Meet Socket AM3: AMD Phenom II X4 810 CPU Review

AMD announced the first CPUs in Socket AM3 form-factor. Let’s see how Phenom II processors can benefit from the use of DDR3 memory and meet another quad-core CPU from the company that stands for maximizing price-to-performance ratio.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
02/09/2009 | 12:59 AM

AMD continues launching new processors on their 45nm Deneb core. And today they are announcing several new models for the mainstream price segment. It means that the Phenom II X4 940 and 920 models we have already reviewed before remain the top offerings in the new AMD product lineup. Now, however, the company’s positions will be strengthened with a few additional processors manufactured using more advanced production process. To be more exact, today AMD announces three 45nm quad-core Phenom II X4 processors - 910, 810 and 805 models, and two similar triple-core CPUs – Phenom II X3 720 and 710. However, the major intrigue of the today’s launch is not the availability of a few new solutions with very attractive price-to-performance ratio. The much more interesting thing about these models is that all of them are designed in new Socket AM3 form-factor.

 

I would like tore mind you that the main reason for the transition of AMD processors to new Socket AM3 platform is the support of more up-to-date higher-speed DDR3 SDRAM. However, these Socket AM3 processors remain compatible with the existing Socket AM2+ infrastructure. So, it turns out that the new Phenom II models have a universal memory controller that can work with DDR2 as well as DDR3 SDRAM depending on the mainboard it is installed in. In fact, it is not surprising at all: we all remember very well how easy it was for the mainboard makers to roll out solutions supporting DDR2 SDRAM but based on X-series LGA775 chipsets designed for DDR3 SDRAM. Continuity of standards explains why DDR2 and DDR3 protocols are so similar on the logical level. As a result, engineers have the ability to implement support of both standards at a minimal cost.

AMD, however, does everything possible to convince us that we shouldn’t expect too much from the new processor socket and DDR3 SDRAM. Yes, DDR3 SDRAM does work at higher frequencies; however, it also has increased latencies, which are known to have serious effect on AMD platforms performance. I believe that is why AMD decided not to transfer top Phenom II processors to the new Socket AM3 platform just yet: they are still available exclusively for Socket AM2+. So, at this time only mainstream models can boast being compatible with the new Socket AM3 form-factor. And frankly speaking, the ability to work with faster and more expensive memory is not that crucial for them.

Besides the absence of any significant performance improvement, there must be some very good reasons for the Phenom II X4 940 and 920 processors launched only a month ago to be incompatible with the new Socket AM3 platform. And the reasons actually become evident once you take a closer look at the specifications of the new processor models announced today. The thing is that when AMD started moving over to a new processor socket form-factor, they also decided to give their solutions more competitive TDP. All new processors launching today have 95W TDP instead of 125W TDP as the top Phenom II models. All quad-core Intel processors from the Core 2 Quad family have the same TDP. However, it looks like this TDP parity between LGA775 and Socket AM3 will not last long. Within the next two-three months AMD is going to launch several new processor models that will be faster though less economical than Phenom II X4 810 and 910.

All this indicates that the new CPU owners will barely benefit from the combination of Socket AM3 and DDR3 memory support. The just announced new mainstream processors will most likely end up in the Socket AM2+ infrastructure and will work with widely spread inexpensive DDR2 SDRAM. At this time AMD doesn’t offer any high-performance Phenom II CPU modifications that could be really interesting to use in the new Socket AM3 platform. Nevertheless, it will not discourage us from checking out the new promising platform, so it is going to be the topic of our today’s article. We are going to discuss the peculiarities of the new processor socket and test one of the new Socket AM3 CPUs – Phenom II X4 810.

Phenom II Family: Diversity of the Species

First of all we decided to gather together everything we know about AMD processors manufactured with 45nm process and branded as Phenom II. A summarizing chart like that is absolutely necessary because this CPU series that currently includes 7 models turned out very contradicting. It includes CPUs with different number of cores, different application, different platform compatibility, etc.

