AMD’s Phenom II X6 processors

When we asked AMD about the possibility of a six-core desktop processor last summer, shortly after the six-core Istanbul Opteron launch, the company inquired whether we would personally buy such a product. Perhaps not, we replied, but we know some folks would enjoy the option. AMD’s head of server and workstation marketing fired back, “If you have a million friends that need it…”

Barely a month later, AMD officially confirmed plans for a six-core desktop product code-named Thuban, which would be based on AMD’s second-generation six-core Opteron design, complete with DDR3 memory support, HyperTransport 3.0, and likely higher performance. Thuban would come out at some point in 2010. Between then and now, Intel has managed to beat AMD to the punch with the Core i7-980X Extreme. When it hit stores last month, the 980X simultaneously became the world’s first six-core desktop processor and the world’s first 32-nm six-core chip.

Today, AMD finally lifts the veil on the Phenom II X6—to undoubtedly high expectations. Is this the design that will let AMD re-enter battlefields long conceded to Intel’s Core i5 and i7 CPUs, or does it only serve to cement Intel’s leadership in high-end desktop processors?

What makes Thuban special

Hearing the product name—Phenom II X6—one might think Thuban is little more than a Phenom II X4 with a couple of extra cores glued on. After all, it is based on the same architecture, and it works in the same Socket AM2+ and Socket AM3 motherboards. Making that assumption would be unwise, however, because aside from having six cores on a single die instead of four, Thuban departs from today’s Phenom II X4s in two important ways.

The first of those is Turbo Core, whose basic premise should sound familiar to anyone acquainted with Intel’s Core i5 and i7 CPUs. From day one, those Intel chips have featured a technology called Turbo Boost, which dynamically raises the clock speeds of active cores depending on the workload and the available thermal headroom. Turbo Boost cleverly balances clock frequencies and thermals, increasing clock speeds with lightly multithreaded workloads and reducing them when more cores are fully occupied. So long as the headroom is available, Turbo Boost will even keep clock frequencies above the CPU’s rated speed when all cores are quite busy.

AMD’s Turbo Core is simply a different implementation of the same concept. Turbo Core boosts the clocks on up to three of Thuban’s cores when the others aren’t fully loaded, and it raises them substantially—by as much as 500MHz in the case of the Phenom II X6 1055T. AMD’s take on Turbo differs from Intel’s in many details, though.

For instance, Intel’s Turbo Boost employs a network of on-chip thermal sensors and a fairly sophisticated built-in microcontroller dedicated to power management, ensuring the best use of the available thermal headroom. Turbo Boost behavior may vary from chip to chip and system to system, depending on the thermal properties of the individual CPU and on the effectiveness of the cooling solution. By contrast, AMD processors with Turbo Core are screened to meet certain thermal conditions at the factory, and each processor with a given model number should behave the same as any other.

In fact, after a couple of probing conversations with various PR types at AMD, we’re fairly certain Thuban silicon doesn’t contain any substantial new logic dedicated to making Turbo Core work. Turbo Core is essentially an extension of the existing mechanism for management of power states, a la Cool’n’Quiet and SpeedStep. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Although Intel’s way of doing things ought to allow it to squeeze more headroom out of each chip, Turbo Core should provide the advertised improvements in clock speed and performance with minimal drama. Never one to miss a trick, AMD marketing even touts Turbo Core’s consistent, deterministic behavior as a positive trait.

One question we raised when we first reported on Turbo Core was how this mechanism could possibly coexist with AMD’s decision to lock the P-states of all cores together in the Phenom II. We originally explained the rationale for that choice like so:

The firm found that the varying power states (or P-states) on the Phenom could prove to be confusing to the Windows Scheduler, which wouldn’t necessarily choose wisely when deciding whether to schedule a thread on a core with a low P-state or a high one. As a result, enabling the Cool’n’Quiet dynamic power saving feature could lead to unintended performance degradation. To work around this problem, AMD has decided to link together the P-states of the Phenom II’s cores, via some BIOS-level changes.

Locked P-states would mean all cores run at the same clock frequency, which doesn’t mix well with the dynamic symphony that Turbo Core ought to be. Having seen Turbo Core in action and pinged AMD on the matter, we can confirm that the Phenom II X6’s don’t have linked P-states. The cores move up and down in frequency independently of one another, with up to three of them—any three of them, depending on the load at the moment—ranging north of the CPU’s rated clock speed. This behavior is easily observable using the monitoring tool in AMD’s Overdrive utility, and it’s quite the contrast to the cores-in-lock-step operation of a Phenom II X4.

One remaining question is how Thuban is able to avoid the effects of the scheduling problems that led AMD to link the P-states together on earlier Phenom II processors. When we posed this question to the folks in AMD PR at the eleventh hour before publication of this review, they didn’t have a definite answer. However, our casual observations suggest AMD may be using the CPU’s rated clock speed as a common baseline to ensure decent performance when threads jump between cores. For example, the Phenom II X6 1090T has a base clock of 3.2GHz and a Turbo Core peak of 3.6GHz. When a single-threaded application is running on it, no core drops below 3.2GHz. When that application stops and the CPU is essentially idle, all six cores drop down to 800MHz, the minimum speed allowed by Cool’n’Quiet.

Turbo Core should give AMD a much better fighting chance against Intel’s latest wave of CPUs. The lack of such a technology partly explains why Phenom IIs have historically done poorer than Core i5s and i7s in benchmarks; they might be competitive when all four of their cores are busy, but in more lightly multithreaded apps, they’re stuck at their base clock speeds.

The Thuban die. Source: AMD.

AMD had another ace up its sleeve when designing Thuban. The folks at GlobalFoundries have made tweaks to their 45-nm silicon-on-insulator process, adding a low-k dielectric layer to reduce leakage power. The result? Within a given thermal envelope, AMD can achieve nearly the same clock speeds with six cores as a Phenom II X4 did with four cores.

That’s a pretty big deal. The fastest quad-core Phenom II X4 AMD has managed to produce, the 965 Black Edition, runs at 3.4GHz. Meanwhile, the fastest Istanbul six-core Opteron based on the same process technology only does 2.8GHz. AMD might have been able to break 3GHz by taking the same design to the desktop, but a hypothetical Istanbul-derived Phenom II would still be at a disadvantage compared to higher-clocked quad-core products. Many desktop apps don’t take advantage of more than a couple of cores, so in those cases, clock speed becomes the determining factor—and a pair of 3GHz Phenom II cores just ain’t that fast.

Intel stepped down to a whole new process technology to give us a six-core processor, the Core i7-980X Extreme, with the same clock speeds and TDP as its previous flagship, the Core i7-975 Extreme. AMD has pulled off a similar feat of clock scaling and power efficiency while staying at the same 45-nm node. We’ve seen this kind of mid-stream refinement in process tech from AMD in the past, and it has continued through the spin-off of GlobalFoundries as a separate entity. Of course, Intel still has a considerable advantage from a manufacturing perspective, since Gulftown has a 28% smaller die area than Thuban despite having about 56% more transistors, as noted in the table below. Strangely, AMD PR resisted giving us an estimated transistor count for Thuban, but they did point us to the Istanbul Opteron as a point of reference. We suspect the two are essentially identical in this regard, with a few rather minor changes between steppings.

Code name Key

products

Cores Threads Last-level

cache size

Process node

(Nanometers)

Estimated

transistors

(Millions)

Die

area

(mm²)

Penryn Core 2 Duo 2 2 6 MB 45 410 107
Bloomfield Core i7 4 8 8 MB 45 731 263
Lynnfield Core i5, i7 4 8 8 MB 45 774 296
Westmere Core i3, i5 2 4 4 MB 32 383 81
Gulftown Core i7-980X 6 12 12 MB 32 1170 248
Deneb Phenom II 4 4 6 MB 45 758 258
Propus/Rana Athlon II X4/X3 4 4 512 KB x 4 45 300 169
Regor Athlon II X2 2 2 1 MB x 2 45 234 118
Thuban Phenom II X6 6 6 6 MB x 1 45 ~904 346

Gulftown is even smaller than the Deneb silicon inside quad-core Phenom IIs—a clear testament to Intel’s manufacturing superiority. AMD may be able to get away with larger chips and tighter margins than before, though, since it no longer needs to pay the tremendous research and development costs associated with silicon manufacturing. That responsibility now falls upon GlobalFoundries.

As it is, Thuban looks well equipped to put AMD back into contention in the higher echelons of the desktop processor market. The big questions, of course, are how quick those Phenom II X6 CPUs actually are, and how much they cost.

The Phenom II X6 and the competition

We could be comparing AMD’s two Phenom II X6 processors to the Core i7-980X Extreme. We could tell you the AMD chips are based on older process technology and have larger dies yet slightly lower TDP ratings. We could say the 980X and the fastest Phenom II X6 have almost the same base and “turbo” clock speeds, although the Intel part has double the L3 cache, one more memory channel, and twice the thread count. We could go on.

Contrasting these two chips would only have an academic interest, however, because AMD’s pricing dictates an entirely different comparison. You see, instead of going toe-to-toe with the 980X at $999, AMD has opted to offer the fastest of its two Phenom II X6 processors for $295. The slower one has an even lower bulk price: $199. As a result, we’ll largely be comparing the newcomers to Intel’s quad-core, 45-nm Core i5 and i7 products.

Before we do that, we should take a moment to introduce fully the two Phenom II X6 processors AMD has released today:

Model Cores Threads Base core

clock speed

Peak Turbo

clock speed

L3 cache

size

Memory

channels

TDP Price
Phenom II X6 1055T 6 6 2.8 GHz 3.3 GHz 6 MB 2 125W $199
Phenom II X6 1090T

Black Edition

6 6 3.2 GHz 3.6 GHz 6 MB 2 125W $295

Update 04/28: AMD originally told us the Phenom II X6 1090T would have a $285 price tag. Today, the company sent us an e-mail saying the 1090T is in fact priced at $295. We’ve updated this article—including our value section on page 15—to reflect the change.

These CPUs cap off the Phenom II family, whose quad-core models are listed below:

Model Cores Threads Base core

clock speed

Peak Turbo

clock speed

L3 cache

size

Memory

channels

TDP Price
Phenom II X4 905e 4 4 2.5 GHz N/A 6 MB 2 65W $165
Phenom II X4 910e 4 4 2.6 GHz N/A 6 MB 2 65W $175
Phenom II X4 925 4 4 2.8 GHz N/A 6 MB 2 95W $145
Phenom II X4 945 4 4 3.0 GHz N/A 6 MB 2 95W $155
Phenom II X4 955

Black Edition

4 4 3.2 GHz N/A 6 MB 2 125W $165
Phenom II X4 965

Black Edition

4 4 3.4 GHz N/A 6 MB 2 140W $185

As you can see, the Phenom II X6 sets a new high-water mark for both pricing and specifications in AMD’s desktop product line. Remember what we said about power envelopes earlier? The Phenom II X6 1090T can run six cores at the same speed as the quad-core Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition within the same 125W power envelope. When Turbo kicks in and pushes three of its cores to 3.6GHz, the 1090T should also deliver better performance in lightly multithreaded applications than the 965 Black Edition, which maxes out at 3.4GHz regardless of the load.

AMD has positioned both Phenom II X6 variants smack-dab in quad-core Core i5 and i7 territory, although once again, it doesn’t pretend to tackle the high end. Intel’s “Extreme” processors will probably remain unchallenged until at least the next AMD CPU generation.

