First, the Phenoms

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

AMD rolls out multiple new processors that spell multiple opportunities for system builders.

The launch of the new Phenom processors stirred up a lot of controversy, especially around the X3, the first tri-core CPU to hit the market. Initially the X3 Phenom was not well received, with many reviewers panning the CPU. It just seems that those industry pundits could not figure what the purpose of three cores would be in a world dominated by dual and quadruple cores? Maybe it was the fact that people do not like odd numbers? Or was there another issue at work here?

Some say that the X3 Phenom CPU is just a way for AMD to recoup some of the manufacturing costs associated with the X4 (quad core) Phenom CPUs. Basically, if the company has a bad run of X4s (a dead core on the CPU), instead of those X4s going into the recycle bin, they are reborn as X3 Phenoms. That seems to rub some people the wrong way, selling a damaged X4 as a perfectly good X3! But, in reality, does it matter?

Basically, AMD is offering system builders three cores for the price of two, with the business-class Phenom X3 8600B (2.3GHz, 95W, 1.5MB total dedicated L2 cache, 2MB L3 cache, 3600MHz HyperTransport bus, socket AM2+) going for $175 and the Phenom 8750 (2.4GHz, 95W, 1.5MB total dedicated L2 cache, 2MB L3 cache, 3600MHz HyperTransport bus, socket AM2+)  going for $195. With either processor, that translates to increased performance, without a cost penalty.

If system builders can look beyond the perceived failings of the X3, they can clearly see that they have the ability to offer 3 of something (the X3) for the price of 2 of something (Intel’s Dual Core CPUs) and everyone loves a bargain!

To see where the X3 could fit in a system builder’s line up, we built a test system using popular components from some well known vendors, such as Asus, Antec, Corsair and a few others. Before diving into the tests of the X3 Phenom CPU, we needed to build a baseline system. The goal here3 was to test a previous generation processor against the X3 (and X4) Phenoms and only change out the processors to see what the performance differences would be.

Our test system consisted of an Asus M2N32-SLI motherboard ($199.00), 1Gbyte of DDR2 Corsair memory ($25), an ATI Radeon HD 3600 Video Card ($109.00), a Seagate ST3500641AS-RK 500Gbyte Sata Hard Disk drive($109), Samsung  20X DVD-R SH-S202J optical drive ($25) and an Antec  Sonata Plus 550 case with 550 Watt power supply ($199.00). The cost of the components added up to $666 without the CPU. Most system builders should be able to select either more economical or more performance based components, depending upon their target budgets.

Our goal was to come in under $1000 to build a performance orientated, but economical system for business use. We first tested our system with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 5000+ CPU ($99) running at 2600Mhz,  our OS of choice was Windows Vista Business Edition. Using PassMark Performance Test V6.1, we garnered a PassMark rating of 567.5. A good indicator of CPU performance is offered by PassMark’s  CPU String Sorting Score, here the Athlon 64 X2 5000+ scored a 2635.7.

While idle, the system consumed 96 watts and peaked at 203 Watts during benchmarking. Windows Vista Performance Information tool rated the system a 5.2 overall and scored the Processor a 5.2 also.

Swapping in the $175 Phenom X3 8600B returned some interesting results. Right off the bat, we noticed that the 2.3Ghz clock speed did not make the CPU fall short in the performance testing, we saw an overall Passmark score of 568.8, and the CPU String Sorting Score came in at 2824.6. With the X3 Phenom in place, power consumption at idle increased to 129 Watts, yet decreased under load to 196 Watts peak. More interestingly, the Windows Vista Performance Information tool rated the system a 5.6 overall and scored the Processor a 5.6 also.

Simply put, the X3 Phenom at 2.3Ghz will outperform a 2.6Ghz Dual Core Athlon, at a price penalty of around $75.  Although, as indicated by the benchmarking, the performance increase was not significant, one important element still needs to be considered – how the X3 Phenom is to be used. The extra core offered by the X3 Phenom could be assigned OS and application processes using the processor affinity setting found in Windows Vista. If the environment is fine tuned using methods like that, real world performance increases could be realized, that are not easily demonstrated via bench marking.

For example, processor affinity could be set to force anti-virus or other applications to run on the third core, leaving the first two cores to handle multi or single threaded tasks. As time goes on and more and more applications become multi-threaded, additional performance gains will be seen by the X3 Phenom, making the $75 price penalty well worth it.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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