AMD Athlon XP 2700+ Review October 01, 2002 Brandon Bell
Summary: Just over a month after releasing the Athlon XP 2600+ and Athlon XP 2400+, AMD is back again with two new releases, the Athlon XP 2800+ and 2700+. Unlike their predecessors, these new chips boast a 333MHz system bus! Find out how the Athlon XP 2700+ performs in our review!
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While AMD got off to a slow start with its Thoroughbred core earlier this year, it appears they’ve got things under more control now as today they’re unveiling two new processors – the Athlon XP 2700+ and the Athlon XP 2800+. Like the Athlon XP 2400+ and Athlon XP 2600+, these new chips are based on the second revision of AMD’s 0.13-micron Thoroughbred core, which features an additional metal layer, optimized circuit paths, and additional decoupling capacitors.
All of these enhancements allow the Thoroughbred core to scale to higher clock speeds than its predecessor, which pretty much hit the ceiling at 2GHz. In comparison, today’s Athlon XP 2700+ clocks in at 2.17GHz while the Athlon XP 2800+ runs at 2.25GHz. If you’re familiar with the specs on the Athlon XP 2600+, you realize that its 2.13GHz clock speed is awfully close to the core frequency of the Athlon XP 2700+. “How’d they do that?” you’re probably wondering.
Cranking up the bus
That’s because besides the new clock speeds, today’s new Athlon XP processors also get a new system bus speed: 333MHz! With the higher bus, bandwidth to the processor jumps from 2.1GB/sec to 2.7GB/sec, right in synch with PC2700 (DDR333) memory. This allows the Athlon XP 2700+ to perform faster than the Athlon XP 2600+ even though it’s running at roughly the same clock speed. Earlier this year Intel increased the Pentium 4’s bus speed from 400MHz to 533MHz, bringing a 5% performance boost a 2.4GHz.
While this may not sound like a lot at first, keep in mind that as the clock speed of the processor increases, so does the performance benefit of moving to the faster bus. This is because as processors get faster, they’re left spending more time waiting on other components within the system.
With its 16.0 multiplier, the Athlon XP 2600+ can only access the rest of the system every sixteenth clock cycle. If the processor needs to retrieve data from main memory it often has to wait several clock cycles before it can access the data it needs. CPU manufacturers get around this by implementing larger caches on the CPU itself. For instance, earlier this year, Intel doubled the L2 cache size on Pentium 4 from 256K to 512K. But this solution can get expensive. Another solution is to increase the speed of the system bus.
In comparison to Athlon XP 2600+, Athlon XP 2700+’s 13.0 multiplier yields a similar clock speed (13.0 multiplier x 166MHz system bus = 2.17GHz) but greater performance. Again, with the greater memory bandwidth (provided by the higher bus speed) available to the processor, the CPU is better fed with the data it needs. With DDR333 and, more recently, DDR400 memory being offered for the Athlon platform, the memory was actually running faster than the processor itself. Now that AMD has upped the Athlon’s system bus to 166MHz (effectively 333MHz since the bus transmits data two times per clock cycle), the platform is more balanced and end users such as you and I are happy because we get more performance to run the games and other applications we crave so dearly.
SIDEBAR: AMD recently adjusted its roadmap, Barton and Hammer are now due for release in 2003.
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With the new bus speed comes one interesting new challenge: chipset, and ultimately, motherboard support. After all, it doesn’t do the Athlon XP 2700+ any good if it’s capable of “speaking” to the chipset, and therefore the rest of the system, at 166MHz but the chipset itself can only “speak” at speeds as high as 133MHz before electromagnetic interference and other factors get in the way of both components communicating with each other. So how does AMD plan to release a 333MHz chip if there are no chipsets out there that officially support the new bus?
It turns out, that KT400, nForce2, and SiS 746 have offered support for the 333MHz system bus for quite some time, but nondisclosure agreements have prevented them from boasting about it. This certainly makes sense, after all AMD wants to keep its upcoming products as secret as possible.
But besides these next-generation chipsets, many existing KT333 motherboards will also probably run at the new bus speed as well. In fact, our Athlon 2700+ test kit shipped with Epox’s KT333-based EP-8K3A+ motherboard.
We’re not exactly sure how this is going to play out among motherboard manufacturers. Right now the KT333 chipset does not officially support the 333MHz bus so technically we’d assume that motherboard manufacturers are under no obligation to officially support the new bus speed. Considering how slow the tech market is these days, a motherboard upgrade would certainly perk up sales. But it appears motherboard manufacturers are going to be honest this time around. ASUS for instance has already posted new BIOS releases for its KT333 and KT400 boards that offer 166MHz bus support. The MSI board we used in today’s review also worked flawlessly.
However, we still wouldn’t be surprised to see the marketing folks at these companies hype up 333MHz support on their KT400 products, while this important detail is kept under the rug for KT333, even though it works just as well. After all, they’ve got to make a living selling their latest and greatest products! Therefore we recommend that you keep up with the BIOS releases for your motherboard in particular, also be sure to check AMD’s validation page for a list of motherboards that have been validated to work with the new processors.
