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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  • Stuka87 - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    I would really like to see a "Bang for your Buck" graph. In many test, AMD comes close to the i7, but the i7 cost more. So when you do a performance per dollar ratio, AMD may come out on par, or maybe even ahead in some cases.

    I also find it interesting that some of the Phenom II x4's have a lower power consumption at idle than the X2's. I realize the X2's use the same silicon, but with the cores turned off, shouldn't they use less?

    Great over all article as always though :)
  • Zanfib - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    Anand, as always great work,

    You write "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)."

    Is this the definitive truth? :-)

    I have read a lot of people guessing whether AMD will have AM3 compatibile Bulldozer modes available, or only AM3+ (AM3Rev...).

  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    This information came directly from AMD :) Not saying it's 100%, just saying it's the source.

    You'll see AM3+ motherboards in advance of the Bulldozer client launch so you'll be able to buy a new board for your CPU and then later drop in a Bulldozer.

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

    Yeah, its true.

    Bulldozer isn't backward compatible with current Socket AM3 motherboards.

    But Socket AM3+ motherboards will be backward compatible with existing AM3 processors.

    Mentioned on a number of sites...

    => http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,2845,2368186...

    "AMD also told us that it will introduce a new AM3+ socket for consumer versions of Bulldozer CPUs. AM2 and AM3 processors will work in the AM3+ socket, but Bulldozer chips will not work in non-AM3+ motherboards."

    => http://www.rage3d.com/articles/amd_heat_vision_hot...

    "For the desktop, the Zambezi processor is good news and bad news. The good news is it's an 8 core product, the bad news is it needs a new socket - AM3r, or AM3+. This is an electrical upgrade of the AM3 platform, to provide the power phases and planes/states required by the power gating features of Zambezi. As you might have guessed from the name, this socket is backwards compatible with existing AM3 processors, so you'll be able to piecemeal your upgrade - motherboard for your birthday, CPU for Christmas, or however your upgrade cycle works."

    => http://www.xtremesystems.org/forums/showpost.php?p...

    "When we initially set out on the path to Bulldozer we were hoping for AM3 compatibility, but further along the process we realized that we had a choice to make based on some of the features that we wanted to bring with Bulldozer. We could either provide AM3 support and lose some of the capabilities of the new Bulldozer architecture or, we could choose the AM3+ socket which would allow the Bulldozer-base Zambezi to have greater performance and capability.

    The majority of the computer buying public will not upgrade their processors, but enthusiasts do. When we did the analysis it was clear that the customers who were most likely to upgrade an AM3 motherboard to a Bulldozer would want the features and capability that would only be delivered in the new AM3+ sockets. A classic Catch-22.

    Why not do both you ask? Just make a second model that only works in AM3? First, because that would greatly increase the cost and infrastructure of bringing the product to market, which would drive up the cost of the product (for both AMD and its partners). Secondly, adding an additional product would double the time involved in many of the development steps.

    So in the end, delivering an AM3 capability would bring you a less featured product that was more expensive and later to market. Instead we chose the path of the AM3+ socket, which is a path that we hope will bring you a better priced product, with greater performance and more features - on time.

    When we looked at the market for AM3 upgrades, it was clear that the folks most interested in an AM3-based product were the enthusiasts. This is one set of customers that we know are not willing to settle for second best when it comes to performance, so we definitely needed to ensure that our new architecture would meet their demanding needs, for both high performance and overclockability. We believe they will see that in AM3+."
  • Taft12 - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    <i>But Socket AM3+ motherboards will be backward compatible with existing AM3 processors.</i>

    This was not true from AM2+ to AM3, and I don't believe for a second this is true across the board from AM3 to AM3+. Many motherboard manufacturers (even top tier ones) will not bother with BIOS updates to older boards that went EOL some time ago.

    If your board has a 7xx or Nvidia chipset and has been EOL for a year, I wouldn't count on anything. Better safe than sorry.
  • JMC2000 - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    "This was not true from AM2+ to AM3, and I don't believe for a second this is true across the board from AM3 to AM3+. Many motherboard manufacturers (even top tier ones) will not bother with BIOS updates to older boards that went EOL some time ago."

    From what I read, it is not the same situation before: Most AM2+ boards can run AM3 cpus, pending on BIOS support, AM2+ cpus will not work on AM3 boards, because they do not have a DDR3 memory controller. AM3+ (AM3r2) cpus will not work on AM3 boards, because the power gating logic on Bulldozer based cpus is not compatible with the power plane setup on AM3.

    Basically, AM3 cpus are both backwards and forwards compatible with previous and upcoming sockets in their line.
  • Dark_Archonis - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    Yes, for AMD owners, the party is over. Bulldozer is not compatible with AM3 motherboards, so anyone who wants Bulldozer will need a new motherboard.
  • Madmanden - Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - link

    The party's over for both AMD and Intel users. They both have to get a new board for upcoming CPUs.
  • mike23 - Thursday, September 23, 2010 - link

    this is a very good point.

    Benchmarks that cover something more than common tasks (that low and mid range processors do adequately every day) would be helpful.

    With regard to the competition issue...It's blatantly obvious where Intel sees AMD as competition. All the way up to the 4 core I7 series. Beyond that, no competition and ridiculous prices.

    If not for AMD's efforts, you wouldn't have the I5's and I7s in the 200-300+ range right now. So, yes, they are providing strong competition in certain market segments.
  • DMisner - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    Would you consider doing something of a Folding@Home benchmark, possibly running the SMP client for a day or something and seeing what kind of PPD figures you would get with these processors?
    Seems like F@H is really what I do most with my computers.

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