According to previous roadmaps, AMD was going to announce another Socket AM3 processor: Phenom II X4 925, however, they haven’t launched it today. It could be the difficulty with fitting this CPU into the 95W thermal envelope. And although they have formally announced the next model, Phenom II X4 910, it is only available to AMD’s OEM partners at this point. So, the top Socket AM3 processor that you will be able to purchase in retail shortly appears Phenom II X4 810. That is why we picked this particular model for our today’s test session.

The today’s addition to the Phenom II model lineup finally explains the whole idea behind AMD’s processor ratings. The rating series stand for the major CPU specifications. And if we add here everything we know about the upcoming 45nm processors, we will get a very logical succession:

We only have preliminary the info on 200, 400 and 600 series. According to our sources, these CPUs should be launching in Q2 2009.

Socket AM3 Platform

By introducing new Socket AM3 platform, AMD is first of all trying to bring contemporary DDR3 SDRAM into Phenom II based systems. The competitor’s platforms have supported this memory type for more than 1.5 years, but AMD believed it wasn’t the right time for transition because of high price on DDR3 SDRAM. Now the situation has changed dramatically, DDR3 SDRAM prices dropped. This pushed AMD to introduce the new processor socket to the market.

However, unlike their primary competitor, AMD have been very reluctant lately to make any serious changes to their platform design.  Company engineers did everything they could to ensure the most painless migration from one platform to another. This is especially important in the today’s state of things, when AMD processors do not have as many advantages as Intel solutions. This is exactly why the new platform is so interesting: AMD developers managed to upgrade the memory controller built into their own processors in such a way that neither old nor new fans of the Athlon and Phenom brands would be disappointed.

A quick glance at new mainboards and processors is more than enough to understand that Socket AM3 platform is very similar to its predecessor. AMD didn’t switch to using LGA packaging for their chips; moreover, their processors remained of the same geometrical size and the number of pins remained almost the same. Thanks to the fact that AMD focused on continuity and compatibility, only a real close look will allow telling Socket AM3 processor from its Socket AM2+ counterpart.


Left - Socket AM2+ CPU; right – Socket AM3 CPU

You can only see the differences between Socket AM2+ and Socket AM3 processors at the bottom of the CPU. The photo above shows that Socket AM3 processor has 2 pins less, i.e. has a total of 938 pins.

You can notice the same if you compare the processor sockets on the mainboards:


Left - Socket AM2+; right – Socket AM3
 

As you can see, the mechanics of Socket AM3 processors allows installing them into Socket AM2+ mainboards. However, Socket AM2+ processors will never fit into Socket AM3 mainboards because of the notches location in the socket. This mechanical compatibility reflects the logical compatibility. New Socket AM3 processors have a universal memory controller that supports DDR2 as well as DDR3 SDRAM. The type of memory in each particular case is determined solely by the type of DIMM slots laid out on the mainboard. Socket AM2+ mainboards are equipped with DDR2 DIMMs, while Socket AM3 mainboards – with DDR3. Older Socket AM2+ processors cannot boast the same universality and can work only with DDR2 SDRAM that is why they are mechanically incompatible with the new processor socket.

Socket AM2+ and Socket AM3 remained successors in many other aspects. Since the size of processor sockets and processors themselves is the same, AMD could make sure that the same processor coolers can be used on both platforms. Even the retention mechanism remained unchanged.

The same is true for the microarchitectural peculiarities: Socket AM2+ and Socket AM3 CPUs differ only by the memory controller. All other components, including the HyperTransport 3.0 bus remained unchanged. And it means that Socket AM3 platform doesn’t require new chipsets, because these processors are perfectly compatible with the same core logic sets as Socket AM2+. Therefore, the major developers of chipsets for AMD platform do not offer any special solutions targeted for the new processors.

Almost complete mechanical and logical compatibility between the two types of CPU sockets sometimes allows veering away from the following equivalence: Socket AM2+ – DDR2 SDRAM, Socket AM3 – DDR3 SDRAM. Some mainboard makers, Jetway for example, prepare universal Socket AM2+ mainboards equipped with DDR2 and DDR3 memory slots at the same time. These mainboards with a  Socket AM3 processor installed will allow using either memory type.