Pricing and availability
Like the Athlon XP 2600+ launch, the Athlon XP 2800+ and Athlon XP 2700+ haven’t shipped to retail channels just yet. This time around, AMD will sell its first supplies to OEMs. We were told high-end computer manufacturers such as Alienware and Falcon Northwest would be the first to receive supply of the new chips, with retail availability coming later on. AMD's press release states that limited edition systems featuring the processors won't be available until late November, so we don't expect either chip to hit retail until Christmas at the earliest, but most likely early 2003.
Officially AMD is charging $397 for the Athlon XP 2800+ when purchased in 1,000 unit quantities, while the Athlon XP 2700+ is priced at $349. Pricing on the remaining Athlon XP processors remains unchanged.
SIDEBAR: Besides ASUS and MSI, we were also able to briefly test the chip on a Gigabyte motherboard
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AMD Athlon XP 2700+ @ 175MHz FSB
AMD Athlon XP 2700+
AMD Athlon XP 2600+
Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz
Intel Pentium 4 2.53GHz
MSI KT4 Ultra (KT400)
MSI 648 MAX (SiS 648)
256MB Corsair XMS3200 CAS2 DDR SDRAM
NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4600 Driver version Detonator 40.71
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
AFREEY 12X DVD-ROM
Windows XP Professional
Desktop Resolution: 1024x768x32
3DMark 2001 Second Edition - 32-bit color, 32-bit textures
Quake 3 Retail - High Quality
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter - Normal (32-bit) The Elephant Atrium demo
Jedi Knight II – High Quality
Unreal Tournament 2003 demo
Comanche 4 demo
SIDEBAR: The packaging on our Athlon XP 2700+ was brown.
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3DMark 2001 Second Edition - DirectX 8
SIDEBAR: We’d wanted to also run tests with E-Testing Labs suite, but ran out of time.
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3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
SIDEBAR: AMD will be conducting a webcast later today, hit up their website to join in.
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Quake III - High Quality
SIDEBAR: We’re probably one or at most two new benchmarks away from phasing Quake 3 out of our suite of benchmarks.
Serious Sam 2
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Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
SIDEBAR: AMD also launched a new mobile Athlon 2000+ last month.
Jedi Knight II
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Jedi Knight II
SIDEBAR: It is rumored that Dell may use Hammer in its upcoming lineup. We’ll believe it when we see it.
UT 2003 flyby
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Unreal Tournament 2003
SIDEBAR: Unreal Tournament 2003 should be hitting store shelves even as we speak, making the demo one of the shortest-lived benchmarks we’ve ever used.
UT 2003 botmatch
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Unreal Tournament 2003
SIDEBAR: We’d wanted to test with the RADEON 9700 instead of GeForce4, but the SiS 648 chipset just wouldn’t run with it.
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SIDEBAR: The real life Comanche is built by a team of companies led by Boeing and Sikorsky. Production should begin in 2005 if memory serves me correctly.
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333MHz bus: The new bus speed brings a noticeable performance gain to the Athlon XP 2700+, just as we’d hoped when we’d originally learned of its oncoming release a few weeks ago. With the performance boost the 333MHz bus brings, we definitely see why AMD hasn’t felt rushed to get its upcoming Barton core out on the market this year. Of course, Intel’s Hyperthreading technology will be making its debut soon, but that’s another story. Thanks to its faster bus, the Athlon XP 2700+ is more than capable of keeping up with the fastest Pentium 4’s.
New stepping: While it’s not exactly “new” anymore, the newer Thoroughbred stepping used by the Athlon XP 2700+ allows it to scale to higher clock speeds more easily than its predecessors, allowing AMD to get sufficient enough yields to commence full production of the chips (although you wouldn’t know it based on their supply to date).
Overclocking: One of the added benefits of the new stepping is the higher overclocking potential. We’ve been able to get each of our Athlon XP chips based on this new core to clock speeds right around 2.3GHz, not bad at all. Hopefully the new stepping will eventually work its way down to the slower Athlon XP processors. Once that occurs, consumers in the know could pick up one of these chips for considerably less than an Athlon XP 2600+ or 2700+, overclock it like crazy, and then used the money saved to pick up a better video card than they normally would have been able to afford.
At least that’s our hope in theory. In actual practice it’s looking like the new Thoroughbred stepping won’t be making its way down to the XP 2100+ or XP 2000+ for quite awhile, AMD is too busy selling the XP 2400+, 2600+, 2700+, and 2800+ to OEMs. And who can blame them; after all they’re getting a much higher profit margin on these chips.
Pricing: At $349, the Athlon XP 2700+ is priced very attractively in light of the competition from Intel. While Intel doesn’t offer a Pentium 4 at 2.7GHz (at least that we’re aware of, we wouldn’t be surprised if some OEM chips surfaced) it’s 2.8GHz part is officially priced at $508. Meanwhile AMD is asking $397 for the Athlon XP 2800+.
Availability: Unfortunately, AMD is paper launching its 333MHz processors, just like it did for the Athlon XP 2600+ and 2400+ releases. We’re really wondering why AMD chose to release these processors in particular so soon after the XP 2600+. It still hasn’t hit retail shelves over a month after its launch! The Athlon XP 2400+ is just now becoming available which is a good thing, but now that the 333MHz chips have been announced we bet many some of you would rather just wait and pick up the Athlon XP 2700+ or 2800+.
We wouldn’t be surprised at all if you were still waiting eight weeks from now.
SIDEBAR: The original Athlon contained 22 million transistors.