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Meet Zosma: AMD's Quad-Core Phenom II X4 960T Gets Unlocked

Meet Zosma: AMD's Quad-Core Phenom II X4 960T Gets Unlocked
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In our recent Phenom II X6 1090T review, we speculated about the possibility of a quad-core CPU family based on AMD's Thuban design. Meet Zosma. We got our hands on a Phenom II X4 960T at 3 GHz, and unlocked it using ASRock's 890FX Deluxe3 motherboard.

I’ve talked to several motherboard manufacturers about their 890GX and 890FX boards. In the fight to differentiate, many rushed to add core-unlocking capabilities, making it possible to turn some triple-core CPUs into quad-core models, or even dual-cores into quad-cores, if you’re especially lucky.

Why was Tom’s Hardware not all over this capability until now? Well, back in April of last year, I did show you how to turn a Phenom II X3 720 into a Phenom II X4 920. But I haven’t put much energy into core unlocking since then due to the following:

  1. Core unlocking is not a science. We can’t tell you how to pick unlockable CPUs, and your chances of buying an unlockable processor are, as far as we’ve been able to tell, less than 50%.
  2. The difference between a mid-range and high-end AMD CPU is usually $100 or less. With that sort of modest price spread, we continually recommend simply buying the processor you really want, rather than banking on a core unlock that you might not achieve.

The fact of the matter is that AMD can lock up the cores on its CPUs for different reasons. There might actually be a manufacturing defect keeping a core from operating properly, in which case it makes sense to turn it off and sell the processor as a triple- or dual-core model rather than toss it. Or, the company can take a functional quad-core and disable logic in order to meet demand for less-expensive SKUs.

Unlocked six-core 960TUnlocked six-core 960TLocked quad-core 960TLocked quad-core 960T

At the end of the day, this is a less reliable mechanism for generating additional performance than traditional overclocking. It’s very hit and miss, and the gains only apply to threaded applications and workloads. I'll admit that finding a chip that unlocks feels a lot like buying a Lottery Scratcher and winning twenty bucks. Just be ready to lose more times than you win.

Six-Cores Cost More

But with the launch of its Thuban design, AMD’s flagship six-core model jumped an additional $100 over the previous quad-core king, leaping from $185 to $295. If you could turn a quad-core CPU into a hexa-core chip, there’d actually be some worthwhile savings to be had.

The problem, of course, is that AMD isn’t yet selling any quad-core processors based on Thuban. That all changes this quarter, though, when the company is expected to launch its Zosma design. Derived from Thuban, Zosma is a six-core processor with two cores disabled for one of the two reasons cited above.

We got our hands on one of the first Zosma-based CPUs, the Phenom II X4 960T, along with ASRock’s 890FX Deluxe3 motherboard, to preview what budget-conscious enthusiasts might expect to see once these CPUs become available.

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  • 33 Hide
    killerclick , May 11, 2010 8:03 AM
    drownedWhy are we cheering for AMD when they require 2 extra cores and 400 mhz more clock speed just to beat Intel while Intel also maintains 2x the overclocking headroom as AMD?


    Because AMD is the underdog and only jerks don't cheer for the underdog. Also, performance per dollar is on AMD's side right up to the $200 price point. Also, AMD wasn't the company that was fined for bribing and blackmailing retailers to market only their own processors. Also, Intel's 6 core CPU costs $999 and they can go to hell.
  • 16 Hide
    Lmeow , May 11, 2010 9:52 AM
    drownedI know I'm going to get thumbed down a million times for this but I gotta get it out. Why are we cheering for AMD when they require 2 extra cores and 400 mhz more clock speed just to beat Intel while Intel also maintains 2x the overclocking headroom as AMD? Yes I know AMD's prices are great, but tons of applications still only support 1 core where these clock to clock comparisons and overclock-ability are critical.No I'm not saying Intel is the greatest company in the world blah blah because I remember when AMD was handing their ....to them pre-Core2, but I'm struggling to root for AMD when they're handed the mid and high range to Intel and barely have a pulse in the low range against the last-gen core2's and i3's.


    Simply because AMD kicks.... bang for buck. I doubt the majority are going to be able to tell the difference between five and six minutes in rendering time or ~10-20 FPS in games. I hope you know that if AMD goes down, apart from anti-monopoly laws or similar rules, there's nothing much to stop Intel from selling Core i3s for $500.
  • 11 Hide
    IronRyan21 , May 11, 2010 7:23 AM
    requiemsallurethe hex core thuban had some problems with gaming for one reason or another, i wonder if in its quad core form the zosma will have the same problems, and if not i wonder if you unlock it, will it receive the same problems? this is all speculation since the zosma is based off of the thuban, its making me very excited for some benchmarks and a review.


