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AMD Athlon II and Phenom II X2 Processors Debut
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Date: Jun 01, 2009
Section:Processors
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

AMD is using the prominence of the Computex show in Taipei to unveil a slew of new, affordable desktop processors. A few of them are based on the existing core employed within their Phenom II processor line-up, but one of them is comprised of a new piece of silicon that pays homage to the once mighty Athlon brand.

We've got four new AMD processors on tap for this article, low power quad- and triple-cores, and a pair of new dual-cores. The 3.1GHz AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition is positioned as AMD's fastest dual-core processor ever, while the Phenom II X3 705e is a low-power triple-core CPU. The Phenom II X4 905e is a low-power 65w quad-core, and the brand new Athlon II X2 250 is AMD's latest high-performance, budget-class dual-core processor.

All of these processors share some similarities, of course, but each one is positioned for a somewhat different market segment. Take a look at the specifications and features below, and then we'll move on to the juicy details...


AMD Athlon II and Phenom II Processors

AMD Athlon II and Phenom II X2 / X3 / X4 Processors 
Specifications and Features


    
AMD Phenom II X2 and Athlon II X2 Features

All of the Phenom II processors launching today are based on the same core, which is the one used in the current generation of Phenom II processors. As such, they all share the same platform specifics and base feature set, and differ only in their clock speeds, and core and cache allotments. We've covered the details of AMD's Phenom and Phenom II processors and supporting chipsets a number of times in the past, so we won't do the same again here. We would, however, recommend taking a look at a few of our previous articles if you'd like a refresher on all of the pertinent details regarding the Phenom II.  Here is a list of of recommended reading:

The Enter the Dragon: AMD Phenom II X4 940 article listed above talks about the changes brought forth by AMD's 45nm Phenom II processors. And the various 7-series chipset, Phenom processor, and Spider / Dragon platform related articles cover the remainder of the platform specifics.

The Athlon II X2 processor series is a somewhat new animal, though. It is based on a new 45nm, native dual-core design that supports faster HT link speeds than current Athlon X2s, it is compatible with DDR2 or DDR3 system memory, and socket AM2+ or socket AM3 motherboards. As you can see in the specs above, the Athlon II X2 is comprised of roughly 234M transistors and has a die size of only 117.5mm2--less than half the size of a Phenom II. It's small die should made the Athlon II very economical for AMD to produce, and incedentally, inexpensive to purchase.

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A Closer Look At the Processors

As we've mentioned, AMD's Athlon II X2 250 processor is comprised of roughly 234 million transistors and is built using Global Foundries' advanced 45nm fabrication process...

  
AMD Athlon II X2 250 3.0GHz Processor



AMD Athlon II X2 Die Shot

Save for the unique markings on the CPU's heat spreader, the Athlon II X2 250 looks just like another socket AM3 AMD processor. It uses the same packaging and heat spreader design, and obviously has the same pin configuration. The Athlon II X2 250 hums along at a cool 3.0GHz (15x200MHz) and features a full 1MB of L2 cache per core (Phenom II's feature 512K of L2 per core), 64K of L1 and instruction and data cache per core (256K total), and it supports both DDR2 and DDR3 memory types.

Although AMD already has similarly clocked Athlon X2 processors in their line-up, the current crop of chips use more power and are built using a 65nm process, which makes them more expensive to produce. The Athlon II X2 250's native dual-core design and 45nm manufacturing process, coupled with the processor's support for PowerNow 3, will make it cheaper to produce and should make it more power friendly.




AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition Overclocked to Over 3.8GHz

Touted as AMD's fastest dual-core processor to-date, the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition is the other new dual-core processor being introduced today. The chip sports a 3.1GHz frequency (15.5x200MHz), a similar L1 cache configuration to the Athlon II X2 250, but only 512KB of L2 cache per core. The Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition, however, is also outfitted with 6MB of shared L3 cache. And it too supports both DDR2 and DDR3 memory types.

Because the chip is a Black Edition, the Phenom II X2 550 has an unlocked multiplier, which allows for easier overclocking. To see just what kind of frequency headroom the chip had, we gave it a bump in voltage to 1.48v and raised the multiplier until our test system was no longer stable. Using only the stock AMD PIB heatsink, we were able to take the chip up to a speed 3.8GHz without issue.

