||Athlon 64 3800+ Socket 939 & FX-53 Review
May 31, 2004 Chris Crazipper Angelini
Summary: June 1 is now known as Big Day and it's opening up with a huge AMD bang. They're launching Socket 939 and spreading that multiple of three love like there's no tomorrow, what with the Athlon 64 3800+ and a 939 version of the FX-53. Chris takes a detailed look at both processors and compares them against their closest cousins as well as the nearest competitors from Intel, providing a variety of synthetic benchmarks, as well as results from the resolution extremes of real-world games. Click, read, and be merry!
The monarch caterpillar is a stunning blend of black, white, and yellow color that devours milkweed for a couple of weeks before disappearing into a chrysalis. There’s no doubt that the little insect is beautiful in its own right, but the butterfly that emerges 14 days later is undeniably more anticipated by naturalists.
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 18 )|
Although it might be a stretch to compare AMD’s Athlon 64 to a monarch butterfly, the former’s life cycle is looking a lot like the latter. Launched last year in late September, the Athlon 64 FX-51 quickly earned the respect of gaming enthusiasts for blowing past Intel’s 3.2GHz Pentium 4 in a majority of benchmarks. The promise of impending 64-bit software support sweetened the deal, and AMD seemed to have a hit on its hands.
It quickly became clear, however, that the Athlon 64 FX-51 was simply a rebadged Opteron processor, with platform requirements to match the expensive workstation solution. Moreover, AMD had plans to metamorphose its Socket 940 lineup into a new interface with support for conventional unbuffered DDR memory, called Socket 939. Every subsequent product launch bore the same caveat: “This is great, but the best is yet to come.”
After spending several months as an attractive caterpillar, the Athlon 64 family has emerged from its chrysalis – what we’ve been waiting for – in all of its Socket 939 glory. It’d be oversimplifying the situation to say that AMD chopped one pin off of its flagship workstation part to eliminate the registered memory requirement, but in essence, that’s what we’re dealing with.
Of course, platform support is an integral part of AMD’s processor launch, and as such, we should see NVIDIA’s nForce3 250Gb and VIA’s K8T800 Pro chipsets out in full force. For our initial tests, AMD provided us with MSI’s 6702E motherboard based on the VIA core logic.
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The New Athlon 64 FX-53
The core specifications of AMD’s Athlon 64 FX-53 are very similar to its 940-pin predecessor. That is, it still boasts 128KB of L1 cache and 1MB of L2. It still runs at 2.4GHz, sporting a 128-bit (dual-channel) DDR memory controller with support for PC3200 modules. It’s manufactured on the same 130nm SOI process and comprised of 106 million transistors.
| Athlon 64 FX-53 and Athlon 64 3800+||Page:: ( 2 / 18 )|
Athlon 64 FX-53
There are a couple of additions introduced with the Socket 939 platform. The first is a faster HyperTransport link, which runs at 1GHz opposed to 800MHz. And rather than using ceramic microPGA packaging, the new Athlon 64 FX-53 employs the same organic microPGA package as the rest of the Athlon 64 lineup.
The most notable change is of course the 939-pin interface, which eliminates the registered memory requirement inherent to S940. As a result, performance should rise noticeably, as the latencies associated with registered memory (designed with reliability in mind) are eliminated.
Athlon 64 3800+
In addition to the Athlon 64 FX-53, AMD is also unveiling an Athlon 64 3800+, an Athlon 64 3700+, and an Athlon 64 3500+. The 3800+ and 3500+ are both 939-pin chips, while the 3700+ centers on the Socket 754 interface.
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We’ve already seen a variant of the “Newcastle” core used in the Athlon 64 3000+ and 2800+. Those were 754-pin processors, though, measuring a portly 193 square millimeters. The 3800+ is the first incarnation of Newcastle in a 939-pin package, complete with 512KB of L2 and 128KB of L1 cache running at 2.4GHz. It’s manufactured on 130nm process, consists of 68.5 million transistors, and measure 144 square millimeters. Like the FX-53, AMD’s new Athlon 64 3800+ sports a dual-channel memory controller with up to PC3200 memory support and the same 1GHz HyperTransport link.
The Athlon 64 3500+ boasts the same specification sheet, but runs at 2.2GHz.
