An AMD A64 X2 For Under $500??

AMD Athlon X2 Dual Core 3800+ Processor

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has been leading the dual core performance race when it comes to gaming and raw performance levels, but they have failed to release a dual core processor at an affordable price range. Prior to today the low end dual core processor was the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ Manchester processor and it comes with a not too low end price tag of roughly $550 US at the time of press. For years AMD processors have been known to be the best deal for computer enthusiasts on a budget since their price points were always lower than their competitor's -- Intel Corporation.  Although AMD was first to tape out a dual core processor, Intel beat AMD out the door with their dual core series and in an amazing turn of events the Intel Pentium 4 820 (Intel's entry level dual core processor) costs ~$236 US when purchased from online retailers.

For a consumer that has been sold on dual core processors the choice between which of the two processor brands to use has been an uphill battle for AMD. The two major factors that are causing issues for AMD are are the facts that Intel's marketing budget dwarfs those over at AMD, and the entry level pricing that was formentioned varies greatly in Intel's favor. With AMD's entry level dual core processor costing more than double that of Intel's, many consumers simply can't afford AMD's Athlon 64 X2 processors.  All that changes today with the release of the AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ processor.  The new X2 3800+ comes at a value packed price tag of $354 US on the day it launches and it will of course go down as the market settles down after the launch. Although it is still one hundred dollars more than the Intel 820, AMD has lowered their dual core X2 series entry level processor down two hundred dollars lower than it previously was, and finally makes it a consideration for the working class (pretty much everyone in America living paycheck to paycheck).

AMD Athlon X2 Dual Core 3800+ Processor

Today, AMD offers another option to those who are willing to pay $354 to have an AMD Athlon 63 X2 Dual-Core Processor. Featuring a pair of Manchester cores clocked at 2.0 GHz each, as well as 1MB of L2 cache (2 x 512KBs), the 3800+ should make anyone's short list for a mainstream processor. Legit Reviews will take a look at the X2 3800+ and throw a wide variety of benchmarks at it and its big bad brother the X2 4800+, as well as Intel's Pentium D 820 and 840EE.  

What you may or may not have noticed in that paragraph above is that the 3800+ features a "Manchester" core, not the "Toledo core used in the rest of the X2 line. The difference? The Manchester core features fewer transistors (154M compared to the Toledo's 233.2M) and a smaller die size (147mm^ compared to the Toledo's 199mm^2), which also definitely gives it a far better thermal numbers than its siblings (89W as opposed to 110W).

Before we get down and dirty, lets take a look at some specs as compared to Intel's Pentium D 820 that we covered last month.

 Core

 Manchester

 Smithfield

 Name

 Athlon 64 X2 3800+

 Pentium D 820

 Operating Frequency

 2.0GHz

 2.8GHz

 Hyper-Transport/FSB

 1000MHz

 800MHz

 L1 Cache

 64KB+64KB

 12KB+16KB

 L2 Cache

 2 x 512KB

 2 x 1MB

 Process Type

 90 nm

 90 nm

  *************

 Hyper-Transport Support-Yes

Hyper-Threading Support- No

 64 bit Support

 Yes

 Yes

 Multimedia Instruction

 MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, 3DNOW! Professional

 MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3

 Voltage

 1.35-1.4V

 1.25-1.4V

 Price per unit

$354

 $236

Looking at the two processors above, you can see that in single threaded applications we are in a way looking at a AMD 3200+ vs an Intel 620. Remember, dual core processors do not benefit from single threaded applications.

CPU-Z

From a purely financial standpoint, the 3800+ still comes in about $90 more than the Pentium D 820. However, the 3800+ has some benefits not found with Intel's dual core core line, namely the ability to simply throw it in your existing socket 939 motherboard with a simple BIOS update and fire it up. Intel's dual core line is officially compatible with only the newer i945 and i955 chipsets, but some motherboard makers like AsRock have come out with boards based on the Intel 865PE chipset (AsRock Model #775i65PE) that unofficially support Intel dual core processors.

Comparing the X2 to the Pentium D

Much has been made of dual core processors over the past 6 months.  Unfortunately, unless you are multitasking or using one of a very few programs designed to take advantage of multi cored processors, you will not see much, if any, benefit to owning a dual core processor at this time. With dual core processors in their infancy, it is only common sense that it will take time for software developers and program writers to optimize their programs to use the full potential of these beasts. Right now, most of us will only see benefits from running multiple programs at one time (such as an anti virus or spyware app while playing a game, or encoding a video or burning a music CD while writing a review). However, it won't be too much longer before we see some programs and games really take advantage of these new processors.

