Summary: With price points of $99 and $122, AMD's latest quad-core CPUs are priced to move. But a low price tag isn't all these processors have going for them, they're also good performers with lots of headroom for OC'ing. Join us as we pump the Athlon II X4 620 and 630 through our suite of benchmarks in this article!
Normally the easiest way to improve your margins is to introduce higher-performing parts that you can charge a premium price for. Getting high-end Phenom II CPUs out the door earlier this year was key to that strategy for AMD and it was beginning to work, with PC vendors like Dell introducing gaming-oriented XPS PCs based around AMD CPUs for the first time.
The recent arrival of Intelís Lynnfield CPUs however puts a major obstacle in front of those plans. Charging anything over Intelís $200 asking price for the Core i5-750 is now impossible for any Phenom II CPU considering the performance of Intelís latest mainstream processor.
Without a high-end, premium-priced CPU to rely on, AMDís instead going to have to improve their profit margins on the low-end of their CPU lineup. In other words, theyíve got to make these CPUs cheaper to produce. The key to making this happen is their new 45-nm manufacturing process.
As we mentioned in our Phenom II X2 550/Athlon II X2 250 article, the lionís share of AMDís entry-level CPU lineup is based around existing 65-nm Athlon X2 CPUs. Some of these chips are even parts based on their old K10 Kuma core used in Phenom CPUs. The 65-nm Athlon X2 7850 is one such chip, it features a 285mm2 die size. To put that in perspective, the die size of AMDís latest Phenom II X4 965 is just 258mm2, with the core featuring over 750 million transistors (Kuma has 450 million transistors).
Taking quad-core CPUs to new price points
With this in mind, AMDís currently racing to switch from these large 65-nm chips to purpose-built 45-nm designs that are built from the ground up to service the value CPU segment. The 45-nm Regor core used in AMDís Athlon II X2 250 for example contains 234 million transistors with a die that measures just 117.5mm2. This CPU core has been tailored specifically for the entry-level dual-core CPU market.
AMDís introducing two new CPUs based on Propus today, the Athlon II X4 630 and Athlon II X4 620. Priced at $99 and $122 respectively, AMD feels theyíve hit the sweet spot when it comes to quad-core price/performance.
Weíve secured samples of both chips to see how they stack up against the competition in terms of performance, OCíing, and power consumption. If you recall, one of Phenomís key weaknesses was its tiny 2MB L3 cache. This crippled its performance in comparison to competing Intel quad-core CPUs. Can Propus keep up with Intelís popular Core 2 Quad 8000-series CPUs?
Without a doubt, Propusí most defining characteristic is its lack of L3 cache. Back when AMD first introduced the world to quad-core computing, they cited the need for a third-level cache to keep all four cores fed with data. In this regard itís a bit of a reversal for the company.
Fortunately Propus incorporates all the IPC (instructions per clock) enhancements found in Phenom II CPUs based on AMDís Deneb core. Propus also ships at higher clock speeds than older Agena-based Phenom CPUs (with the only exception being the now discontinued 2.6GHz Phenom 9950), and with the addition of faster DDR3-1333MHz should you choose to utilize AMDís new AM3 platform. These improvements should hopefully allow it to deliver good performance in the mainstream workloads itís expected to run.
The rest of the CPUís cache configuration carries over unchanged from previous quad-core offerings from AMD, with Propus shipping with the same 512KB of L1 cache (64K data+64K instruction per core) and 2MB of L2 cache (512KB L2 cache per core) as previous AMD quad-core CPUs. The memory controller and HyperTransport speeds also carries over from previous CPU architectures. As you can see, max TDP is 95W.
Two Athlon II X4 SKUs are launching today. The 2.6GHz Athlon II X4 620 and the 2.8GHz Athlon II X4 630. With their $99 and $122 price points, these chips will presumably appeal to the user who needs the benefits of quad-core processing, but doesnít want to spend the premium on a Phenom II processor. Say for instance the dad doing casual video encoding/photo editing work, or the RTS gamer on a budget who wants a quad-core CPU for Supreme Commander but would like to save some money so he or she can splurge on a faster video card.
These are the types of users who would reap the benefits of the Athlon II X4ís fourth core in comparison to a Phenom II X3 720 or Phenom II X2 550, which are both priced similarly to the Athlon II X4.
