Overclocking & Final Thoughts
As with any hardware review, whether it's a motherboard, video card, memory, or processor, our readers like to see what extra horsepower lies under the hood. Unfortunately, the motherboard used for testing the Sempron 2800+, which AMD provided, didn't have any overclocking options. But this is no fault of AMD because the Semprons are intended to be workstation-class processors, not overclocking performance CPUs. Additionally, we did not have an adequate Socket A motherboard on hand, and with a short window of opportunity for reviewing the Semprons, we couldn't get one in time to test. But don't despair: We had a better experience with the Sempron 3100+.
Before we tested on the EPoX 8KDA3+, we were sure to update the board's BIOS. When we accessed the "Power BIOS Features" section for overclocking, we found that the CPU Ratio Control was available. We were pleased to find that it was, in fact, adjustable and working, but the choices were only 8x and the default 9x. While this isn't a huge selection, we'll take it. The 8x setting dropped the CPU speed to 1600MHz with the FSB register set to 200, leaving a lot of room for increasing the FSB without overtaxing the processor.
So, we set the BIOS to 8x and managed to reach a stable CPU overclock setting of 230MHz, where anything higher caused the EPoX board to drop into a BIOS "Safe-Mode." This resulted in the CPU running at 1840MHz - a small improvement. Perhaps with a cooling upgrade, even higher results could be reached. We ran a quick round of Comanche 4 to show what extra performance was gained by our efforts.
With the release of the Sempron processor line from AMD, the goal was to offer a competitive alternative to Intel's Celeron line. In the end, it looks like AMD pulled it off, delivering a cost-effective alternative to the Celeron that delivers on performance, as well. While we did not have a 2.8GHz Celeron to do a direct comparison to the 2800+ Sempron, both Semprons competed well with a Pentium 4-C at 2.4GHz, which sells in the same price range as a Celeron 2.8GHz. When compared to similarly configured machines, the Semprons competed well, offering excellent workstation-class performance, as well as potential gaming. The best performer of them all was the 3100+ Sempron, which often bested the faster Pentium 4, boasting the best memory performance overall, thanks to the integrated memory controller.
The only weak point that we can derive from our testing was with video encoding. Here, the Pentium 4 @ 2.4GHz performed best, with the Sempron 3100+ trailing close behind. Considering the 2.4GHz Pentium 4-C sells for roughly $20 less than the 3100+ and $20 more than the 2800+, it may be worth considering if encoding will be a common task for you. Additionally, while the Socket As may be a cost-effective alternative to the Celeron line, they do not appear to be the best value when compared to AMD's own Athlon XP. We already offered several examples where a Barton core was still the best value with the Socket As, and the savings of the 3100+ may be less attractive to the individual user. In this case, the value may lie more so with the corporate buyer, as opposed to the individual, where a nominal savings can add up fast with bulk orders.
Today, a number of OEMs offer Athlon XP-based machines for a very competitive price and will now have additional options with the Sempron line. However, in the case of the Socket As, the customer may end up paying the same and getting less because the "Barton" core is commonplace. It may be safer to conclude that you'll find the best balance of price and performance with the Sempron 3100+, as long as you don't plan on doing any 64-bit computing in the future.
This is only the first wave of Sempron processors to reach the market. It's safe to assume that more Socket 754, and perhaps Socket 939, models are planned, but only time will tell. As it stands now, the Semprons do offer an alternative option for OEM and custom builders alike, but gauging the value is not as cut-and-dried as we would have hoped. We'll need to keep an eye on this market and see how things shake out once the initial push is over and the prices have settled. Look for the Semprons to be available in mid to late August.