AMD Core Architecture

While Intel ran into some issues when it came to motherboard support for their Pentium D line (Intel's still fairly new 915 and 925 chipset do not officially support dual core processors), AMD fans will be happy to know that if their socket 939 motherboard supports AMD's FX 55, then it will gladly work with their new X2. The possibilities here are limitless: while the Pentium D is limited in support, owners have a bevy of PCI-E as well as AGP boards to choose from.

AMD64 core layout Pentium D core layout

When it comes to thermal properties, the Pentium D again finds itself looking up at the X2. Although both are built upon a 90nm process, Intel's Prescott 2 core (even with all its optimizations) is still an incredibly hot processor when compared to AMD's X2. While the X2 3800 dissipates a managable 89W, the 2.8 Pentium D dissipated 95W. This is not a drastic difference, but something to keep in mind later when we get into testing and overclocking. On the flip side, AMD's Athlon 64 X2 4800+, their high end X2 processor, dissipates 110W  compared to Intel's Pentium D 840 EE's incredible 130+W. When it comes to managing the processor's thermals, AMD not only has an obvious advantage in core design, but also their Cool and Quiet technology has been a very good performer by reducing the core speed to as low as 800MHz when the system doesn't require extra power. Intel's thermal management apps include EIST (Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology), which allows the processor to adjust voltage and core frequency based upon system load. The caveat here is that Intel's budget processor, the Pentium D 820, does not support EIST, as it is already running at Intel's lowest possible frequency for this line, 2.8GHz.

When it comes to features and performance, both AMD and Intel show their muscle. Both the X2 3800+ and Pentium D 820 offer two cores, 64 bit OS support, SSE3, and noeXecute support to protect against most buffer overflow attacks. What I believe will end up giving the X2 a distinct advantage over the Pentium D is the X2's on die memory controller, and the Pentium D's lack of Hyper Threading (except with its 840 Extreme Edition processor).

Now that we know a little more about the processors both companies offer, lets see how they perform, and which might be best for your next system. From personal experience, I am really excited to have a go at the 3800+. Having owned quite a few AMD processors, I have found that their budget CPUs have ended up being a great choice for enthusiasts. While great performers at stock speed, they really show their benefit when in the hands of a person who knows how to tweak and manipulate extra performance out of them. The X2 3800+ should be no exception to this.  

Benchmarking setup

Test Systems

Both AMD systems will use identical hardware which will include the following"

Both Intel systems will use the exact same setup, and also use as much as the same hardware as the AMD systems as possible. where obviously the Intel system is based on a different chipset and memory, I decided that the comparison would be as much from a financial standpoint as performance.

The DFI board is using the 623-3 BIOS (latest official release), and the ASUS board is using the 4-22 BIOS (again, latest official release). All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows XP with SP2.

Benchmarking dual core processors at this time is still fairly difficult, as there just aren't many prorams out there to really do it right. What I decided in the end was to run our normal suite of benchmarks, then follow that up with some multi tasking, running the same benchmarks again with Norton  Anti-Virus.

 

Single Thread Testing

3DMark 2005 v1.2.0

3DMark05 is best suited for the latest generation of DirectX 9.0 graphics cards. It is the first benchmark to require a DirectX9.0 compliant hardware with support for Pixel Shaders 2.0 or higher! By combining high quality 3D tests, CPU tests, feature tests, image quality tools, and much more, 3DMark05 is a premium benchmark for evaluating the latest generation of gaming hardware.

3DMark05 CPU Test

 

3DMark03 Build 360

3DMark03 is a collection of  four 3D game based tests. Each 3DMark03 game test is a real-time rendering of a 3D scenario. It is important to note that these renderings are not merely animations or a set of recorded events; they are designed to function like 3D games work. As with 3D games, all computations are performed in real time. This is a critical part of FutureMarks philosophy of 3D graphics benchmarking.

3DMark03 CPU Test

 

Sisoft Sandra 2005 SR2:

SiSoftware, founded in 1995, is one of the leading providers of computer analysis, diagnostic and benchmarking software. The flagship product, known as "SANDRA", was launched in 1997 and has become one of the most widely used products in its field. SANDRA is used by almost 400 world-wide IT publications, magazines, review sites to analyze the performance of today?s computers.

