AMD Conquering 3GHz: Athlon 64 X2 6000+ CPU Review

AMD has just launched a new dual-core processor working at 3GHz speed. Now the top AMD processors run at a higher frequency than the top Intel Core 2 processors. But will this be enough for them to regain their performance leadership? Find out now!

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
02/19/2007 | 09:00 PM

AMD’s major hopes for regaining their success as the processor manufacturer are closely connected with the promising K8L micro-architecture that is due to come in the second half of this year (for details see our article called AMD's Next Generation Microarchitecture Preview: from K8 to K8L). So far AMD Athlon 64 X2 processors can only compete with Intel CPUs in the budget and mainstream price range. AMD has been pursuing very aggressive pricing policy for the last few months, offering their dual-core processors at very attractive prices.

 

However, this doesn’t prevent AMD from manufacturing the expensive products for hardware enthusiasts as well, such as the Quad FX platform that we have reviewed recently, which includes Athlon 64 FX-7X processors. Although AMD Quad FX platform lost to the competitor solution from Intel, the quad-core Kentsfield CPU, from almost all standpoints, it proved once again to all users out there, that AMD still bears huge engineering potential.

Today AMD made one more step of similar nature: they announced new dual-core Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor. And although this CPU turns out the today’s fastest AMD processors for Socket AM2 systems, we are not expecting it to hit any tremendous heights. The working frequency of the new Athlon 64 X2 6000+ got only 200MHz higher than that of the Athlon 64 FX-62, which loses to top Intel Core 2 processors in almost all the tests. So, the 200MHz seem to be hardly sufficient for successful competition against the today’s performance leaders.

Therefore, the new AMD announcement is primarily curious from the technological rather than performance standpoint, as the company managed to increase the working frequency of its mass 90nm processors with K8 micro-architecture to 3.0GHz. And of course, Athlon 64 X2 6000+ can be of certain interest to the owners of older Socket AM2 systems, as a great upgrade option, although not the best one from the price-to-performance prospective, because of the $459 price AMD is asking for this new processor.

Technical Features of AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+

The new Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor is based on the Windsor core, which we have already discussed in detail before. It is manufactured with the good old 90nm production technology. Although AMD has already managed to start mass manufacturing of 65nm Brisbane based processors, these cores were not used for the new CPUs for two reasons. Firstly, mature 90nm technology allows achieving higher clock speeds, as the top of the line CPUs on 65nm Brisbane core can only hit 2.6GHz at the most. Secondly, the cores used for the top Athlon 64 X2 processors with the total of 2MB of onboard cache-memory do not have any analogues among 65nm dies, because the biggest cache Brisbane can offer is only 1MB.

The specifications of the new CPU are pretty predictable.

The data reported by the diagnostic utility is fully compliant with the official specification:

Athlon 64 X2 6000+

Marking

ADX6000IAA6CZ

Frequency

3.0 GHz

Packaging

Socket AM2

L2 cache

2 x 1024 KB

Memory controller

128-bit, dual-channel

Supported memory types

DDR2-533/667/800 SDRAM

Hypertransport bus frequency

1 GHz

Core stepping

F3

Production process

90 nm, SOI

Transistors

227.4 mln.

Die size

218 sq.mm

Typical heat dissipation

125 W

Maximum casing temperature

55-63o C

Vcore

1.35V - 1.4V

AMD64 technology

Yes

NX-bit technology

Yes

Cool’n’Quiet technology

Yes

There is one thing that you should definitely pay special attention to. The new processor is based on F3 core stepping, which we know from Athlon 64 FX-7X used in Quad FX platform. It should be this new Windsor core stepping that allowed AMD to increase the clock frequencies of the mass processors to 3.0GHz. However, this frequency increase turned out not free for the newcomer. Its typical heat dissipation rose to 125W, which puts Athlon 64 X2 6000+ on the same level with the Athlon 64 FX processors. Even Athlon 64 X2 5600+ working at 2.8GHz dissipated only 85W of heat, which is typical for the entire line-up of “common” Socket AM2 CPUs.

So, Athlon 64 X2 6000+ sets special requirements to the cooling system and mainboard CPU voltage regulator circuitry. This processor is only compatible with those coolers and mainboards that support Socket AM2 versions of Athlon 64 FX processor family. Other than that, there should be no potential problems with the use of the new Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor.

Testbed and Methods

We decided to compare the performance of the new Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor with that of the top CPUs on Core micro-architecture as well as to that of the fastest AMD solutions available these days: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ and Quad FX platform. Considering that we have pretty good idea of what the result will turn out to be and in order to add some intrigue to our test session we decided to use Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate OS. All performance measurements taken throughout this test session were performed in 64-bit version of the above mentioned operating system.

Our test platforms were built using the following equipment:

We ran the tests with the BIOS Setup of the mainboards adjusted for maximum performance.

Also note that according to the manufacturers’ recommendations the Quad FX system was equipped with four 512MB memory modules, while all other test systems used two 1GB DDR2 SDRAM memory modules. Node Interleaving function was disabled.

We used 64-bit applications version everywhere where it was possible.

Performance

Futuremark: Synthetic Benchmarks

The graphs do not reveal anything unexpected. The popular Futuremark tests are not very optimistic about the performance of the new Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor. The obtained results show that the AMD newcomer is slightly faster than Core 2 Duo E6600 and hopelessly behind the top Intel processors on Core micro-architecture.