We should also note that we spent some time experimenting with the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition on an Asus 790FX-based motherboard that supports Advanced Clock Calibration to see if we could "unlock" the additional cores on the chip. Like the Phenom II X3 720 BE that generated quite a buzz a few months back, the Phenom II X2 500 Black Edition is built around the same quad-core die as Phenom II X4 processors--but with two cores disabled. Unfortunately, no setting allowed the additional two "hidden" cores to function on our mobo. We caught wind that one analyst was able to unlock additional cores using an Asrock motherboard, but can't confirm this on our own. We can say, however, that we do not think it's a good idea to buy one of these processor under the assumption that it will be possible to enable all of the cores.

Finally, AMD is also releasing two new low power processors today the Phenom II X3 705e and Phenom II X4 905e. Both chips operate at 2.5GHz (12.5x200MHz) and had 65w maximum TDPs. Their design is identical to all of the other Phenom II X3 and X4 processors. 

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Affordable Motherboards to Match

 

There is no doubt, AMD's current processor line-up is priced with affordability in mind. And motherboards based on AMD chipsets have gotten more and more affordable as well, as the chipsets have gotten more mature.

As we were working with these new processors from AMD, Gigabyte sent along a pair of new socket AM3 motherboards designed to support all of the new chips. And as AMD has done with the processors, these new motherboards are affordably priced too, relatively speaking of course...

  

  
Gigabyte GA-MA770T-UD3P Ultra Durable 3 Socket AM3 Motherboard

As its name suggest, the Gigabyte GA-MA770T-UD3P is based on the mainstream AMD 770 chipset. It sports an SB710 southbridge, AM3 socket, with official support for DDR3 memory speeds in excess of 1666MHz. The UD3 in the product name denotes that the board is part of Gigabyte's family of Ultra Durable 3 family of products, and as such, it sports solid Japanese capacitors, ferrite core chokes, and 2oz copper layers in the PCB to aid with power efficiency and cooling.

The GA-MA770T-UD3P also supports Gigabyte's dynamic Easy Energy Saver technology, DualBIOS feature, and it is compatible with AMD processors with TDPs of up to 140w. The board's slot configuration consists of a single PCI Express x16 slot, four PCI Express x1 slots, and dual PCI slots. There are small aluminum coolers on the north and south bridge chips, and all of the various connectors and headers are color coded and labeled for easy installation.

The GA-MA770T-UD3P has PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports in its I/O backplane, along with eight USB 2.0 ports, analog and digital audio inputs and outputs, dual Firewire ports, and a single RJ45 Gigabit LAN jack. The GA-MA770T-UD3P ships with a basic bundle including and IDE cable, two SATA cables, a user's manual, a driver CD, and a custom I/O shield. Current street prices on this board hover in the $85 - $90 range.

  

  
Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P Ultra Durable 3 Socket AM3 Motherboard

Gigabyte's GA-MA790FXT-UD5P is a much higher-end board, and it commands a much higher price. At about $179 though, this high-end, enthusiast-friendly socket AM3 motherboard is still significantly cheaper than many similarly targeted Intel-based mobos. The GA-MA790FXT-UD5P is built around the 790FX chipset, and supports all of the features mentioned with the GA-MA770T-UD3P, and then some. In addition to all of the features supported by the GA-MA770T-UD3P, the GA-MA790FXT-UD5P adds dual-Gigabit LAN and CrossFire support.

The GA-MA790FXT-UD5P's slot configuration consists of dual PCI Express x16 slots, three PCI Express x1 slots, and dual PCI slots. The chipset is outfitted with a more elaborate cooling solution, with heatpipes linking the VRM, north, and southbridge chips, and the board features a clear CMOS button and right-angle SATA connectors. The I/O backplane is identical to the GA-MA770T-UD3P's, save for the additional LAN jack, but the bundle is more plentiful. Along with the board, user's will fine a multi-lingual guidebook, a user's guide, four SATA cables, an IDE cable, an eSATA case bracket with accompanying power and data cables, and a custom I/O shield.