Multi-Core Support As well as SMP (multi-processor) and SMT (multi-threading/Hyper-Threading) support we have added multi-core support for future AMD and Intel CPUs. The benchmarks have been optimized to schedule the optimum number of threads on the optimum (virtual) CPU on both multi-core and Hyper-Threaded computers.

Sandra ALU Score

Sandra Integer Score

Sandra Float Score

 

PCMark05:

PCMark05 is an application-based benchmark and a premium tool for measuring overall PC performance. It uses portions of real applications instead of including very large applications or using specifically created code. This allows PCMark05 to be a smaller installation as well as to report very accurate results. As far as possible, PCMark04 uses public domain applications whose source code can be freely examined by any user.

PCMark05 Overall Score

 

AquaMark3

AquaMark3 is a powerful tool to determine reliable information about the gaming performance of a computer system. Again, resolution was set 1024x768.

Aquamark 3 CPU Score

As you can see, the X2 3800+ performs very well in every test, beating the Pentium D 820 in all except Futuremarks's PCMark 2005. The X2 3800 even manages to best the Pentium D 840 EE ina few tests.

Single Thread Test cont.

CINEBENCH 2003

CINEBENCH 2003 is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the powerful 3D software CINEMA 4D R8. The tool is set to deliver accurate benchmarks by testing not only a computer's raw processing speed but also all other areas that affect system performance such as OpenGL, multithreading, multiprocessors and Intel's HT Technology. CINEBENCH 2003 includes render tasks that test the performance of up to 16 multiprocessors on the same computer.

Cinebench single processor Cinebench Multi processor

ScienceMark 2.0 Final:

Science Mark 2.0 is an attempt to put the truth behind benchmarking. In an attempt to model real world demands and performance, ScienceMark 2.0 is a suite of high-performance benchmarks that realistically stress system performance without architectural bias. Lower results (time in seconds) represent better performance. All of our testing was completed on the 32 Bit Final benchmark version that is dated March 21, 2005.

Sciencemark 2.0 Primordia Benchmark Sciencemark 2.0 Cypher Benchmark

Super PI

Super Pi is a program a lot of enthusiasts use to benchmark overall system performance, as the program is capable of calculating pi up to 33.55 million digits on a timer.  Many overclockers and enthusiasts are in a battle to get the lowest 1M Super Pi time possible

Super Pi Mod 1.4

AMD's X2 line again flexes its muscle by showing up the Pentium D in Sciencemark 2.0, and again in Super Pi.

Multi Thread Testing

For the mutlitasking portion of the tests, I decided to keep it fairly simple and focus on what most people will see and deal with. I Chose to run several benchmarks a second time, but in addition, added Norton Anti-Virus, a famous resource hog. Most people talk about running an virus scan or spyware app in the background and having trouble playing games.

3DMark 2005 v1.2.0

3DMark05 is best suited for the latest generation of DirectX 9.0 graphics cards. It is the first benchmark to require a DirectX9.0 compliant hardware with support for Pixel Shaders 2.0 or higher! By combining high quality 3D tests, CPU tests, feature tests, image quality tools, and much more, 3DMark05 is a premium benchmark for evaluating the latest generation of gaming hardware.

3DMark05 with Norton anti-virus

3DMark03 Build 360

3DMark03 is a collection of  four 3D gmae based tests. Each 3DMark03 game test is a real-time rendering of a 3D scenario. It is important to note that these renderings are not merely animations or a set of recorded events; they are designed to function like 3D games work. As with 3D games, all computations are performed in real time. This is a critical part of FutureMarks philosophy of 3D graphics benchmarking.

3DMark03 with Norton anti-virus

AquaMark3

AquaMark3 is a powerful tool to determine reliable information about the gaming performance of a computer system. Again, resolution was set 1024x768.

Aquamark3 with Norton anti-virus

The Pentium D's pull out a couple of wins here in multi-tasking. All the processors performed well in every test thus far, but for the most part, the X2 3800+ really shines as a "low end" CPU.

But wait, theres more. On the next page, I ran a virus scan while playing Doom 3 and Far Cry. In my opinion this, outside of video and audio encoding, is the most common multti threaded situations you would expect to see right now.

Game Testing

For game testing I decided to keep it simple, using only  Far Cry and Doom 3, but in addition a second set of benchmarks was run while also running Norton Anti-Virus.