Two different cores
While the bulk of Athlon II X4 CPUs will rely on AMDís Propus core, it turns out that some Athlon II X4 CPUs will also utilize AMDís more powerful Deneb core. Deneb is of course the flagship core AMD uses in all Phenom II CPUs and features 6MB of L3 cache integrated in the CPU.
With fewer transistors inside the Athlon II X4, in theory you could argue that the CPU could potentially be easier to OC than Phenom II X4 Deneb cores. Of course, as well all know by now, thereís a lot more that goes into successful OCíing than just that, but we were eager to see how far we could push both X4 CPUs anyway.
We managed to hit a max speed of 3.458GHz (13x266) with the Athlon II X4 620 at stock voltage. Thatís pretty comparable to previous Black Edition Phenom II CPUs weíve tested in the past.
The max stable speed we hit with our X4 620 chip was 3.679GHz (13x283). We could actually boot and run many apps at even higher speeds, but we couldnít achieve 100% system stability at those clocks. We took a CPU-Z screenshot of the CPU running at over 3.8GHz:
The Athlon II X4 630 managed even better. At stock voltage we were able to clock the CPU up to 3.346GHz (14x239). This particular chip had a slightly lower stock voltage (1.312V vs 1.392), which probably explains why it wasnít able to scale as far as the 620 with no added juice.
Once we cranked up the voltages though, the chip responded beautifully. We managed to hit 3.766GHz with complete stability, and could push it as far as 3.836GHz as you can see here:
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200
ASUS P5E3 Premium
4GB (2x2GB) OCZ DDR3 PC3-16000 Platinum @ DDR3-1333 Speeds
AMD Athlon II X4 630
AMD Athlon II X4 620
AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition
4GB (2x2GB) Corsair CM3X2G1600C9DHX @ DDR3-1333 Speeds
ATI Radeon HD 4890 1GB
500GB Western Digital Caviar SE16
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 2
To see how much of a performance hit Propus takes as a result of its missing L3 cache, we underclocked our Phenom II X4 965 chip down to the same speed as the Athlon II X4 630 Ė 2.8GHz Ė we also included benchmarks with the 2.8GHz Phenom II X3 720 to see how AMDís triple-core CPU fares against the quad-cores.
Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
Far Cry 2 Ė Direct3D
Crysis Ė Direct3D
Left 4 Dead
Lost Planet Ė Direct3D
Officially the Q8200 lists for $163 (Newegg currently lists it for $150), a little over $40 more than the Athlon II X4 630.
In our head-to-head benchmarks, the two CPUs traded battles for the most part in games. The Athlon II X4 630 delivered superior performance in Lost Planet, running 12% faster than the Core 2 Quad Q8200 at 800x600, but the Q8200 bested the X4 630 in Far Cry 2 by a hair over 20% at the same resolution. Our Crysis scores were close enough to call it a draw, while the Intel CPU pulled ahead in Left 4 Dead, running 8% faster than the X4 630.
Intelís Core 2 Quad Q8200 does have a clearer advantage in our media encoding and rendering benchmarks. The Athlon II X4 630 earns a win in Cinebench, besting the Core 2 Q8200 by 4%, but every other test favors Intelís entry-level Core 2 Quad.
Normally AMDís pricing advantage would probably sway a fair number of consumers in the Athlon II X4 630ís direction given these benchmarks (especially if youíre more interested in the gaming benchmarks where most of the burden falls on your GPU anyway). However, Intel still hasnít announced their Core 2 price cuts.
If Intel ultimately decides to position the Core 2 Quad Q8200 against AMDís Athlon II X4 630, then by all means, AMDís entry-level quad is in great shape to compete against Intel. Priced at $99, the Athlon II X4 620 has no direct competition; OEMs and system vendors will gladly eat up this CPU for budget quad-core rigs. The product managers at Dell, HP, and Gateway are probably dreaming up $500 quad-core rigs now, with marketing campaigns promising quad-core computing on the cheap right behind.
But if Intel decides to position the Core 2 Quad Q8200 against the $99 Athlon II X4 620, and the Q8400 against the X4 630, life gets tougher for Propus.
Given all this, you may want to wait a few weeks if youíre in the market for a new entry-level quad-core processor. Intel chose not to respond to Phenom II initially when it launched earlier this year. Ultimately though, they were forced to respond with price cuts. The introduction of a $99 quad-core processor is such a disruptive moment, that if Intel chooses not to respond to Propus, it could once again be a move they ultimately end up regretting.
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