Socket AM3 processors officially support DDR2 memory with up to 1067MHz frequency and DDR3 memory with up to 1333MHz frequency. Moreover, DDR3-1333 SDRAM is guaranteed to work stably and reliably in Socket AM3 systems only if there is no more than one module per channel installed. However, in reality it turns out that the new processors can also work with DDR3-1600 SDRAM: the built-in controller supports the corresponding multiplier for this frequency. Namely, when you install a Socket AM3 processor into a Socket AM2+ mainboard, you can choose from the standard memory frequencies for any Phenom processors: DDR2-667/800/1067. However, if you use it with a Socket AM3 mainboard, you are offered a different list of supported multipliers that allow clocking the memory as DDR3-1067/1333/1600 SDRAM.

Here I would like to add that to ensure full compatibility of Socket AM2+ mainboards existing in the today’s market with the new Socket AM3 processors, all you need to do is reflash the BIOS. If the mainboard BIOS supports Phenom II processors altogether, even their Socket AM2+ version, it automatically means that Socket AM3 processors will also work in this board just fine. And it means that there shouldn’t be any problems adapting the existing mainboard inventory for the new processors.

Closer Look at AMD Phenom II X4 810 CPU

Now that we know what to expect from the Socket AM3, it seems to really hard to surprise us with anything about a processor designed in this form-factor. However, it is not quite the case. Although new Phenom II processors are overall not very different from those launched by AMD a month ago, the Phenom II X4 810 model we received for our tests revealed a few unexpected characteristics.

First of all I have to say that this CPU got the 800-series model number for a reason. AMD uses these lower numbers to mark the CPUs with limited characteristics. In this case it was L3 cache memory: Phenom II X4 810 has only 4MB L3 cache, while the “fully-fledged” Phenom II processors have 6MB L3 cache.

In fact, it is quite logical that there appeared Phenom II processors with smaller L3 cache, as well as disabled cores. Although they use 45nm process to make monolithic Deneb dies, it is still pretty big in size – it measures 258sq.mm. Just for your reference: it is only a little smaller than the Intel Core i7 die, which means that both these processors cost about the same to make. However, if we compare the retail prices on both, it will evidently be not in Phenom’s favor, which means that Phenom II manufacturing is a considerably less profitable enterprise than Core i7 production. And keeping in mind that AMD doesn’t have any dies yet that could compete successfully against the best Intel solutions, it is absolutely understandable that they are trying to use all resources to get as much profit as possible. One of the ways to do it is to sell CPUs made of partially defective dies that for some reason couldn’t be used for Phenom II 900 series solutions.

In fact, Phenom II X4 810 is a great example of how this tactics works. This CPU is based on the same Deneb semiconductor die as Phenom II 900 series processors. However, one third of its L3 cache is disabled. This way AMD can put the dies with some defect in the L3 cache part to good use. If the defect is in the part with computational cores, these dies are suede for triple-core Phenom II 700 series processors that are also launching today.

The specifications of Phenom II X4 810 L3 cache memory look pretty strange:

If we believe the report from the diagnostic utility, this processor’s L3 cache has 64-way associativity, while 6MB L3 cache of normal Phenom II X4 900 had only 48-way associativity. The most logical explanation for this phenomenon is that there is some mistake in the CPU-Z report and the L3 cache of our Phenom II X4 810 processor actually has 32-way associativity. Otherwise, the L3 cache of 800 series processors should have higher latency than the top processor models, which is not what we see in reality.

However, L3 cache of Socket AM3 Phenom II CPUs is still faster than by their Socket AM2+ counterparts. However, the reasons are not buried deep in the microarchitecture: they are right there on the surface. The thing is that AMD has set higher frequency for the North Bridge integrated into their Socket AM3 processors that is used to clock the L3 cache-memory. L3 cache in Phenom II X4 810 works at 2.0GHz, just like in other CPUs for the new platform, while the L3 cache of their predecessors worked at 200MHz lower frequency.

As you can see from the screenshot above, this is also true for a Socket AM3 processor installed into a Socket AM2+ mainboard.