Doom 3

Doom 3 is one of the most system taxing games available. Its popularity also makes it a great choice for system benchmarking. I like to use Time Demo 1 with resolution set to 1024x768 with detail set to high.

Doom 3

Doom 3 with Norton anti-virus

Far Cry- Volcano

Far Cry is another super popular FPS title that seriously taxes your systems graphics. HardwareOC developed this specialized benchmarking utility that automatically runs the test twice and averages out the score. V 1.41 was used here, with a resolution of 1024x768 and detail levels set to high.

Far Cry

Far Cry with Norton anti-virus

I ran these tests more than once (actually 3-4 times) because the results were all over the place. In Far Cry, the X2 3800+ was an awesome performer, posting scores that put it right up there with the Pentium D 840 EE. In Doom 3 it was another story, as the Pentium D 820 whupped up on the 3800+. Overall, the 4800+ is a smoking CPU!

Overclocking/Conclusion

Overclocking

Only having the AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ processor for less than a week, I have managed to try out some overclocking on our water cooled test system. Using the default settings and only adjusting the Front Side Bus (FSB), I was able to hit a pretty nice O/C of 2.48GHz without any trouble at all. Keeping the multiplier the same while lowering the memory divider to 333MHz, and bumping the processor VCore up to 1.56V, I was able to hit 2.70GHz (270x10).  This is a very nice overclock and the CPU temperature only increased a tad -- 29 to 33C! Under a full load the CPU temperature was observed to be at 38C.

While I am using water cooling for my test system, I was extremely impressed by a 700MHz overclock resulting in only a 2-3C rise in core temperature. Lacking a stock air cooling solution for the AMD test system, I can't say without some doubt what overclock or temperatures you can expect, but from my experience with a 3500+Winchester, I can say that this processor is a bit cooler than the 3500+ was in the exact same setup.

CPU-Z

I am sure that with some great overclocking memory from Corsair or OCZ, users will not have to drop their memory timings to achieve some great overclocks with this processor, I also feel that with a couple more days to tinker with different BIOS' and BIOS settings, that 2.7 - 2.8GHz is a very realistic overclock with water cooling, and 2.6 GHz should be achievable wiith air cooling, making this a great choice for overclocking. 

Final Thoughts

Where do I even start? First of all, from a budget standpoint, the 3800+ bests a very game Pentium D 820 in almost every benchmark. Looking at this from one point of view, the Pentium D 820 is a little over $118 cheaper at $236 as compared to the 3800+ X2's $354 price tag. But, and this is a big BUT, the Pentium D 820 requires a new motherboard, either an Intel based 945 or 955 chipset board, while on the other hand, the AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ will work with nearly every 939 motherboard on the market with a simple BIOS upgrade... that quickly erases that $118 price difference.

In my opinion the Pentium D 820 is a great processor. I use one on a daily basis and have no problem recommending it to anyone in need of a very good, inexpensive dual core processor. While no one should expect the Intel processors to beat AMD's solutions in gaming based benchmarking, I thought some of the results actually showed the Intel Pentium D do better than expected. If Intel's Pentium D 820 does have one drawback, it's the heat output. Like most Prescott cores before it, the 820 is a very hot processor that will need extreme cooling if run much higher than its stock speed.

Having said all of that, the AMD64 3800+ X2 is an incredible processor at a great price. Like most processors, I fully expect the price to drop a bit once AMD shows it can meet demand and the rush to scoop up the available processors at retailers slows. The $399 Pre-Order price on the X2 3800+ should hopefully quickly go away when they come into stock on 8/12/2005.

The 3800+ even bested a Pentium D 840EE in some benchmarks, which to me is astounding considering the price difference between the two, and while the 4800+ is without a doubt the top dog, the 3800+ at stock speeds and while overclocked shows itself to be a great choice.

In single thread apps, the 3800+ performed as expected, much like AMD's 3200+ Winchester or San Diego cores. However, when I threw Norton Anti Virus at it, it happily chugged along without much of a hiccup. AMD's dual core processors should be a top choice for anyone, not just the people who multi task like crazy, but the gamer and casual user, the difference between AMD's single core and dual core processors is truly noticeable.

The Legit Bottom Line

Without a doubt, the 3800+ should be the first choice of any AMD fan on a budget (or anyone needing a new processor who is pinching pennies). Taking into consideration price versus performance, low power demands and our great overclocking results we easily find that the AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ deserves our Editor's Choice Award.