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Conclusion

Phenom II X2 555 Vs. Pentium G6950: The Rematch
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It has been fun having a second shot with these CPUs, but it's nice to finally put the comparison to rest. What did we learn?

Which Dual-Core CPU is the Better Gamer?

Let's consider gaming performance. The first thing we learned is that a stock Pentium G6950 is not a good option for a gaming rig. It suffered a notable performance penalty compared to the Phenom II X2 555. So, entry-level games not intending to overclock, AMD's Phenom II CPU would be the best bet.

However, if you plan to overclock, the story changes significantly. Our Pentium G6950 easily made it to 4.3 GHz and kept pace with the overclocked Phenom II X2 555 without a problem. At this point, either CPU is a viable option for gaming, and your choice may depend on your preferred platform more than anything else.

There is the possibility that you might have some luck in unlocking dormant Phenom II X2 555 CPU cores. We did. But even with all four cores operational, there is very little difference in raw gaming capability, and unlocking dormant cores is not a guaranteed success. More than two CPU cores make the most difference to gamers in scenarios where applications are allowed to run in the background, but if this is how you game, you're probably better off with a similarly-priced Athlon II X3 instead of taking a chance on a Phenom II X2 555.

Which Dual-Core CPU is Better in a Productivity Machine?

When it comes to general-purpose desktop usage, the stock Pentium G6950 and Phenom II X2 555 trade blows and end up with similar average performance, which is surprising considering the Pentium's smaller cache and 400 MHz clock speed deficit.

However, once the Pentium G6950 is overclocked, it easily bests the overclocked Phenom II X2 555 by a wide margin, and makes a strong case in applications that don't take advantage of more than two threads. Remember, the Pentium G6950 starts off with a 400 MHz lower stock clock rate compared to the Phenom II X2 555. But when you factor in an overclockable 32 nm manufacturing process, there is a lot of room to grow.

The Phenom II X2 555 shines on the desktop when its dormant execution cores can be brought to life. Once again, the user has to decide if it is worth taking a chance on buying a Phenom II X2 555 that might not have working dormant cores or spend similar money on a quad-core Athlon II X4 with four cores guaranteed to work. We generally recommend going with the processor you really want, rather than risk unlocking, since AMD's product stack is so tightly packed.

Final Words

At the end of the day, both of these CPUs offer solid value. The Pentium G6950 is a decent starter CPU with tremendous overclocking potential and a platform that has a lot of room to grow with the user. The downside? Poor gaming performance at its stock speed. 

Of course, let's not forget the Phenom II X2 555, a processor with better gaming and application performance at its default clock rate that can be easily overclocked through multiplier-based overclocking. More advanced users can even try their luck and see if this CPU has usable dormant CPU cores, transforming this processor into the equivalent of a quad-core Phenom II X4 955. The downside? There is not as much overclocking headroom compared to what the Pentium G6950 offers, and there's a good chance that the disabled CPU cores simply won't work.

As a side note, we're really impressed with both the Gigabyte H55M-UD2H and Asus M4A785TD-V EVO motherboards, as both provide a simple overclocking experience at a $100 price point. And for $20, we couldn't be happier with the Cooler Master Hyper TX3, a great cooling upgrade for performance enthusiasts looking to get the most out of a strict budget.

In the end, what's the best dual-core CPU for the budget builder? That depends on what you want to use it for and only you can answer that question. Hopefully we've given you enough information to make an informed choice. But let's not get tunnel vision here. There are some other ~$100 CPUs worth considering, too. The Athlon II X3 or X4, for example, might be a better option for folks with specific needs. Isn't choice a great thing?

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Top Comments
  • 28 Hide
    ta152h , May 21, 2010 1:13 PM
    notty22I don't know if this is ROFL or just sad ? Try reading the article. Your embarrassing yourself.More faulty logic by AMD fanboys. Which is it ? A budget bang for your buck rig,H55/Clarksdale=200 dollarsor890FX ($160.00 MIN)+ 555=260, all so you can buy another cpu, next year, that does not exist yet ?and 890fx, you HAVE to buy a DISCRETE graphics card now.AMD will love you , if you invest in all of this hardware , with plans to buy more, lol.


    Hmmmm, talk about embarrassing yourself - didn't you even bother to find out if your numbers were right before posting? You can get a 890FX for $140, not $160 MIN as you stated. For $155 you can get one with USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps, and it's not implemented with the compromises inherent with the LGA 1156 platform.

    You're quite incorrect about needing a discreet GPU. AMD sells the 890GX, 790GX, 785G, 760G, and 880G. In fact, the platform they used had an integrated GPU. The nice thing with the AMD platform is, they have sideport memory, so you don't degrade CPU performance when you use the IGP due to memory contention.