Despite the differences between our today’s Socket AM3 hero and its Socket AM2+ predecessors that we have already tested about a month ago, it is very hard to hide the fact that they are blood relatives. For example, Phenom II X4 810 uses the same C2 processor stepping that we saw in Phenom II X4 940 and 920 CPUs a month ago. And it means that the semiconductor dies used for Socket AM2+ and Socket AM3 Phenom II modifications are the same and the supported memory types are determined only when the CPU gets packaged.

Influence of L3 Cache Memory Size on Performance

The first question that comes to mind when you look at the Phenom II X4 810 specifications, is how the smaller L3 cache will tell on the performance. In search for a definite answer to this question we decided to compare the performance of a Phenom II X4 810 and Phenom II X4 910 processors. Both these CPUs are based on a 45nm Deneb core, work at the same 2.6GHz clock speed and differ only by the size of their L3 cache that also works at the same 2.0GHz frequency in both cases.

The results of our test session show that cutting off one third of the L3 cache doesn’t slow Phenom II X4 down significantly. Phenom II X4 810 lost 2% on average to its “fully-functional” counterpart. Even in the worst case scenario the performance difference never exceeded 5%.

So, it is quite logical that Phenom II X4 810 costs only $20 less than Phenom II X4 920. These two processors evidently don’t differ dramatically in their practical performance. And the major drawback of the junior model is not the smaller L3 cache, but lower clock frequency.

By the way, don’t forget that L3 cache memory of Phenom II X4 810 processor works at 200MHz higher frequency than the L3 cache of the top Phenom II X4 940 and 920 models. And it can be regarded as a compensation for smaller cache. As we have found out before, 200MHz frequency increase of the North Bridge built into the processor raises its performance by about 1.5%.

Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P Mainboard

Frankly speaking, we got the impression that they didn’t prepare for the Socket AM3 platform launch well enough. The infrastructure is not quite ready yet, and that is why we also faced certain problems during our test session. For example, it was really hard to find a suitable platform for testing new Socket AM3 processors. Mainboard makers evidently didn’t expect AMD to be launching their Socket AM3 processors in a month after the first Phenom II came out. That is why they couldn’t finish the development and production of their corresponding products in time. Therefore even AMD representatives encouraged us to test the new Phenom II X4 810 CPUs on a Socket AM2+ platform with DDR2 SDRAM.

Nevertheless, we managed to get our hands on a Socket AM3 mainboard. The day was saved by Gigabyte Company who kindly offered us their newest GA-MA790FXT-UD5P Socket AM3 mainboard. This solution is going to be the new flagship product in Gigabyte’s lineup for AMD CPUs that is why it definitely deserves our special attention.

Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P continues the lineup of Gigabyte mainboards for AMD processors that is why it has a lot in common with the previous Socket AM2+ solutions. However, it is not surprising at all, since GA-MA790FXT-UD5P is based on the AMD790FX North Bridge and SB750 South Bridge. In fact, the major peculiarities of this mainboard are all connected to the Socket AM3: there are four DDR3 SDRAM DIMM slots that haven’t been supported by AMD CPUs before.

Since this mainboard is designed for high-performance systems, it is equipped with two PCI Express x16 2.0 slots that can work with two graphics cards in full-speed CrossFireX configuration.

The market positioning of this board explains why it belongs to the Ultra Durable 3 series. This series contains all Gigabyte’s most interesting products. First of all, it means that the board is built with high-quality electronic components: Japanese solid-state capacitors, low RDS(on) MOSFET and ferrite core chokes. Secondly, GA-MA790FXT-UD5P mainboard uses a unique PCB with thicker copper layers for the “ground” and power. This improvement allows Gigabyte to improve signal quality and reduce EMI as well as improve the mainboard thermals.

Processor voltage regulator circuitry uses four-stages and is powerful enough for Gigabyte to promise stability even with CPUs consuming up to 140W of power. Transistors used in this circuitry are topped with the largest heatsink on the entire board that is connected to the chipset North and South Bridge heatsinks via heatpipes. I have to stress that these heatsinks are not very tall and are moved away from the CPU socket to provide enough room for large CPU coolers. However, memory DIMM slots may still pose some problems during massive coolers installation: they are placed so close to the CPU socket that you may not be able to install some DDR3 modules with tall heat-spreaders into the DIMM slots closest to the CPU.

