I don’t know the last time I was this excited about AMD’s roadmap. Zacate and Ontario are due out in a quarter, and both promise to bring competition to an area where we haven’t seen much from AMD.

Llano is slated for release near the end of Q2 next year. While it won’t be a big step forward in CPU performance, we should see a huge increase in integrated graphics performance.

Sampling in Q4 of this year and shipping sometime next year is AMD’s next-generation microarchitecture: Bulldozer.

Within the course of twelve months we will see AMD introduce three drastically different microprocessors into the market’s eager hands. We’ve been dying for more competition and AMD is planning on giving us just that. But that's the future, what about the present?

Processor Clock Speed L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T BE 3.2GHz 3MB 6MB 125W $295
AMD Phenom II X6 1075T 3.0GHz 3MB 6MB 125W $245
AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8GHz 3MB 6MB 125W $199
AMD Phenom II X4 970 BE 3.5GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $185
AMD Phenom II X4 965 BE 3.4GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $165
AMD Phenom II X4 955 BE 3.2GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $145
AMD Phenom II X2 560 BE 3.3GHz 1MB 6MB 80W $105
AMD Phenom II X2 555 BE 3.2GHz 1MB 6MB 80W $93
AMD Athlon II X4 645 3.1GHz 2MB 0MB 95W $122
AMD Athlon II X4 640 3.0GHz 2MB 0MB 95W $100
AMD Athlon II X3 450 3.2GHz 1.5MB 0MB 95W $87
AMD Athlon II X3 445 3.1GHz 1.5MB 0MB 95W $76
AMD Athlon II X2 265 3.3GHz 2MB 0MB 65W $76
AMD Athlon II X2 260 3.2GHz 2MB 0MB 65W $69
AMD Athlon II X2 255 3.1GHz 2MB 0MB 65W $66

Today AMD announced speed bumps to nearly every processor in its desktop lineup. Everything from the dual-core Athlon II to the six-core Phenom II gets a new family member today. And they’re all very attractively priced.

A Third Phenom II X6

We’ll start at the high end. The Phenom II X6 line expands to include a 3.0GHz 1075T. Smack in the middle of the other X6s, the 1075T will set you back $245 and can turbo up to 3.5GHz if three or fewer cores are in use. You get a 6MB L3 and a 3MB L2 (512KB per core).

The Phenom II X6 1075T has no competitively priced answer from Intel. The Core i7 860 is priced at $284, while the Core i5 760 will set you back $205. The default clock speed of the 1075T should bring it close to the Core i5 760 in many tasks, while anything threaded will for sure favor the 1075T. Remember the quad-core i5s lack Hyper Threading so this is a 6 core/6 thread chip matched up against a 4/4. Intel’s cores get better performance per clock, but not that much better. Single threaded performance and power consumption are both advantages of the Core i5, but the rest will easily fall in AMD’s favor.

A 3.5GHz Quad-Core

It’s not all about more cores from AMD. The new Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition pushes quad-core clock speed to 3.5GHz. The 970 ships with all cache enabled, so that's 6MB L3 and 2MB total L2.

This is still a Deneb so you get no core turbo support, but you do get a great value. At $185 the Phenom II X4 970 only has to compete with the Core i5 750 or a bunch of dual-core Clarkdale CPUs. Without Hyper Threading, the matchup can be close. AMD and Intel trade blows here, with Intel typically ending up on top. Single threaded performance is close as AMD has a huge clock speed advantage. AMD gets the nod for slightly lower price and better upgrade path as you’ll can stick a Phenom II X6 in the same Socket-AM3 motherboard. Bulldozer is out of the question however, AM3+ chips aren’t backwards compatible with AM3 motherboards (although the opposite is true, you will be able to use your 970 in an AM3+ motherboard).

Value Quad-Core at 3.1GHz

Next on the list is a value quad-core offering, the Athlon II X4 645 is a speed bump of one of the most attractive quad-core CPUs we’ve ever reviewed. The Athlon II X4 does away with an L3 cache in order to keep costs down while keeping the same 512KB private L2 per core (2MB total). The 645 runs at 3.1GHz and will set you back $122.

Intel has no competition for this processor. The Core i3 540 is priced similarly but you only get two cores. Intel is faster in lightly threaded apps and games, but AMD is faster everywhere else. If you’re a multitasker my vote goes for the Athlon II X4 645. Intel does offer lower power consumption and on-chip graphics if you’re looking to build a HTPC.

High-End Dual-Core

AMD’s Phenom II X2 560 gives you two cores running at 3.3GHz and a full 6MB L3 cache. You only have to pay $105 to play.

In a stock fight, the 560 will easily lose to Intel’s Core i3 530. Both chips have two cores and the larger L3 cache doesn’t do much for AMD given Intel’s IPC advantage. The 560 however might come from a die harvested part. It may just be a Phenom II X4 but with two cores disabled. Assuming you get a good chip and have a motherboard with core-unlocking support, you might just find yourself with Phenom II X4 “960” and save $50. Proceed at your own risk. We could unlock three of the four cores on our chip but the system wasn’t stable enough to enter Windows with the extra unlocked core.

The Athlon II X3 450: A Pentium G6950 Killer

While AMD no longer lists a triple-core Phenom II on its price list, the Athlon II X3 is still alive and well. The new 450 gives you three cores at 3.2GHz for $87. This is a harvested part taken from quad-core chips, as a result you get no L3 cache and 1.5MB of total L2 on chip (512KB per core x 3). The closest competitor from Intel is the Pentium G6950.

