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AMD's Athlon 64 3500+ processor

Affordable performance for Socket 939
— 12:00 AM on August 3, 2004

LAST WEEK, AMD slashed the price of its Athlon 64 3500+ processor by 30%, making the cheapest 939-pin chip more affordable for those saving pennies for a Doom 3-inspired upgrade. There's more to this price cut than the hefty discount, though. Because the 3500+ is AMD's least expensive 939-pin chip, the cut effectively lowers the price of entry for the entire Socket 939 platform.

Is the Athlon 64 3500+ the chip to have for budget-conscious enthusiasts? Is its 3500+ performance rating well-deserved? Read on to find out.

A closer look at the 3500+
Before we dive into the benchmarks, let's have a look at the 3500+ up close.

The Athlon 64 3500+

939 pins

AMD's current Athlon 64 lineup is made up of chips with different clock speeds, memory interfaces, and L2 cache sizes, making assigning arbitrary performance ratings a dubious task. With a little help from our handy CPU Decoder Ring, here's a cheat sheet that sums up where the 3500+'s clock speed, memory interface, and L2 cache size fit in with the rest of the Athlon 64 family.

SocketMemory interfaceL2 cache1.8GHz2.0GHz2.2GHz2.4GHz
754 single-channel 512KB 2800+ 3000+ 3200+ 3400+
1MB   3200+ 3400+ 3700+
939 dual-channel 512KB     3500+ 3800+
1MB       FX-53

As you can see, the Athlon 64 3500+ actually shares the same 2.2GHz clock speed as the 3400+. So why the higher performance rating for the 3500+? Because the 3400+'s on-die memory controller can only address a single channel of DDR memory. The 3500+'s memory controller is a dual-channel design that offers twice the peak theoretical memory bandwidth of the 3400+, provided you use two DIMMs. So with clock speeds being equal, the 3500+'s extra memory channel earns it a higher performance rating. Simple, right?

Not so fast. The Athlon 64 3500+ and 3400+ also differ in L2 cache size, and when it comes to cache, the 3400+ is better-equipped. The 3400+ is based on an older Clawhammer Athlon 64 core that AMD endowed with 1MB of L2 cache, while the 3500+ is based on a more recent Newcastle core with only 512KB of L2. The 3500+ may have twice the memory channels of the 3400+, but it only has half as much L2 cache.

Based on their Athlon 64 performance ratings, AMD apparently feels that the 3500+'s dual-channel memory controller can more than compensate for the chip's smaller L2 cache. They may be right, but it's hard to believe that the 3400+'s larger cache won't give it the upper hand in at least a couple of tests. We have plenty of benchmark results to sift through to find out.