Model Cores Threads Base core

clock speed

Peak Turbo

clock speed

L3 cache

size

Memory

channels

TDP Price
Core i5-750 4 4 2.66 GHz 3.20 GHz 8 MB 2 95W $196
Core i7-860 4 8 2.80 GHz 3.46 GHz 8 MB 2 95W $284
Core i7-870 4 8 2.93 GHz 3.60 GHz 8 MB 2 95W $562
Core i7-920 4 8 2.66 GHz 2.93 GHz 8 MB 3 130W $284
Core i7-930 4 8 2.80 GHz 3.06 GHz 8 MB 3 130W $294
Core i7-960 4 8 3.20 GHz 3.46 GHz 8 MB 3 130W $562
Core i7-975 Extreme 4 8 3.33 GHz 3.60 GHz 8 MB 3 130W $999
Core i7-980X Extreme 6 12 3.33 GHz 3.60 GHz 12 MB 3 130W $999

In terms of official, bulk pricing numbers, it would appear AMD has priced the Phenom II X6 1055T opposite the Core i5-750 and the 1090T against a pair of Intel offerings: the Core i7-860 and a relative newcomer, the Core i7-930, which essentially replaces the Core i7-920. Those are bold moves. The Core i5-750 in particular has displayed a unique mix of performance, power efficiency, and value, faring exceptionally well in our past value comparisons.

We have tested most of these processors in the following pages. One painful exception is the Core i7-860, which is unfortunately absent. We can still compare the Phenom II X6 1090T to the Core i7-930, and you might also want to keep in mind that the Core i7-860’s performance and power draw would likely be just a little lower than the i7-870’s.

The 890FX chipset and our motherboard

AMD’s new Phenoms are joining us together with a new chipset, the 890FX, which constitutes the new high end for AMD motherboards.

Just like the 790FX before it, the 890FX brings us generous amounts of connectivity options and oodles of PCI Express lanes. Both chipsets actually use pretty much the same north bridge: a slab of 65-nm silicon with 42 lanes of second-generation PCI Express connectivity hooked up to the processor via a 4 GT/s HyperTransport 3.0 link.

AMD pairs this north bridge with its new SB850 south bridge, which we recently reviewed as part of the 890GX chipset. The SB850 delivers six Serial ATA 6Gbps ports (all backward-compatible with previous versions of the standard, of course), 14 USB 2.0 ports, integrated Gigabit Ethernet, and 32-bit PCI connectivity. What differentiates the 890FX from the 890GX is the north-bridge component, then, which lacks integrated graphics but packs considerably more PCIe lanes than in the 890GX.

We’ll talk more about our testing setup shortly, but in case you’re wondering, we did test Thuban using an 890FX mobo—the MSI 890FXA-GD70, to be precise. As the image above attests, this board is part of a new wave of high-end Socket AM3 motherboards meant to match the Phenom II X6’s more upscale pedigree.

Test notes

We’ve underclocked the Core i5-661 to 2.8GHz in order to simulate the Core i3-540. Although we did change the core clock to the proper speed, the processor’s uncore clock remained at the i5-661’s stock frequency. We believe shipping Core i3-540 processors have a 2.13GHz uncore clock, while the i5-661 has a 2.4GHz uncore clock, so our simulated processor may perform slightly better than the real item due to a higher L3 cache speed. The differences are likely to be very minor, based on our experience with Lynnfield parts—the L3 cache is incredibly fast, regardless—but we thought you should know about that possibility.

Additionally, two of our Core i7 processors, the i7-930 and i7-960, are actually an underclocked Core i7-975 Extreme, but in those cases, we’re fairly certain all of the clocks match what they should, since Bloomfield gives us a little more control over such things. In order to run the Core i7-930/960’s memory at 1333MHz, we raised the uncore clock to 2.66GHz. That comes with the territory, and I expect many Core i7-900-series owners have done the same.

Happily, we were able to simulate the Phenom II X6 1055T’s performance, including Turbo Core, quite precisely using AMD’s Overdrive utility, so we’ve included scores for it. One place where we couldn’t do so is in our Folding@Home results, since AMD’s Overdrive utility doesn’t work in Linux, where that benchmark runs.

As is our custom, we’ve omitted the simulated processor speed grades from our power consumption testing.

After consulting with our readers, we’ve decided to enable Windows’ “Balanced” power profile for the bulk of our desktop processor tests, which means power-saving features like SpeedStep and Cool’n’Quiet are operating. (In the past, we only enabled these features for power consumption testing.) Our spot checks demonstrated to us that, typically, there’s no performance penalty for enabling these features on today’s CPUs. If there is a real-world penalty to enabling these features, well, we think that’s worthy of inclusion in our measurements, since the vast majority of desktop processors these days will spend their lives with these features enabled. We did disable these power management features to measure cache latencies, but otherwise, it was unnecessary to do so.

Our testing methods

As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of the scores produced.

Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Athlon II X2 255 3.1GHz

Athlon II X3 440 3.0GHz

Athlon II X4 630 2.8GHz

Athlon II X4 635 2.9GHz

Phenom II X2 550 3.1GHz

Phenom II X4 910e 2.6GHz

Phenom II X4 965 3.4GHz

Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8GHz

Phenom II X6 1090T 3.2GHz

Pentium E6500 2.93GHz

Core 2 Duo E7600 3.06GHz

Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4GHz

Pentium 4 670 3.8GHz Core 2 Duo E8600 3.33GHz

Core 2 Quad Q9400 2.66GHz

Motherboard Gigabyte MA785G-UD2H MSI 890FXA-GD70 Asus P5G43T-M Pro Asus P5G43T-M Pro Asus P5G43T-M Pro
North bridge 785GX 890FX G43 MCH G43 MCH G43 MCH
South bridge SB750 SB850 ICH10R ICH10R ICH10R
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair

CM3X2G1600

C9DHXNV

DDR3 SDRAM

Corsair

CMD8XGX3

M4A1333C7

DDR3 SDRAM

Corsair

CM3X2G

1800C8D

DDR3 SDRAM

Corsair

CM3X2G

1800C8D

DDR3 SDRAM

Corsair

CM3X2G

1800C8D

DDR3 SDRAM

Memory speed 1333 MHz 1333 MHz 1066 MHz 800 MHz 1333 MHz
Memory timings 8-8-8-20 2T 8-8-8-20 2T 7-7-7-20 2T 7-7-7-20 2T 8-8-8-20 2T
Chipset

drivers

AMD AHCI 1.2.0.164 INF update 9.1.1.1020

Rapid Storage Technology 9.5.0.1037

INF update 9.1.1.1020

Rapid Storage Technology 9.5.0.1037

INF update 9.1.1.1020

Rapid Storage Technology 9.5.0.1037

Audio Integrated

SB750/ALC889A with Realtek 6.0.1.5995 drivers

Integrated

SB850/ALC892 with Microsoft 6.1.7600.16385 drivers

Integrated

ICH10R/ ALC887 with Realtek 6.0.1.5995 drivers

Integrated

ICH10R/ALC887 with Realtek 6.0.1.5995 drivers

Integrated

ICH10R/ALC887 with Realtek 6.0.1.5995 drivers

 

Processor Core i5-750 2.66GHz

Core i7-870 2.93GHz

Core i3-530 2.93GHz

Core i3-540 3.06GHz

Core i5-661 3.33GHz

Core i7-920 2.66GHz Core i7-930 2.8GHz

Core i7-960 3.2GHz

Core i7-975 Extreme 3.33GHz

Core i7-980X Extreme 3.33GHz

Motherboard Gigabyte P55A-UD6 Asus P7H57D-V EVO Gigabyte EX58-UD3R Gigabyte X58A-UD5R
North bridge P55 PCH H57 PCH X58 IOH X58 IOH
South bridge ICH10R ICH10R
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 6GB (3 DIMMs) 6GB (3 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair

CM3X2G1600C8D

DDR3 SDRAM

Corsair

CMD4GX3M2A1600C8

DDR3 SDRAM

OCZ

OCZ3B2133LV2G

DDR3 SDRAM

Corsair

TR3X6G1600C8D

DDR3 SDRAM

Memory speed 1333 MHz 1333 MHz 1066 MHz 1333 MHz
Memory timings 8-8-8-20 2T 8-8-8-20 2T 7-7-7-20 2T 8-8-8-20 2T
Chipset

drivers

INF update 9.1.1.1020

Rapid Storage Technology 9.5.0.1037

INF update 9.1.1.1020

Rapid Storage Technology 9.5.0.1037

INF update 9.1.1.1020

Rapid Storage Technology 9.5.0.1037

INF update 9.1.1.1020

Rapid Storage Technology 9.5.0.1037

Audio Integrated

P55 PCH/ALC889 with Realtek 6.0.1.5995 drivers

Integrated

H57 PCH/ALC889 with Realtek 6.0.1.5995 drivers

Integrated

ICH10R/ALC888 with Realtek 6.0.1.5995 drivers

Integrated

ICH10R/ALC889 with Realtek 6.0.1.5995 drivers

They all shared the following common elements:

Hard drive WD RE3 WD1002FBYS 1TB SATA
Discrete graphics Asus ENGTX260 TOP SP216 (GeForce GTX 260) with ForceWare 195.62 drivers
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition RTM
OS updates DirectX August 2009 update
Power supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 610 Watt

We’d like to thank Asus, Corsair, Gigabyte, OCZ, and WD for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. Thanks to Intel and AMD for providing the processors, as well, of course.

The test systems’ Windows desktops were set at 1600×1200 in 32-bit color. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled in the graphics driver control panel.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The tests and methods we employ are usually publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Power consumption and efficiency

For these tests, we used an Extech 380803 power meter to capture power use over a span of time. The meter reads power use at the wall socket, so it incorporates power use from the entire system—the CPU, motherboard, memory, graphics solution, hard drives, and anything else plugged into the power supply unit. (The monitor was plugged into a separate outlet.) We measured how each of our test systems used power across a set time period, during which time we ran Cinebench’s multithreaded rendering test.

We’ll start with the show-your-work stuff, plots of the raw power consumption readings. We’ve broken things down by socket type in order to keep them manageable. Please note that, because our Asus H57 motherboard tends to draw more power than we’d like, we’ve tested power consumption for the Core i5-530 and the Core i5-661 on our P55 mobo, instead. And since we switch to an 890FX board for our Phenom II X6 testing, we went back and re-tested the Phenom II X4 965 on that same motherboard, to give us a direct comparison between the X4 and X6.

We can slice up these raw data in various ways in order to better understand them. We’ll start with a look at idle power, taken from the trailing edge of our test period, after all CPUs have completed the render. Next, we can look at peak power draw by taking an average from the ten-second span from 15 to 25 seconds into our test period, when the processors were rendering.

The X6 1090T draws only a little more power under load than a Phenom II X4 965 on the same motherboard, and the X6’s power consumption at idle isn’t much higher than the X4’s, either, despite the presence of two more cores and a heckuva lot more transistors. Against Intel, the competitive situation is mixed. The 1090T’s power draw is comparable to that of the Core i7-920, the closest analog we have in our power tests that’s based on the X58 chipset. However, the P55-based Core i7-870 draws substantially less power than the 1090T.

We can highlight power efficiency by looking at total energy use over our time span. This method takes into account power use both during the render and during the idle time. We can express the result in terms of watt-seconds, also known as joules. (In this case, to keep things manageable, we’re using kilojoules.)

Relatively high power draw at idle contributes to a shaky showing for the X6 1090T here. The Core i7-920 is in the same boat, though, as are the other processors based on Intel’s X58 platform. The lower-end Intel platforms, including the older Core 2 parts, fare much better.

