AMD Phenom II X6 1090T And 890FX Platform Review: Hello, Leo

Conclusion

Intel’s Core i7-980X gave us a six-core processor running at the same speed as its predecessor with a shared L3 cache increase to boot—and all at the same price point. Unfortunately, at $1,000, it’s still hard for most folks to get excited about hexa-core computing. If you can afford a grand, great. The -980X remains the fastest desktop processor available, and it sells at the same price as the quad-core -975. Choosing between the two is a no-brainer.

AMD took a different approach, adding cores (and corresponding L1/L2 cache), but leaving the shared L3 at 6MB. The addition of Turbo CORE shoots to emulate what Intel achieves through Turbo Boost, but it’s effectively Cool’n’Quiet in reverse, and arguably not nearly as elegantly implemented. Moreover, a $100 price increase means you’ll be paying more for AMD’s six-core solution.

But the Phenom II X6 1090T costs $295 to the Phenom II X4 965’s $185. This is a six-core CPU most of us can actually afford. The question is: who should spend the extra money?

Four Or Six?

The benchmarks speak volumes in this story. The moves from one to two cores and two to four were each met with slight clock rate drops, conceding to the increased complexity of doubling execution resources. Each step of the way, gamers actually saw better performance from the higher-clocked one- or two-core processors, while the folks using threaded software watched performance spring forward thanks to parallelism.

It might have been a fluke that Intel was able to time its 32 nm die shrink with the launch of its six-core Gulftown, but that was actually the first time I can remember that no compromises were made in increasing core count. AMD doesn’t have that luxury. The addition of low-k dielectric material in the metal layers almost amazingly facilitates a six-core design within AMD’s 125W TDP, but it’s not enough to kick the clocks up another notch.

As a result, it’s easy to recommend the Phenom II X6 1090T for folks able to employ its six cores. Video work, threaded Photoshop filters, rendering—in those workloads, AMD’s new flagship is, in many cases, able to keep up with the quad-core Core i7-975.

In the same vein, the gaming benchmarks are a reminder that the latest and greatest graphics cards really do need a capable processor behind them if you want to unleash their potential. An overclockable CPU like the Core i7-920 or -930 can really open up a Radeon HD 5870 or GeForce GTX 480 when you get it up to the 4 GHz range. Dipping down to 3.2 GHz doesn’t really help the 1090T win any battles in the games (Call of Duty excepted, where Turbo CORE seems to improve performance over the X4 965). If you’re a gamer, save the money you’d spend on a six-core CPU, buy your favorite overclockable processor, and spend the difference on graphics or an SSD to cut level load times.

AMD’s hexa-core Phenom II X6 1090T is decidedly a productivity-oriented part designed to improve the performance of threaded apps. It extends the usefulness of Socket AM3 until Bulldozer emerges in 2011. As a result, your 790FX-based motherboard will do the job just fine—it’s probably not worth upgrading to 890FX at this point. Turbo CORE is conceptually a good answer to Turbo Boost, but I had a hard time proving its effectiveness in the real-world. Best-case, it helped the 3.2 GHz 1090T keep pace with the 3.4 GHz 965 in single-threaded titles.

Perhaps the most impressive point from this launch is the fact that AMD is increasing core count by 50%, transistor count by just under 30%, and maintaining the same 125W of its fastest quad-core CPU. It’s almost a shame that price increases by more than 50% at the same time. Fortunately, there are plenty of heavily-threaded workloads that justify a sub-$300 six-core CPU.

Update: AMD just let me know that Tigerdirect.com is offering a $50 mail-in rebate on both the 1090T and 1055T processors. This improves both processors' values significantly, but especially makes us think long and hard about the Phenom II X6 1055T, which can now be had for less than the Phenom II X4 965, our real benchmark in this story. For as long as the Tiger deal lasts, its savings add quite a bit more impact to AMD's hexa-core launch.

Update2: Looks like the plug has already been pulled on the Tigerdirect.com rebate.

