Those Were The Good Days

When a close friend of mine at AMD called me up a couple weeks ago and informed me that the AMD Athlon 64 X2 6400+ would be the last processor 'speed bump' that will clad the name 'Athlon', I had mixed emotions. For nearly a decade the word Athlon has been staple in the hearts and minds of computer enthusiasts around the world. The Athlon made its debut on June 23, 1999 and was originally chosen by AMD as it was short for "decathlon". Athlon is also the ancient Greek word for "Champion/trophy of the games" and there was a number or years where it did top anything Intel had to offer and the AMD Athlon processor series proved itself worthy of its namesake. With the next generation of AMD Phenom processors right around the corner, it makes sense to call it quits, but that doesn't mean we can't reminisce about the past.

When you think of the word Athlon what comes to mind?  The second I think of the word Athlon it takes me back to the first Athlon XP processor I bought back in 2002 when I was a broke college student.  I skipped lunches on campus to save money, so I could buy an Athlon XP 1600+. It took me weeks to find the right processor as I didn't want just any Athlon XP 1600+ -- I had to have the AGOIA stepping as it overclocked better than the other steppings back then. I remember calling Google Gear (later renamed Zip Zoom Fly after Google sent them a nasty legal letter) to purchase the processor as they would pick out the stepping you wanted if you got the right person on the phone. Once my processor arrived I remember going to Auto Zone and buying a rear window defogger repair kit and scotch tape, so I could unlock the multipliers since AMD started locking them.  Then I sat down and unlocked the processor with my girlfriend of the time looking at me like I have finally  lost it.  You know what the funny thing is?  I was so attached to that processor, I never did get rid of it.

AMD Athlon XP 1600+ AGOIA Stepping

My beloved AMD Athlon XP 1600+ AGOIA is still to this day in perfect working order and it reminds me of a time where people had to work for a decent overclock.  Back in 2002 people had to use extreme measures to unlock processor multipliers and had to move jumpers on the motherboard in order to increase the Front Side Bus (FSB) speeds.  Fast forward five years later and you have people complaining that a 25% overclock is not good enough for them!  If they only knew what it was like prior to the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) boom that happened around the world in 2003 and the results were consumer friendly motherboards that were jumperless and the hardware was all plug-in-play.

After thinking about the end of the Athlon series it got me thinking, why not fire up several of the popular processors over the past several years on the motherboards that I have been saving?

AMD Athlon XP and Athlon 64 Processors

Since I started Legit Reviews back in 2002, I gathered up processors from that time period on.  While I wanted to include my Athlon XP 1600+ in the benchmarking tests, I ended up deciding against it since the Athlon XP 1800+ had higher sales numbers.  The successor to the Athlon XP 1800+ was an easy choice as the Athlon XP 2500+ was by far the most popular 'Barton' core AMD ever had.  While the AMD socket 754 platform never really took off in the enthusiast crowd an Athlon 64 3200+ with 1MB cache was included to give those with a socket 754 platform something to look at in the charts.  Since the Athlon 64 3200+ is 2.2GHz and single-core it will also be nice to compare it against the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ as it is also 2.2GHz, but dual-core.

AMD Athlon XP and Athlon 64 Processors

When it came to the Socket 939 platform, it was a tough call between the Athlon 64 3500+ and the Athlon 64 3800+, but in the end the Athlon 64 3800+ won the battle. The battle for the Socket AM2 platform was also a tough call as AMD introduced so many part numbers with a variety of cache sizes and clock speeds.  The AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ was picked to represent this era as it was affordable and popular when it was available.  The final processor to be included is the rare AMD Athlon 64 X2 6400+ black box edition processor that was originally supposed to be available only to OEM's, but now is seems online retailers have them in stock for $259

The Test Systems

AMD Socket 462

AMD Socket 462 Test System

It was tough to get an AMD Socket 462 motherboard for testing as several of the motherboards must have been damaged in a recent move and were not posting.  I ended up using the Tyan S2495 Trinity KT400 motherboard that features the ever popular VIA KT400 chipset. Back in the day, VIA made the best chipsets for the Athlon XP series and the Tyan S2495 was a feature packed motherboard.  If you look closely in the picture above you will notice that it had a pair of LEDs, so one could monitor post codes and even had Serial ATA thanks to the Silicon Image Sil3112 SATA RAID Controller.  I used a 10,000RPM Western Digital WD1500 Raptor hard drive to bring new life to this old motherboard.  A Corsair 620W power supply provided stable power and the Corsair XMS Pro PC-3200 XL memory kit meant we could run 2-2-2-5 1T timings on the pair of 512MB memory modules. A tried and true Thermaltake Silent Boost heat sink kept the Athlon XP processors nice and cool and a noisy NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 reference video card put the ones and zeros on the monitor.