    Um Thuban didn't have any problems with gaming? It was only a lil behind deneb cause deneb was clocked higher (965BE). Theres just no reason for thuban to do better since, more cores != better gaming performance.
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , May 11, 2010 6:31 AM
    Personally, I think it would be interesting to see some benchmarks for Adobe's Premiere Pro CS5 and After Effects CS5. Given that there are more 6 core CPU offerings on the market now. Anyways, thanks for the article.
  • 6 Hide
    HalfHuman , May 11, 2010 7:02 AM
    power consumption?
  • 11 Hide
    IronRyan21 , May 11, 2010 7:23 AM
    requiemsallurethe hex core thuban had some problems with gaming for one reason or another, i wonder if in its quad core form the zosma will have the same problems, and if not i wonder if you unlock it, will it receive the same problems? this is all speculation since the zosma is based off of the thuban, its making me very excited for some benchmarks and a review.


    Um Thuban didn't have any problems with gaming? It was only a lil behind deneb cause deneb was clocked higher (965BE). Theres just no reason for thuban to do better since, more cores != better gaming performance.
  • 0 Hide
    ta152h , May 11, 2010 7:39 AM
    The strangest thing is the performance of the i7 920 vis-a-vis the i7 930. The i7 975 seems to benefit from clock speed, as do AMD processors, but in most applications there is no difference between the 920 and 930, and in some cases the 920 is slightly faster (probably falling into the range of statistical scatter, though).

    Still, it's odd the performance is essentially the same. You'd expect to see something, especially since 200 MHz for AMD processors shows up pretty clearly.
  • -4 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , May 11, 2010 7:44 AM
    I wish this was the case with unlocking intel processors!
  • 33 Hide
    killerclick , May 11, 2010 8:03 AM
    drownedWhy are we cheering for AMD when they require 2 extra cores and 400 mhz more clock speed just to beat Intel while Intel also maintains 2x the overclocking headroom as AMD?


    Because AMD is the underdog and only jerks don't cheer for the underdog. Also, performance per dollar is on AMD's side right up to the $200 price point. Also, AMD wasn't the company that was fined for bribing and blackmailing retailers to market only their own processors. Also, Intel's 6 core CPU costs $999 and they can go to hell.
  • -6 Hide
    falchard , May 11, 2010 8:33 AM
    This review tells me 1 thing. AMD can probably get away with selling the 1060T for $500.
  • 4 Hide
    anamaniac , May 11, 2010 9:04 AM
    Cool.
    Though, I'm curious, will 2P/4P platforms ever become popular for enthusiasts without raping their wallets?
    I actually considered a 2P LGA 1366 setup, but it was going to be quite pricey.

    However, four $100 quad cores on a $250 4P board and RAM going to a reasonable price again (at the lowest I noticed, I was seeing 4GB DDR3 kits for $35 CAD, now the cheapest 2x2 DDR3 kit on newegg is $100) would be pretty awesome.
    Come on AMD, you're the only one who could do this affordably. :) 

    ...
    Can we have >$10/GB DDR3 back please also? I would hate paying more for RAM than a CPU (I paid $300 for the i7, and $100 for my DDR3 1600 3x2 kit).
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , May 11, 2010 9:36 AM
    Doh!!! I just bought a 1090t. Zosma 6c performs like a freaking champ and even on close to the 1090t at times. :(  I guess it works out either way for me... I know have 6 stable cores- to the least.
  • 8 Hide
    jimmysmitty , May 11, 2010 9:52 AM
    The biggest thing Thiban did was it took the same process, added more cores and stayed at the same clock speed while having the same TDP.

    SO why in the blue hell is there not a power consumption test to see if this helped it with 2 less cores?
  • 16 Hide
    Lmeow , May 11, 2010 9:52 AM
    drownedI know I'm going to get thumbed down a million times for this but I gotta get it out. Why are we cheering for AMD when they require 2 extra cores and 400 mhz more clock speed just to beat Intel while Intel also maintains 2x the overclocking headroom as AMD? Yes I know AMD's prices are great, but tons of applications still only support 1 core where these clock to clock comparisons and overclock-ability are critical.No I'm not saying Intel is the greatest company in the world blah blah because I remember when AMD was handing their ....to them pre-Core2, but I'm struggling to root for AMD when they're handed the mid and high range to Intel and barely have a pulse in the low range against the last-gen core2's and i3's.


