Summary: To celebrate Athlon's third anniversary, today AMD unveils its Athlon XP 2600+. But before you pass this off as yet another boring CPU release, AMD has implemented quite a few changes that should have the overclocking community quite excited. Find out why in our Athlon XP 2600+ review!
Now shipping at 2GHz+!The war between Intel and AMD heats up a bit today, as AMD unleashes a pair of new processors: the Athlon XP 2400+ and the Athlon XP 2600+. Yes, you read that correctly, AMD's model numbering scheme has ratcheted up 400 points….places….spots…? To be honest, we're not quite sure what to call it. One thing's for sure though, it certainly isn't megahertz. The Athlon XP 2400+ actually operates at an even 2.0GHz, while the Athlon XP 2600+ clocks in at 2.13GHz. Based on AMD's old numbering scheme, these chips should be designated as XP 2700+ (in the case of the Athlon XP 2600+) and XP 2500+ (for the XP 2400+). So what gives?
What's in a name?Quite simply, AMD has changed the formula for these newer Thoroughbred parts. As we've all noticed, Intel hasn't had any problems ratcheting up the clock speed on its Pentium 4 processors. And as the Pentium 4's clock speed increases, so does its memory bandwidth to its L2 cache. This is also the case for the Athlon XP, but keep in mind that while the Pentium 4 has a 256-bit L2 cache that transfers data on each processor clock, the Athlon XP has a 64-bit L2 cache that transfers data every eight clocks. What does that mean in terms of bandwidth?
At 2.13GHz, the Pentium 4's cache would offer over 68GB/sec of bandwidth. The Athlon XP 2600+ on the other hand is working with just 8.5GB/sec bandwidth. Knowing this, you begin to see why Intel's Pentium 4 has really begun to put the heat on AMD's chips. Couple that with the Pentium 4's new 533MHz bus and 1066MHz RDRAM and things become even more overwhelming.
In order to keep up with these developments, AMD must have felt compelled to do one of two things: implement new performance-enhancing features in its Athlon XP line or adjust its model number system. Back when the model scheme was originally introduced Pentium 4's were based on Intel's 400MHz system bus with 256K L2 cache. Today both of these features have been enhanced.
AMD chose the latter solution for now at least, but we're still keeping our fingers crossed for AMD to crank up the performance in ways other than increasing clock speed. Rumors suggest that AMD will be implementing a 166MHz (effectively 333MHz) bus soon on its Athlon XP line, but we'd also like to see the Athlon XP's narrow 64-bit L2 interface widened to 256-bits. After all, even Intel's Pentium III processors had a 256-bit interface, and we all know how Athlon fared against it.
But anyway, lets take a closer look at today's new chips!
SIDEBAR: The official press release
Improving the Thoroughbred's formulaAs we mentioned earlier, the clock speed on the Athlon XP 2600+ model operates at 2.13GHz, and the Athlon XP 2400+ runs at 2.0GHz, both running on a 133MHz (effectively 266MHz) system bus. Both chips are also based on AMD's "Thoroughbred" core, which is based on AMD's brand new 0.13-micron manufacturing process. However, unlike the original Thoroughbred Athlon XP 2200+, these two chips are based on a radically different processor stepping.
If you recall back when the AXIA "Thunderbird" Athlon processors were all the rage, you probably realize the significance of this immediately: overclocking. You see, as AMD gets more experienced with a manufacturing process, they slowly implement new manufacturing improvements. This allows them to improve their yields. With the older Thoroughbred steppings, getting chips at 1.9GHz was difficult enough let alone 2GHz. Getting good yields on the 2.13GHz part would have been next to impossible. Fortunately AMD's engineers were able to implement a new stepping on Thoroughbred -- just in time for the Athlon's three-year anniversary.
In the case of the Athlon XP 2400+ and 2600+, AMD has added another layer to the Thoroughbred core, bringing the total up to nine layers. In addition, AMD has added additional decoupling capacitors to reduce electromagnetic interference (which is important when your chip is running at speeds of 2GHz and above). Finally, AMD has optimized the circuit paths within the processor.