We can pinpoint efficiency more effectively by considering the amount of energy used for the task. Since the different systems completed the render at different speeds, we’ve isolated the render period for each system. We’ve then computed the amount of energy used by each system to render the scene. This method should account for both power use and, to some degree, performance, because shorter render times may lead to less energy consumption.

The 1090T’s six cores render this scene very efficiently, finishing quickly enough to put the 1090T near the top of the standings. We don’t have power data for the most directly comparable Intel parts, but the Core i7-920 is very close to the 1090T, and the i7-930 would likely be in the same ballpark.

Meanwhile, the Core i7-870 demonstrates the amazing efficiency of fully Hyper-Threaded Lynnfield processors on the P55 platform. The thing is, there’s a little room for platform-level improvement on the AMD side, as well, as demonstrated by the superior efficiency of the Phenom II X4 965 when tested on an 890GX motherboard rather than the 890FX.

Memory subsystem performance

Now that we’ve considered power efficiency, we’ll move on to our performance results, beginning with some synthetic tests of the CPUs’ memory subsystems. These results don’t track directly with real-world performance, but they do give us some insights into the CPU and system architectures involved. For this first test, the graph is pretty crowded. We’ve tried to be selective, generally only choosing one representative from each architecture. This test is multithreaded, so more cores—with associated L1 and L2 caches—can lead to higher throughput.

The additional cores grant the X6 a straightforward increase in L1 and L2 cache bandwidth. Interestingly, because AMD’s caches are exclusive—that is, the lower-level caches don’t replicate data in the higher-level caches—the total effective cache size on Thuban chips is rather considerable. The L1 data, L2, and L3 caches total up to about 9.4MB. That’s effectively larger, and generally faster, than the Core i7-930’s inclusive cache hierarchy with an 8MB L3. Still, Thuban falls short in cache throughput and total size compared to the 32-nm Core i7-980X, which has six cores of its own and a 12MB last-level cache.

This graph becomes almost impossible to read once we get to the larger block sizes, where we’re really measuring main memory bandwidth. Stream is a better test of that particular attribute.

The X6 chips post a slight but consistent performance increase in the Add and Triad tests compared to older Phenom II processors. That’s likely the result of some tweaks AMD made to the memory controller in Thuban. The gain is not the result of Thuban’s additional cores, because the X6 chips performed best here with only four threads running; those are the results we’ve reported.

We’ve included these results for the sake of completeness, but we’ll admit up front that they may be iffy. This test produces results in CPU cycles, and we convert those numbers to nanoseconds based on clock speeds. Trouble is, clock speeds are no longer static, even though we disable SpeedStep and Cool’n’Quiet for this particular benchmark. Our assumption is that the CPUs will reach their respective turbo peaks during this simple, single-threaded test. However, they may not be doing so in every case. If you assume the X6 1090T is running at its base frequency, it would be at a more pedestrian 50 ns here, not 44. The X6 1055T would be at 57 ns. We’re not sure which is the right answer, and we may have to start disabling turbo in order to conduct these tests.

Interestingly, we measured Thuban’s L3 cache latency at 52 cycles, a little lower than the 57 cycles we saw with the Phenom II X4 965.

Borderlands

This is my favorite game in a long, long time, so I had to use in it our latest CPU test suite. Borderlands is based on Unreal Engine technology and includes built-in speed test, which we used here. We tested with the game set to its highest quality settings at a range of resolutions. The results from the lowest resolutions will highlight the separation between the CPUs best, so I’d pay the most attention to them. The higher resolution results demonstrate what happens when the GeForce GTX 260 graphics card begins to restrict frame rates.

The addition of two more cores and Turbo Core’s higher frequencies don’t seem to offer much benefit here. The X6 1090T runs slightly behind the X4 965 at lower resolutions, and the closest competition from Intel is clearly faster.

Modern Warfare 2

With Modern Warfare 2, we used FRAPS to record frame rates over the course of a 60-second gameplay session. We conducted this gameplay session five times on each CPU and have reported the median score from each processor. We’ve also graphed the frame rates from a single, representative session for each. We tested this game at a relatively low 1024×768 resolution, with no AA, but otherwise using the highest in-game visual quality settings.

AMD’s new entrants don’t do any better in Modern Warfare 2, although here, Intel’s success matters little. Even sub-$100 dual-core processors can crank out a minimum frame rate of about 60 per second, which matches the maximum most LCD monitors can deliver. Processor performance should be the least of your worries in cross-platform titles like these.

Left 4 Dead 2

We tested Left 4 Dead 2 by playing back a custom demo using the game’s timedemo function. Again, we had all of the image quality options cranked, and we tested with 16X anisotropic filtering and 4X antialiasing. The game’s multi-core rendering option was, of course, enabled.

The 1090T consistently trails the X4 965 by a small amount. That suggests the 1090T is generally operating at its 3.2GHz base clock speed in this game, 200MHz shy of the X4 965’s speed. Why is that? For a clue, we can turn to the lower-end AMD processors. Note that the Athlon II X4 635, with four cores at 2.9GHz, outperforms the Phenom II X2 550, with two cores at 3.1GHz (and more cache). That suggests Left 4 Dead 2 is making good use of multithreading, and the presence of four robust threads may be keeping the Phenom II X6 chips from ranging into their Turbo Core frequencies.

In fact, the X6 1090T has yet to best the X4 965 in any of our gaming tests. That’s not a major upset, because newer games running in Windows 7 do seem to take advantage of threading pretty well. We’ll have to keep an eye on this question in other lightly multithreaded benchmarks as we go.

Source engine particle simulation

Next up is a test we picked up during a visit to Valve Software, the developers of the Half-Life games. They had been working to incorporate support for multi-core processors into their Source game engine, and they cooked up some benchmarks to demonstrate the benefits of multithreading.

This test runs a particle simulation inside of the Source engine. Most games today use particle systems to create effects like smoke, steam, and fire, but the realism and interactivity of those effects are limited by the available computing horsepower. Valve’s particle system distributes the load across multiple CPU cores.

Our CPUs are finally put to good use by Valve’s particle simulation test, which shows a clear progression from our cheaper, slower test subjects to their quicker siblings. The Phenom II X6 1055T finds itself almost neck-and-neck with the Core i5-750, its intended target, while the 1090T doesn’t quite manage to catch up to the i7-870 and i7-930.

Productivity

We have, for quite some time now, used WorldBench in our CPU tests. Over that time, we’ve found that some of WorldBench’s tests can be rather temperamental and may refuse to run periodically. We’ve also found that some of the same tests tend to have inconsistent results that aren’t always influenced much by processor performance. Other applications in WorldBench 6, like the Windows Media Encoder 9 test, make little or no use of multithreading, despite the fact that such applications are typically nicely multithreaded these days. As a result, we’ve decided to limit our use of WorldBench to a selection of its applications, rather than the full suite.

MS Office productivity

 

Firefox web browsing

 

Multitasking – Firefox and Windows Media Encoder

The two new Phenom IIs return to their middle-of-the-pack positions in these three benchmarks. The quad-core Phenom II X4 965 outruns its two successors in both Firefox and the multitasking test. Somehow, even the combination of two more cores and Turbo Core isn’t enough to put the 1090T ahead of its predecessor.

File compression and encryption

7-Zip file compression and decompression

We return to more widely multithreaded tasks here, and Thuban shines appropriately, either matching or soundly beating its intended rivals from the Intel camp.

WinZip file compression

The older version of WinZip embedded in WorldBench uses either one or two threads, clearly no more than that. Fortunately, this gives us a chance to see Turbo Core in action, as the 1090T solidly improves on the X4 965’s performance, though it can’t catch the competing Intel offerings.

TrueCrypt disk encryption

Here’s a new addition at our readers’ request. This full-disk encryption suite includes a performance test, for obvious reasons. We tested with a 50MB buffer size and, because the benchmark spits out a lot of data, averaged and summarized the results in a couple of different ways.

How about that. Six cores rule in TrueCrypt, where the Phenom II X6s are second only to the Core i7-980X Extreme… despite costing a fraction of the price. We suspect the picture will change here once TrueCrypt incorporates support for the encryption-specific acceleration instructions built into Intel’s 32-nm processors, but we’re still awaiting a newer revision of this software.

Image processing

The Panorama Factory photo stitching
The Panorama Factory handles an increasingly popular image processing task: joining together multiple images to create a wide-aspect panorama. This task can require lots of memory and can be computationally intensive, so The Panorama Factory comes in a 64-bit version that’s widely multithreaded. I asked it to join four pictures, each eight megapixels, into a glorious panorama of the interior of Damage Labs.

In the past, we’ve added up the time taken by all of the different elements of the panorama creation wizard and reported that number, along with detailed results for each operation. However, doing so is incredibly data-input-intensive, and the process tends to be dominated by a single, long operation: the stitch. So this time around, we’ve simply decided to report the stitch time, which saves us a lot of work and still gets at the heart of the matter.

The Phenom II X6 handles panorama stitching nicely, as the AMD chips pull well ahead of their most direct competitors.

picCOLOR image processing and analysis

picCOLOR was created by Dr. Reinert H. G. Müller of the FIBUS Institute. This isn’t Photoshop; picCOLOR’s image analysis capabilities can be used for scientific applications like particle flow analysis. Dr. Müller has supplied us with new revisions of his program for some time now, all the while optimizing picCOLOR for new advances in CPU technology, including SSE extensions, multiple cores, and Hyper-Threading. Many of its individual functions are multithreaded.

Recently, at our request, Dr. Müller graciously agreed to re-tool his picCOLOR benchmark to incorporate some real-world usage scenarios. As a result, we now have four new tests that employ picCOLOR for image analysis. I’ve included explanations of each test from Dr. Müller below.

Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) is being used for flow measurement in air and water. The medium (air or water) is seeded with tiny particles (1..5um diameter, smoke or oil fog in air, titanium dioxide in water). The tiny particles will follow the flow more or less exactly, except may be in very strong sonic shocks or extremely strong vortices. Now, two images are taken within a very short time interval, for instance 1us. Illumination is a very thin laser light sheet. Image resolution is 1280×1024 pixels. The particles will have moved a little with the flow in the short time interval and the resulting displacement of each particle gives information on the local flow speed and direction. The calculation is done with cross-correlation in small sub-windows (32×32, or 64×64 pixel) with some overlap. Each sub-window will produce a displacement vector that tells us everything about flow speed and direction. The calculation can easily be done multithreaded and is implemented in picCOLOR with up to 8 threads and more on request.

 

Real Time 3D Object Tracking is used for tracking of airplane wing and helicopter blade deflection and deformation in wind tunnel tests. Especially for comparison with numerical simulations, the exact deformation of a wing has to be known. An important application for high speed tracking is the testing of wing flutter, a very dangerous phenomenon. Here, a measurement frequency of 1000Hz and more is required to solve the complex and possibly disastrous motion of an aircraft wing. The function first tracks the objects in 2 images using small recognizable markers on the wing and a stereo camera set-up. Then, a 3D-reconstruction follows in real time using matrix conversions. . . . This test is single threaded, but will be converted to 3 threads in the future.

Multi Barcodes: With this test, several different bar codes are searched on a large image (3200×4400 pixel). These codes are simple 2D codes, EAN13 (=UPC) and 2 of 5. They can be in any rotation and can be extremely fine (down to 1.5 pixel for the thinnest lines). To find the bar codes, the test uses several filters (some of them multithreaded). The bar code edge processing is single threaded, though.

