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| $50 Gaming CPU: Athlon 64 3200 "Venice" (6 comments )|
by: darrellwu (24) | Posted in cluster Round 3 Editors Challenge Sponsored by Intel
Posted 74 months ago ( edited 74 months ago ) in category DEFAULT
|» MEDIA (11)|
Overclocking the Athlon 64 3200 "Venice" from 2 GHz
Underclocking the Athlon 64 3200 "Venice" from 2 GHz
Company of Heroes Settings
"The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you" - Company of Heroes Screenshot
Dark Messiah Settings
"Stonehelm! Center of wealth, magic, power, and a hundred fantasy cliches!" Dark Messiah Screenshot
Good morning Chernobyl! - S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Screenshot
Rainbow Six: Vegas Settings
For your terrorist-blasting convenience, this Mexican town is devoid of any civilians - Rainbow Six: Vegas Screenshot
Though hi-end bleeding edge components and the newest releases may garner the most press in the industry, many gamers' budgets place them in the market for mid to low-end solutions. Thankfully, in the ever-advancing march of technological progress, last year's flagship chip becomes this year's CPU for an enthusiast on a budget. Even better for the budget consumer, competitive price pressures tend to exert the hardest at the mid-to-low end. The chipmaker that currently holds the performance crown can safely charge a premium for their top-of-the-line product, but at the mid to low end Intel and AMD are forced to compete on price. This review evaluates the venerable "Venice" core Athlon 64 3200 as a modern processor purchase, with a focus on the price to performance ratio it delivers on contemporary games. The Venice core is certainly dated technology, first hitting store shelves almost exactly two years ago, but as it currently retails for $50 and under it could be a surprisingly attractive option for a gamer on a shoestring budget.
The Venice core Athlon 3200 clocks in at 2ghz with a 512kb Level 2 cache and fits into AMD's older Socket 939. It was the second Athlon 64 using the 90 nm fabrication process, and was widely praised two years ago when released at a $200 price point as a powerful and affordable CPU. Will this veteran CPU remain an viable option two years and $150 in price cuts later? Just how many new graphics effects can you leave turned on when running with this aging processor? Read on.
We'll pair the Athlon 3200 with fellow budget components for testing. The nVidia Geforce 7900 GS chipset has dropped as low as $150 - though the Radeon 1950 XT may now be a more attractive choice in that price range - and all told, the components for this rig may cost you less than the price of a XBox360 or PS3, especially if components like the hard drive and power supply are swapped in from other machines.
AMD Athlon 64 3200 "Venice" core
MSI Neo4 Platinum (nVidia Nforce 4)
EVGA GeForce 7900 GS KO w/Forceware 93.71
1 GB Mushkin PC3200 2-3-3-6
Windows XP SP 2
Direct X 9.0c
Overclocking, Underclocking, and Heat
Though overclocking is by its nature a your-mileage-may-vary endeavor, it remains a significant consideration for consumers that wish to obtain every potential bit of performance possible for their buck. The Venice core was widely reported to demonstrate substantial headroom for overclocking at release, with some reviewers achieving as much as a 40% overclock with little effort. Initial overclocking results should generally be treated with measured skepticism due to the small sample size - one - involved in CPU reviews, but many enthusiasts reported substantial success overclocking their own Venice core Athlons.
This particular chip doesn't disappoint in that regard. Our budget rig doesn't have much in the way of fancy copper heatsinks, case fans, or exotic thermal paste, instead making do with the stock AMD cooling shipped with the processor. Nevertheless, with stock cooling and standard voltage settings, the processor just topped 2.6 GHz, a 30% increase over the stock speed. A more sophisticated overclocking attempt would no doubt achieve further success - but at this price range, it is unlikely a consumer will be pairing the CPU with a cooling solution that would cost as much or even more than the processor it works on. For the purposes of benchmarking, the CPU was kept 100 MHz slower than its maximum possible overclock, at 2.5 GHz. The heat readings at this clock speed are also encouraging - at load, the overclocked processor operated at 60 degrees Celsius, compared to the stock processor's 54 degrees Celsius at load, a modest enough bump to suggest that the CPU will remain stable at this speed.