    So, I can get the AMD platform with motherboards around $60 with an IGP, or I can get a powerful platform with two real PCI-E 16x slots, USB 3.0, and SATA 6.0 Gbps for $155. You don't have the same choices with the Pentium G6950 platform in either direction. AM3 processors have a very diverse selection of platform.

    So, is your contention that choice is bad?
  • 27 Hide
    ta152h , May 21, 2010 7:39 AM
    One thing to consider is the Pentium G6950 is tied to a crippled platform, whereas the Phenom II can be used with an 890FX, which has more PCI-E lanes for Crossfire, comes with SATA 6Gbps, and can have USB 3.0 added without either running degraded, or using PCI-E lanes used for the video card.

    The AMD platform gives you more choices (integrated graphics, discreet graphics in several flavors, a lot of PCI lanes, or a few), and an unlocked multiplier.

    All these are important considerations.

  • 17 Hide
    Reynod , May 21, 2010 11:01 AM
    Thanks Don ... another solid article without the fanboi slant.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    Verkil , May 21, 2010 6:16 AM
    I would love to see a comparison between i3-530 and X3 435 with GTA4.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , May 21, 2010 6:37 AM
    This is exactly what I've been waiting for. The numbers matched what I had already assumed. I got the 555 but I will consider the intel next time to change it up.
  • 27 Hide
    ta152h , May 21, 2010 7:39 AM
    One thing to consider is the Pentium G6950 is tied to a crippled platform, whereas the Phenom II can be used with an 890FX, which has more PCI-E lanes for Crossfire, comes with SATA 6Gbps, and can have USB 3.0 added without either running degraded, or using PCI-E lanes used for the video card.

    The AMD platform gives you more choices (integrated graphics, discreet graphics in several flavors, a lot of PCI lanes, or a few), and an unlocked multiplier.

    All these are important considerations.

  • 13 Hide
    Anonymous , May 21, 2010 7:40 AM
    Considering you fryed one of the intel cpus quite quickly with only 7% more voltage...

    Id like to see a serious stability test on both cpus. A couple days with a graphic benchmark on loop as well as prime95 running an instance on each core would do it.
  • 17 Hide
    Reynod , May 21, 2010 11:01 AM
    Thanks Don ... another solid article without the fanboi slant.
  • 11 Hide
    C00lIT , May 21, 2010 1:11 PM
    I don't know of any business who is better off with an Intel CPU these days...

    Businesses do not overclock and the AMD Platform with an ATI4200 onboard is just so much better then anything intel has to offer... Encoding ? Use and AthlonX4...

    The only good thing about the Pentium would be trying to break overclocking records... other then that... it's just a cheep cpu that fails against any amd tricore.
  • 28 Hide
    ta152h , May 21, 2010 1:13 PM
    notty22I don't know if this is ROFL or just sad ? Try reading the article. Your embarrassing yourself.More faulty logic by AMD fanboys. Which is it ? A budget bang for your buck rig,H55/Clarksdale=200 dollarsor890FX ($160.00 MIN)+ 555=260, all so you can buy another cpu, next year, that does not exist yet ?and 890fx, you HAVE to buy a DISCRETE graphics card now.AMD will love you , if you invest in all of this hardware , with plans to buy more, lol.


    Hmmmm, talk about embarrassing yourself - didn't you even bother to find out if your numbers were right before posting? You can get a 890FX for $140, not $160 MIN as you stated. For $155 you can get one with USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps, and it's not implemented with the compromises inherent with the LGA 1156 platform.

    You're quite incorrect about needing a discreet GPU. AMD sells the 890GX, 790GX, 785G, 760G, and 880G. In fact, the platform they used had an integrated GPU. The nice thing with the AMD platform is, they have sideport memory, so you don't degrade CPU performance when you use the IGP due to memory contention.

    So, I can get the AMD platform with motherboards around $60 with an IGP, or I can get a powerful platform with two real PCI-E 16x slots, USB 3.0, and SATA 6.0 Gbps for $155. You don't have the same choices with the Pentium G6950 platform in either direction. AM3 processors have a very diverse selection of platform.

    So, is your contention that choice is bad?
  • -6 Hide
    ubercake , May 21, 2010 1:33 PM
    You know they do this all the time... When they start comparing the game performance, they drop the i5 from the comparison charts. WHY??????
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , May 21, 2010 1:35 PM
    Very interesting article.
    C00lit's point about businesses not overclocking is good, although I'm not sure strictly business users come to Tom's for guidance.
    I think these are both lab chips; maybe fun to test and tweak and play with, but far from the most sensible choice for real use. The AMD X3 chips look like fairly definitive bang for buck winners all around.
  • 12 Hide
    cleeve , May 21, 2010 1:38 PM
    ubercakeYou know they do this all the time... When they start comparing the game performance, they drop the i5 from the comparison charts. WHY??????