Athlon 64 3700+
AMD claims that it will continue releasing processors for the Socket 940 and Socket 754 interfaces even as it focuses attention on S939. More than likely, upcoming Socket 940 chips will be Opteron models, while the 754-pin chips will fill in AMD’s mainstream lineup. The 3700+ lands at the top of that family, resembling previous Athlon 64 processors with 1MB of L2 cache and a 64-bit DDR memory controller. Also clocked at 2.4GHz, the 3700+ employs an 800MHz HyperTransport link and is, essentially, a speed bump of the existing Athlon 64 3400+.
| Overclocking, Pricing, and Cool’n’Quiet||Page:: ( 3 / 18 )|
Because the Athlon 64 FX sports an unlocked multipler, AMD’s Damon Muzny claims that it cannot support the Cool’n’Quiet feature offered by standard Athlon 64 chips. That’s of little consequence, though. Power users interested in a high-end part like the Athlon 64 FX generally aren’t interested in clock throttling and thermal conservation, anyway.
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Unfortunately, the S939 MSI motherboard used for testing didn’t recognize the FX’s unlocked multiplier, although AMD insists that it will continue unlocking retail versions of the flagship processor. The K8T800 Pro chipset now supports asynchronous bus speeds though, so we were able to set the board’s bus to 113MHz, hitting 2.56GHz on the FX-53.
The overall performance gains were minimal at best. 3DMark03 realized less than a one percent increase, while high-res tests didn’t budge. At 800x600 the Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby rose four percent, but then again, that isn’t necessarily representative of real-world gaming.
Pricing on the Athlon 64 FX-53 is being increased to $799, which should easily negate any savings attributable to buying unbuffered DR memory. The Athlon 64 3800+ is priced at $720, while the 3700+ comes in at $710. Expect AMD’s Athlon 64 3500+ to cost roughly $500.
Cool’n’Quiet is an adaptation of AMD’s PowerNow! mobile technology that throttles processor frequency when your system is under light load. The slower speed results in less heat output and consequently lower fan speeds. While noise and heat might not be problematic in mid-tower cases, anyone with a small form-factor machine knows that an Athlon 64 and RADEON 9800 XT running around the clock is enough to cause severe instability. Using Cool’n’Quiet, an idle Athlon 64 will drop to 800MHz, outputting far less heat than say, a 2GHz Athlon 64 3200+.
The 3800+, 3700+, and 3500+ all support AMD’s thermally friendly feature, which requires a special utility in Windows ME and 2000 or a simple processor driver in Windows XP. You can use the latest version of H. Oda’s WCPUID utility to monitor the effects of Cool’n’Quiet in real-time.
| System Setup||Page:: ( 4 / 18 )|
AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 (939)
AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 (940)
AMD Athlon 64 FX-51 (940)
AMD Athlon 64 3800+ (939)
AMD Athlon 64 3400+ (754)
Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz Extreme Edition (800MHz bus)
Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz (90nm, 1MB L2)
Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz (130nm, 512KB L2)
MSI 6702E Socket 939 K8T800 Pro Motherboard
ASUS SK8N Socket 940 nForce3 150 Motherboard
Gigabyte K8VNXP Socket 754 K8T800 Motherboard
ASUS P4C800-E Deluxe Socket 478 875P Motherboard
1GB Corsair 2-3-2-6 PC3200 DDR Memory (2x512MB)
1GB Mushkin Registered ECC 2-3-2 PC3200 DDR Memory (2x512MB)
1GB Corsair Pro Series 3-4-4 PC4000 DDR Memory (2x512MB)
GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB
Detonator 56.56 and 56.72
34GB Western Digital Raptor (10,000RPM, 8MB cache)
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1
Desktop resolution 1024x768, 32-bit color, 85Hz refresh
All power saving options were turned off, as were the Automatic Update and System Restore services. Graphics options under the ‘Performance’ tab were all disabled for maximum performance.
PC Magazine Business Winstone 2004
PC Magazine Content Creation Winstone 2004
SiSoft Sandra 2004
Futuremark 3D Mark03 v.340
Novalogic Comanche 4
Square Enix Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 2
Epic Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
Epic Unreal Tournament 2004 Demo
Ubisoft IL2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles
id Software Quake III v.1.32
Yeti Studios Gun Metal Demo
| PC Magazine Benchmarks||Page:: ( 5 / 18 )|
Content Creation Winstone 2004 and Business Winstone 2004
During this year’s E3, we had the opportunity to talk to VIA about its K8T800 Pro chipset. At one point in the conversation, one of the company’s representatives mentioned that in some cases, K8T800 Pro might actually perform a bit slower than its predecessor as a result of the chipset’s asynchronous bus. Indeed, the Socket 939 Athlon 64 FX-53 sacrifices a bit of performance compared to the quicker nForce3 150 board from ASUS.