Label Recognition/Rotation is being used as an important pre-processing step for character reading (OCR). For this test in the large bar code image all possible labels are detected and rotated to zero degree text rotation. In a real application, these rotated labels would now be transferred to an OCR-program – there are several good programs available on the market. But all these programs can only accept text in zero degree position. The test uses morphology and different filters (some of them multithreaded) to detect the labels and simple character detection functions to locate the text and to determine the rotational angle of the text. . . . This test uses Rotation in the last important step, which is fully multithreaded with up to 8 threads.

The X6’s strong showings the first two tests are tempered by relatively weak performance in the final two tasks, where even some low-end Intel processors are quicker.

picCOLOR’s synthetic tests put the 1090T ahead of the X4 965 by just a smidgen, but even the Core i5-750 is markedly faster.

Media encoding and editing

x264 HD benchmark

This benchmark tests one of the most popular H.264 video encoders, the open-source x264. The results come in two parts, for the two passes the encoder makes through the video file. I’ve chosen to report them separately, since that’s typically how the results are reported in the public database of results for this benchmark.

Thuban’s six cores excel here. The Phenom II X6 1055T matches the Core i5-750 in the first pass and beats it in the second pass, while the 1090T Black Edition keeps up with the much pricier Core i7-870.

Windows Live Movie Maker 14 video encoding

For this test, we used Windows Live Movie Maker to transcode a 30-minute TV show, recorded in 720p .wtv format on my Windows 7 Media Center system, into a 320×240 WMV-format video format appropriate for mobile devices.

Surprisingly, Microsoft’s consumer video encoder for Windows doesn’t appear to take advantage of more than four threads. Without additional threading, the X6 1090T needs more time to encode this clip than the X4 965 does. The six-core Core i7-980X is in the same boat, unable to surpass the quad-core i7-975.

LAME MT audio encoding

LAME MT is a multithreaded version of the LAME MP3 encoder. LAME MT was created as a demonstration of the benefits of multithreading specifically on a Hyper-Threaded CPU like the Pentium 4. Of course, multithreading works even better on multi-core processors.

Rather than run multiple parallel threads, LAME MT runs the MP3 encoder’s psycho-acoustic analysis function on a separate thread from the rest of the encoder using simple linear pipelining. That is, the psycho-acoustic analysis happens one frame ahead of everything else, and its results are buffered for later use by the second thread. That means this test won’t really use more than two CPU cores.

We have results for two different 64-bit versions of LAME MT from different compilers, one from Microsoft and one from Intel, doing two different types of encoding, variable bit rate and constant bit rate. We are encoding a massive 10-minute, 6-second 101MB WAV file here.

Not much to write home about there. The 1090T is one second quicker than the X4 965 in the single-threaded tests, giving us a small taste of a Turbo Core advantage.

3D modeling and rendering

Cinebench rendering

The Cinebench benchmark is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D rendering engine. It’s multithreaded and comes with a 64-bit executable. This test runs with just a single thread and then with as many threads as CPU cores (or threads, in CPUs with multiple hardware threads per core) are available.

Here, the X6’s six cores, each with formidable floating-point computing power, trump four Intel cores. Both X6 parts outperform their like-priced rivals, and the 1090T also scores higher than the X4 965 in the single-threaded test thanks to some help from Turbo Core.

POV-Ray rendering

We’re using the latest beta version of POV-Ray 3.7 that includes native multithreading and 64-bit support.

The X6 chips continue their strong showing in POV-Ray, especially in the chess2 scene, where all six cores are free to go to town. The situation with the benchmark scene is a little more complicated, because it includes a long, single-threaded operation followed by a multithreaded rendering stage. The processors with a turbo feature should adapt well to both stages.

3ds max rendering

 

Valve VRAD map compilation

This next test processes a map from Half-Life 2 using Valve’s VRAD lighting tool. Valve uses VRAD to pre-compute lighting that goes into games like Half-Life 2.

In our final two rendering tests, the Core i7-930 just beats the Phenom II X6 1090T, while the Core i5-750 trails the 1055T.

Scientific computing

Folding@Home

Next, we have a slick little Folding@Home benchmark CD created by notfred, one of the members of Team TR, our excellent Folding team. For the unfamiliar, Folding@Home is a distributed computing project created by folks at Stanford University that investigates how proteins work in the human body, in an attempt to better understand diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cystic fibrosis. It’s a great way to use your PC’s spare CPU cycles to help advance medical research. I’d encourage you to visit our distributed computing forum and consider joining our team if you haven’t already joined one.

The Folding@Home project uses a number of highly optimized routines to process different types of work units from Stanford’s research projects. The Gromacs core, for instance, uses SSE on Intel processors, 3DNow! on AMD processors, and Altivec on PowerPCs. Overall, Folding@Home should be a great example of real-world scientific computing.

notfred’s Folding Benchmark CD tests the most common work unit types and estimates the number of points per day that a CPU could earn for a Folding team member. The CD itself is a bootable ISO. The CD boots into Linux, detects the system’s processors and Ethernet adapters, picks up an IP address, and downloads the latest versions of the Folding execution cores from Stanford. It then processes a sample work unit of each type.

On a system with two CPU cores, for instance, the CD spins off a Tinker WU on core 1 and an Amber WU on core 2. When either of those WUs are finished, the benchmark moves on to additional WU types, always keeping both cores occupied with some sort of calculation. Should the benchmark run out of new WUs to test, it simply processes another WU in order to prevent any of the cores from going idle as the others finish. Once all four of the WU types have been tested, the benchmark averages the points per day among them. That points-per-day average is then multiplied by the number of cores on the CPU in order to estimate the total number of points per day that CPU might achieve.

This may be a somewhat quirky method of estimating overall performance, but my sense is that it generally ought to work. We’ve discussed some potential reservations about how it works here, for those who are interested.

We have, in the past, included results for multiple WU types, but given the fact that per-core performance results are distorted when Hyper-Threading allows multiple threads to be run simultaneously, we’ve decided simply to report the overall score this time.

If you’re into Folding, the Phenom II X6 1090T looks like a very solid choice, with a small advantage over the Core i7-930 in overall points per day across the four types of work units. Our simulated 1055T couldn’t play here, since this benchmark runs in Linux and AMD’s Overdrive utility runs in Windows.

MyriMatch proteomics

Our benchmarks sometimes come from unexpected places, and such is the case with this one. David Tabb is a friend of mine from high school and a long-time TR reader. He has provided us with an intriguing new benchmark based on an application he’s developed for use in his research work. The application is called MyriMatch, and it’s intended for use in proteomics, or the large-scale study of protein. I’ll stop right here and let him explain what MyriMatch does:

In shotgun proteomics, researchers digest complex mixtures of proteins into peptides, separate them by liquid chromatography, and analyze them by tandem mass spectrometers. This creates data sets containing tens of thousands of spectra that can be identified to peptide sequences drawn from the known genomes for most lab organisms. The first software for this purpose was Sequest, created by John Yates and Jimmy Eng at the University of Washington. Recently, David Tabb and Matthew Chambers at Vanderbilt University developed MyriMatch, an algorithm that can exploit multiple cores and multiple computers for this matching. Source code and binaries of MyriMatch are publicly available.
In this test, 5555 tandem mass spectra from a Thermo LTQ mass spectrometer are identified to peptides generated from the 6714 proteins of S. cerevisiae (baker’s yeast). The data set was provided by Andy Link at Vanderbilt University. The FASTA protein sequence database was provided by the Saccharomyces Genome Database.

MyriMatch uses threading to accelerate the handling of protein sequences. The database (read into memory) is separated into a number of jobs, typically the number of threads multiplied by 10. If four threads are used in the above database, for example, each job consists of 168 protein sequences (1/40th of the database). When a thread finishes handling all proteins in the current job, it accepts another job from the queue. This technique is intended to minimize synchronization overhead between threads and minimize CPU idle time.

The most important news for us is that MyriMatch is a widely multithreaded real-world application that we can use with a relevant data set. MyriMatch also offers control over the number of threads used, so we’ve tested with one to eight threads.

I should mention that performance scaling in MyriMatch tends to be limited by several factors, including memory bandwidth, as David explains:

Inefficiencies in scaling occur from a variety of sources. First, each thread is comparing to a common collection of tandem mass spectra in memory. Although most peptides will be compared to different spectra within the collection, sometimes multiple threads attempt to compare to the same spectra simultaneously, necessitating a mutex mechanism for each spectrum. Second, the number of spectra in memory far exceeds the capacity of processor caches, and so the memory controller gets a fair workout during execution.

Here’s how the processors performed.

Two facets of Intel’s architecture, Hyper-Threading and an excellent memory subsystem, help grant the Core i7 processors the lead here. Something interesting to note: with six threads active, the Core i7-930 finishes in 78 seconds, two seconds behind the Phenom II X6 1090T. Thing is, the X6 is maxed out and doesn’t benefit from spinning off extra threads, while the i7-930 shaves off additional time when going to eight threads across its four cores.

STARS Euler3d computational fluid dynamics

Charles O’Neill works in the Computational Aeroservoelasticity Laboratory at Oklahoma State University, and he contacted us to suggest we try the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) benchmark based on the STARS Euler3D structural analysis routines developed at CASELab. This benchmark has been available to the public for some time in single-threaded form, but Charles was kind enough to put together a multithreaded version of the benchmark for us with a larger data set. He has also put a web page online with a downloadable version of the multithreaded benchmark, a description, and some results here.

In this test, the application is basically doing analysis of airflow over an aircraft wing. I will step out of the way and let Charles explain the rest:

The benchmark testcase is the AGARD 445.6 aeroelastic test wing. The wing uses a NACA 65A004 airfoil section and has a panel aspect ratio of 1.65, taper ratio of 0.66, and a quarter-chord sweep angle of 45º. This AGARD wing was tested at the NASA Langley Research Center in the 16-foot Transonic Dynamics Tunnel and is a standard aeroelastic test case used for validation of unsteady, compressible CFD codes.
The CFD grid contains 1.23 million tetrahedral elements and 223 thousand nodes . . . . The benchmark executable advances the Mach 0.50 AGARD flow solution. A benchmark score is reported as a CFD cycle frequency in Hertz.

So the higher the score, the faster the computer. Charles tells me these CFD solvers are very floating-point intensive, but they’re oftentimes limited primarily by memory bandwidth. He has modified the benchmark for us in order to enable control over the number of threads used. Here’s how our contenders handled the test with different thread counts.

Although this is a very different sort of application, these results play out similarly to our MyriMatch scores above. This time, however, the X6 1090T can’t even match the Core i5-750. Meanwhile, the six-core Gulftown chip is nearly twice as fast as Thuban. Sobering.

Overclocking

The X6 1090T is a Black Edition processor, so its multiplier is unlocked for easy overclocking. Combine that with Turbo Core and AMD’s Windows-based Overdrive tweaking utility, and you have utter, total control over the way this thing operates. AMD exposes all of the knobs and dials for Turbo Core right in Overdrive, so you can define how many cores will Turbo up and how far they’ll go.

The utility even lets the user choose the peak voltage used when cores range into Turbo territory—and yes, all of this overclocking goodness works seamlessly in conjunction with Cool’n’Quiet, for lower power draw at idle. As always, Overdrive offers control over the regular, non-Turbo clock multiplier and CPU voltage, too, so you can brew up your own cocktail of excess for both lightly and heavily multithreaded workloads.

