Final Words & Conclusion
You know the more we test Phenom II processors the more we seem to like them. AMD is fighting a stigma though. The one thing that is ghosting through everybody's mind has to be .. "what if Intel hadn't released Core i7 ?". Well, fact is they did release it. And surely it dominates the high-end segment, there's just no question about that. But we have stated it in our previous Phenom II article already, that is an expensive upgrade once you accumulate every component needed.
So I like to ask you to filter out Core i7 for a moment, and try to mentally place the price and performance of Phenom II X3 and X4 processors in the Core 2 Duo and Quad range. Then it all makes sense. This is where AMD is really competing with Phenom II. And in this product range they certainly are very strong.
If you build a modern PC with a high-end graphics card like a Radeon HD 4870 1024MB or the GeForce GTX 280 as used in this review, you have been able to notice that the difference amongst 145 to 200 USD processors is pretty small. The processors each deliver more than enough computational power for a nice gaming experience. The one processor that for me personally shined was, interestingly enough, the Phenom II X3, the 720 BE processor. I too have that weird stigma about having three cores instead of four, as much as you do. But the results didn't lie ... the X3 720BE is a very competitive Phenom II processor clocked at 2.8 GHz with that luxurious 6MB L3 cache. For roughly 145 USD you can get this BE edition and as such it will allow you to easily overclock it towards 3500-3800 MHz on the most cheap air-cooler one can think of. Again, this particular processor will be placed on the shelves for a only 145 USD and as such this really is an awesome deal.
Do some math with me:
- 790FX/GX motherboard 125 USD
- Phenom II X3 720 BE 145 USD
- 2x2GB DDR2 800 MHz 50 USD
- Radeon HD 4850 150 USD
- Power supply 550 Watt 55 USD
- Chassis 50 USD
- 500 GB HDD 55 USD
Grand total: 630,- USD
Yes, you just bought yourself a very decent mid-range PC. And sure, certainly you'll be able to build a Core 2 Duo/Quad based system for roughly the same amount of money as well. The thing is .. you have choices, very price performance competitive choices. And that is just a huge plus in my book, we need competition you guys, not domination.
That other processor then. The AMD Phenom II X4 810 on it's own is a very fine quad-core processor. It was not a BE edition and as such our overclock ended at roughly 3 GHz. We here at Guru3D are a bit of a tweaking / overclocking community so this processor appealed a little less to me. It's also clocked 200 MHz slower than that cheaper X3 we just mentioned and has 4 MB L3 cache instead of 6MB. Weirdly enough, this quad core processor in games is therefore slightly slower than the X3 720BE in most scenarios. And even some multi-threaded applications it was lacking a little due to the lower clock frequency and smaller L3 cache. But once we for example go for some multi-threaded x.264 encoding, that extra core kicks in. Accumulated in such applications this processor wins. Where it it is very storng at is its price, the processor will be selling at a 175 USD pricetag, making it a very inexpensive quad core processor and in fact 40 USD cheaper than the Phenom II X4 920.
Gaming. We deliberately took two older and two really new games. The older two (FEAR and COD4) show persistently that a dual-core processor if clocked fast enough, is enough. The two newest titles (Crysis WarHEAD and Brothers in arms- Hells Highway) both seem to really like more than two cores, in fact three cores seems to be a sweet-spot for multi-core aware games. So for gamers and people that like to tweak and overclock, I honestly would like to recommend you to look at that Phenom II X3 720 BE processor. At just 145 USD it's just colossal bang for your bucks, and the additional value kicks in even more once you overclock. If you do not care about overclocking but use your PC mainly for encoding, transcoding or (de)compressing a lot of stuff with your PC, then the AMD Phenom II X4 810 might probably work out better for you.
It's a fine intricate line to balance and understand though. Gamers probably want to go for the higher frequency processors and the multi-media user base, more CPU cores as their applications tend to be very multi-core aware. But sure, everything is relative to your PC usage and intentions.
And that's how simple this conclusion is and should be. With a fairly limited budget you can get yourself good value yet grand PC. AMD is very strong in this segment and unfortunately (lately) too much underappreciated for it.. On the other side, if you like to dip your toes into a more high-end area .. there are obviously always alternatives that will reach the extent of your wallet and your personal needs.
Both processors tested, ran absolutely beautiful on an ASUS AM2+ motherboard. AM3 DDR3 mainboards should be out within weeks, we will re-examine socket AM3 AMD processors with the combination of DDR3 memory when we get that opportunity. My gut feeling is that it will not make a huge difference, but perhaps another 3-5% overall performance ? We'll show you once we test it.
Our thanks go out to AMD for providing these review samples.