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Our Test Systems and SANDRA

 

How We Configured Our Test Systems: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set memory timings for either DDR2-1066 with 5,5,5,15 timings or DDR3-1333 with 7,7,7,20 timings. The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.

 HotHardware's Test Systems
 Intel and AMD - Head To Head 

System 1: 
AMD Athlon II X2 250
(3.0GHz Dual-Core)
AMD Phenom II X3 705e
(2.5GHz Tri-Core)
AMD Phenom II X4 905e
(2.5GHz Quad-Core)
AMD Phenom II X2 550
(3.1GHz Dual-Core)

AMD Phenom II X4 810
(2.60GHz Quad-Core)
AMD Phenom II X3 720BE
(2.8GHz Tri-Core)

AMD Phenom II X4 920
(2.8GHz Quad-Core)


Asus M4A79T Deluxe
(AMD 790FX Chipset)

2x2GB Corsair DDR3-1600

CL 7-7-7-20 - DDR3-1333

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v180.43

System 2: 
Core 2 Duo E6850
(3.0GHz - Quad-Core)

Core 2 Quad Q9400
(2.66GHz - Quad-Core)

Asus P5E3 Premium
(X48 Express Chipset)

4x1GB Corsair DDR3-1600
CL 7-7-7-20 - DDR3-1333

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v180.43

 

 Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
 Synthetic Benchmarks


We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA XII, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2009 suite with AMD's new Phenom II X2 and Athlon II X2 processors (CPU Arithmetic, CPU Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, and Cache and Memory).  All of the scores reported below were taken with the processors running at their default clock speeds of 3.1GHz and 3.0GHz, respectively, with 4GB of DDR3-1333 RAM running in unganged mode.

 
Athlon II X2 @ 3.0GHz
CPU Arithmetic
 

  
Athlon II X2 @ 3.0GHz
Multimedia
 

  
Athlon II X2 @ 3.0GHz
Mem. Bandwidth: 
DDR3-1333
 

  
Athlon II X2 @ 3.0GHz
Cache and
Mem. Bandwidth

 

 
Phenom II X2 550 @ 3.1GHz
CPU Arithmetic

  
Phenom II X2 550 @ 3.1GHz
Multimedia

  
Phenom II X2 550 @ 3.1GHz
Mem. Bandwidth: DDR3-1333

  
Phenom II X2 550 @ 3.1GHz
Cache and Mem. Bandwidth

To prevent the page from getting too cluttered with SANDRA charts, we've run these tests only on AMD's "new" processors being released today, the dual-core Athlon II X2 and Phenom II X2. The other Phenom II X3 and X4 processors hitting the scene are simply clocked differently than previous offerings.

There is a 100MHz clock speed disparity between the Athlon II X2 250 and Phenom II X2 550 we've tested here, but they perform similarly in the four SANDRA tests we ran. The Athlon II actually pulls ahead of the higher clocked Phenom in the CPU ALU benchmark, but the Phenom II X2 comes right back to take the lead in the FPU test. In the Integer and FP portions of the Multi-Media test, the Phenom II holds onto a small lead, but in the memory bandwidth test both processors put up nearly identical scores of just over 10GB/s. And finally, in the combined cache and memory bandwidth test, the Phenom II X2 550 pulls ahead by about 1.3GB/s of total bandwidth.
 

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PCMark Vantage

Next we ran a number of processor and platforms, including all five of AMD's new desktop offerings, through Futuremark‚Äôs latest system performance metric built especially for Windows Vista, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity.  Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by a quad-core CPU.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance

All of the new AMD Phenom II and Athlon II processor performed as expected in PC Mark Vantage, with one exception. For an unknown reason, the dual-core processors would fail during the Windows Media Encoder portion of the TV and Movies test. We informed AMD of the issue, but have yet to get a response. The Athlon II X2 250 performed about on-par with the Core 2 E6850--winning some tests and losing some others--whereas the Phenom II X2 550 outpaced Intel's 3.0GHz dual-core CPU across the board.

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LAME MT and Kribibench

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.

LAME MT
Audio Encoding

In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenically-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

LAME MT supports only one or two threads, hence the highest clocked Core 2 here, the E6850, takes the lead in both the single and multi-threaded tests. The Phenom II X2 550 BE come in a close second, tying the Q9400, followed by the rest of the pack, in order of clock speed.