Gaming Applications

The situation in popular games is pretty similar to what we have just seen in 3DMark06. The performance level of Athlon 64 X2 6000+ is pretty average against the background of the top dual-core Intel CPUs. Our hero gets slightly ahead of the Core 2 Duo E6600, but still falls behind the Core 2 Duo E6700.

Having tested Athlon 64 X2 6000+ in the 64-bit version of Unreal Tournament 2004 game we have confirmed once again that the use of 64-bit extensions doesn’t change the overall performance picture.

Just like in 32-bit games, Athlon 64 X2 6000+ can only compete equally with Core 2 Duo E6600 processor.

Besides a few real games, we have also included the results of two benchmarks based on Valve Source code that will be used for future games development. The first benchmark estimates how fast the testing participants cope with building the lighting maps, and the second – evaluates the performance during environmental physics processing.

Here Athlon 64 X2 6000+ performs even slower. Core 2 Duo E6600 selling at $150 lower price than our today’s hero wins in both these tests.

We have also included the chess benchmark into our gaming test session. It uses a famous Fritz 9 gaming engine.

No consolation again: Athlon 64 X2 6000+ is at the bottom of the chart yielding to Core 2 Duo E6600, which is running at 20% lower nominal frequency than the AMD CPU.

Office Applications

Unfortunately, complex benchmarks modeling the user behavior, such as SYSMark 2004 SE, do not work in Windows Vista. Therefore, we decided to estimate the typical office performance using the time it takes our test systems to resolve certain specific tasks. These tasks were the comparison of two versions of a large document in Microsoft Office Word 2007 and the calculation of a table with typical statistical operations in Microsoft Office Excel 2007.

Intel CPUs are again the leaders. The results in Excel were especially impressive, as they turned out over 100% faster than the AMD processors.

We have also tested the systems performance with the benchmark built into the 64-bit version of the 7-zip archiving tool. We looked at the archiving speed and data extraction from archives.

During data archiving the situation turned out pretty common: Athlon 64 X2 6000+ yields to the rivals on Core micro-architecture here. However, during data extraction from the archives AMD processors managed to demonstrate more impressive result. Note that it is the only task where AMD K8 micro-architecture revealed very competitive level of performance.

Audio and Video Encoding

The diagrams showing the processors performance during audio and video content encoding can hardly suggest any new conclusions. The new AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor is again not among the fastest. In two benchmarks out of three this CPU cannot outperform even Intel Core 2 Duo E6600, which is a much cheaper processor from the pricing standpoint.

Image Editing

Besides our standard Adobe Photoshop CS3 test session we have also checked the performance of our testing participants in Microsoft Windows Photo Gallery that was used to prepare a digital photo gallery for printing.

The system based on AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ CPU processes the images too slowly. It falls pretty far behind all platforms built on Intel processors in our tests.

Nonlinear Video Editing

We tested the performance during video movie rendering in Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 and during the preparation of the video movie for posting on YouTube using a standard Windows Vista application aka Windows Movie Maker.

The situation with the video processing is slightly different from what we have just seen in image editing applications. However, there is no dramatic change whatsoever. AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ performs comparably only with the Core 2 Duo E6600, not more than that.

Final Rendering

During rendering in 3ds Max 8 AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ is running at about the same speed as Core 2 Duo E6600 processor. In 64-bit CINEBENCH 9.5 and POV-Ray 3.7 applications its relative performance is a little higher and can be compared with that of Core 2 Duo E6700 processor. It looks as a good achievement against the results of other benchmarks, I should admit.

Overclocking

Of course, the 3GHz processor on Windsor core manufactured with 90nm process can hardly conquer high frequencies during overclocking. Nevertheless, we decided to check out the overclocking potential of the new AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor.

Our overclocking experiments were performed using Zalman CNPS9500 LED air-cooler with sufficient cooling efficiency for processors with 125W TDP. For better results we increased the processor Vcore to 1.6V. The stability of the overclocked processor was tested using S&M and Orthos utilities.

Note that although AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor costs quite a lot and works at higher nominal speed, its maximum clock frequency multiplier is locked. That is why we could only overclock it using the increased FSB speed, which turned out to be no problem at all, by the way.

Our experiments showed that AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ could overclock to maximum 3.2GHz without losing the operational stability.

As we have expected, the overclocking potential of the new AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ is not that significant. This processor is already running at almost the full potential of the Windsor core.

Strange as it might seem, but AMD is going to introduce even faster processor model based on the 90nm Windsor core later on. Within the next few months the company is going to announce Athlon 64 FX-76 processor designed for Quad FX systems and working at 3.2GHz nominal speed. However, since Athlon 64 FX processors are not manufactured in serious mass quantities, this is not impossible at all.

Conclusion

Frankly speaking the launch of the new AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor is not a very big event. Until promising new cores based on K8L micro-architecture come out, AMD will hardly be able to surprise us with anything. After the launch of Intel Core 2 Duo processor family, AMD K8 micro-architecture turned pretty obsolete. While in the budget and mainstream market AMD manages to success just fine thanks to smart and aggressive pricing policy, then the high-performance segment seems to be a tough nut to crack for AMD at this time.

Despite its significantly higher performance rating and $459 retail price, the new AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+ processor can only compete successfully with Intel Core 2 Duo E6600, though not in all applications. From the price-to-performance prospective it is losing to the Intel Core 2 Duo at this time. So, the newcomer will have really hard times winning the user’s hearts. At least until the prices go down again.