    I mention this in the article. The new graphics drivers really changed the game results compared to the old ones, and we don't have the i5 system here to retest. Since the game results weren't comparable anymore we left the i5 numbers out of gaming results.
  • 14 Hide
    enzo matrix , May 21, 2010 1:40 PM
    lashtonI dont understand they talk about the dormant cores and you may not be successful, this is a dual core shoot out, so you intended buying a dual core, why not get the phenom II 555 and see if the cores unlock if they dont well no biggie still a fast CPU but if they do BONUS, also they dont tell you that with 2 cores the phenom can easily get OVER 4GHZ, this is typical of toms not putting everything into the tests, definately Intel fans

    I don't quite follow your logic. Are you being sarcastic? They did try to unlock the cores and they were successful. bonus. They also did get two CPU cores to 4+ GHz...
    So they did put everything into the test that you are accusing them of not putting into the test...
  • 3 Hide
    Onus , May 21, 2010 1:42 PM
    My take on the drop of i5 is that their numbers for i5 were based on systems using older drivers, and there was not enough time to re-run them all with updated drivers. I have no complaints about this; I don't think any rational individual was expecting this to be a be-all, end-all article on CPU performance. I5 was not one of the CPUs being compared anyway, and confounding the results with multiple driver versions would just bring out the more trolls.
  • -2 Hide
    buckinbottoms , May 21, 2010 1:44 PM
    all the graphs are jumbled. can someone arrange them in a high/low setup?
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , May 21, 2010 1:48 PM
    My only disagreement was with the final word, "At the end of the day, both of these CPUs offer solid value." No, they don't; not when there are clearly better bang/buck choices available from both AMD and Intel.
  • 5 Hide
    cleeve , May 21, 2010 1:49 PM
    buckinbottomsall the graphs are jumbled. can someone arrange them in a high/low setup?


    If they went high-to-low they'd simply be jumbled in a different way. This way, the relative position of each CPU is in the same place in each chart.
  • 6 Hide
    ta152h , May 21, 2010 2:53 PM
    jtt283My take on the drop of i5 is that their numbers for i5 were based on systems using older drivers, and there was not enough time to re-run them all with updated drivers. I have no complaints about this; I don't think any rational individual was expecting this to be a be-all, end-all article on CPU performance. I5 was not one of the CPUs being compared anyway, and confounding the results with multiple driver versions would just bring out the more trolls.


    I agree with you about the i5, but I do think article comparing the i3, Pentium, Athlon II x2 260, and Pentium G6950 would be kind of informative.

    As much as people like to see expensive processors, the reality is that the lower end processors are often what people buy. In particular, I think the i3 is probably worth the extra money, considering it not only gets you 1 MB cache, but also hyper-threading which can be useful.

    Also, I saw a review on another site on the Athlon II x2 260, which, when compared to the 255, is much faster than it should be. Performance went up more than the clock speed, and when I questioned them why, they brushed it off and just said they were only aware it was a faster clock speed. Maybe they tested wrong, maybe there is no difference, but another review showed the difference between the 260 and the Phenom II 255 to be quite small as well.

    I think a lot people would be curious about matching low-end platforms on a cost basis. For example, if I save $25 on the processor, and spend it on the video card, what do the results look like. I would be impossible to do in one article, but I think a series of articles would be very interesting, covering different price points. It's time consuming, but, I think it's got broad interest and would get page hits. Of course, I could be wrong.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , May 21, 2010 3:23 PM
    I was looking around yesterday for benchmarks on the new 45W AMD chips to see if one of them would be "acceptable," even though I'd expect them to be somewhat slow. I was quite suprised to see on quite a few tests (including games) they beat an i3, sometimes severely (others they lost, equally severely).
    Just checked History, it was here: http://www.cpu-world.com/CPUs/K10/AMD-Athlon%20II%20X3%20405e%20-%20AD405EHDK32GI%20(AD405EHDGIBOX).html
    and this was actually the 405e, not the new 415e or 6x5e.
  • 1 Hide
    Stardude82 , May 21, 2010 5:04 PM
    If you are only going to drop $200 for a CPU/Motherboard, you you really think that there are many users that are going to drop $300 for a 5850? A 5770 or a GT 250 makes more sense here.

    CPU temps are always suspect to me. If it is the CPU is the main source of increased power draw, then shouldn't temperature more or less be proportional to power draw? Maybe it's those gianormous AMD heat spreaders. What are the chipset temperature?
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