Although the new S939 Athlon 64 FX-53 outpaces all of Intel’s fastest offerings, it isn’t able to put any distance on AMD’s other high-end products, even in light of unbuffered memory support. The Athlon 64 3800+, on the other hand, shows fairly well, also outpacing Intel’s hardware and delivering a much better value in Content Creation Winstone 2004.
It’s a similar story in Business Winstone 2004, as all of AMD’s top-shelf products beat the best from Intel. However, the Socket 939 processors don’t prove any faster than their Socket 940 counterparts.
The multi-tasking tests favor the Athlon 64 FX line, though Intel’s Pentium 4 family picks up quite a bit of slack, outpacing the new Socket 939 chips and AMD’s older Athlon 64 3400+.
| SiSoft Sandra 2004||Page:: ( 6 / 18 )|
SiSoft Sandra 2004
Operating at the same 2.4GHz as its 940-pin predecessor, the S939 Athlon 64 FX-53 doesn’t pick up any extra performance in the Sandra arithmetic benchmark. Even the Athlon 64 3800+ attains near-parity with the beefier FX family.
The difference between Intel’s NetBurst and the AMD64 architecture is much more pronounced in the multimedia test, where the Pentium 4 processor proves its SSE2 alacrity.
Featuring an integrated memory controller and now, support for unbuffered DDR memory, the Socket 939 processors demonstrate even higher memory bandwidth numbers. The single-channel Socket 754 platform shows its efficiency, while the Intel boards lag significantly below their theoretical 6.4GB per second of throughput.
| PCMark04||Page:: ( 7 / 18 )|
Unlike PC Magazine’s Winstone tests, which are derived from real-world applications controlled by a script, Futuremark’s PCMark04 is a synthetic test that, in its default form, measures overall system performance. As with SiSoft Sandra 2004, the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition does very well here, outpacing the new Socket 939 Athlon 64 FX-53. Interestingly, the Athlon 64 3800+, with its half-sized L2 cache, is able to outperform the older Athlon 64 FX chips. We’ll see if that synthetic differential carries over into real-world applications, though.
| 3DMark03||Page:: ( 8 / 18 )|
Futuremark 3Dmark03 v.340
3DMark03, another synthetic Futuremark application, is similarly unkind to AMD’s Athlon 64 architecture. Although the S939 Athlon 64 FX-53 improves on the S940 version, it isn’t enough to catch up with any of Intel’s 3.4GHz offerings. And again, the 3800+ is right up there with the new FX-53.
The CPU test is a different story, as AMD’s S939 Athlon 64 FX-53 claims a first place finish, well ahead of the second-place Athlon 64 3800+. The S940 FX-53 comes in third, followed by the Athlon 64 FX-51, then Intel’s 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, and finally by the Athlon 64 3400+.
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 9 / 18 )|
Novalogic Comanche 4 Demo
We’re doing something a little different today – rather than run exclusively low-resolution tests, we wanted to mix in a more realistic gaming resolution. At 800x600, it’s easy to see the profound impact of processor performance. Comanche 4 is notorious for demonstrating particular sensitivity to CPUs, and it does so once again here. AMD’s S939 Athlon 64 FX-53 bags another win, followed by the S940 FX-53, Athlon 64 3800+, FX-51, 3.4GHz Extreme Edition, and 3400+, in that order.
At 1600x1200 the difference is a bit more nebulous. Intel’s Pentium 4 Extreme Edition takes fifth place, falling behind all of the FX processors and the new 3800+. It just goes to show, though, that many modern games are more dependant on graphics performance than CPU speed. With that said, the X800 and GeForce 6 series promise to put the burden back on processor performance. It’s unfortunate that the X800 XT and GeForce 6800 Ultra are still missing in action.
| Unreal Tournament 2004 Demo||Page:: ( 10 / 18 )|
Epic Unreal Tournament 2004 Demo
At 800x600, the Athlon 64 FX 53 (S939) holds a slim one percent margin over the Socket 940 variant. AMD’s Athlon 64 3800+ falls into third place with the FX-51 right behind it. Intel’s Pentium 4 products, which rocked the synthetic tests, don’t do as well here in a real-world application of Unreal Tournament 2004.
