I don’t know the last time I was this excited about AMD’s roadmap. Zacate and Ontario are due out in a quarter, and both promise to bring competition to an area where we haven’t seen much from AMD.

Llano is slated for release near the end of Q2 next year. While it won’t be a big step forward in CPU performance, we should see a huge increase in integrated graphics performance.

Sampling in Q4 of this year and shipping sometime next year is AMD’s next-generation microarchitecture: Bulldozer.

Within the course of twelve months we will see AMD introduce three drastically different microprocessors into the market’s eager hands. We’ve been dying for more competition and AMD is planning on giving us just that. But that's the future, what about the present?

Processor Clock Speed L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T BE 3.2GHz 3MB 6MB 125W $295
AMD Phenom II X6 1075T 3.0GHz 3MB 6MB 125W $245
AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8GHz 3MB 6MB 125W $199
AMD Phenom II X4 970 BE 3.5GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $185
AMD Phenom II X4 965 BE 3.4GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $165
AMD Phenom II X4 955 BE 3.2GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $145
AMD Phenom II X2 560 BE 3.3GHz 1MB 6MB 80W $105
AMD Phenom II X2 555 BE 3.2GHz 1MB 6MB 80W $93
AMD Athlon II X4 645 3.1GHz 2MB 0MB 95W $122
AMD Athlon II X4 640 3.0GHz 2MB 0MB 95W $100
AMD Athlon II X3 450 3.2GHz 1.5MB 0MB 95W $87
AMD Athlon II X3 445 3.1GHz 1.5MB 0MB 95W $76
AMD Athlon II X2 265 3.3GHz 2MB 0MB 65W $76
AMD Athlon II X2 260 3.2GHz 2MB 0MB 65W $69
AMD Athlon II X2 255 3.1GHz 2MB 0MB 65W $66

Today AMD announced speed bumps to nearly every processor in its desktop lineup. Everything from the dual-core Athlon II to the six-core Phenom II gets a new family member today. And they’re all very attractively priced.

A Third Phenom II X6

We’ll start at the high end. The Phenom II X6 line expands to include a 3.0GHz 1075T. Smack in the middle of the other X6s, the 1075T will set you back $245 and can turbo up to 3.5GHz if three or fewer cores are in use. You get a 6MB L3 and a 3MB L2 (512KB per core).

The Phenom II X6 1075T has no competitively priced answer from Intel. The Core i7 860 is priced at $284, while the Core i5 760 will set you back $205. The default clock speed of the 1075T should bring it close to the Core i5 760 in many tasks, while anything threaded will for sure favor the 1075T. Remember the quad-core i5s lack Hyper Threading so this is a 6 core/6 thread chip matched up against a 4/4. Intel’s cores get better performance per clock, but not that much better. Single threaded performance and power consumption are both advantages of the Core i5, but the rest will easily fall in AMD’s favor.

A 3.5GHz Quad-Core

It’s not all about more cores from AMD. The new Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition pushes quad-core clock speed to 3.5GHz. The 970 ships with all cache enabled, so that's 6MB L3 and 2MB total L2.

This is still a Deneb so you get no core turbo support, but you do get a great value. At $185 the Phenom II X4 970 only has to compete with the Core i5 750 or a bunch of dual-core Clarkdale CPUs. Without Hyper Threading, the matchup can be close. AMD and Intel trade blows here, with Intel typically ending up on top. Single threaded performance is close as AMD has a huge clock speed advantage. AMD gets the nod for slightly lower price and better upgrade path as you’ll can stick a Phenom II X6 in the same Socket-AM3 motherboard. Bulldozer is out of the question however, AM3+ chips aren’t backwards compatible with AM3 motherboards (although the opposite is true, you will be able to use your 970 in an AM3+ motherboard).

Value Quad-Core at 3.1GHz

Next on the list is a value quad-core offering, the Athlon II X4 645 is a speed bump of one of the most attractive quad-core CPUs we’ve ever reviewed. The Athlon II X4 does away with an L3 cache in order to keep costs down while keeping the same 512KB private L2 per core (2MB total). The 645 runs at 3.1GHz and will set you back $122.