AMD Socket 754

Image Description

The Socket 754 based AMD Athlon 64 3200+ processor was tested out on the Chaintech Zenith ZNF3-150 nForce3 motherboard. Chaintech is no longer produces desktop motherboards, so even using this motherboard was a blast from the past. All of the same hardware that was used on the Socket 462 platforms were again used on this one other than the heat sink and a fresh install of Windows XP with NVIDIA nForce 3 5.11 WHQL Certified drivers.

AMD Socket 939

AMD Socket 939 Test System

The AMD Socket 939 system was run on a DFI Lan Party nF4 SLI-D motherboard, which was one of the most popular enthusiast boards back in the day. A Corsair 620W power supply provided stable power and the Corsair XMS Pro PC-3200 XL memory kit meant we could run 2-2-2-5 1T timings on the pair of 512MB memory modules. A BFG Technologies GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card was used as well as a Zalman heat sink to keep thing nice and cool. NVIDIA nForce 6.86 drivers were used for the motherboard as well as ForceWare Release Version 162.18 video card drivers.

AMD Socket AM2

AMD Socket AM2 Test System

The Socket AM2 platform used the NF590 SLI-M2R/G, which is my favorite nForce 590 SLI motherboard and it was one of the first to use digital power management.  All of the same hardware was used as on the Socket 939 system, but we changed out the memory to a Corsair XMS2 PC2-6400C4 1GB memory kit as this board uses DDR2 memory modules.  The memory timings were set to 4-4-4-12 and away benchmarking went. NVIDIA nForce 9.35 drivers were used for the motherboard as well as ForceWare Release Version 162.18 video card drivers.

Now that we know what the test systems were let's look at the performance numbers!

Sisoft; Sandra XII 2008

Sisoft; Sandra XII:

Sisoftware Sandra 2008

Sisoft Sandra XII just came out this month and it was included, so our readers would be able to compare their modules to this kit if they are using the just released version of Sandra!  With Sandra XII you can now easily compare the performance of the tested device with its speed and its (published) power (TDP)! Sandra XII also has SSE4 (Intel) and SSE4A (AMD) benchmark code-paths, which is great for those of you testing next-generation AMD & Intel chips.

Corsair XMS3 DOMINATOR PC3 Sandra Scores

Results: Sandra XII showed significant performance increases over the years with the biggest being the move to dual-channel memory that happened on out Socket 939 and AM2 test systems. With the AMD Athlon 64 X2 6400+ breaking 8,000 MB/Sec of bandwidth it's tough for the Athlon XP 1800+ to compete with it's measly 1,600 MB/Sec of bandwidth.

Cinebench R10

MAXON; CINEBENCH R10:

CINEBENCH is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the powerful 3D software CINEMA 4D. Consequently, the results of tests conducted using CINEBENCH 10 carry significant weight when analyzing a computer's performance in everyday use. Especially a system's CPU and the OpenGL capabilities of its graphics card are put through their paces (even multiprocessor systems with up to 16 dedicated CPUs or processor cores). The test procedure consists of two main components: The first test sequence is dedicated to the computer's main processor. A 3D scene file is used to render a photo reaslistic image. The scene makes use of various CPU-intensive features such as reflection, ambient occlusion, area lights and procedural shaders. In the first run, the benchmark only uses one CPU (or CPU core), to ascertain a reference value. On machines that have multiple CPUs or CPU cores, and also on those who simulate multiple CPUs (via HyperThreading or similar technolgies), MAXON CINEBENCH will run a second test using all available CPU power. Again, higher Frames/Second and lower rendering time in seconds equal better performance.