Things even out to some degree at 1600x1200, though the Athlon 64 family still dominates the benchmark. The largest discrepancy is actually between the two Athlon 64 FX-53’s which are separated by 11 percentage points. Everything else just falls in from there.
| Final Fantasy XI||Page:: ( 11 / 18 )|
Square Enix Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 2
The Final Fantasy test runs in a preset time frame, outputting the number of frames successfully rendered. AMD’s new Athlon 64 FX-53 (S939) takes a three percent lead, followed in kind by the Athlon 64 3800+. The rest of AMD’s Athlon 64 processors follow, trailed by Intel’s 3.4GHz lineup.
| Unreal Tournament 2003||Page:: ( 12 / 18 )|
Epic Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
In similar fashion to the Unreal Tournament 2004 Demo, we see the S939 Athlon 64 FX-53 dominating the benchmarks. Most interesting, though, is that its advantage is most pronounced in the Flyby test at 800x600, a metric that isn’t representative of actual game play since it lacks opponents. When we move to 1600x1200, the differences between the each of the chips shrink. It should also be noted that the Athlon 64 3800+ is able to outrun the Socket 940 Athlon 64 FX-53 in both resolutions.
| IL2 Sturmovik||Page:: ( 13 / 18 )|
Ubisoft IL2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles
Like Comanche 4, IL2 is a flight simulator with a penchant for performance processors. And as we saw with Comanche 4, the story here is short and sweet. Mainly, if you enjoy running games on the fastest hardware at low resolutions, you may see a difference between the S939 Athlon 64 FX-53 running at 108fps and Intel’s Pentium 4 3.4GHz Extreme Edition at 93.
That sort of firepower just begs to be taxed, though. At the very least, you’ll want to run at 1600x1200, perhaps with anti-aliasing to smooth the jagged edges that mar horizon lines. Once the graphics pipeline becomes the bottleneck, these heavyweight processors cease outperforming each other by double digit percentages. Again, though, you can expect the next-generation of graphics hardware to shift some of that dependence back to the CPU.
| Quake III||Page:: ( 14 / 18 )|
id Software Quake III v.1.32 demo ‘four’
Of all the games in our repertoire, Quake III is the oldest by far. Those 400+ frame rates should be plenty indicative of that. Nevertheless, removing the registered memory requirement from the FX platform really augments performance at low resolutions. The high-res numbers aren’t nearly as impressive, but they still show an improvement moving towards unbuffered DDR memory.
| Gun Metal||Page:: ( 15 / 18 )|
Yeti Studios Gun Metal Demo Benchmark 1
Though it isn’t an actual game just yet, the Gunmetal benchmark illustrates the graphical constraints of an application developed with stunning eye candy (it doesn’t hurt that the benchmark mode employs 2x anti-aliasing by default). Even at 800x600, there is minimal margin between the competing processors. At 1600x1200 they all score virtually the same, despite the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra used in the test system.
| Ballistics Report: Athlon 64 FX-53||Page:: ( 16 / 18 )|
Performance: Without question, the Socket 939 FX-53 is the fastest gaming processor on the market. If you’ve wanted an Athlon 64 chip with a compelling upgrade path, the new FX-53 is your Mecca. In a couple of isolated instances (mainly the Content Creation 2004 and Business Winstone 2004) the flagship gives its advantage up to the Socket 940 version, but that’s very likely attributable to the K8T800 Pro platform and not a shortcoming of the processor itself.
Unlocked multiplier: Understandably, an unlocked multiplier is a boon to the zealous overclocking enthusiast, especially in light of the latest Socket 940 and 939 boards based on NVIDIA’s nForce3 250Gb and VIA’s K8T800 Pro, both of which offer asynchronous bus settings. The clear caveat to that is you’ll need a beefier cooling solution if you’re really looking to push the processor. It runs relatively hot in stock form, and it doesn’t seem too cooperative above 2.5GHz or so.