Intel has no competition for this processor. The Core i3 540 is priced similarly but you only get two cores. Intel is faster in lightly threaded apps and games, but AMD is faster everywhere else. If you’re a multitasker my vote goes for the Athlon II X4 645. Intel does offer lower power consumption and on-chip graphics if you’re looking to build a HTPC.

High-End Dual-Core

AMD’s Phenom II X2 560 gives you two cores running at 3.3GHz and a full 6MB L3 cache. You only have to pay $105 to play.

In a stock fight, the 560 will easily lose to Intel’s Core i3 530. Both chips have two cores and the larger L3 cache doesn’t do much for AMD given Intel’s IPC advantage. The 560 however might come from a die harvested part. It may just be a Phenom II X4 but with two cores disabled. Assuming you get a good chip and have a motherboard with core-unlocking support, you might just find yourself with Phenom II X4 “960” and save $50. Proceed at your own risk. We could unlock three of the four cores on our chip but the system wasn’t stable enough to enter Windows with the extra unlocked core.

The Athlon II X3 450: A Pentium G6950 Killer

While AMD no longer lists a triple-core Phenom II on its price list, the Athlon II X3 is still alive and well. The new 450 gives you three cores at 3.2GHz for $87. This is a harvested part taken from quad-core chips, as a result you get no L3 cache and 1.5MB of total L2 on chip (512KB per core x 3). The closest competitor from Intel is the Pentium G6950.

AMD has the clock and core advantage, although Intel has a single threaded performance advantage. AMD wins across the board virtually regardless of application. The Athlon II X3 450 gives you more bang for your buck than the Pentium G6950.

Affordable Dual-Core

Last, but not least, we have the new Athlon II X2 265. Running at 3.3GHz and priced at only $76 you have to look at Intel’s previous-generation Penryn based processors to find a suitable competitor for this chip. There's no L3 cache but the L2 gets a bump to 2MB total (1MB per core).

Personally I’m not terribly interested in the 265. For an extra $11 you get an additional core and only lose 100MHz, a tradeoff that I believe is more than worth it.

The Test

To keep the review length manageable we're presenting a subset of our results here. For all benchmark results and even more comparisons be sure to use our performance comparison tool: Bench.

We've moved all of our AMD CPU testing to the 890GX platform. While nearly all numbers are comparable you may occasionally see some scaling that doesn't quite add up compared to lower clocked versions of the same chips running on a previous motherboard.

Motherboard: ASUS P7H57DV- EVO (Intel H57)
Intel DP55KG (Intel P55)
Intel DX58SO (Intel X58)
Intel DX48BT2 (Intel X48)
Chipset Drivers: Intel (Intel)
AMD Catalyst 8.12
Hard Disk: Intel X25-M SSD (80GB)
Memory: Corsair DDR3-1333 4 x 1GB (7-7-7-20)
Corsair DDR3-1333 2 x 2GB (7-7-7-20)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTX 280 (Vista 64)
ATI Radeon HD 5870 (Windows 7)
Video Drivers: ATI Catalyst 9.12 (Windows 7)
NVIDIA ForceWare 180.43 (Vista64)
NVIDIA ForceWare 178.24 (Vista32)
Desktop Resolution: 1920 x 1200
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit (for SYSMark)
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
Windows 7 x64
SYSMark 2007 & Photoshop Performance
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  • IceDread - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    Annoying to see that we still have no competition in the high end segment. It's still being dominated by intel which makes for higher prices for us, the consumers.
  • Dark_Archonis - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    Annoying? Well it is what it is, AMD just can't compete at the high end and I don't think Bulldozer will help much going up against Sandy Bridge E.
  • Madmanden - Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - link

    Well that's a surprise...
  • mino - Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - link

    Well, I think we are a bit spoiled actually.

    Just think about it for a minute - had not AMD acquired an almost complete DEC team around 1997, there would have been NO real competition and the prices would WAY above what Intel is charging now.
    Think VIA Nano on steroids as "competition".

    Let's be realistic, shall we?
    It is simply not feasible for 2 competitors in such a complex field to be BOTH on top concurrently for extended periods of time (as has happened during the Slot A heydays).
    These situations are bound to be more of an abnormality than a standard.

    Considering the HUGE gap in resources, we shall be very happy that AMD is still within 30% of Intel's TOP despite using an 12yrs old K7 architecture.
    A true testament to Alpha actually.

