Mainstream Processors from AMD
AMD experiences quite explicable difficulties with the production of high-performance processors, because they do not have any new-generation microarchitectures available to them. That is why they do not offer that many options in the mainstream segment. Moreover, AMD’s mainstream processors are based on the same microarchitecture as their Value products and are manufactured using the same 45 nm process. Therefore, it is not surprising that all value and mainstream solutions from AMD are positioned for the same exact platform – Socket AM3. The peculiarity of this platform is dual-channel DDR3 SDRAM support. Moreover, all AMD processors can clock the memory at up to 1600 MHz frequency, even though this feature may not be highlighted by the manufacturer.
The differences between AMD products for different price segments lie primarily in the number of computational cores. The company offers dual- and triple-core processors in the lower price segment, while in the mainstream segment we see CPUs with four and six cores.
Athlon II X4. This processor family includes low-cost quad-core products. The junior model from this family may be formally considered a value CPU, as it is priced at $100. The main drawback of Athlon II X4 processors that separates them from Phenom II series is the absence of L3 cache memory and a relatively small L2 cache, which is only 512 KB per core. Luckily, these processors have good clock speeds: the current models work at 3.0-3.1 GHz.
Phenom II X2. This is another “border” processor family that may be placed in the mainstream as well as value segment. It includes dual-core CPUs that are very similar to quad-core Phenom II X4 processors in their primary features (they are even based on the same semiconductor dies with two disabled cores out of four). To be more exact, Phenom II X2 have a 6 MB shared L3 cache in addition to 512 KB L2 cache per core. Moreover, all Phenom II X2 processors belong to the Black Edition category, which means that they can be overclocked by adjusting their clock multiplier. The nominal clock frequency of the Phenom II X2 560 CPU model that falls into the mainstream price range is 3.3 GHz.
Phenom II X4. Quad-core processors are AMD’s primary force in the mainstream segment. These CPUs work at pretty high clock frequencies of 3.2-3.5 GHz and have an unlocked multiplier, so you can easily increase their frequency beyond the default rates. Phenom II X4 processors have a total of 8 MB cache memory: 6 MB of shared L3 cache and the rest is split into equal 512-KB L2 cache portions per core. Note that since Phenom II X4 have four pretty fast cores, they have comparatively high power consumption and heat dissipation, so you may need to make sure that you use advanced cooling systems and that your mainboard has reinforced voltage regulator circuitry.
Phenom II X6. One of AMD’s six-core processors, Phenom II X6 1055T, has become a mainstream CPU after several recent price drops. This is a unique solution, because you won’t find any other six-core processors for less than $200. At the same time, this processor works at a decent clock speed of 2.8 GHz. However, you shouldn’t forget about Turbo Core technology that AMD added to all their six-core CPU models. As a result, Phenom II X6 1055T will automatically overclock to 3.3 GHz if only three cores or less are utilized. As for the cache-memory size, it is typical of Phenom II models in AMD’s six-core processors. Each core has a 512 KB L2 cache and they all share a 6 MB L3 cache.
All in all, Socket AM3 platform in the mainstream segment looks quite appealing, even though there are not that many CPU modifications available at this time. However, the mainboard makers undoubtedly make up for this limited CPU variety, as they offer a significant number of various Socket AM3 solutions that allow building systems with vast functionality. For example, you can use a mainstream AMD processor to build a system with powerful graphics including two graphics accelerators working as PCI Express x16 + x16. As a result, even with a mainstream CPU inside a Socket AM3 platform may as well become a high-performance gaming system, especially since these processors prove to be very good in games.
The future looks quite promising for Socket AM3 platform also in the long-term prospective. It won’t start stepping down before the end of next year, and until them AMD will continue to gradually increase the potential of their Socket AM3 processors. It means that you will be able to easily upgrade the Socket AM3 platform later on. The only problem in this case is that the processor performance will hardly be increased substantially. The best Socket AM3 fans could expect would be a six-core processor based on the same existing microarchitecture with no more than 3.4 GHz clock frequency, or a quad-core CPU at 3.8 GHz.
The table below shows detailed specifications of all mainstream processors from AMD that took part in our today’s test session: