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AMD's Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor

The X2 hits 3GHz

IF YOU FOLLOW CPUs at all, you already know that Intel has been pretty much cleaning up with its Core 2 processors. Since this past summer, Intel has had the drop on AMD thanks to an excellent new microarchitecture that delivers high performance with low power consumption—a killer combo. AMD has been creeping slowly ahead itself toward a 65nm manufacturing process and its own new microarchitecture, due in the middle of this year. In the meantime, though, the Athlon 64 has fallen out of favor with enthusiasts somewhat, only making one of the four primary configs in our latest system guide—and the low-end one, at that.

AMD is looking to stem the tide with the only tools available to it in the short term, and they're both very old-school: a price cut and a clock speed increase. Can these time-worn techniques put the Athlon 64 back on the map in this age of fancy-pants architectural tweaks and CPU cores multiplying like guppies? The Athlon 64 X2 6000+ is a great test case. It now costs less than its natural competitor, the Core 2 Duo E6700, and it has quietly become the first Athlon 64 X2 processor to reach the 3GHz milestone.

The X2 6000+ debuts amid a changing landscape, as well. Windows Vista is here, and the conversion to Vista will likely mean increased uptake for 64-bit software on the desktop. Accordingly, we've moved our CPU testing to Windows Vista x64, with a healthy mix of 64-bit and multithreaded code to run on it. Keep reading to see how the X2 6000+ fares in this new environment.

The X2 6000+ up close
The Athlon 64 X2 is a familiar quantity by now, so I'll spare you the details. The vitals on the X2 6000+ are simply this: two cores at 3GHz with 1MB of L2 cache per core, primed for Socket AM2. AMD has begun shipping some 65nm processors, but this isn't one of them; it's still made using a 90nm fab process. The combination of a high clock speed and a 90nm fab process brings the X2 6000+ one less desirable trait: a max thermal power rating of 125W, well above the 65W and 89W ratings of the lower rungs of the Athlon 64 lineup.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are some unnecessarily large close-ups of our X2 6000+ review sample.

Yep. Uh huh.

As I said before, this processor's most natural competitor is the Core 2 Duo E6700, which runs at 2.66GHz but has the higher clock-for-clock performance of Intel's Core microarchitecture going for it. Concomitant with its lower clock speed and 65nm fab process, the E6700 has a much nicer thermal design power rating of only 65W, as well. AMD seems to have built a discount into the X2 6000+ in order to make up for that shortcoming. The E6700 currently lists for $530, and the X2 6000+ undercuts it with an initial price of $459. Below this price point, things align more closely, with the X2 5600+ at $326 facing off against the E6600 at $316. Above this price point, you're into quad-core territory.

Thus, to keep things simple, we've decided to clear off the table and match up the X2 6000+ against the Core 2 Duo E6700 for a head-to-head comparison. (Well, that and we've spent too much time figuring out how to sidestep the quirks of Windows Vista to provide you with more results today. We'll be following up with results from additional CPUs—including the less expensive quad-core processors—fairly soon.) Can the Athlon 64 X2 6000+ make a case for itself in the face of formidable competition from Intel? Let's take a look.