Gigabyte engineers installed Power, Reset and Clear CMOS buttons onto their board. Unfortunately, the convenience they have been trying to achieve is eliminated by the location of these buttons: the first two of them are locked between the connectors, while the Clear CMOS button may be blocked by a long-bed graphics card. However, Gigabyte engineers used a unique solution preventing Clear CMOS button from accidental hits: it is covered with a clear plastic cap.

Another remarkable thing about Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P is 10 Serial ATA-300 ports turned parallel to the board. Six of them are implemented in a standard way via the SB570 South Bridge, while the other four are delivered by JMicron controllers. The ports connected to the chipset South Bridge support RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and 5, while the additional ports can only work as RAID 0 or 1.

The mainboard back panel carries eight USB 2.0 ports, two Gigabit network ports, two Firewire ports, PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse, analogue SPDIF audio-Ins and Outs. Note that the sound is implemented via eight-channel Realtek ALC889A codec providing 106dBA SNR. Besides the ports on the back panel, GA-MA790FXT-UD5P has a few pin-connectors for another 4 USB 2.0 and one IEEE1394 port.

The BIOS Setup of this mainboard is designed for enthusiasts therefore it has the entire “MB Intelligent Tweaker” section of overclocking-related settings besides standard parameters. It traditionally allows changing all multipliers and base frequencies alongside with flexible tools for voltage management.

You can set DDR3 memory voltage at 2.35V maximum, while the processor Vcore can be increased by 0.6V over its nominal value. You can also adjust the voltage of the North Bridge in the CPU and voltage of the chipset Bridges.

The mainboard also offers extensive functionality for memory settings adjustment:

Overall, Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P mainboard made a very good impression. Of course, BIOS version F4D that we used during our test session has not yet been polished off to perfection, but nevertheless, we managed not only to complete all tests in the nominal mode, but also performed a few successful overclocking experiments.

Testbed and Methods

We split our today’s test session into two parts. First we are going to find out how the transition to new platform supporting DDR3 SDRAM affected the performance of Phenom II X4processors. Here we will compare the performance of the new Phenom II X4 810 in a Socket AM2+ mainboard with DDR2-800 and DDR2-1067 memory against its performance in a Socket AM3 mainboard equipped with DDR3-1333 and DDR3-1600 SDRAM.

The second part of our test session will be devoted to studying the performance of the new quad-core AMD processors side by side with the competition. Of course, we will be mostly interested in comparing Phenom II X4 810 against Core 2 Quad Q8200, as these two processors have almost the same retail price.

As a result, we ended up using the following hardware components to put together our testbeds:

Performance: DDR3 vs. DDR2

In this part of our review we are going to compare the performance of our Phenom II X4 810 in different types of mainboards: Gigabyte MA790GP-DS4H and Gigabyte MA790FXT-UD5P. In both cases we used two widely spread memory configurations.

Socket AM2+ system worked with DDR2-800 with 5-5-5-15 timings and 1T Command Rate, and with DDR2-1067 with 5-5-5-15 timings and 2T Command Rate. Note that we had to use 2T Command Rate in the latter case because Phenom II memory controller doesn’t allow a more aggressive setting for this latency with 2GB DDR2-1067 SDRAM modules in the system.

Socket AM3 system worked with the following two configurations: DDR3-1333 with 7-7-7-20 timings and DDR3-1600 with 7-7-7-20 timings. Command Rate parameter was set at 1T in both cases. Luckily, there is no problem with this setting for high-speed DDR3 memory.

Synthetic Benchmarks

First of all we decided to check out the practical parameters of different platforms’ memory subsystems in synthetic benchmarks.

As we have expected, synthetic benchmarks all show the superiority of the Socket AM3 platform. In other words, the new platform supporting DDR3-1333 and DDR3-1600 promises only better performance.

Here I have to add the following. The additional testing showed that the memory controller in the Socket AM3 CPU installed into a Socket AM2+ system with DDR2 memory performs as fast as the memory controller of the “native” Socket AM2+ processors (provided the built-in North Bridges work at the same exact frequencies). In other words, the universal memory controller in the new Socket AM3 processors doesn’t cause any performance drops when working with DDR2 SDRAM.