Here’s a look at the Overdrive monitoring page in action during one of our overclocking attempts. The cores’ clock speeds range between 3.2GHz and 3.6GHz, and oddly enough, the CPU voltages appear to vary from one core to the next. (For what it’s worth, I believe the Phenom II has a single voltage plane for all cores, and I’d chalk up the variance here to monitoring lag in a very dynamic situation.)

Faced with the prospect of getting to play with all of these knobs and dials, we took the rare step of forsaking our beloved BIOS-based overclocking methods. Via Overdrive, we created a custom profile for our Phenom II X6 1090T that had a base clock of 3.9GHz at 1.4V and a Turbo Core clock of 4.3GHz at 1.525V. I’m not sure what to make of this, but that config seemed to be optimal. Although we were using a beefy tower cooler that generally kept CPU temperatures in check, raising the base clock for all six cores to 4GHz just didn’t work out well for us. One of our test apps would crash or the system would lock, despite raising the base CPU voltage as far as 1.525V. Similarly, taking the Turbo Core max to 4.4GHz wasn’t stable, even if we pushed the Turbo voltage up to 1.55V. Perhaps with a little more tweaking, we could have hit 4.3GHz stable across all six cores, or a larger subset than the Turbo Core default of three, but we devoted an awful lot of time just getting as far as we did.

Here’s how the X6 1090T performs at those considerable clock rates:

It’s faster than a Core i7-975 Extreme, which is pretty darned good. Still, that’s a fair distance from the monstrous Core i7-980X.

What about power consumption at this speed and voltage?

Since all of its power-saving mojo is intact and working properly, the overclocked 1090T draws no more power at idle than its stock-clocked self. Peak power draw is up considerably, well above the Core i7-975 Extreme, but not quite to the dizzying 322W zenith that the overclocked Core i7-980X system reaches. With good aftermarket cooling, you may find a decent amount of headroom of the Phenom II X6, as we did in our sample.

The value proposition

Now that we’ve buried you under mounds of information, what can we make of it all? One way to filter the information is to consider the value proposition for each CPU model. Exercises like this one are inherently fraught with various, scary dangers—giving the wrong impression, committing bad math, overemphasizing price, coming off as irredeemably cheesy—but our value comparisons have proven to be popular over time, so we’ve taken another crack at it.

What we’ve done is mash up all of our performance data in one, big summary value for each processor. The performance data for each benchmark was converted to a percentage using the Pentium 4 670 as the baseline. We’ve included nearly every benchmark we used in our overall index, with the exception of the purely synthetic tests like Stream. We excluded MyriMatch, Euler3D, and Folding@Home, since not all processors were tested in those benchmarks. In cases where the benchmarks had multiple components, we used an overall mean rather than including every component score individually. Each benchmark should thus be represented and weighted equally in the final tally. (The one case where we didn’t average together a single application’s output was WorldBench’s two 3ds max tests, since one measures 3D modeling performance and the other rendering.)

This overall performance index makes us a little bit wary, because it’s simply a mash-up of results from various tests, rather than an index carefully weighted to express a certain set of priorities. Still, our test suite itself is intended to cover the general desktop PC’s usage model, so the index ought to suffice for this exercise.

We then took prices for each CPU from the official Intel and AMD price lists. For our historical comparison, we’ve also included the Core 2 Quad Q6600 and the Pentium 4 670 in a couple of places at their initial launch prices.

If we simply take overall performance and divide by price, we get results that look like this:

By this measure, you should almost always buy one of the cheapest CPUs on the market. This bar chart gives us a strong sense of value, but it may focus our attention a little too exclusively on CPU prices alone. For many of us, time is money, and faster computer hardware is relatively inexpensive. What we really want to know is where we can find the best combination of price and performance for our needs. To give us a better visual sense of that, we’ve devised our nefarious scatter plots.

The faster a processor is, the higher on the chart it will be. The cheaper it is, the closer to the left edge. The better values, then, tend to be closer to the top-left corner of the plot. If you wish, you can find your price range and look for the best performer in that area.

AMD’s new Phenom II X6 processors fare rather well here. The X6 1055T eclipses its closest rival, the Core i5-750. Meanwhile, the 1090T falls between the Core i7-930 and the much pricier Core i7-870 on both the performance and price axes.

That gets us closer to the heart of the matter, but in reality, the price of a processor is just one component of a PC’s total cost, and the various platforms do have some price disparities between them. Echoing our last CPU roundup, we fashioned some sample systems loosely based on the Utility Player build in our latest system guide for each platform type. Our goal was to achieve rough parity by selecting full-sized ATX motherboards with similar, enthusiast-friendly feature sets. Here are the components we picked for the different platforms, along with system prices:

Platform Total price Motherboard Memory Common components
AMD 890GX $656.94 Asus M4A89GTD Pro

($139.99)

4GB Kingston DDR3-1333

($104.99)

XFX Radeon HD 5770 1GB graphics card ($159.99), Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB hard drive ($109.99), Samsung SH-S223L DVD burner ($26.99), Antec Sonata III case with 500W PSU ($114.99)
Intel P45 $656.94 Gigabyte GA-EP45T-USB3P

($139.99)

Intel P55 $649.94 Gigabyte GA-P55-UD3

($132.99)

Intel X58 $789.94 Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R

($199.99)

6GB OCZ DDR3-1600

($177.99)

What happens when we factor these rather considerable system prices into our value equation?

Whoa. Not just one, but both of the Phenom II X6s dethrone the Core i5-750. We can probably attribute these rankings to the six-core AMD chips’ much higher performance in highly multithreaded tasks, since the Phenom II X6 1055T often falls close to (and sometimes below) the i5-750 in other apps.

The scatter plot gives us a little more context and highlights another interesting matchup: that of the Phenom II X6 1090T versus the Core i7-930. While both processors perform roughly in the same ballpark in our test suite overall, the Intel chip requires relatively expensive X58 motherboards and triple-channel memory kits, while the AMD chip works happily in more affordable 890GX mobos (and even cheaper Socket AM3 offerings) with dual-channel RAM. The 1090T ends up looking somewhat more attractive as a result.

Performance per dollar isn’t the whole story these days, though. The power efficiency of a processor increasingly helps determine its value proposition for a host of reasons, from total system costs to noise levels to the size of your electric bill. We measured full system power draw and considered efficiency earlier in this article; now, we can factor in system prices to give us a sense of power-efficient performance per dollar.

Despite making inroads on the performance-per-dollar front, AMD still hasn’t quite nabbed the power-efficiency value crown, which falls upon the Core i5-750 once again. The Phenom II X6 1090T still manages to outdo the Core i7-870, though.

Conclusions

One may look at the information we’ve presented in the preceding pages in two ways.

On the product front, the Phenom II X6 processors are unabashedly good news. AMD has managed to create a pair of new processors whose performance and value propositions are even better than some of Intel’s most attractive offerings, the Core i7-930 and the Core i5-750. That’s a considerable achievement, attributable to Thuban’s two major new features. Turbo Core offers a modest but measurable performance boost in lightly multithreaded workloads, while the addition of two cores brings more consequential improvements in heavily multithreaded tasks like video encoding, 3D rendering, and scientific computing. The fact that these things happen in the same 125W power envelope as the Phenom II X4 is cause for celebration. The Phenom II X6 chips match up pretty well against the Core i7-900 series in terms of power efficiency, although they have a ways to go to catch Intel’s Lynnfield processors on the P55 platform.

We absolutely love the degree of control over everything that AMD has exposed in the 1090T Black Edition via its Overdrive utility, too. Those who are prone to tinker will almost surely be able to extract some extra performance from the X6 1090T. If you’re considering building a new system, the Phenom II X6 should at least be part of the conversation. If you already own a Socket AM2+ or Socket AM3 system and are looking to upgrade, the X6 may be the way to go.

On the other hand, to be a real downer, AMD’s accomplishment here is essentially to match the Core i7-940, a product Intel first introduced in the fall of 2008. Against Bloomfield, Thuban is slower in lightly threaded applications and in cases where memory bandwidth is the primary constraint. The 45-nm Bloomfield chip is substantially smaller than Thuban, too. Now, Intel is building an even smaller 32-nm Gulftown part with six cores and, as you’ve seen in the preceding pages, otherworldly performance. AMD is once again contending in the middle range of the CPU market with a compelling product, but technology-wise, they still have a long, tough road ahead before catching Intel.

We’re not convinced that fact will matter to most folks, though. If you have between $200 and $300 in your budget for your next CPU purchase, the Phenom II X6 merits serious consideration, because it’s a solid value for the money.

Comments closed
    • anotherengineer
    • 9 years ago

    The 1090T can also undervolt quite a bit to save power.

    see post #68

    §[<http://forums.techpowerup.com/showthread.php?t=121240&page=3<]§

    • GreatGooglyMoogly
    • 10 years ago

    Like others have pointed out, omitting the i7 860 is odd. Why favour the 870 which is twice the price over the 860 which is almost the same price as this 6-core Phenom…?

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      Yes it’s too bad but not a huge deal you just have to put a little thought in to it. The i7-860 is <5% slower than the i7-870 so you can figure out where it would fit on the value scatter plots pretty easily, the perf/$ bar graph is not as easy but when you figure that it’s basically the same system price overall as the x6 1090T and performs just about the same it would probably be a draw.

      The omission does however make the x6 look like it has a lot less competition than it really does. The shame of the review is that in the conclusion the i7-860 is not mentioned at all when in fact it is the direct competition for the 1090T. At $200 the 1055T looks very solid though.

    • HurgyMcGurgyGurg
    • 10 years ago

    Please, please, please, consider including Bad Company 2 in future CPU benchmarks. I’m on an overclocked e8400 and this guy get’s barely 45 fps on high settings and it is definitively CPU bound.

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      Indeed, this game does utilize quad-core chips. 😉

      • Meadows
      • 10 years ago

      What GPU do you have?

        • StuG
        • 10 years ago

        I would think anybody with a decent GPU would see the CPU get hammered still. I know mine does, and my 5870’s don’t even max out with the 60 FPS VS cap.

    • Freon
    • 10 years ago

    Looks like a great choice if you are wanting the best performance/price for some of those specific encoding and image processing tasks.

    • Cyril
    • 10 years ago

    I’ve just fixed two inaccuracies in our graphs at the bottom of page 15. I had mistakenly copied the “task energy” datum from the 1090T’s column to the 910e’s, so that chip was higher on the power-efficiency-per-dollar bar graph than it should have been.

    Separately from that, a mishap with my graph labeling script caused the labels for the 1090T and 910e to be swapped on our power-efficiency-per-dollar scatter plot.

    I’ve made the appropriate corrections, so the two affected graphs on that page now should be accurate. Our commentary and conclusion remain unchanged.

    • bimmerlovere39
    • 10 years ago

    Gigabyte has released a BIOS update for the GA-MA790X-UD4P, if anyone cares.

    • Cyril
    • 10 years ago

    FYI: AMD originally told us the Phenom II X6 1090T would have a $285 price tag. Today, the company sent us an e-mail saying the 1090T is in fact priced at $295. We’ve updated this article—including our value section on page 15—to reflect the change.

    • ish718
    • 10 years ago

    Quite impressive, coming from AMD. We might see an Phenom II x8 before they release “bulldozer”…

    AMD already has a 115W 12 core 2.1ghz server/workstation cpu out…

      • khands
      • 10 years ago

      If we do, it’s not on their road map.

    • ClickClick5
    • 10 years ago

    Video encoding and folding…otherwise, what would six cores be needed for?

    Very future proof though!

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 10 years ago

    Hey TR crew —

    Nice review. It is nice to see AMD adding the extra effort to make a processor better, adding 2 more cores for almost the same amount of power is VERY impressive. Of course, Intel is out there, but so are their prices. I’m start to give AMD more and more of my attention.