Cinebench 10

Cinebench R10 was able to put a 100% load across all the cores on all of the processors, which makes this a great benchmark to look at multi-core platforms.

Cinebench R10 Results

Results: Our SMP Cinebench R10 results show an impressive 416% increase in performance over the span of processors that I used in testing.  The new AMD Athlon 64 X2 6400+ proved to be over 5.1 times faster than that of the Athlon XP 1800+ processor and it was able to complete the benchmark in 19% of the time.  Cinebench R10 showed the best scaling of performance of all the benchmarking that was done.

It should be noted that in order to get the percentages in the chart above we calculated the time it took to complete the benchmark in comparison to the Athlon XP 1800+, which was the slowest of the group using the equation [1 - (y1-y2)/y1] * 100.

POV-Ray 3.7 Beta 21a

Processor Performance on Pov-Ray 3.7 Beta 21a:

The Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer was developed from DKBTrace 2.12 (written by David K. Buck and Aaron A. Collins) by a bunch of people (called the POV-Team) in their spare time. It is an high-quality, totally free tool for creating stunning three-dimensional graphics. It is available in official versions for Windows, Mac OS/Mac OS X and i86 Linux. The POV-Ray package includes detailed instructions on using the ray-tracer and creating scenes. Many stunning scenes are included with POV-Ray so you can start creating images immediately when you get the package. These scenes can be modified so you do not have to start from scratch. In addition to the pre-defined scenes, a large library of pre-defined shapes and materials is provided. You can include these shapes and materials in your own scenes by just including the library file name at the top of your scene file, and by using the shape or material name in your scene. Since this is free software feel free to download this version and try it out on your own.

The most significant change from the end-user point of view between versions 3.6 and 3.7 is the addition of SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) support, which in a nutshell allows the renderer to run on as many CPU's as you have installed on your computer. This will be particularly useful for those users who intend on purchasing a dual-core CPU or who already have a two (or more) processor machine. On a two-CPU system the rendering speed in some scenes almost doubles. For our benchmarking we used version 3.7 beta 21a, which is the most recent version available.  The benchmark used all available cores to complete the render.

Pov-Ray 3.7 Beta 21a

Once rendering on the object we selected was completed, we took the score from dialog box, which indicates the average PPS for the benchmark. A higher PPS indicates faster system performance.

Pov-Ray 3.7 Beta 13

Looking at the overall render score, the winner is clear by a long shot.  The Athlon 64 X2 6400+ processor struts it stuff over the other processors.

WinRar v3.70

RARLAB - WinRar v3.70 has a multithreaded version of the RAR compression algorithm, which improves the compression speed on computers with several CPU, dual core CPU and processors with hyperthreading technology. Multithreading is enabled by default, but you can disable it in "General" part of "Settings" dialog.

WinRAR on Quad-Core

The Results:

WinRAR Benchmark Results

Results: WinRAR 3.70 showed dual-core love and the 2.2GHZ AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ was 335KB/Sec quicker than the 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 63 3200+.  The Athlon 64 X2 6400+ showed off with it's 3.2GHz clock frequency though and showed how the benchmark is to be done!  At nearly 1MB/Sec FASTER than the Athlon XP 1800+ it just shows how far we have come over the past five years.

Super Pi mod 1.5

Super PI Mod v1.5:

Super Pi Mod 1.5 Benchmark

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. The benchmark results below include Super Pi results to 1 million places and 2 million places.

Super Pi Results

Results: Super Pi Mod v1.5 shows improved performance as thge processor frequency increases. Notice that the AMD Athlon 64 3800+ single-core processor performed better than the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ dual-core processor.  This is because the 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+ had an extra 200MHz of clock frequency over the 2.2GHZ Athlon 64 X2 4200+ and in this benchmark it's obvious that frequency plays a bigger role than the number of cores.  This makes sense as Super Pi is not a threaded application! It took the Athlon XP 1800+ 64 minutes to complete Super Pi to 32 million places, while the Athlon 64 X2 6400+ completed the task in just 24 minutes!