Kribibench v1.1
CPU-Bound 3D Rendering

For this next batch of tests, we ran Kribibench v1.1, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development.  Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer in which a 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU and the average frame rate is reported.  We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and the test suite's "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys.

Intel's dual-core Core 2 E6850 finishes in front of the other dual-core processors in the Kribibench 3D rendering test, and the quad core Q9400 dominates the rest of the field.
 

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Cinebench R10 and 3DMark06

Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others.  It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.

Cinebench R10
3D Rendering

This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.

The Intel Core 2 processors dominated in both the single and multi-threaded version of the Cinebench benchmark. Even at 2.66GHz, the Core 2 Q9400 is able to outperform the 3.1GHz Phenom II X2 550 BE.

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded DirectX gaming metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance.  Calculations that are normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering.  The frame-rate generated in each test is used to determine the final score.

Neither of AMD's new dual-core processors could quite keep pace with the similarly clocked E6850 in 3DMark06, and the Q9400 once again pull ahead of the rest of the pack. We've included the Intel scores as a frame of reference only, however. Remember, these particular chips are more expensive than AMD's offerings.

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Low-Res Gaming: Crysis and FEAR

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Crysis and F.E.A.R. When testing processors with Crysis or F.E.A.R., we drop the resolution to 800x600, and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible.  However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU rather than GPU.

Low-Resolution Gaming: Crysis and F.E.A.R.
Taking the GPU out of the Equation




The AMD-built processors put up a strong performance in the F.E.A.R. benchmark, and performed well in Crysis. The Phenom II X2 550 actually pulled ahead of the Core 2 E6850 here.

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Power Consumption

We'd like to cover a few final data points before bringing this article to a close. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test systems consumed using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the processors alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

All of AMD's new mainstream processors proved to be quite power friendly. The Athlon II X2 in particular consumed relatively little power while idling and under load. The rest of AMD's line-up performed well here too, coming in with the lowest idle and load power draw versus similarly clocked Intel processors.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: AMD's new processors performed well in all of our tests. The new Athlon II X2 250 looks to be a solid performer for a dual-core chip, especially considering its relatively low price point. It's hard to believe that almost three years go to the week, the Athlon 64 FX-62 launched at 2.8GHz, for almost $1000 and the $87 Athlon II X2 250 is a more powerful chip.

The 3.1GHz Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition is AMD's fastest dual-core processor released to date and the X3 705e and 905e performed in line with expectations, in light of their clock speeds. All of the chips exhibited relatively low-power characteristics as well.



  

These new additions to AMD's desktop processor line-up featured here will be available immediately. Their specific part numbers and the expected price breakdown is as follows:

  • $102 - Phenom II X2 550 BE (3.1GHz / 80W) - OPN: HDZ550WFK2DGI
  • $87 - Athlon II X2 250 (3.0GHz / 65W) - OPN: ADX250OCK23GQ
  • $195 - Phenom II X4 905e (2.5GHz / 65W) - OPN: HD905EOCK4DGI
  • $125 - Phenom II X3 705e (2.5GHz / 65W) - OPN: HD705EOCK3DGI

From a power user's perspective, these new processors may not elicit much excitement. But budget conscious consumers, overclockers, and silent or HTCP aficionados should take notice. The energy efficient Phenom II X3 705e and X4 905e are well suited to many low power or low noise applications, as is the Athlon II X2 250 for that matter. Though you'll pay a premium for the energy efficiency ratings with the Phenom IIs, the Athlon II X2 250 and Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition represent excellent values overall. Couple an Athlon II X2 250 with a decent 790GX based motherboard and 4GB of DDR2 RAM, for exmaple, and you've the basis of a relatively high performing entry-level system for about $230. That's a minimal amount of coin for a decent amount of performance.



Athlon II X2 250
Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition



  • Low Power
  • Good Performance
  • Overclockable
  • Cheap

 



  • Dual Cores in a sea of Quad Cores
  • Core 2s still have an IPC edge

     



    Phenom II X3 705e
    Phenom II X3 905e


    • Energy Efficient
    • Multi-Core CPUs
    • Decent Performance
    • Low Power

     



    • Efficiency Comes at a Premium

     



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