    I still can’t find a need to get out of the 2 core area yet. My next bump will be 4 cores at most. But adding the 6 cores can only be good for the customers, it give them something to build up on and hopefully lowers the prices for the older CPUs.

    Thanks for the hard work and keep it up.

    • zagortenay
    • 10 years ago

    One of the more “balanced” reviews on the web, thank you for the effort!
    Regardless of all these benchmarks, Thuban chip is a major improvement over Phenom II X4. This is not a Nehalem Killer, but it doesn’t have to be. 6 is more than 4 in my book (hey, Intel still charges you the same price for most 2 cores), future proof (2 years later 6 cores will be entry level and besides that, there is still a hope Bulldozer will fit in existing AMD platforms), runs cool, overcloks to 4 GHz. with ease and best of all it is quite affordable. I beleive X6 1055 is an amazing value at 199$ and is a more viable option than the i5 750. Although users report the same OC capacity as the X6 1095T in forums, I would be satisfied with a 3.8 Ghz OC; more than enough to play games, combined with my HD 5850 at 1920X1080 resolution.

    • mcforce0208
    • 10 years ago

    Good review, nice to see AMD stepping it up a notch.

    • fitten
    • 10 years ago

    What’s interesting is that Microcenter has been selling the i7-920 and i7-930 at $220 or less (I think the 930 is $199 now) for quite a while… 50% off the prices used here. I have no idea how they are doing it but they are.

      • DreadCthulhu
      • 10 years ago

      I am pretty sure Microcenter has been using CPUs as a loss-leader product, hopes to make up the difference if you get your mobo/RAM, ect there.

        • flip-mode
        • 10 years ago

        I’m pretty sure you’re right, but it’s not so much the mobo and RAM that make up the difference, but the blank CDs and DVDs, the accessories, the peripherals, and especially the small knickknacks like USB and Firewire cables, mouse pads, canned air, etc.

        • grantmeaname
        • 10 years ago

        they always have.

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 10 years ago

      “I have no idea how they are doing it”

      1,000 unit tray prices sites always quote aren’t necessarily what big stores are paying to get each one. They seem more like a minimum advertisable price, in reality.

      Their profit margins may not be high, but they’re bound to have some wiggle room. Microcenter seem to be content with foregoing that completely.

      If you can give up a small profit on one thing, but it’s something that people are going to buy many other expensive things with at the same time, why not? People are stuck buying a new board just for those, at the very least.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 years ago

      Meaningless to me, since I’d have to drive nearly 4 hours to get to a MicroCenter.

        • poulpy
        • 10 years ago

        Well if we go into individual cases then I’d have to take an 8 hours plane ride before even landing in the right country.
        And don’t get me started with those poor suckers down below, they’d lose -what- 20-odd hours of their life!

        • LoneHowler
        • 10 years ago

        But ever so lovely for those of us that live within a metropolitan area that has one (St. Louis in my case)…

          • derFunkenstein
          • 10 years ago

          Wait, there’s a Microcenter in St. Louis now? Well I take it all back.

        • fitten
        • 10 years ago

        You don’t have access to the web? 😉

          • derFunkenstein
          • 10 years ago

          Microcenter doesn’t ship those CPUs.

    • BeowulfSchaeffer
    • 10 years ago

    Hummm…. I wonder how a dual processor board with 12 cores would do…

    • shank15217
    • 10 years ago

    The new 800 series chipsets are really nice due to the IOMMU unit. You can now expose hardware like a Radeon 5870 directly to a VM which is a pretty big deal for driver and gpu development in multiple platforms. AMD keeps giving more for less…

    • maroon1
    • 10 years ago

    Where i7 930 or i7 860 ? I don’t see any of those in the review

    • Meadows
    • 10 years ago

    45 nm technology hurts the power consumption figures badly, might affect the OC potential too, regardless of how impressive that proved to be. OverDrive flexibility is amazing though. This is one golden processor, make no mistake, but AMD seriously need to make it lean now with updated process tech.

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      I beg to differ.

      It is amazing what AMD and Global Foundries managed to pull off with their 45nm process. They add two additional cores and it had only increase the power consumption by a small amount over the previous X4s.

      X6s rival or sometimes beat Nehalem-based chips (45nm) in power efficiency. Only the 32nm chips from Intel are outright superior.

        • Meadows
        • 10 years ago

        g{

          • Prion
          • 10 years ago

          Trolling is a art.

          • Krogoth
          • 10 years ago

          Stop trying to troll.

          It is making you look very silly. The entire act is juvenile at best.

            • tfp
            • 10 years ago

            I wish both of you would stop no one wants to read it.

            • flip-mode
            • 10 years ago

            I don’t mind. :shrug:

            • dmjifn
            • 10 years ago

            Whenever I see it, I think of a certain quote from GoW1 by Dom about Baird & Fenix. Brings back some good memories.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 10 years ago

            like two a**holes on their first date. I agree.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            Stop ninja-editing all your comments, then. Your grammar goddamn sucks, so at least be honest about it.

            • Krogoth
            • 10 years ago

            You are getting desperate now?

            BTW, thanks for the cheap laugh or two. I have never seen such pathetic attempts at trolling.

            • Fragnificent
            • 10 years ago

            Meadows, stop being a fucking moron and a troll…Krog’s a good guy, leave him alone. You contribute nothing, and most people here are sick of listening to you. Go away.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            Language, young man.

            • Fragnificent
            • 10 years ago

            F*ck you. Better? Seriously all you do is leave condescending comments about people’s grammar and spelling. And when your comments are tech related, they’re mostly wrong. Please just go away?

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            Then I posit you ought to point out exactly /[

            • NeelyCam
            • 10 years ago

            Whining about typos or grammar is just pathetic. It’s not funny, doesn’t contribute to the discussion, and can’t be considered an intellectual trolling response to anything.

            • Fragnificent
            • 10 years ago

            The fact that you’d call someone you don’t know a “retard” anonymously on the internet proves my point. Perhaps your tiny little brain can’t consider that perhaps other people could be dyslexic, or have something other than English as their first language? What are you the internet Police?

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            He frequently cites living in the US, which is the primary basis for my poking.

            • Fragnificent
            • 10 years ago

            Well, I am done feeding the troll here, but I’ll leave with this winning shot: You’re dumber than I thought if you think that US = good English grammar. Many people here don’t speak English at all, let alone have good grammar. Get off the internet and go to class!

            • Krogoth
            • 10 years ago

            Grow up man.

            You lost this round at the Trolling Olympics. Not that winning it accomplishes anything meaningful.

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            Explain how I “lost”.

            • Krogoth
            • 10 years ago

            Don’t feint ignorance on us.

            • NeelyCam
            • 10 years ago

            <Don’t do it – it’s a trap!>

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            *[

            • Krogoth
            • 10 years ago

            Go wank under your little bridge.

            The mental masturbation certainly feels good to you, but rest of the world doesn’t give a hoot about it.

            • Damage
            • 10 years ago

            Consider this thread locked and yourselves both on probation. I’m tired enough of these pointless exchanges to just ban you both if it keeps up.

      • poulpy
      • 10 years ago

      q[http://www.anandtech.com/show/3676/phenom-ii-x6-4ghz-and-beyond-in-64bit-oses<]§

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 10 years ago

      Badly? It has 50% more cores than all of the other 45nm quad-cores, and yet, it roughly matches any of them, as every single site I’ve come across shows.

      TR actually has the worst power figures I’ve seen, and it’s still not much of a difference from other 45nm quad-cores at 100% load. When you do you actually see a 100% load?

      If anyone’s “hurting,” it’s Intel, who have no excuse for not at least matching that level of efficiency at 45nm. But then their expensive 32nm CPUs would look silly, so it won’t happen.

        • NeelyCam
        • 10 years ago

        *Stupidity surgically removed*

          • Krogoth
          • 10 years ago

          FYI, 980X is at 32nm.

          He was referring to 45nm chips (Lynnfield/Bloomfield). AMD/GF have the edge in power efficiency. Intel probably could do better with their 45nm stuff, but chose not to.

            • NeelyCam
            • 10 years ago

            I know 980X is 32nm… but I misread OAS’ post.

            • NeelyCam
            • 10 years ago

            Lynnfields are incredibly energy efficient – I’m not sure what you mean…?

        • NeelyCam
        • 10 years ago

        To me it seems that i7-870 is very efficient; much more efficient than either X6, and has better performance in many/most cases. So, I’m not sure what your point is…

    • redpriest
    • 10 years ago

    I might get this to replace my i7-920 rig. I like the fact I can change the turbo/modes – clock speeds on the fly. Although my i7-920 is at 3.8 GHz, it uses an exorbitant amount of electricity to do so; having the flexibility of changing clock speeds without having to go to BIOS might be a winner for me – with a small drop in performance (10%-15%?) being acceptable to me.

    Should note though that I’m *thinking* of it – not definitely doing it 🙂

      • StuG
      • 10 years ago

      Why wouldn’t you just drop your i7 clock speed down?

    • Mr Bill
    • 10 years ago

    We should bear in mind that the Black Edition versions of the Thuban are meant to run comfortably with faster memory settings than DDR3 of 1033 MHz and NB of 2000 MHz. The Lost Circuits review of the Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition used the settings below. It makes a difference.

    “The memory was run at 1600 MHz 8-8-8 with the NB frequency set to 2400 MHz according to the Black Edition Memory Profile used.”
    from:
    §[<http://www.lostcircuits.com/mambo//index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=81&Itemid=1&limit=1&limitstart=4<]§

    • Voldenuit
    • 10 years ago

    Great article.

    A note about value comparisons, though. A Phenom II X6 is a drop in upgrade to an AM3 system, whereas an intel user will usually find no decent upgrade path. That’s money saved on motherboard and RAM right there.

    /kicks self for getting LGA775.

    Also, AMDs midrange platforms have a lot more PCIE connectivity than P55/H55, which is ridiculously starved of lanes for a “modern” chipset.

    And lastly, don’t forget that Bulldozer will also be AM3, so that’s yet /[

      • potatochobit
      • 10 years ago

      uhhhh
      I hope you mean kicks yourself two years ago
      which I dont think you should be doing
      unless you mean this year
      and then you should use a hammer

        • Voldenuit
        • 10 years ago

        Haha, no I got a LGA 775 2.5 years ago, when Wolfdale was the new hotness, and circumstance necessitated I migrate to another LGA 775 build last year.

        I’ve been pretty unimpressed with H55/P55 as a platform, despite how good the Core i5 and i7 chips are, and X58 was just poor value all-round.

        If I had gone AM2+ or AM3 back at the start, though, a Phenom II X6 could be a drop-in upgrade today.

        In any case, my next build will be AM3, the question is whether my current rig lasts me until Bulldozer or I get a X4/X6 T processor in the meantime.

      • NeelyCam
      • 10 years ago

      i7-920->Gulftown upgrade path was well known for a long time; some people were buying cheap 920’s for upgrading to Gulftown later.

      I personally wouldn’t plan for a near-$1k CPU, though..

    • just brew it!
    • 10 years ago

    So it looks like this CPU isn’t a game-winning grand slam… but it’s at least a bases loaded double. Nice to see that AMD is still in the game.

    If Asus issues a BIOS update for the M3A78-CM that supports this beast, I may consider getting one.

    • End User
    • 10 years ago

    I’m sold on the 1055T for my server/video encoding rig upgrade.