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231 comments
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    Top Comments
  • englandr753
    Being that I have seemed to changed my use of my pc more toward video editing than gaming I am definitely selling off my Q9550 and going with the AMD X6. I still game some but don't care to have the cutting edge video card atm so this is perfect for me. I'm buying from AMD for my next cpu! Way to go AMD! I still have another Q9550 system so don't think I'm an AMD fan boy but I do love it when AMD gives such a great value for such a great product. Everyone should...
    29
  • jemlinus
    Great. Six cores for under $200, and I don't have to change my mobo and memory cards. Can't go wrong with that!
    24
  • dstln
    Good to hear they're getting back into the performance market and still focusing on value.
    20
  • Other Comments
  • theDARKW0LF
    Awesome, good thing I waited for this release, hello six cores (first post)!
    -23
  • dwave
    My 4 core Core2Quad @ 2.83 is still working everything great, so I won't be upgrading. Nice to see the price for 6 cores is very reasonable though!
    9
  • Anonymous
    This maaayy just be my "conspiracy theory" but please also test nvidia cards with the processors. Not flacking AMD or anything but there could possibly be optimizations and "reverse optimizations" for the processors.

    I just cant remember tom's last review that had an nvidia card with an AMD processor.
    -26
  • theDARKW0LF
    Lol I was just into the hype at that last post, I didn't even start to read the review, now I think I'll just go back to the Phenom II X4, ah well lol
    -24
  • Anonymous
    Finally this article comes out. I've been waiting since the morning for this. Lol but anyway, good read.
    13
  • cangelini
    Got some GTX 480 numbers in there as well txt, and the results weren't much prettier.
    2
  • englandr753
    Being that I have seemed to changed my use of my pc more toward video editing than gaming I am definitely selling off my Q9550 and going with the AMD X6. I still game some but don't care to have the cutting edge video card atm so this is perfect for me. I'm buying from AMD for my next cpu! Way to go AMD! I still have another Q9550 system so don't think I'm an AMD fan boy but I do love it when AMD gives such a great value for such a great product. Everyone should...
    29
  • Anonymous
    You know, AMD can make a 48core CPU, but if it performs worse than Intel's 4 core, than it does not matter that it costs only as much as Intel's 4 core.

    In this case, it does not perform better than i7-920, even though the 920 is a 4 core cpu (and no, no one really runs it at 2.66, everyone pushes it at least to 3, since it takes nothing to get it to that speed, and it right away outperforms AMD's 6 core, and has a much better memory throughput).
    -28
  • englandr753
    Is the X6 1090T not oc'able at all? It would seem there should be some headroom for overclock to some degree. Starting out at 3.2g makes me think you should be able to get fairly close to 4.0.
    19
  • cangelini
    englandr753Is the X6 1090T not oc'able at all? It would seem there should be some headroom for overclock to some degree. Starting out at 3.2g makes me think you should be able to get fairly close to 4.0.


    I was able to hit 3.7 with Turbo CORE enabled fairly easily. It might go higher, but I'd argue this probably isn't as much of an overclocking chip as a 965 might be.
    4
  • jemlinus
    Great. Six cores for under $200, and I don't have to change my mobo and memory cards. Can't go wrong with that!
    24
  • bk420
    Where can I sign up to buy this thing NOW. It looks good considering the price. 6 cores is better than 4 IMHO.
    1
  • dstln
    Good to hear they're getting back into the performance market and still focusing on value.
    20
  • deividast
    jemlinusGreat. Six cores for under $200, and I don't have to change my mobo and memory cards. Can't go wrong with that!


    Actually it's under 300$, but still really affordable :) to bad i'd have to change my mobo and ram for it :) so i'll stick to my 4 cores for the time being :D
    9
  • englandr753
    So, my understanding the only ocing you can do is with turbocore? 2 cores or less are working to hit the 3.7? If this is so, this is a little disappointing but as I said for video editing, 6 cores even at 3.2 sounds sweet to me. Thanks for the review and the replies! Nice job!
    0
  • pharge
    I remember we did have few articles here talking about what happen when there are multiple programs running at the same time (which I belive is closer to the reality). Will 6-core system look better when there are 2-3 program running at the same time?
    Like playing games while having handbreak and antivirus running at the same time.
    4
  • Doltron
    GRRR
    -16
  • Doltron
    I think you should add Bad Company 2 to the benchmarks. ;)
    20
  • englandr753
    DoltronI think you should add Bad Company 2 to the benchmarks.


    I can see why you would but do you realize the time this would take to do everyones favorite game? Not a reasonable thing to do...
    -7
  • jemlinus
    deividastActually it's under 300$, but still really affordable to bad i'd have to change my mobo and ram for it so i'll stick to my 4 cores for the time being

    I was talking about 1055T. ;)
    5