As a result of these changes, die size has increased slightly: while the original Thoroughbred's die size was 80mm2, the XP 2600+ features an 84mm2 die. Transistor count is also increased to approximately 37.6 million. Despite the increased clock speed, typical thermal power is only 62W, while the maximum is 68.3W (versus 61.7W and 67.9W for the slower-running XP 2200+).
Now that you've got that information down, here's the new chip:
The important part to look at here is the bottom line of the Athlon XP's ordering part number. In our case, it reads AIUAB0231RPAW. "AIUAB" is the stepping of our processor, with "02" designating that it was made in 2002 and "31" meaning it was made the 31st week. She's brand-spanking new baby!
Like the old AXIA chips AMD will implement this stepping on its slower Athlon XP chips, but obviously they're going to ship as many of them at 2.0GHz and 2.13GHz as possible. After all, the selling price on these chips is considerably higher than the older Athlon XP parts. Which brings us to our next point, pricing. Officially, AMD is listing the Athlon XP 2600+ at $297 when purchased in 1,000 unit quantities and the Athlon XP 2400+ is priced at $193.
AvailibilityAll of this sounds pretty exciting so far huh? But wait, there's one small catch. You can't run out and buy it yet. With today's CPU launches, AMD has announced that it has begun shipping both chips to its customers, Athlon XP 2400+ and Athlon XP 2600+ parts aren't quite available in retail channels just yet. Fortunately, AMD expects system availability in September, so you'll only have to wait a couple of weeks if you want to pick up an Athlon XP 2400+ or 2600+.
As we discussed on the previous page, this new stepping will eventually work its way down to the slower Athlon XP parts (if it hasn't already) for those of you who feel that the Athlon XP 2600+ is a bit too expensive for your budget, but still want the benefits of the new stepping. Just wait a few months for retailers to sell off their current inventory of 80mm2 parts as well as getting newer 84mm2 chips that run at the slower clock speeds. If possible, it's always best to physically see the chip you're going to buy in the store. Since you know our chip was manufactured the 31st week of this year, if you find a week 32 or 33 Athlon XP 2000+ it's logical to speculate that it may be based one of the newer Thoroughbred cores. Newsgroups and message boards can also be good sources of information on processor steppings.
Motherboard CompatibilityFor testing we used an Epox EP-8K3A+ KT333 motherboard that was supplied by AMD. The initial BIOS didn't properly recognize the CPU as an Athlon XP 2600+, but it ran fine and we didn't encounter any problems. Since then a new BIOS has been built (8k3a2813.bin) that fully recognizes the Athlon XP 2600+. As far as we're aware, this is all that will be required in any other Athlon motherboard so there shouldn't be any compatibility issues. AMD keeps a list of validated motherboards on its website as additional resource for end users.
OverclockingWith the changes implemented in the new stepping, we were eager to see how high we could crank up our processor. Fortunately the new Thoroughbred chips are just as easy to overclock as the older Thunderbird CPUs so we grabbed a #2 pencil and set out to connect the L1 bridges. A few minutes later and we were armed with an unlocked 2.13GHz processor!
After experimenting with multiple bus/multiplier/voltage combinations, the maximum clock speed we were able to hit with out Athlon XP 2600+ with complete stability was 2304MHz (16.0x144) at 1.825V. We were actually able to get the system to run at just under 2.4GHz, but we just couldn't get 3DMark 2001SE and a few other tests to work reliably regardless of the voltage we used.
AMD Athlon XP 2100+
AMD Athlon XP 1800+
Intel Pentium 4 2.53GHz
3DMark 2001 Second Edition - 32-bit color, 32-bit textures
NotesWe decided to use the SiS 648 reference motherboard to represent the Pentium 4 platform as we feel it offers the best combination of price/performance of all the solutions available. So far the only SiS 648 motherboard on the market is the ABIT SR7-8X although the ASUS P4S8X (with optional Serial ATA) should be hitting US shores any day now.
SIDEBAR: The funny thing is, we were originally told that the processor rating system was based on performance relative to AMD's Thunderbird processor, not the Pentium 4.
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
NotesThe Athlon XP 2600+ isn't quite able to keep up with Intel's 2.53GHz Pentium 4, but at 800x600x32, it only trails the P4 by 3%.