    That OC’ed i3-530 is a monster! It would be cool if you added some cheaper i5/i7 models to the OC list (OC’ed i5-750/i7-930/i7-860). The i7s are $300 CPUs that should be able to get up to 4.2’ish on air with CINEBENCH R10 scores of roughly 6000/24000 with the i5-750 not too far behind.

    • NeelyCam
    • 10 years ago

    Overall, X6 looks like a reasonable stop-gap measure. Competitive with Intel’s offerings in the same price range. Better in some niche applications.

    Nothing exciting, though. Let’s see if next year will be more interesting.

    And the die size again implies less than competitive profits.

    • gamoniac
    • 10 years ago

    Nice article, Wasson and Kowaliski. I have read many 1090T and 1055T reviews today, and I have to say, this is the best of all! I especially love the value-price chart. It really puts things in perspective.

    Keep up the great work, and thanks for the hard work you put in this!

    • Palek
    • 10 years ago

    Excellent review, as always! You guys really separate yourselves from the rest of the pack with all the attention and effort you put into each article.

    Most other tech sites seem content to cut and paste 90% (and that may be a generous estimate) of their new articles from old ones, and it shows in the quality of the writing and the enjoyment I derive from reading them.

    New TechReport articles are always a treat. I won’t name names, but going through another Thuban review at another big-name site was a chore.

    Keep up the good work!

    • StuG
    • 10 years ago

    Pretty Impressive, give me a higher core clock w/o turbo and I will give you my money AMD.

    • wira020
    • 10 years ago

    To enable turbo core, one need to let Overdrive on all the time?

    My experience with the overdrive utility aint so good so far… the software kinda buggy and slow… but i only tested the one that came with my mobo… have they improved?

    Btw, AMD seems to be heading in the right direction…good luck AMD…

      • sweatshopking
      • 10 years ago

      you don t need it all the time. it is just for Oc’ing. if you wanted to change the settings. otherwise it will just work.

      • Xenolith
      • 10 years ago

      No software. No special mobo either. The turbo in Thuban is contained in the CPU package.

    • MrBojangles
    • 10 years ago

    “picCOLOR’s synthetic tests put the 1090T ahead of the X4 965 by just a smidgen, but even the Core l[

      • wira020
      • 10 years ago

      You missed it.. it was the best value of them all…

        • BoBzeBuilder
        • 10 years ago

        No, you forgot your reading glasses.

          • MrBojangles
          • 10 years ago

          Or it was just simply edited after my post.Which is good because that was 99.99% of the reason why i posted about it in the first place…

            • BoBzeBuilder
            • 10 years ago

            So… what was the other 00.01% reason?

        • NeelyCam
        • 10 years ago

        Depends on how you calculate value.

    • Krogoth
    • 10 years ago

    X6s = poor man’s Bloomfield.

    It is a good steal, if you run applications where the number of cores is king.

      • Palek
      • 10 years ago

      After viewing all the performance charts my first thought was “hey, Thuban is really a very-very cheap but fast workstation / 1P server CPU.” It’s stating the obvious – what with six cores and all – but multi-threaded performance is the one thing that really makes this CPU shine.

      AMD would make their entire CPU lineup much more competitive if they could quickly release quad-core and dual-core Phenom II / Athlon II updates with Turbo Core.

      • Meadows
      • 10 years ago

      What is a “bad steal”?

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago
          • Meadows
          • 10 years ago

          Are you suggesting Gizmodo should’ve snatched AMD processor prototypes instead?

        • Krogoth
        • 10 years ago

        Nice attempt at trolling. 5/10

          • Meadows
          • 10 years ago

          Invalid retort.

    • BoBzeBuilder
    • 10 years ago

    Even with all the improvements, AMD’s six core processors aren’t that attractive. I’d take a i5-750 over these any day. Aside from the lower power consumption, I can overclock the i5-750 to achieve performance levels beyond anything AMD can offer.
    However, this is an excellent solution for those with older AMD CPUs, looking to upgrade.

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 10 years ago

      The question I have to ask is what, “performance levels beyond anything AMD can offer,” even exist?

      AMD and Intel both are pushing right up against the 4 GHz “barrier” at stock speeds with multiple types of multi-core CPUs now. Multiple cores on the desktop scale of things are no longer the limitation holding back clock speeds.

      If something calls for more than in the 3 to 4 GHz range, that limitation would have already had to have been addressed 5 years ago with multi-threading.

      The only things that really seem to set all the different makes of CPUs apart anymore are how they handle highly multi-threaded applications and how much power they use.

      Do what you want, but I just think that’s really, really pushing it to say that a CPU with far less multi-threading capability than what is easily possible, running at a drastically increased level of power use, is somehow a “performance level beyond anything” of anyone’s, when it’s the antithesis of the improvements in CPUs over the course of the last 5 years.

        • BoBzeBuilder
        • 10 years ago

        I’m not entirely sure what you’re trying to say, but from the benchmakrs, Intel’s Quad-cores outperforms the X6 pretty easily. And a 4.0 GHz Nehalem outperforms any overclocked AMD chip.

        By that logic, I’d go with Intel if I was building a new PC today. That’s what I said, and it’s not “pushing it” is it? It’s value for my $$$.

          • Sunburn74
          • 10 years ago

          Nah I disagree. I think overall the i7-860 is about equivalent to the x6. Don’t forget the i7-860 can have up to 8 threads.The x6s don’t seem to be competing at all the the i5-750s. They are clearly superior to the 750.

          Again, the price though is where they get you. Even if you consider the i7-860 to be better processor overall, is it the better processor for your rig? In my mind it seems like if you go the AMD route with these new processors, when you consider the difference in price of the chip and the board anywhere from 100 to 150 dollars can be saved compared to say the chip and board price of an equivalent i7-860 setup. I’d rather put that extra money into other parts than grabbing that measely 5 or 10 percent extra power from the CPU. I don’t even think its really 5 or 10 percent overall difference really.

            • marvelous
            • 10 years ago

            I don’t know where you shop but I7 860 setup is just as cheap as any Thuban setup.

            no?

            AMD 1090T $289
            Mobo $80-$200
            4 gigs DDR3 $100

            I7 860 $289 $200 if you have a microcenter
            Mobo cheap H55 P55 boards are plenty $80 – $200
            4gigs DDR3 $100

            §[<http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/prozessoren/2010/test_amd_phenom_ii_x6_1055t_1090t_be/32/#abschnitt_performancerating<]§ 1055T for the most part on par with i5 750. Both overclock and have strengths and weaknesses but an i7 860 will do anything a Thuban will do and more versatile like much better gaming performance.

            • mesyn191
            • 10 years ago

            You can drop that PhII x6 into an existing mobo though, for those who already have a AM2+/AM3 based system this new chip is a lot of bang for the buck.

            • marvelous
            • 10 years ago

            Yeah but he was talking about new build.

            If you already have a existing mobo. It’s no brainer but a new build? i7 seems more attractive.

          • OneArmedScissor
          • 10 years ago

          Outperforms at what? Ever so slightly varying numbers on a chart aren’t an indication of a tangible difference.

          What I am saying is that energy efficiency and bang for your buck are not what you get by buying a $200 CPU that’s already fast enough, and then overclocking it.

            • NeelyCam
            • 10 years ago

            I think his point is that he could get an i5-750 for the same price as 1055T, and overclock it to have better performance than 1090T at roughly the same power consumption.

      • TurtlePerson2
      • 10 years ago

      I think that’s been the line for the last four years. Intel chips have consistently been a better value when you factored in an expected overclock.

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      It entirely depends on the workload.

      X6s are the better deal for content creation, VMs and number crunching. (Sorry, SMP is better than SMT).

      45nm Core i5 and i7s are better for gaming due to their superior IPC performance, turbo-clocking and overclocking headroom.

      In the end, get what makes the most sense for your needs.

    • flip-mode
    • 10 years ago

    Surprisingly impressive addition by AMD. Two more cores for the same power consumption without a process size change, and turbo. And the price is easy to appreciate.

    T’was a nice review. Thanks Scott and Cyril.

    • chriso11
    • 10 years ago

    Actually, what I like about AMD is that they don’t continually add a new incompatible CPU interface. AM3 will be around alot longer than Intel’s next interface. Buy a Phenom II X6 today, and next year pop in a Bulldozer for a nice boost.

      • WillBach
      • 10 years ago

      I think Bulldozer requires a different socket. It does have GPU on-die.

        • OneArmedScissor
        • 10 years ago

        Actually, it’s officially AM3 now:

        §[<http://www.anandtech.com/show/2871/2<]§ Strangely, they haven't announced a Bulldozer CPU with an on-die GPU at all. Of course, they'll have to have a new socket for the other "Fusion" CPUs, so maybe there will eventually be a Bulldozer for that, and then there could be a version with and without a northbridge, like Intel's socket 1366 vs. 1156 CPUs. It doesn't really make a world of difference, as you can still have integrated graphics from the motherboard.

          • WillBach
          • 10 years ago

          Huh. Thanks for pointing that out to me.

            • Game_boy
            • 10 years ago

            Bulldozer with GPU on die would have a different socket, because Llano will. But the first Bulldozers do not have a GPU.

      • swaaye
      • 10 years ago

      Well I see it as rather balanced between the two.

      Socket 7
      Slot A
      Socket A
      Socket 754
      Socket 940
      Socket 939
      Socket AM2
      Socket AM2+
      Socket AM3

      Socket 7
      Slot 1
      Socket 370
      Socket 423
      Socket 478
      Socket 775
      Socket 1366
      Socket 1156

      On both sides, when a socket is around for several years, it often has compatibility issues. For ex, Socket A/AM2 and 478/775 don’t always support all CPUs for the socket because the oldest motherboards don’t have updated BIOS support or have electrical limitations.

        • Krogoth
        • 10 years ago

        You could split up LGA775 into two groups. The older VRM standard (not Core 2 compatible) versus newer VRM standard (Core 2 compatible).

        In that case, you could split up Socket A/Socket 478 into three different groups. Due to FSB and voltage changes.

          • swaaye
          • 10 years ago

          You’re just too fast and I’m too slow because I edited my post and added that info. 🙂

          • bhtooefr
          • 10 years ago

          And Socket 370 splits into three groups, too – the original Mendocino PPGA socket, the Coppermine FCPGA socket, and the Tualatin FCPGA2 socket.

        • Voldenuit
        • 10 years ago

        Ah, but you’re neglecting when families of sockets coexist together – eg, Socket 754, 940 and 939 can be lumped into a single group. And then, as bhtooefr and Krogoth mentioned, some single sockets are split by incompatible revisions. And there are yet sockets that have cross-compatibility (AM2+, AM3).

        I think it’s not unreasonable to say that AMD tends to keep sockets (and interfaces) compatible for longer than intel.

          • flip-mode
          • 10 years ago

          I’d argue for AM2+ and AM3 to be grouped together too – different sockets that accept all the same processors…

          • swaaye
          • 10 years ago

          940 and 754 coexisted for about a year. Then 939 essentially replaced both 754 and 940, but 939 was an active socket for only about 2 years. Next came AM2, designed primarily to give AMD access to DDR2 because DDR1 was dieing fast. 939 users weren’t too happy about that and rightfully so when a number of AM2 boards ended up not working with Phenom (not that Phenom was much of an upgrade).

          Socket A was probably around for the longest period of time, but it wasn’t always backwards compatible. AMD changed CPU bus speeds and voltages over the years of Socket A, making older boards incompatible with newer CPUs. Additionally, at the end of its days Athlon XP was not all that competitive anymore and so K8 was overdue. So I think Socket A wasn’t kept around to please customers but simply was still in use because there was no new architecture yet.