To complement the overclocking headroom demonstrated by the processor, the test rig was also underclocked, to see how much "legroom" - if you will - the Venice core offered. Aside from the distinct pride involved in achieving a less-commonly attempted hardware tweak, underclocking does serve some practical purposes. A processor that underclocks well generates less heat and draws less power as it is throttled down. These considerations are important when purchasing components for situations where noise generation is an issue, such as a living room media PC. Again without adjusting the voltage setting, the test system was successfully underclocked to 1.65 GHZ, a 17.5% reduction in clock speed. A corresponding decrease in CPU temperature at load is observable at 49 degrees Celsius. In fact, between these three clock settings the processor demonstrates an almost linear relationship between speed and heat, but with only three data points it's difficult to extrapolate what this might mean as clock speeds are decreased further. Nevertheless, it is demonstrable that underclocking this CPU will allow you to reap an attendant heat decrease.
To run the CPU through its paces, we will benchmark with a number of modern games. When this processor was released, Doom 3 and Far Cry were the common benchmarks. Game engines have certainly progressed since then, and this review will attempt to update the scope of available information about this processor.
Three benchmarks will be presented for each game: One at stock speeds, one with the CPU overclocked to 2.5 GHz, and one with the GPU overclocked to 550 MHz from the factory setting of 500 mhz. The purpose of the GPU overclock benchmarks are to help us get an impression as to which component, the CPU or GPU, is responsible for bottlenecking. When considering these results note however that the GPU was overclocked merely 50 MHz, or 10%, compared to the CPU's 25% overclock.
In choosing settings for each game, I prioritized detail and Anti-Aliasing/Anisotropic Filtering over screen resolution. A detailed breakdown of graphics settings for each of the benchmarks are along the right, as well as screenshots of each game at the given settings and a benchmark overview graph.
Company of Heroes
Relic's latest game is an impressive-looking World War II RTS. Company of Heroes' built-in benchmarking utility was used to generate these numbers. Model, Shader, and Texture Detail were set to maximum.
Stock Speeds: 29 min, 49.6 average, 99 maximum
CPU @ 2.5 GHz: 39 min, 65.2 average, 149 maximum
GPU @ 550 MHz: 29.5 min, 48.4 average, 101 maximum
The system performed well on Company of Heroes, especially when overclocked. There's room to improve the resolution or settings. Interestingly, the GPU overclock had a negligible effect on frame rate, and even lowered average framerate slightly. The CPU overclock, in contrast, significantly improved the frame rate.
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
This franchise title from Arx Fatalis developers (and ex-Looking Glass personnel employer) Arkane Studios was released a while ago, but as it is built on the popular Source engine, it remains relevant as a benchmark. A number of upcoming shooters, including The Crossing and Team Fortress 2, will use the same engine.
These numbers were generated using FRAPS while the game rendered a very graphics-intensive prescripted sequence at the opening of Chapter 1. Benchmarks are for 1024x768 resolution with 2x AA/2x AF, but testing suggests that similar or better results are possible at 1280x960 without AA and AF.
Stock Speeds: 10 min, 25.118 average, 43 maximum
CPU @ 2.5 GHz: 21 min, 36.343 average, 56 maximum
GPU @ 550 MHz: 15 min, 25.511 average, 41 maximum
The numbers here start to become hairy, especially at stock speeds. Keep in mind that this benchmark measured the most graphically intensive - and non-interactive - portion of the game. Subjectively, gameplay sequences were substantially smoother. As before, there is a marginal performance gain from the GPU overclock but a very substantial performance gain from the CPU overclock, again indicating a CPU bottleneck.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl
Ukrainian-based developer GSC Game World's first person shooter is unique in featuring RPG elements and an open, Tamriel-esque gameworld - and the accompanying Oblivion-esque system demands to match.
These FPS numbers are more approximate as they represent actual dynamic in-game gameplay captured using FRAPS. Consequently, they are not as precise as the strictly prescripted sequences benchmarked above. Resolution was set to 1024x768 resolution with full dynamic lighting and 2x AA/Max AF. As before, lowering some of the settings would yield similar flame rates at 1280x960.
