||AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 Review
January 09, 2006
Summary: With dual-core gaining in popularity, AMD has taken their FX line in a new direction as their Athlon 64 FX-60 boasts 2 processor cores running at 2.6GHz, each with 1MB of L2 cache. Basically, AMD's integrated two FX-55 CPUs onto a single die. In today's review we've benchmarked the FX-60 against six other CPUs. See how the new chip fares against AMD's single-core and dual-core offerings, as well as the latest from Intel in this article!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 14 )|
Not that the Extreme Edition 955 completely caught up or anything. It certainly rocked a couple of synthetic benchmarks and Windows Media Encoder 9. But as far as gaming was concerned, AMD’s FX-57 continued landing its blows.
There was one notable exception—Quake 4, recently patched to take advantage of multi-core hardware. The patch was born out of an effort between id and Intel, so the results there might not necessarily be fair. But that’s how the game is played, folks. Intel has shown a real dedication to helping developers enable software with threaded optimizations, while AMD has more publicly evangelized 64-bit technology. Thus, Intel’s Extreme edition 955 performed predictably well.
But long before Intel announced the new Extreme Edition and even before we had run the threaded Quake 4 patch through its paces, AMD had already made the executive decision to start shifting the gamer-oriented Athlon 64 FX to a dual-core configuration. A recent discussion with AMD representatives at CES in sunny Las Vegas helped clarify the company’s position.
According to AMD, we’re at an inflection point where games such as Quake 4 and Call of Duty 2 are being optimized for multiple cores, right alongside the content creation and productivity applications. Seeing as though the FX lineup is the one associated with gaming, it’s apparently apropos to complement a slowly growing cadre of titles with a gaming processor to match. It’ll naturally take years before all games get the same treatment, whether through a patch or via ground-up development. But AMD wants to be there from the outset, giving gamers one more choice when it comes to choosing a solid CPU backbone.
Therein lays the justification for AMD’s new Athlon 64 FX-60, the first dual-core model to bear an FX designation. Is the honor necessarily deserved? That’s a subjective call you’ll have to make based on specification-level compromises and benchmark results.
| Inside the New FX||Page:: ( 2 / 14 )|
I certainly hope you weren’t expecting some major shift in manufacturing technology or bevy of extra features. AMD has its recipe for success and is sticking to it once again. The Athlon 64 FX-60 is, fundamentally, two Athlon 64 FX-55 processors on a single die.
The chip runs at 2.6 GHz, perhaps a disappointing backwards slide from the single-core FX-57’s 2.8 GHz operating frequency. Each core has its own 64KB L1 instruction cache and 64KB L1 data cache, along with separate 1MB L2 repositories.
The packaging is the same—939-pin micro-PGA. So is the process technology—90nm Silicon on Insulator from Fab 30 in Dresden, Germany. Of course, transistor count goes up relative to past FX-series chips, topping 233.2 million spread across 199 square millimeters.
Value-added extras also persist. Enhanced Virus Protection is present and accounted for, as is SSE3 support. You’ll have to wait for virtualization technology, unfortunately, as that’s being introduced in an upcoming stepping revision.
Sometimes it’s good when nothing changes, though. For instance, AMD is able to run the FX-60 at 2.6 GHz—200 MHz faster than the advanced Athlon 64 4800+—without breaching its established 110W thermal power barrier. In other words, the same heatsinks used for months now continue serving the FX-60’s purposes here today.
The situation is further aided along thanks to Cool’n’Quiet technology, a feature that hasn’t always been openly advertised on the high-end FX-series. At its minimum power state, Cool’n’Quiet is able to get the FX-60 running at frequencies as low as 1.2 GHz. At that point, its maximum thermal power drops to a scant 46.7W
You could argue that Intel’s 65nm Pentium Extreme Edition 955 did the same thing; however, a much higher thermal design power coupled with some clear initial thermal anomalies suggest it’ll take much more than a shift in lithography to get Intel back on track. Fortunately, representatives at the company indicate the upcoming Conroe core will do just that. Until then, AMD continues selling the cooler chip.
Not good enough? Alright. Expect to pay an MSRP of $1,031 for a boxed FX-60 at launch. Yes, AMD says it’ll be available immediately. That’s more expensive than a Pentium Extreme Edition 955 and the same price as an Athlon 64 FX-57. You’ll have to pick your flagship poison carefully because it isn’t an affordable decision to make either way.
Incidentally, while Intel announced the Presler-based Extreme Edition late in 2005, it still isn’t available at retail.
| Think About It…||Page:: ( 3 / 14 )|
What’s In A Name?
Brandon and I spent some time discussing the ramifications of AMD’s decision here and came to the conclusion that this chip might have been better named an Athlon 64 X2 5200+, leaving the 5000+ moniker for a 2 x 512KB cache version. Giving it a higher designation than the FX-57 suggests it’ll outperform the single-core 2.8 GHz model. And while that’s true in many cases, especially when you’re talking digital content creation, it isn’t universal to all of our tests. FX-60 doesn’t tell this chip’s whole story.
On the flip side, AMD is keeping the FX-57 available for those gamers looking for the highest single-threaded performance today. That’s a commendable move considering there will undoubtedly still be demand for the 2.8 GHz part.
A Mind To The Future
Something else you’ll want to keep in mind: sexy as this part might be, AMD has plans to introduce a new socket interface in the first half of 2006. It’ll undoubtedly continue supporting the massive install base of Socket 939 platforms, but buying now means missing out on DDR2 support and virtualization technology, at the very least. Granted, it remains to be seen what DDR2 does for performance.
So, before dropping ten bills on an FX-60 and committing to a relatively doomed infrastructure, it would probably be prudent to take a wait-and-see approach at this juncture. Cliché as it might be, change is right around the corner.