          Socket 7 is similar to this too. Early Socket 7 boards are not compatible with later Socket 7 CPUs due to CPU voltage changes. And, Socket 5 is very similar to Socket 7, but you can’t use Socket 7 CPUs in Socket 5 very often. Super Socket 7 is just more Socket 7, while clearly Slot 1 / Socket 8 was the superior design, but again AMD didn’t have an architecture that was ready to compete so they stretched out Socket 7’s life (ugly stuff there).

          And another aspect to consider here is whether there is even good value to upgrading while on the same platform. Historically a lot of things changed with new chipsets that go with new sockets, such as new storage technologies, new RAM, USB 2.0, new expansion slots, or even more robust power regulation for more demanding CPUs. There’s more than just the CPU when it comes to overall system performance.

          I think when people are arguing over one company having dramatically longer “socket life”, they are basically showing that they don’t really know or understand the history of the hardware. Also, this post has become longer than I imagined possible.

            • Voldenuit
            • 10 years ago

            I thought the AM2 incompatibility with Phenom was a BIOS issue?

            Also I thought 940 was a server/workstation socket, and 939 was the mainstream version.

            Similarly, not all AM2+/AM3 boards are ready for Thuban – it’s up to the manufacturer to update the BIOS. The moral here is to buy from reputable brands with good after-sales support if you want to upgrade in the future (Anand has a list of mobos with Thuban compatibility).

            I had good luck with my ASUS nForce 4 board, all it took was a BIOS flash and I dropped in a dual core Opteron to replace my old A64 3000. What really ired s939 users was that AM2 (at launch) was more expensive (even discounting the more expensive DDR2 at the time) and offered slower performance than the s939 chips (primarily due to less cache) at the time. Course, they also cut down the cache on the s939 chips, but with a little shopping around, you could still find the older models with more cache, especially if you went the Opteron route. I think they learned their lesson by making AM2+/AM3 cross compatible (it helps that DDR2 and DDR3 has a similar pincount)

            • swaaye
            • 10 years ago

            940 was for servers and the desktop Athlon 64 FX line. It gave you dual channel RAM like 939. I don’t know if it was popular, but AMD definitely saw it as the top end Athlon 64 desktop solution and there were a number of consumer-quality mobos for it.

            I forgot to mention that 754 was around for years in notebooks, long after it became uninteresting in desktops.

            I personally ran Athlon XP until 2005 when I jumped onto the dual core + PCIe bandwagon with the Opteron 165 for Socket 939. I did build an early 939 single-core AGP system for a friend though. Honestly I thought 939 had a good run and that there weren’t really any significant AMD CPUs that 939ers missed out on. Phenom II was the first quality upgrade from A64X2, IMO.

            • Krogoth
            • 10 years ago

            A tiny nitpick, Socket 940 supported dual-channel DDR1 but you had to use slower, more expensive registered memory. 😉

            Socket 939’s raison d’tere was that it offered dual-channel DDR1 with the far more affordable and faster unbuffered memory.

    • Lazier_Said
    • 10 years ago

    1. Very impressive against the X4, not so much – putting support for the underdog aside, not at all – against the i7.

    2. 25 different processors in this test and no i7-860? That’s only Intel’s price-performance sweet spot and the most obvious $200-300 competitor. 25 bars on the graph are difficult to read and would benefit from more color coding.

    • Veerappan
    • 10 years ago

    Page 4:
    “Remarkably, the X6 1090T draws less power under load than a Phenom II X4 965 on the same motherboard,”

    That’s not what the graph labels seem to imply… Those give the 965 a 6 watt advantage in cinebench over the 1090T.

    • grantmeaname
    • 10 years ago

    l[

      • Damage
      • 10 years ago

      Doh… fixed, thanks.

    • Sunburn74
    • 10 years ago

    Good review. My sentiments exactly in the conclusion. Anyone thinking about a new rig with the i5-750, i7-860, i7-930 should also immediately consider the new X6 processors (especially when you consider that 50 dollar MIR are available, microcenter is already knocking down prices below MSRP, and that AMD boards are much cheaper than intel boards).

    I dunno… I’m still absolutely amazed that in oh about 2 weeks, I can buy one of these for my roomate and our home theater PC and instantly jump from a 1 core athlon to a 6 core Phenom 2 (barring maybe the need for a couple sticks of ram). Amazing

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 10 years ago

      I’d like to see the Core i7-860 in the charts. I believe that it’d give the Phenom II X6 1055T a run for its money.

        • Sunburn74
        • 10 years ago

        Check anandtech for that inclusion. Even still though the price kills the i7-860! Tigerdirect already offers like 50 bucks off! You can take that extra money and put it in things like a gpu or a better case, doubling your ram, or even grabbing that nice corsair h50 you’ve been eyeing.

        • odd
        • 10 years ago

        It might compete, JAE, but not for the money. You’re paying 33 to 45% more for the Core i7 860 than for the 1055T regarding the CPU alone.

          • NeelyCam
          • 10 years ago

          /Yeah, but i7-860 whoops 1055T in most cases.

          The comparison is pretty clear: 1090T vs. i7-860/i7-930 and 1055T vs. i5-750. Price and performance wise, pretty equal – in some cases AMD is better, in others Intel is better.

          I’m disappointed by the overclocking comparison. If 1090T is supposed to be compared to i7-860, they both should’ve been overclocked. Similarly, why not overclock i5-750 and then look at the results?

    • ClickClick5
    • 10 years ago

    All this does is excite me for the future of the AMD line!

    • Crayon Shin Chan
    • 10 years ago

    CPU scaling is quite bad actually – it does match the i7s, but 50% more core count gives about 28% performance increase under Cinebench – I suspect there’s a bottleneck somewhere else. I’d say the L3 cache, which remained the same, but the Athlons have been rather insensitive to cache size changes (and for that matter, so were the K7s)

      • UberGerbil
      • 10 years ago

      It could be just the code. As you noted the i7s exhibit something similar: the Westmere 980x runs just 36% faster than the 975 at the same clockspeed, despite having 50% more cores — and it has 50% more L3 also.

      Cinebench (as I understand it) spawns worker threads according to the available cores, but that doesn’t mean it will just magically scale with core count. In fact Amdahl could be rearing its head, and there’s a serial section that just increasingly dominates the total time.

        • shank15217
        • 10 years ago

        More likely that the threads aren’t very cpu efficient which is why hyperthreading helps so much with this type of workload. Hyperthreading success is due to badly optimised software and cinebench is a great example of that.

    • yuriylsh
    • 10 years ago

    flip-mode almost made me to believe that I should not expect the review soon!
    Ok, now I’m back to reading it…

      • flip-mode
      • 10 years ago

      I love surprises?

        • djgandy
        • 10 years ago

        Poor CPU scaling for AMD in the Cinebench tests? Seems a good cpu, a lot of transistors leading to huge die size though.

        I question AMD’s ability to judge a business environment also. Processor demand is very high at the moment, and they seem to have adopted to sell all their processors cheap! Do they not understand that heightened demand should lead to higher prices? When demand was lower and they had uncompetitive products they were trying to sell CPU’s for $500+?!

        Still at least they are in the ballpark of where they belong, providing a good alternative to Intel, and at good prices.

          • khands
          • 10 years ago

          They’re still lack the market share to be able to do that, otherwise I’m sure they would.

          • OneArmedScissor
          • 10 years ago

          When demand was lower, they were probably still selling every chip they could make. That was years and years ago. Computer parts in general have gone down in price. It’s supposed to work that way.

          They did raise their prices, though. They have not had a $300 price tier in quite a while, and they did not lower the prices of anything else, but placed the X6s above the rest.

          Let go of the die size thing already. This isn’t AMD with one 130nm fab struggling to keep up.

          • NeelyCam
          • 10 years ago

          The prices are in line with the performance; price/performance ratios are pretty much the same for both AMD and Intel. AMD is not trying to make a ton of money now; they are just keeping the boat floating.

          This is the calm before the storm. Next year AMD/GF should have more capacity online, and a more competitive design.I don’t expect them to leapfrog Intel, but that’s a good thing – with both “teams” having equally performing products should mean price reductions also in the high end.

    • maasenstodt
    • 10 years ago

    While I’m currently satisfied with the performance of my Phenom II X3 @ 3.2GHz, I love the upgrade path I have available to me.

    Great review!

    • KarateBob
    • 10 years ago

    I don’t see how Thuban can have ~751 million transistors on a 45nm process, when Deneb has 758 million, and 2 less cores. Anand lists 904 million transistors for Thubans. Is your number more accurate than his?

      • Cyril
      • 10 years ago

      Good catch. Istanbul has 904 million transistors, so Thuban should have about the same number. Fixed.

    • bimmerlovere39
    • 10 years ago

    Yep, the 1090T and the 1055T are both quite tempting indeed. Higher clocks for gaming, more cores for photography (and epeen? :P).

    Best of all, drop in motherboard once Gigabyte releases the next BIOS!

      • albundy
      • 10 years ago

      wow, epeen galore. last year i wanted an i7 920 rig, but the fact that i ended up with a PII X4 955be was because it was less than half the cost. you have to lay down reasons why you need the horsepower. if your doing serious video editing, compiling, etc, its obvious that opterons/xeons would be at the top of your list. take a look at a years worth of desktop processors and you will notice some equilibrium amongst med-high end gaming and multimedia trends in a majority of processors. it might even seem that the number of cores aren’t doing as much as expected.

        • bimmerlovere39
        • 10 years ago

        First off, if I had a 955, I probably wouldn’t be feeling that itch.

        As it is, at the time that I built the current machine, the X3 720 was what I judged as being the best call for me (this being my first desktop in, well, ever). There have been times where I have wished for both more single (or few) core megahertz, and there have been time where I’ve wished for more cores. The 1055T seems to meet both of those requirements quite nicely – that the 1090T does the same but more so goes without saying.

        When I built my machine – Gigabyte AM2+, X3 720, 8GB of DDR2, and a 4770 – I did so with an eye towards doing a future upgrade in about a year (I would have gone AM3, but when it came down to it, DDR2 was dirt cheap at $50/4GB, whereas DDR3 was more expensive than it is now). Well, it’s a year later, and I haven’t felt bottle-necked by the memory, but I have by the processor and by the GPU (and the HDD, but that’s a more labor-intensive, less problematic, and more expensive fix). I’m very much considering swapping out both once I’m on summer vacation, and it seems a bit silly to NOT go to the X6s for an upgrade, frankly, now that I’m starting to “grow into” the multimedia handling horsepower that’s at my disposal in this form factor. (The GPU, well, I’m waffling between a 5770, two 5750s, or just waiting for a 6770, since my original idea of crossfired 4770s has been killed because of supply issues.)

        I may not strictly NEED to upgrade – my current rig is not slow, by any stretch of the imagination – but, now that I’ve got enough computational horsepower to sink my teeth back into digital photography as a hobby – and, with it, the joys of large numbers of raw files – I’m finding that what I have may not be enough /[

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 10 years ago

    I hate being a complainer, but why on earth were ONLY the X6s tested on a different motherboard than the rest? That had all just been cleaned up so well and now it’s already inconsistent again.

      • Kurotetsu
      • 10 years ago

      I suspect its because AMD requested it. Anandtech and bit-tech also tested the X6’s on 890FX motherboards.

      • wira020
      • 10 years ago

      BIOS support maybe?… i’m guessing other manufacturer havent release new BIOS yet…

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