General Performance

The results in SYSMark 2007 showing average performance in real applications confirm the advantages of the new platform. However, there is no reason for extreme optimism. As you can see, a Phenom II X4 810 based system benefits very slightly from the transition to DDR3 SDRAM. The Socket AM3 system with DDR3-1600 SDRAM appears only 3-4% faster than a Socket AM2+ system with DDR2-1067 SDRAM in it.

Gaming Performance

Although games are usually pretty sensitive to the changes in the memory subsystem characteristics, DDR3 memory provides no serious performance improvement in our gaming tests. However, I have to stress that it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about picking the right memory for your system. For example, if you choose DDR3-1600 SDRAM over DDR2-800 SDRAM, you can gain up to 10% extra speed. Therefore, it made a lot of sense for AMD to launch their Socket AM3 platform and CPUs with a universal memory controller. DDR3 memory has spread widely enough by now to show its real practical benefits over DDR2 SDRAM. And it means that AMD has been waiting all this time to launch their new platform not for nothing.

Video Encoding

Although video content encoding is a mostly computational task, fast DDR3 memory speeds things up a little in this case.

Rendering

Socket AM3 platform appears faster than Socket AM2+ platform even in rendering applications that are almost absolutely indifferent to the memory choice.

Other Applications

Memory type matters a lot during image editing in a popular graphics application. Even with the common DDR3-1333 we could get our system to run faster than Socket AM2+ platform with DDR2-1067 SDRAM.

Calculations in Excel and Mathematica are also working faster on a new platform. The advantage of our Socket AM3 system with DDR3-1600 over a Socket AM2+ configuration with DDR2-1067 SDRAM is almost 3%.

The archiving utility speeds up on about the same scale.

Summing up I can say that Socket AM3 platform with Phenom II X4 processor accelerates typical tasks by about 2-3%. Taking into account the today’s price difference between DDR2 and DDR3 memory modules, this improvement seems rally insignificant. However, as DDR3 SDRAM continues to become more affordable, Socket AM3 platform will become more and more promising.

AMD Phenom II X4 810 CPU Performance

Although the new AMD Phenom II X4 810 CPU is designed in Socket AM3 form-factor, we decided to check its performance as well as the performance of other new CPU models in a Socket AM2+ system equipped with DDR2 SDRAM. The reason for that is quite logical from the economical standpoint: these mainstream processors will most likely be used in these particular systems. Moreover, we used DDR2 memory in all other systems, so it seemed absolutely fair to go with a Socket AM2+ platform for our AMD Phenom II X4 810 processor performance analysis.

General Performance

Smart pricing policy is definitely one thing AMD has become very good at lately. That is why it would be very strange if one of the newly announced CPUs looked out-of-place in the same price range as its competitors. So, we were not at all surprised to see that the new Phenom II X4 810 was a little faster than Core 2 Quad Q8200. However, a more expensive Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300 processor turned out a tougher nut to crack for the new AMD solution.

Gaming Performance

Although Phenom processors became much faster in games than their predecessors manufactured with 65nm process, we still can’t announce a convincing victory of the Phenom II X4 810 processor over Core 2 Quad of the same price. Phenom II X4 810 definitely lacks some frequency that is why we can’t recommend it for gaming just yet. However, AMD processor is not doing too bad and in some games its performance is well up to the mark.

Video Encoding

However during video encoding, Phenom II X4 810 shows its real best. For example, it even competes successfully against a more expensive Core 2 Quad Q8300 in x264 codec. It must be due to a highly efficient FPU/SSE unit of the CPUs on Stars (K10) microarchitecture.

Rendering

It is very hard to put together a general verdict here. As you can see from the diagrams, everything depends on the application used for rendering needs. Nevertheless, Phenom II X4 810 did not bad at all showing very good results even in 3ds max that has always been Intel’s turf.

Other Applications

Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Excel are two popular applications where Phenom II processors do not do too well. It is also true for the new Phenom II X4 810 that loses to Core 2 Quad Q8200 by 9% and 17% respectively.

Phenom II X4 810 demonstrates acceptable performance in Wolfram Mathematica 7, even though it is still a little slower than the junior Core 2 Quad.