Hoping for a little saving grace in the form of 2.8 GHz, we downloaded the latest BIOS from ASUS’ Web site and tried tuning the Athlon 64 FX-60 up in half-multiplier increments. A few BIOS screens later, the 2.8 GHz barrier was easily breached with AMD’s reference cooling solution.
The extra speed shaved three seconds from our Windows Media Encoder 9 test, bumped Quake 4 up to 127.2 frames per second from 123.4 at 1024x768, and boosted the synthetic 3DMark05 CPU score to 6450 from 6360.
For the sake of trying, we were able to get the FX-60 into Windows at 2.9 GHz and past the POST screen at 3 GHz. Neither setting proved stable enough to run benchmarks, though. An overclocker with liquid cooling would likely have little trouble getting much more performance from the fairly flexible FX-60.
| System Setup||Page:: ( 4 / 14 )|
AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 (2.6 GHz)
AMD Athlon 64 FX-57 (2.8 GHz)
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ (2.4 GHz)
AMD Athlon 64 4000+ (2.4 GHz)
Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 (3.46 GHz)
Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 840 (3.2 GHz)
Intel Pentium D 840 3.2 GHz)
ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe Motherboard
Intel D975XBX 975X Express Motherboard
1GB OCZ Technology DDR-400 CAS 2 Memory (2x512MB)
1GB Corsair DDR2-675 CAS 3 Memory (2x512MB)
NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX with ForceWare 81.98
Western Digital Raptor 34GB 10,000RPM Hard Drive
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2
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.
In an effort to represent the virtues of multi-core processing while still testing the latest games, we’ve mixed media encoding tests, synthetic metrics, and a handful of shooters.
Windows Media Encoder 9
DivX Converter 6.1
| Windows Media Encoder 9||Page:: ( 5 / 14 )|
Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9
Formerly the domain of AMD’s Athlon 64 X2 4800+, the FX-60 storms in and claims a first-place finish. Windows Media Encoder 9 makes the FX-60 look like a major improvement over the FX-57 coexisting next to it.
Intel’s lineup performs admirably as well, albeit behind the AMD dual-core offerings. Representatives were really buzzing about Conroe at CES, so hopefully we’ll see a more competitive picture once NetBurst is finally trashed.
| Dual-Core and DivX||Page:: ( 6 / 14 )|
DivX Converter 6.1
Although DivX is optimized for threaded operation, the improvements aren’t as obvious as they are in Windows Media Encoder. Even still, the FX-60 predictably beats AMD’s Athlon 64 X2 4800+. Strangely enough, it falls short of the FX-57 in the same test.
| 3DMark05||Page:: ( 7 / 14 )|
| PCMark05||Page:: ( 8 / 14 )|
| F.E.A.R.||Page:: ( 9 / 14 )|
At 1024x768, the Athlon 64 FX-60 trails the FX-57 by a single frame. That difference disappears entirely at 1600x1200, where graphics requirements expose the limitations of NVIDIA’s GeForce 7800 GTX.
This brings to the forefront an important point in our discussion on naming and game performance. If you’re prepared to spend upwards of $1,000 on a high-end processor, there’s a good chance you’ll also own some of the best graphics hardware out there. With almost certainty, 1024x768 won’t even be an afterthought. You’ll be pushing 1600x1200 at least, watching a pair of video cards slow you down before a mere 200 MHz discrepancy in processor frequency.
| Quake 4||Page:: ( 10 / 14 )|
Quake 4: What a Difference a Patch Makes
Quake 4 is the one game that really upholds the AMD argument for releasing a dual-core Athlon 64 FX. Not only does the FX-60 usurp the FX-57 before it, but it also bests Intel’s Extreme Edition 955, which took first place last time around.
Of course, the advantage all but dries up at 1600x1200, but at least this game gives us a glance into how AMD is thinking with its latest enthusiast processor.
| Half-Life 2||Page:: ( 11 / 14 )|
Valve Half-Life 2
| Far Cry||Page:: ( 12 / 14 )|
| Ballistics Report: Athlon 64 FX-60||Page:: ( 13 / 14 )|
Performance: Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that AMD once again hits the ball out of the park here. The Athlon 64 FX-60 isn’t Barry Bonds consistent with the homers. Rather, it’s more Paul Konerko timely, swatting the grand slams when it needs them.
Feature Set: Though it doesn’t incorporate the extra features we’ll be seeing once AMD shift to Socket AM2 in the first half of this year, the FX-60 still levies plenty of extra punch beyond its raw performance. You get Cool’n’Quiet, Enhanced Virus Protection, SSE3, 64-bit addressability, and drop-in compatibility with the revered Socket 939 platform.
Overclockability: If you’re armed with the right equipment, the FX-60 should really facilitate a rewarding overclocking experience. It’s unlocked, just like all of the FX’s before it, and thus easily manipulated. We ran at 2.8 GHz stably with nothing more than stock cooling. And given the ease of booting up at 3 GHz, that hallmark frequency should be within reach for liquid coolers.
Price: Funny how the price of FX processors has crept up over time. Remember back when they used to run $730 or so? That’s $300 less than today’s models! Now that we’re in the four-digit territory, you have to be crazy in love with computer hardware or obscenely rich to afford one of these gems.
AM2 Have you come to your own conclusion regarding the merits of FX-60 versus FX-57? Here’s something else that’ll blow your mind. In a few short months, AMD will introduce a new socket interface tentatively known as the AM2, which will mow down your upgrade path like Jesse Ventura wielding a MXU-370A1 in Predator. Even if Socket 939 lives on for a time, you’ll eventually have to face spending more than a grand on a doomed interface.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 14 / 14 )|
AMD Athlon 64 FX-60
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