So, AMD has been having some difficulty in keeping up with Intel and their current generation of CPU. This is not to say that AMD does not have fast CPUs, it is just that they have only been as fast as Intel's last generation (unless you overclock them).
Well, all that is changing today. AMD has just lifted the lid on a 6-core Phenom II CPU. This 3.2GHz many cored monster could rearrange the playing field for CPUs.
Along with the Phenom II X6 we are also seeing the 890FX chipset for the first time. This gives a high-end CPU the needed chipset to operate in the enthusiast and prosumer market. According to AMD, even the 3.2GHz 1090T will only set you back about $300 or so.
So let's see if this 6-cored, 3.2GHz, $300 CPU can keep up with Intel's Nehalem family from top to bottom.
I am sure that you can guess the first thing that is different with the Phenom II X6 is the number of cores. AMD has dropped two extra cores into the Phenom II X6 to give you some extra computing power.
But extra cores is not the only thing that is different. AMD has also added in something similar to Intel's Turbo Mode. AMD is calling this Turbo CORE. This boosts three of the six cores by up to 500MHz to handle applications that cannot make use of all six. On the 1090T we used for testing this means that three of the six cores can run at up to 3.6GHz when needed to give certain applications a boost.
AMD also increased the amount of L2 and L3 cache; these have gotten bumped up to 3MB and 6MB respectively.
Luckily the new Phenom II X6 can run on either the AM3 or the AM2+ base with nothing more than a BIOS update needed to get things going. This means that you can run the X6 with either DDR2 or DDR3.
The Phenom II X6 is also still being run on a 45nm process with a die size of 258mm^2 (AMD should switch to 32nm next year). It also has a 125Watt TDP (lower than the original Phenom X4), it can run on voltages up to 1.4Watt and remain in spec, while the max temp it can handle is 62c.
So, it looks like there is not that much that is new. We wonder if the differences will be enough to get AMD back up to the same level as Intel's current generation CPUs.
A Chipset to go with the Chip
As we mentioned in our introduction, the AMD Phenom II X6 will have a new chipset to run on (although it can run on older chipsets like the 7xx series, too). While it will fit comfortably into both the AM2+ and AM3 sockets with a BIOS update, AMD did want to give a new chipset that can take advantage of the latest technology available.
So, AMD has come out with the 800 series chipsets. We have shown you some of the performance you can expect from the 800 series in the 890GX motherboards we have tested recently. Still, for many, this will not be good enough for their high-end computing needs.
As such, AMD has brought out the big guns; the 890FX chipset. The one we used for our testing was the ASUS Crosshair IV Formula, a pure enthusiast positioned offering.
This board has more than a few nice features for the enthusiast and/or gamer. We will not go into major detail here, but we can show you some nice pictures of this board as a preview.
Of course, you get core unlocking from boot-up on the ASUS Board.
It looks like the 890FX will be a great board; at least the one that we were sent is looking that way. We hope to test a few more of these out for you in the coming months.
Our overclocking experience with AMD CPUs has not been what it once was. There was a time when we could push an AMD CPU and get a 40 to 50% OC. However, with the introduction of the Phenom we saw much of this go away without the use of major cooling. As we noted earlier, the T-Max is 62c; this puts high voltage use out of the reach of air and simple water cooling.
In the end we found that we could get up into the 4.5GHz range as long as we did not try to run anything more than CPU-Z. To get a good stable OC we had to back off to 248 MHz for the bus, leaving the multiplier at its normal 16. We did push the voltage up to 1.4 for stability, though. We plan to play around a little more with this CPU in our dedicated review of the ASUS Crosshair IV Formula.
You can see the validation for the AMD Phenom II X6 1090T here.
As motherboard makers are making overclocking tools, AMD is also dropping in one of their own. This is called AMD Overdrive (or AOD for short). AOD is an interesting tool in that it can give you a ton of information about the motherboard you are using as well as the CPU in place. I was surprised that it was even able to break down the internal components of the CPU, letting me know which build of IMC is inside.
Of course, that is not what most people would use AOD for. It does have complete controls available for tweaking your CPU and getting the most out of it. You have a full view of the temperatures and voltages in operation on your board as well as the ability to scale the CPU based on steps from stock to extreme.
The individual core monitor is great and will also show you when Turbo CORE is active.
I found this utility to be a of great use during the testing of the 1090T even though I did not use it to overclock the CPU. It still provided me with much more information than I was able to get from using multiple tools.