However, archiving in WinRAR works real well for the new AMD CPU, much better than in the previous cases.

Computational tasks with integer arithmetic are not the best environment for CPUs on Stars (K10) microarchitecture. Two diagrams above prove this point correct.

Overclocking

The launch of Phenom II processor family breathed new life into AMD CPUs overclocking. These processors based on 45nm cores boast pretty good overclocking potential that can be uncovered by raising the frequencies over their nominal values. Our earlier tests showed that these processors can work at up to 3.7-3.8GHz frequencies with air-cooling employed. However, those conclusions were made for the 900 series processors based on fully-functional Deneb cores. Now we got our hands on a Phenom II X4 810 with a smaller L3 cache. Moreover, it is made in Socket AM3 form-factor.

To study the overclocking potential of the new processor we used new Gigabyte MA790FXT-UD5P Socket AM3 mainboard. With the help of this board we will also check how overclocking-friendly the new Socket AM3 platform is overall. We used Scythe Mugen cooler with Noctua NF-P12 fan for our CPU.

We managed to achieve the best result by raising the processor Vcore from the nominal 1.3V to 1.525V. In this case our CPU overclocked to 3.64GHz, which is quite comparable with the results obtained on other Phenom II processors that we tested before.

Note that since Phenom II X4 810 processor doesn’t belong to the Black Edition series and doesn’t have an unlocked multiplier, we overclocked it by raising the base clock generator frequency. Namely, we get 3.64GHz we had to increase the clock generator frequency to 280MHz and our Socket AM3 mainboard coped with it perfectly fine. In other words, CPUs overclock in Socket AM3 systems in exactly the same way they do in Socket AM2+ systems that is why you can refer to our overclocking guide for additional details.

As for Phenom II X4 810, the 40% frequency boost may become a good argument in favor of AMD platform. Especially, since Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 processors priced comparably can often go only as far as 3.4GHz. Therefore, a system built on Phenom II X4 810 processor may become a pretty attractive choice for overclocking fans.

Conclusion

Frankly speaking, AMD’s timing with the launch of their new Socket AM3 platform for CPUs supporting DDR3 SDRAM is a little strange. For some reason, this platform didn’t come out a month ago when they first announced a new Phenom II processor family. As a result, Socket AM3 launch is accompanied by the mainstream processors only, since the top Phenom II modifications are already available in Socket AM2+ form-factor. However, these processors are not the best candidates for the new Socket AM3 mainboards. DDR3 SDRAM is currently about 1.5-2 times more expensive than the widely spread DDR2 memory. Therefore, the benefit of investing into more expensive memory over a more expensive CPU is quite doubtful at this point.

However, the main advantage of Socket AM3 processors is their flexible memory controller that can work with both: DDR3 as well as DDR2 memory. That is why you don’t have to use the newly announced mainstream Phenom II processors in Socket AM3 systems. They will work perfectly fine in the existing Socket AM2+ or even Socket AM2 infrastructure.

Nevertheless, we tested the new processor in a Socket AM3 mainboard and saw that it was absolutely viable. DDR3 SDRAM with Phenom II processors provides a noticeable effect: about 3% performance improvement even compared with DDR2-1067 SDRAM.

Luckily, high-performance Socket AM3 processors may be coming out shortly. AMD will most likely adjust its product range accordingly within the next few months and the new platform will be able to team up with high-performance CPUs. This remaining extra time is going to be very valuable for the mainboard makers who need to finalize and polish off their Socket AM3 products.

As for the AMD Phenom II X4 810 processor we discussed today, it is another incarnation of AMD’s strategy to be offering higher performance at a lower cost. Our tests showed that its performance is comparable to that of Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200, while its price is a little lower. As a result, AMD currently has a great alternative to all least expensive quad-core Intel processors starting with the Core 2 Quad Q9400 model. In other words, AMD made a very significant step to offering a competitive lineup of processors that we have every reason to recommend as a good buying choice.

In conclusion I would only like to add that we are going to continue checking out new Phenom II processors. Very soon we will offer you our review of triple-core CPUs on 45nm Heka core.