AMD has the clock and core advantage, although Intel has a single threaded performance advantage. AMD wins across the board virtually regardless of application. The Athlon II X3 450 gives you more bang for your buck than the Pentium G6950.

Affordable Dual-Core

Last, but not least, we have the new Athlon II X2 265. Running at 3.3GHz and priced at only $76 you have to look at Intel’s previous-generation Penryn based processors to find a suitable competitor for this chip. There's no L3 cache but the L2 gets a bump to 2MB total (1MB per core).

Personally I’m not terribly interested in the 265. For an extra $11 you get an additional core and only lose 100MHz, a tradeoff that I believe is more than worth it.

The Test

To keep the review length manageable we're presenting a subset of our results here. For all benchmark results and even more comparisons be sure to use our performance comparison tool: Bench.

We've moved all of our AMD CPU testing to the 890GX platform. While nearly all numbers are comparable you may occasionally see some scaling that doesn't quite add up compared to lower clocked versions of the same chips running on a previous motherboard.

Motherboard: ASUS P7H57DV- EVO (Intel H57)
Intel DP55KG (Intel P55)
Intel DX58SO (Intel X58)
Intel DX48BT2 (Intel X48)
Chipset Drivers: Intel (Intel)
AMD Catalyst 8.12
Hard Disk: Intel X25-M SSD (80GB)
Memory: Corsair DDR3-1333 4 x 1GB (7-7-7-20)
Corsair DDR3-1333 2 x 2GB (7-7-7-20)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTX 280 (Vista 64)
ATI Radeon HD 5870 (Windows 7)
Video Drivers: ATI Catalyst 9.12 (Windows 7)
NVIDIA ForceWare 180.43 (Vista64)
NVIDIA ForceWare 178.24 (Vista32)
Desktop Resolution: 1920 x 1200
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit (for SYSMark)
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
Windows 7 x64
SYSMark 2007 & Photoshop Performance
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  • jonup - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    Part of it is probably because the older processor were tested with older mobos/BIOSes/chipsets. We can ask Anand to confirm my speculations. I just do not think that they have rerun old CPUs for this review and have used numbers from the original reviews.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    Correct, that is part of it. The earlier 8-series boards/BIOSes appear to have higher power consumption for example.

    There have also been general improvements in the manufacturing process.

    Take care,
  • jonup - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    Anand, I do not think you gave this CPU justice. It performs similarly to the Phenom x2 555 and it is at least $20 cheaper. It uses a lot less energy than the Phenom and in a office environment would be more responsive than the Athlon II X4 and X3 due to the higher clocks. I hate looking at the Task Manager, because most of the time one of my cores is loaded almost 100% and the other ones are near idle. I just think that the extra L2 and higher clocks make the Athlon II X2 265 better CPU for most of the people most of the time and the benches would never be able to display that.
  • Taft12 - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    This highlights what the real problem is for the PC industry today that they don't want you to know.

    Do you know why Anand doesn't benchmark much more common tasks like Windows 7 boot time or MS Word launch time? It's practically the same across the board on from $65 CPUs to $999 CPUs! Unless you play new games or use professional artist software, you have almost no reason to upgrade a PC that is a few years old. Power savings yes, but not enough over the life of a computer to justify spending hundreds of dollars.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    Application launch time is actually reasonably CPU dependent if you've got a SSD. While I agree that common tasks don't vary in performance much between similarly clocked processors, I'd say the gap between generations is very visible. Many have said that Core 2 was fast enough but I'd argue there's a noticeable difference in just general PC usage between Lynnfield and Penryn simply because of the benefits you get from high turbo frequencies (windows pop up faster, there's a tangible reduction in response time). That gap will grow with each subsequent generation.

    The problem with these subjective performance tests is they are difficult to quantify.

    I agree that unless you have a specific application that is heavily influenced by CPU performance you don't need to upgrade every generation. But that's also why the PC upgrade cycle is typically 3 - 5 years. Original Core 2 owners will probably want to upgrade next year, while Lynnfield or AM3 owners can definitely wait.

    Take care,
  • vol7ron - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    I'm a C2D E6600 and I agree about the 3-5 years.

    My upgrade will probably come sometime between 2011Q2 and 2012Q3.

    Note: I don't typically upgrade parts unless they fail, so the mobo/cpu/gpu combo are generally the same as the initial build. Holding onto them for 5-6 years is terrific.
  • icrf - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    I've got the same CPU and was thinking of upgrading to SB or BD next year. My problem is that my old machine is still perfectly functional, I just wish it'd load SC2 or run through x264 a little quicker.

    What do you with this older perfectly functional hardware? Does anyone have any good ideas for how to re-task it? I've already got a similar spec'd HTPC along with a pre-ordered Boxee Box and an old XP2600 running the file server.
  • Pirks - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

  • vol7ron - Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - link

    I am looking at a couple options:

    1) donate it to friend or family - I still have parents and none are tech savy or willing to put money into it, so that's the most likely option

    2) keep it offline for spare parts or backup in case of disaster (laptop is probably good enough though)

    3) really look into setting up a home server, possibly get a dedicated IP and host some files for family/friends. It's not the most powerful hardware, but it's good enough for a small number of people.

    4) try to throttle down and turn it into an HTPC

    5) take all laptops and old cpus and play with Hadoop/MapReduce at home

    6) sell it

    Any other suggestions?
  • vol7ron - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    But that's also why they're beefing up the ondie gpu

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