Stock Speeds: 15 min, 26.595 average, 42 maximum
CPU @ 2.5 GHz: 19 min, 30.232 average, 48 maximum
GPU @ 550 MHz: 16 min, 28.170 average, 48 maximum
Framerates are playable throughout, and this time both the CPU and GPU overclocks returned framerate gains. Recall that as a percentage, the GPU overclock was rather modest compared to the CPU overclock; this likely accounts for the less dramatic improvement there.
Rainbow Six Vegas
The latest installment in Ubisoft's Rainbow Six franchise was also an early example of Unreal Engine 3 on the PC. These results are particularly interesting as Unreal Engine 3 powers a large number of upcoming games in a wide range of genres. Aside from keenly anticipated first-person shooters such as BioShock and Unreal Tournament 3, everything from RPG - Bioware's Mass Effect - to RTS - the early-in-development Halo Wars - will be represented with Unreal Engine 3.
This benchmark captured the opening prescripted helicopter ride that begins the game, and then a gunfight across the city streets. As such, it's a mix of both scripted and dynamic gameplay and precision is affected accordingly.
Stock Speeds: 15 min, 19.014 average, 34 maximum
CPU @ 2.5 GHz: 17 min, 21.021 average, 37 maximum
GPU @ 550 MHz: 16 min, 20.144 average, 31 maximum
Both the CPU and GPU overclocks showed gains in this benchmark. These numbers are promising as they suggest the system will at least be able to experience the many upcoming Unreal Engine 3 games - at the very least by turning down settings.
Analysis and Looking Ahead
The benchmarks showed that the Venice Core Athlon 64 3200 is fully capable of running modern games at playable frame rates with attractive resolutions and levels of detail - especially when overclocked - an impressive feat at the current list price for this processor. However, the overclocking also suggested that CPU bottlenecking was occuring, even with a budget-priced graphics card. Thus, when building a new computer, it might be worthwhile simply to skimp a little on the graphics card to buy a better CPU. Similarly, current Athlon 64 3200 owners who are facing the age-old question of which component, CPU or GPU, to upgrade, have evidence that the upgrading the former would be a more economical choice.
The Athlon 64 3200 was a mid-range Socket 939 CPU and looking ahead there is a viable CPU upgrade path for consumers that want to avoid the hassle of replacing their motherboard - Socket 939 CPUs go up to the Athlon FX-60. However, Socket 939 has largely been supplanted by AMD's Socket AM2 format, so the non-replenishable supply of the high-end Socket 939 chips available indicates that the price on those is unlikely to fall by significant amounts. Indeed, at approximately the same price range as the "Venice" Socket 939 Athlon 64 3200, AMD offers a very similar chip in the "Orleans" core Socket AM2 Athlon 64 3200 that retails for approximately $10 more. Even for a extremely budget-minded consumer this CPU may be a better choice than the older Socket 939 Venice core - Socket AM2 has a wider range of processors available for future upgrades, and AMD also promises that the yet-to-be released Socket AM3 CPUs will be backwards-compatible with Socket AM2 motherboards, albeit without the new DDR3 technology. Thus, the slightly more expensive Socket AM2 processors offer greater future upgradability for the price.
-Cost. This processor costs about as much as a new game.
-Overclockability/underclockability. From all indications the Venice core is a reliable overclocking workhorse, easily achieving non-trivial performance gains with a minimal amount of tweaking. It also underclocks well for those who are looking for low-heat, low-power processors.
-Price/performance ratio. The Venice core overclocks and performs well enough to challenge processors in its price range. Benchmarks at sites such as tomshardware.com suggest that at stock speeds the Athlon 64 3200 is in some cases superior to its Pentium D price competitors.
-Limited Upgrade Path. The Venice core's Socket 939 is now an orphan format, with the newer Socket AM2 being slightly more expensive for equivalent chips, but offering many future potential CPU upgrades all the way into Socket AM3.
-CPU bottlenecking. The games may run on the Athlon 64 3200, but with our overclocking tests it's clear that the system is straining at the limitations of the CPU, even with a budget graphics card.
Though this processor offers substantial bang for the buck, it is clearly showing its age in benchmark testing. It is an acceptable solution for budget gamers who absolutely must build a cheaper-than-XBox360 PC, but even within the constraints of that budget a tech-savvy consumer would be well-advised to pay the small premium for a Socket AM2 or newer Intel processor in order to maintain a viable path for upgrades in the future.
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