SIDEBAR: The codename for the Athlon was K7.
3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
NotesIf you've followed our CPU reviews closely, it should come as no surprise to you that the Athlon XP 2600+ was able to outrun the Pentium 4 at 2.53GHz, as this game has always favored the Athlon platform. At 800x600, the margin between both chips is 2%. The Athlon XP has one beefy floating point unit, and we believe that's why it is able to perform so well in this benchmark, but to be honest we're not completely sure.
Quake III - High Quality
NotesJust as Serious Sam has always favored the Athlon, Quake 3 has always offered the best performance on the Pentium 4. The Athlon XP 2600+ has a lot of ground to make up in this benchmark, as the 2.53GHz Pentium 4 runs 13% faster at 800x600.
SIDEBAR: We've been told that Clawhammer (desktop Hammer variant) will be branded under the Athlon name.
Jedi Knight II - High Quality
NotesWhile Jedi Knight II is also based on the Quake 3 engine, the Athlon XP is able to close within 4% of the P4 2.53GHz.
SIDEBAR: Operations at AMD's Fab 30 30 plant in Dresden, Germany were unaffected by the recent flooding there.
NotesComanche 4 is one of the newer games we've added to our stable of benchmarks, and we've noticed that it tends to favor the Intel platform as well. In our testing, the 2.53GHz P4 finished ahead of Athlon XP+ by six percentage points.
SIDEBAR: Did you know that AMD has its own extreme golf team?
Content Creation Winstone 2002/Business Winstone 2001
NotesAMD likes to see us test with e-Testing Labs Winstone suite, while Intel probably prefers BAPCo's SYSmark 2002. SYSmark 2002 uses newer builds of popular Office applications so we feel it's a little more relevant than Business Winstone 2001 at least, but at the same time BAPCo and AMD don't have the rosiest of histories (SYSmark 2001 didn't support the SSE instructions present in Athlon XP). Therefore, we decided to provide results with both applications and let you, the reader decide.
SIDEBAR: This is an interesting development, Dell is moving into the white box market.
New core/stepping: With its 0.13-micron core, the Athlon XP 2600+ is cooler and faster than its predecessor, Palomino. In addition, the new manufacturing process will decrease manufacturing costs for AMD, improving efficiency. As a result, don't expect the price war between Intel and AMD to go away anytime soon.
Overclocking: Normally we don't like to mention the overclocking aspects of a chip in our official assessment, but we think it's pretty safe to say that these newer Thoroughbred processors will overclock better than their predecessors. AMD has redesigned the core for more efficient operation at high clock speeds and based on what we've seen their work was a resounding success.
Performance: The Athlon XP 2600+ is one helluva fast chip. It may only be running at 2.13GHz, but as we've seen in today's benchmarks it is more than capable of giving the Pentium 4 2.53GHz a run for its money.
Price: Speaking of which, the Athlon XP 2600+ officially lists for $297. In comparison, Intel officially sells the Pentium 4 2.53GHz to its customers for $637. At that price, you can pick yourself up an Athlon XP 2600+ and a nice KT333 motherboard like the Epox EP-8K3A+ and still won't come anywhere close to matching the price of Intel's top part.
The scary part is AMD is only asking $193 for the Athlon XP 2400+, and we all know much cheaper street prices are for AMD CPUs. We wouldn't be surprised to see online prices another 20-30% lower once the supply on these chips increases.
Packaging: We're being really nitpicky here, but we always have a "Cons" section in our review so we have to come up with something not to like about the Athlon XP 2600+ and if we had to pick one aspect we don't like it would be the packaging. Not so much that we don't appreciate the Socket A infrastructure, we'd just like to see AMD implement a heat spreader on its newer Thorougbred cores.
At 0.13-micron, the Athlon XP 2600+'s tiny core is even more fragile than its larger 0.18-micron siblings. In addition, the smaller die means the heatsink must work harder to keep the chip cool, as the surface area it has to work with has decreased. Lets not forget the horror stories of Athlon owners with cracked cores. While we've never done this ourselves, we've all seen the horror stories by now. As always, be careful when you're installing the heatsink on your processor, and make sure to use one of AMD's approved heatsinks.
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