Socket 939: This is what we’ve been waiting for, isn’t it? Rather than divide its processor families with different interfaces, AMD is moving a wider range of enthusiast products to Socket 939 and more mainstream (for as much as you can consider an Athlon 64 mainstream) offerings to Socket 754. Thus, with today’s launch, you’ll have a choice between Athlon 64’s at 3500+ and 3800+ in addition to the Athlon 64 FX-53.
Price: The only real drawback to the new Athlon 64 FX-53 is, not surprisingly, its price. It’s surely disappointing that AMD is raising the price on its flagship to $799. Then again, when you compare the price of AMD’s flagship to Intel’s (the 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, $1,000+ online), the FX-53 enjoys a $200 price advantage.
| Ballistics Report: Athlon 64 3800+||Page:: ( 17 / 18 )|
Performance: Despite battling with half as much L2 cache as its pricier sibling, the Athlon 64 3800+ does really well for itself in the gaming benchmarks, matching or beating Intel’s 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition in every single real-world metric.
Cool and Quiet Technology: In lieu of an unlocked clock multiplier, the Athlon 64 3800+ supports Cool and Quiet technology, which AMD claims cannot work with the Athlon 64 FX specifically because the multiplier isn’t preset. The principle benefit of Cool and Quiet is, of course, reduced thermal output thanks to real-time throttling. As a result, the Athlon 64 is a better candidate for use in a small form-factor gaming system than the FX.
Socket 939: The same platform considerations that make the new Athlon 64 FX-53 so attractive also apply to AMD’s new Athlon 64 processors. Despite its architectural concessions, the Athlon 64 3800+ takes advantage of the latest interface from AMD and its motherboard partners, which should prove easily upgradeable in the next year or two.
Price: There used to be a $300 chasm that separated the Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX processors. In moving to the new interface and adding dual-channel memory capabilities to the Athlon 64, however, there is now a scant $80 that separates the FX-53 and 3800+. The 3500+, priced at $500, might prove to be a better value in an overclocked environment.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 18 / 18 )|
AMD Athlon 64 FX-53
The Athlon 64 FX-53 and Athlon 64 3800+ are, as expected, products of evolution. We’ve anticipated the debut of Socket 939 for months now, and we’ve had our hands on a 2.4GHz Athlon 64 FX-53 since it launched late March. Even still, it’s an exciting day for AMD and the gamers who’ve been waiting patiently for the new processor interface.
With regards to the new Athlon 64 FX-53, don’t expect much more speed than was available before. Eliminating some of the latencies inherent to registered memory helps, sure, but it isn’t going to impact your gaming performance. The real reason for holding off wasn’t performance anyways, though. Socket 939 enables a much more promising upgrade path than Socket 940, meaning your platform should last a little bit longer…
…unless you were planning to buy a PCI Express graphics card, in which case, you’ll probably want to keep waiting until motherboards with VIA’s K8T890 or SiS’ 756 emerge a little later this year.
The Athlon 64 3800+ is a little more interesting. It holds up remarkably well considering it has half the L2 cache as the FX-53. But considering it’s only about $80 cheaper than the FX, we’d rather have the extra 512KB of cache.
And that brings up another question: does the Athlon 64 3800+, running at the same 2.4GHz as the FX-53 and 3700+ deserve its model number? With Intel readjusting the way it measures performance, it’s hard to tell. After all, there aren’t any 3.8GHz Pentium 4 processors on the market by which to measure. It also doesn’t help that there are now Athlon 64 chips with different memory controllers (single channel/double channel and registered/unbuffered memory support), different frequencies, and different L2 cache configurations. So until we see evidence to the contrary, we’ll call the 3800+ rating a fair assessment and a good marketing move (the 3.8GHz Pentium 4 isn’t expected for several months).
It’s nice to finally accept AMD64 without some sort of caveat like, “wait until the next interface surfaces” or “you’ll need to go out and buy some special memory modules.” Backed by the Socket 939 infrastructure, today’s Athlon 64 is truly what the platform should been when it debuted last year. With the integration of PCI Express support in a number of upcoming chipsets, we can expect the AMD64 initiative to be just as feature complete as Intel’s upcoming 925X platform. And though it’s too early to comment on the performance of unreleased hardware, we think today’s launch clearly demonstrates that Intel has some catching up to do when it comes to gaming.
SIDEBAR: Now that the wait it over, what do you think? Buy now, wait until PCI Express hits, or wait until Intel’s next platform announcement?