Another good thing to note is that AOD did not conflict with the ASUS overclocking tool, TurboV. This is good to know as you can use TurboV to overclock and still have all of the great information that AOD provides.
Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.
Test System Setup and Comments
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: ASUS, AMD, Kingston and Cooler Master and Sceptre.
There is really not too much to say about the 1090T. I did not notice any issues with applications; the CPU just ran. As most of our applications are specifically picked for their ability to handle multiple CPU cores/threads, we did not get the chance to see the Turbo CORE feature until we started our gaming tests. The problem there is that the CPU is not a major factor for most games anymore. This means that even though we saw a slight increase in CPU clock during game play, it had almost no impact.
This does not mean Turbo CORE is useless; it means that for many the feature will not be needed or used. However, for someone that may run older non-threaded applications the Turbo CORE feature will come in handy. And considering the $300 price tag this may actually allow the Phenom II X6 to end up in more than a few entry level and mid-range systems than your average Intel Core CPU. I was a little disappointed that the T-Max is so low, but if the system is built right, that should not come into play too much.
Synthetic Tests - Part I
With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, Sisoft Sandra, FutureMark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.
Memory is a big part of current system performance. In most systems slow or flakey memory performance will impact almost every type of application you run. To test memory we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra, Everest and HyperPi 0.99.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2010c 1626
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
Product Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.net
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Ouch, the 1090T did not give a very good showing for memory performance. We were hoping for bandwidth numbers a little closer to Intel's here, but they did not materialize.
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.30.1983
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
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Everest Ultimate is a suite of tests and utilities that can be used for system diagnostics and testing. For our purposes here we use their memory bandwidth test and see what the theoretical performance is.
Everest backs up the memory performance we saw with Sandra. AMD really needs to work on this in the next generation. It is possible that the multi-purpose memory controller (DDR2 and DDR3 with ECC) could be part of the issue, but we do not have enough information right now to be sure.
Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br
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HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.
For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.
What our HyperPi testing shows is how bad memory performance can affect you if you are crunching large numbers. If you look at the Sandra memory scores you can see this. As the overclocked Xeon dropped in memory speed, so did its HyperPi Score.
Synthetic Tests - Part II
Version and / or Patch Used: 126.96.36.199
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
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For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.
The Phenom II X6 does ok here in x86 testing. However, it still cannot outperform even the $200 Core i5 750 during the x64 run.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/
Product Homepage: www.futuremark.com
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For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. Futuremark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI and more advanced graphics simulations.
3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for PhysX. As we are no longer using an NVIDIA GPU for testing (at least until we can get a GTX 4xx card) you will only see the CPU based PhysX results in the scores. For testing we use the Performance test run.
Ok, so the X6 runs rings around the Core i5 750 at stock speeds. However, considering the OC headroom that the i5 750 has, that advantage is quickly overcome with a little bump in the BLCK. Interestingly, the X6 out performs the Core i5 750 when overclocked, even though the x6 is at a slower speed.
Cinebench R11.5 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: www.maxon.net
Download It Here
Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D, another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R11.5 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.
Wow, here the AMD X6 kicks it into high gear. At stock speeds it out runs both the Core i5 750 and the Xeon X3470, while when overclocked it is only second to the Core i7 980X.
Real-World Tests - Part I
Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.
It is especially true when testing a mainboard; there are so many components of a board that have to interact that any problems between parts can cause a failure of the whole.
For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.
Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need a good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/
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Our Lightwave 3D testing puts the AMD X6 just above the Core i5 750. It also shows that Lightwave is very thread aware (at least with the scene and render model we chose). You can see it scale very nicely as you add more cores and threads for it to use.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk/
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AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.
The 1090T puts on a decent showing here as it outperforms both the stock Core i5 750 and the Xeon X3470.
Real-World Tests Part II
Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose use multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frames per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.
*** A word on gaming as a CPU test ***
Despite the fact that most games are very GPU limited, we are still noticing HDD and even audio creating issues in gaming performance. Because of this you may see differences in the number of frames rendered per second between different boards. Usually the difference is very small, but occasionally because of bad tracing, poor memory or HDD performance, this difference is significant. The issues are often more prevalent in older versions of DirectX, but can still pop up in DX10 and 11.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (DX9)
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: First combat until the school is cleared
Developer Homepage: http://www.infinityward.com
Product Homepage: http://modernwarfare2.infinityward.com
Most of you know about the game Modern Warfare 2; it caused quite a bit of controversy in the latter half of 2009. The game is a first person shooter with a heavy combat emphasis. It follows the events in the first Modern Warfare very closely and brings back several characters from the original.
