W 134W
AMD Phenom II X2 555 BE 80W 82.3W 161W
AMD Athlon II X4 635 95W 79.5W 157W
AMD Athlon II X2 255 65W 76.3W 130W

 

Idle power improves a bit vs. the 125W quad-cores, but load power is respectable. The 2.6GHz quad-core 910e draws only 4 more watts than a dual core Athlon II running at 3.1GHz. You pay handsomely for the lower power consumption, but if you're an OEM looking for such a thing without undervolting a standard 125W processor it could be worth it.

The Phenom II X2 555 BE - AMD's Fastest Dual-Core

Remember the Phenom II X2 550 BE? That was a quad-core Phenom II with two cores disabled, but a full 6MB L3 cache. It was a beast of a dual-core CPU but AMD quietly pulled it off its price list months ago. You could still find the chips in retail and priced quite effectivley at $99, but the Core i3 530 manages to offer better performance at nearly the same price.

AMD's response? The Phenom II X2 555 BE. Still an unlocked Black Edition part, the 555 pushes its clock speed up to 3.2GHz. The extra 100MHz won't do much for performance but the price remains at $99. The problem with the Phenom II X2's architecture is that you get relatively small and high latency L2 caches (512KB, 15 cycle) and a large/high latency L3 cache (6MB, ~40 - 50 cycles). It's not ideal for a dual-core chip.With Clarkdale you at least get much lower latency caches (10 cycles and sub-40 cycles for L2 and L3 respectively).

I'm not particularly excited about the Phenom II X2 555 BE, but AMD has sweetened the deal a bit. This chip now supports hardware C1E, like the first Athlon IIs. And no, I haven't encountered any CnQ bugs with it.

The hardware C1E means lower idle power consumption (I explained it in greater detail here) and it's courtesy of the new C3 Phenom II stepping. A side effect of this newer silicon rev is that it should overclock better. Our old Phenom II X2 550 BE hit 3.5 - 3.6GHz on air at stock voltage, and our new chip did 3.8GHz in the same conditions:

Part of the success of our chip here is due to its nearly 1.4V default voltage. Lower default voltages may only see 3.6GHz without going any further. Pushing beyond 3.8GHz proved to be very difficult on air, at least with any amount of stability under Windows 7 64-bit.

The Athlon II X4 630 & 635 - Even More Affordable Quad-Core

For a thread-junkie, you can't beat the Athlon II X4. You get more cores for $99 than Intel would dream of selling and today AMD is making it even more affordable. The Athlon II X4 630 drops from $122 to $99, and the new 635 enters at $119. The 635 doesn't give you much, just an extra 100MHz for $20 more.

The 620 was my pick for 3D rendering/video encoding on a budget. Now with the price drop, the 630 is the chip to get. The 635 isn't really worth the added dough at stock clock speeds. If you're going to be overclocking though, the news is good.

I got my Athlon II X4 635 up to 3.5GHz without any additional voltage, this is an improvement over the first Athlon II X4s I received. Back in September the best I could do was ~3.3GHz.

More than anything these new chips are examples of good old fashioned process technology improvements. Yields improve with time (at least they should for a company interested in being profitable) and with that comes improved overclockability over time.

The Athlon II X3 440 & Athlon II X2 255 - Value Speed Bump

The Athlon II X3 440 will set you back $84 and gives you three cores running at 3.0GHz. The best Intel will give you is a pair of cores running at 3.06GHz sharing a 2MB L2 cache - the Pentium E6600. You get more cache per core, but fewer cores than the Athlon II X3. It's the same story as the Core i3 vs. Athlon II X4. If you need more threads, go AMD, if you run lightly threaded apps you'll be faster with Intel at these price points. Interestingly enough, below $100 AMD actually offers more threads per dollar than Intel.

If you want a more even match there's the Athlon II X2 255. At $74 you get a pair of 3.1GHz cores with a 1MB L2 per core. Our 255 hit 3.6GHz without any additional voltage, but with some effort you can be in the 3.7 - 3.8GHz range.

Full Data in Bench & The Test
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  • Alouette Radeon - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    I didn't want to believe it but you really ARE biased towards Intel! After all the harm they've caused in this industry how could you be? Do they threaten to stop sending you testing material if you don't sound like they're the second coming of Christ and AMD is just a second-rate company? Reply
  • computerfarmer - Monday, February 01, 2010 - link

    Good article.

    Trying to find these to buy. AMD Athlon II x4 635 is the only one I have found available (newegg.ca). I live in Canada.

    Are the rest of them expected soon?
    Reply
  • th3rdpartynation - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 - link

    I want to build a WHS and the 3 things I consider most important are Video Encoding performance, Low Power, and Price. That being said I have narrowed it down to Athlon II X4 vs Core i3. A matchup I would love to see would be an undervolted Athlon II X4 vs. an Overclocked Core i3. If not then maybe everybody could tell me which they recommend?

    Reply
  • blowfish - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 - link

    for the video encoding part, that's easy enough - just check out "Bench", and factor in your underclocks and overclocks, since encoding scales fairly well with clock speed for a given cpu.

    Price is easy enough to figure out.

    The i3's probably have the best power/performance.
    Reply
  • jackylman - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    As a fan of silent computing, the 45W TDP quad-core 910e is the most exciting chip in this round, and I don't see it in the power consumption graphs. Disappointed.. :( Reply
  • MrSpadge - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 - link

    You see in the charts that:
    - idle power isn't that much different between the AMDs
    - at load they consume about their "ACP" (former TDP)

    So if you're not running under load the choice doesn't matter. If you run under load you could take any of the current 45 nm CPUs and lower its ridiculously high stock voltage of 1.4 V to maybe 1.2 V at 2.6 GHz. That should get you to maybe 80 W instead of 65 W for the specially binned chips. Close enough I'd say. If it's still too loud: go to 2.5 GHz and lower the voltage again.

    BTW: Core i3/5/7 can be even more energy efficient if you don't push them to 4 GHz.
    Reply
  • leexgx - Sunday, January 31, 2010 - link

    ACP that AMD use now not very helpful 95w/65w may had just be 125w/95w,

    the Athlon II are far better on heat output (X2 more so) then the Phenom II or the older hotcake 9xxx Phenoms (guessing most due to L3 cache)
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Saturday, January 30, 2010 - link

    ... but for some purposes you have to look at an o'c system being more efficient, since CPU is only a fraction of total system power consumption and we are free to turn a system off when the tasks are completed. Reply
  • jackylman - Monday, January 25, 2010 - link

    errr 65W Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    If you are a supposed fan of silent computing, I'm surprised you aren't aware that you are better off buying a "standard" AMD CPU for much less and undervolting and underclocking to get even better results (ie. cooler and lower-power-consuming) than buying AMD's e-series (like MrSpadge describes). Reply

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