    And, for killing IA64 on desktop alone, they deserve a Nobel prize! No contest.
  • Dark_Archonis - Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - link

    Speaking of Alpha, I wonder where many former Alpha employees have gone? Oh right, they're now working at Intel on future Itanium processors.

    Sure we were spoiled, if you will, years ago when AMD introduced the K7, Intel missed with the P4, and AMD introduced the K8.

    Thing is, historically Intel was almost always on top in the consumer CPU market.

    AMD did provide some real competition back then, but not so much anymore. Intel can price AMD out of existence right now if they wanted to, but Intel doesn't want to.

    Unless Bulldozer is a gigantic performance leap forward, AMD will continue to struggle to provide competition and will only be "good enough" or barely catching up to Intel's latest.

    Intel has real competition in non-consumer markets, and that is challenging Intel.
  • crucibelle - Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - link

  • Dark_Archonis - Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - link

    I love such thorough and insightful answers such as these.

    People talk all the time about how competition is good. Real competition is good yes, mediocre or weak competition is almost pointless. Right now AMD is mediocre/weak competition from Intel.

    You can call people names, point fingers, and complain about it all day long, but it is what it is.

    I have nothing against seeing some STRONG competition for Intel, but AMD currently isn't providing strong competition.
  • bji - Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - link

    Really? Then why did I decide to buy a 1075T instead of an Intel chip in the same price range? For my needs (all of my single threaded apps are quite fast enough with any modern processor, but as a software developer I need as many cores as I can get for parallel compiles) the 1075T is a great deal. Throw in the fact that AMD motherboards are better than Intel at the same price point and it was an easy decision. I am slightly miffed that Bulldozer won't be AM3 compatible becase I was banking on that a little but when deciding to go with an AMD platform, but whatever. The rest of the value proposition is still in AMD's favor.

    Now of course my experience is just anecdotal; I can say with certainty that in some segments, AMD is very competitive with Intel. I think the question of whether or not AMD provides "strong competition" with Intel is really just about how many segments AMD provides strong competition with Intel and how strong the competition is in those segments, and from that, you can decide whether or not the overall competition is "strong" or "weak".

    Given the success AMD is having in netbooks/notebooks lately (at least all of the Fry's/Best Buy/Office Depot/whatever ads I have seen in the past few months have been heavily featuring AMD, I assume because the platform is selling well), I think we can say that AMD is providing strong competition in that space.

    In the 'midrange' CPU market - which is the majority of the PC processor market - AMD clearly provides strong competition. See this Anandtech article, my purchasing decision above, countless similar articles and testimonies all over the internet.

    On the high end PC CPU market, AMD is not competitive. We all know that.

    On the server CPU front, AMD has not been competitive lately but is starting to gain a little ground back. At least, if my impressions given what I've read on Anandtech and other sites is anything to go by.

    So in the end, I'd say that in 3 out of 4 x86 CPU markets, AMD is providing strong competition with Intel. For this reason I think it's erroneous to call AMD's current competitiveness 'weak'. I think it's overall 'fairly strong', and I only hope it gets stronger, for everyone's benefit.
  • bji - Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - link

    Oh and I forgot to mention integrated graphics. Of course AMD is extremely competitive with Intel in that segment, and in fact is the dominating player (at least, performance-wise).
  • flyck - Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - link

    AMD is competing with Intel just fine.

    Yes they have problems when Conroe was launched in the high end. Most of this is due to the problems they encountered with Barcelona. Without those issues they would have been very competive with Core2. i7 lineup is now the strongest technology but AMD can compete ok using more cores. The biggest issue AMd is having is that most of their products had to be postponed. But with Ontario platform they will have their first real low power chip which is very promesing. llano will offer higher speed than x4 with very good GPU, which again is a pretty solid effort to gain the low and mainstream market due to embedded graphics that do not suck for desktop useage. Bulldozer, although to late, seems to be a chip on which AMD can build further upon. Performance is one area, the ability to price competitive is also an area and that is an area AMD is really competing with. Their future shows alot of promise (bit like in the K8 days where the XP couldn't cut it anymore). AMd is the only reason why Intel (lead x86 manufacturer) is actually making processor worth the money. This alone implies that AMD is competitive with Intel. Without the clausules and market abuse iItel did in teh years before, K7 and K8 could have damaged them alot more, they can't let that happen again.

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