As with most games in the Call of Duty franchise, it features a heavy AI load. This is not because of a complex AI routine, but more due to the sheer number of enemies in any given combat situation. It is also our single DX9 based game in our testing suite. Settings are shown below.
Ok, so the AMD X6 comes in near the top on this one. However, while we certainly will call this a win for AMD, the fact that it is less than 10FPS between the top and bottom scores takes a little away from it. After all, at 100+ FPS it is highly unlikely that you will notice the difference during game play.
Far Cry 2 (DX10)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage: http://www.ubi.com
Product Homepage: http://farcry.us.ubi.com
Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".
In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal. Unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. Settings we used for testing are shown below.
Ouch! In Far Cry 2 the AMD X6 CPU did not do well at all. Of course, this game was written with Intel CPUs in mind, but I would not have expected this.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (DX11)
Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: From washing up on the beach to the mine fields.
Developer Homepage: http://www.ea.com/
Product Homepage: http://badcompany2.ea.com/
Battlefield Bad Company is another sequel and also another game "franchise". Bad Company 2 is also our DX11 Shooter game. The game follows a fictitious B company team on a mission to recover a Japanese defector. This puts you back in World War II (at least for the beginning of the game) while the multi-player game is centered on much more modern combat. For our testing we used the single player mode. Settings are shown below.
Back to the win column for AMD, but again the difference is so slight that I have my doubts that anyone would notice if the CPUs were all put side by side.
AMD claims that the combination of their CPUs, the 5000 series GPUs and their 800 series chipset are the perfect match for gaming. I am not seeing that angle, though. In all of my testing I have not seen anything to show that having all AMD in a system is any better than a mixed bag of products.
The only place where they could be right is in terms of price. You can get an "all AMD" system for much less than an Intel, Intel, NVIDIA or AMD GPU combo. So perhaps what they should say is that the AMD platform is the best price/performance option. After all, it is all about the GPU these days, so if you can shave off a few bucks to get a much faster GPU you are probably going to do that.
So while there is no "real" performance advantage to the AMD platform, there IS a price advantage, making an all AMD system more attractive to the gamer on a budget. With the increasing cost of games, this could put a dent in some of Intel's sales.
AMD has positioned itself as the price/performance leader. They have inexpensive components positioned at almost every level. This should be pushing them into people's systems, but for any of you that were around in the K6-II and K6-III days, you'll remember that having a lower priced CPU does not always move the consumer. In many cases the lower price makes them feel they are not getting a comparable product. I am not saying that AMD should charge more for their CPUs, but that their pricing structure could be hurting them in a way.
The Phenom II X6 1090T will hit the shelves at about $300. This is one third of the cost of the Intel Core i7-980X with the same amount of physical cores. However, in many of our tests the 1090T only performed a little better than the Core i5 750 which sells for $200 right now. The 1090T did run well compared to the Xeon X3470 (which is comparable to the i7 870), but only in a handful of tests.
One area that just about all AMD CPUs we have tested needs to improve on is memory performance. Here is one of AMD's big weak points. This single factor hurts AMD CPUs more than many would like to believe. If you cannot quickly get the information from memory to the CPU and back, you are going to lose in the end. We saw this in more than one of our tests.
Still, things are not all bad with the Phenom II X6. It does give you many cored performance at a very reasonable price. AMD has also left in the DDR2/DDR3 controller so that even people with older AM2+ boards can use this CPU with little more than a BIOS update. This makes the upgrade to the Phenom II X6 extremely cost effective as opposed to having to do a complete system upgrade. Of course, you are still not going to get the same level of performance that you would with an Intel X58/ Core i7 combo, but you are going to save a ton of money with the AMD CPU.
The cost savings are even more evident to the gamer. Here you can get a good board, CPU and a great GPU for less than just the CPU and board alone if you are looking an X58/ Core i7 9xx system. This could make the Phenom X6, 890FX, Radeon HD 5000 Series combination the new choice to low cost, high-end gaming systems.
AMD is moving (slowly) in the right direction. Their CPUs are getting better and better with each new release. They are not quite there yet, but I have to admit the Phenom II X6 is the first one that I have seen give current generation Intel CPUs a run for their money in a long time. I hope we see AMD continue to move this way and future releases push the performance levels up even higher.
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