Futuremark 3DMark06

3DMark 2006 v1.2.0

3DMark 2006

3DMark06 includes an array of 3D graphics, CPU and 3D feature tests for overall performance measurement of current and future PC gaming systems. With this broader design approach, 3DMark06 has become the benchmark of choice for all PCs with top-of-the-line graphics hardware and CPUs. 3DMark06 is the first product from Futuremark using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library in two very complex, game-like threaded CPU tests conceived to measure properly performances of single processor, multi-core and multiple processor systems in next generation of games. In addition to using real-time physics, both CPU tests also employ multi-threaded artificial intelligence algorithms. By combining the results of the two CPU tests and four graphics tests, 3DMark06 enables users to get a 3DMark score which reflects the overall gaming performance of their PC.

3DMark 2006

The CPU test showed that the dual-core X2 processors get a big performance boost on this multi-threaded benchmarking utility.  The 3.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 6400+ pulled well ahead of the 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 62 X2 4200+.  There was a 359% performance increase on the latest and greatest AMD processor compared to the Athlon XP 1800+ that brought up the rear of the group.  Not bad considering the Athlon XP 1800+ came out in 2002 and the Athlon 64 X2 came out in 2007!

CloneDVD + AnyDVD

Ripping a DVD to an ISO file:

CloneDVD and AnyDVD Benchmarking

CloneDVD is a DVD movie backup utility. You can copy all of your DVD movie collections even those CSS-encrypted and region-protected discs. Without special setting, just one click the mouse, CloneDVD will automatically remove CSS protection and region codes during copying. Perfect 1:1 copy, without warning & watermark as original disc, the copied disc works well with most popular home DVD player. For this benchmark I used AnyDVD and CloneDVD to make a backup of the retail movie SAW 2. CloneDVD ripped the entire movie from the disc and made a 4.6GB ISO file on the hard drive with the movie files. To use this as a benchmark utility I measured the total time in seconds that it took to create the ISO/UDF image. A NEX ND-3550A DVD R/RW & CD-R/RW drive was used on all the systems, which is a recent model 16X optical drive for those not familiar with the model number.

Corsair XMS3 Super Pi Results

Results: Ripping SAW 2 to a 4.6GB ISO/UDF image is a real world benchmark that produced some interesting results that showed steady improvement over the years. The Athlon XP 1800+ system with 1GB of DDR1 2-2-2 memory took nearly 27 minutes to complete the task while the Athlon 64 X2 6400+ with 1GB DDR2 4-4-4 memory just over 14 minutes.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

AMD Athlon XP and Athlon 64 Processors

After going back five years and looking at the performance of the Athlon XP 1800+, it is amazing to see how far we have come in just five years.  A good number of our readers still have Athlon XP systems in use and this article was a great opportunity to show them what they are missing out on as none of the major hardware review sites include these processor in updated performance charts any longer. To be honest, I was surprised how well the Athlon XP system did and that it made it through days of torture testing even though many of those parts have been used in nearly four years!

The new Athlon 64 X2 6400+ processor is a welcomed addition to the Athlon series of processors, but it's sad knowing that this will likely be the last speed step for the Athlon series.  I'm certain that AMD will release other parts in the future with the Athlon name, but they will be low voltage parts at clock frequencies under 3.2GHz.  So, take a good look at the CPU-Z capture below as it should be the final speed bump in the AMD Athlon series that started back in 1999.

AMD Athlon 64 X2 6400+ Processor

When it comes to pricing the AMD Athlon 64 6400+ Black Edition can be found for $259 and is in stock at online retailers right now.  Not a bad price considering what several of the Athlon 64 X2's at lesser clock speeds cost just a couple years ago! It's not enough to compete head to head with Intel's flagship dual-core processors, but it's a step closer!

I hope you enjoyed this brief look back at these six processors and that it brought back old memories for you on processors you owned years ago.  I'm sure I'm not the only one with Athlon XP stepping stories, so if this article brought back memories for you be sure to stop by the forums and share them with us!  The community forums are free and an ideal place to gather with other hardware enthusiasts!

Legit Bottom Line:  The AMD Athlon 64 6400+ Black Edition should be the final speed bump in the AMD Athlon series and when looking back five years at the performance levels AMD has come a long way!