    Simply because AMD kicks.... bang for buck. I doubt the majority are going to be able to tell the difference between five and six minutes in rendering time or ~10-20 FPS in games. I hope you know that if AMD goes down, apart from anti-monopoly laws or similar rules, there's nothing much to stop Intel from selling Core i3s for $500.
  • 10 Hide
    ohim , May 11, 2010 10:11 AM
    drownedI know I'm going to get thumbed down a million times for this but I gotta get it out. Why are we cheering for AMD when they require 2 extra cores and 400 mhz more clock speed just to beat Intel while Intel also maintains 2x the overclocking headroom as AMD? Yes I know AMD's prices are great, but tons of applications still only support 1 core where these clock to clock comparisons and overclock-ability are critical.No I'm not saying Intel is the greatest company in the world blah blah because I remember when AMD was handing their ....to them pre-Core2, but I'm struggling to root for AMD when they're handed the mid and high range to Intel and barely have a pulse in the low range against the last-gen core2's and i3's.

    Who cares about how many cores or how much MHz are there anymore? Core i7 975 3 times more expensive for the same performance as a PII x6 1090T.
  • -6 Hide
    drowned , May 11, 2010 10:32 AM
    ohimWho cares about how many cores or how much MHz are there anymore? Core i7 975 3 times more expensive for the same performance as a PII x6 1090T.


    Yes I agree that the 975 is a ridiculous waste of money, but just look at the benchmarks. You could take a i5-750, which costs $100 less than the 1090T, overclock it to 4.4 ghz with a good air cooler, and dominate the 1090T in practically every productivity and gaming benchmark out there. There's not many places where the 1090's extra 2 cores are going to help.

    For ex, back in the core2 days I built a gaming rig where I had the choice between a dual core setup vs a quad core setup. I went with the dual core simply because I would very rarely ever benefit from having 4 cores and would more benefit from having faster individual cores. It seems like the argument is repeating itself again except this time it's brand vs brand and not model vs model and it's 4 cores vs 6 cores instead of 2 vs 4.
  • 8 Hide
    barryv88 , May 11, 2010 11:05 AM
    Yes, you are gonna get thumbed a million times because you already know that what you've said is rubbish. Claiming that AMD today can barely perform on par with your stated core2/I3...... yeah right.

    AMD 6core chips today are performing on par with the i7 range. Not in everything, but also not in nothing either. Also, non of Intel's chips AFAIK have unlockable cores. Correct me if I'm wrong. But this article is about unlockable AMD cores. I don't know what boat you've fallen out of.
  • 0 Hide
    MU_Engineer , May 11, 2010 11:20 AM
    anamaniacCool.Though, I'm curious, will 2P/4P platforms ever become popular for enthusiasts without raping their wallets?


    Yes and no. Some 2P decent setups can be had pretty inexpensively for what they are. However, it's a redux of the desktop situation- AMD offers the parts mere mortals can afford, while Intel isn't really competitive until the prices get toward the top end. Two 2.0 GHz, 8-core Opteron 6134s can be had for about $560 for both and a suitable 2P board is $400-450. A dual LGA1366 setup can be had for about the same amount, but for the price the two Opterons and their board run, you'd either be looking at two E5520s (2.27 GHz, 8M L3, HT, Turbo, $775 per pair) on a bottom-end dual LGA1366 board or two E5507s (2.27 GHz, 4M L3, no HT, no Turbo, $540 per pair) on a nice dual LGA1366 board.

    4P is doable with Opteron 6100s as well as you can get four 6128s for a little over a grand. 4P G34 boards run from a little under $800 to a little over $900. The killer here is the minimum of 16 sticks of DDR3 RAM you will need to get full performance. Intel's cheapest 4P-capable Xeon 7500 CPU sells for about a thousand bucks and it's only a quad-core unit. A good Xeon 7500 series CPU like the 8-core X7560 is nearly $4000. That's for one, not for four of them. They also need a bunch of RAM for full performance. Also, don't forget that 4P motherboards are huge, generally measuring 16.something" by 13", which dwarfs typical 12"x13" EATX DP boards and even the unusually EVGA SR-2 dual 1366 unit. You need a very large and very special case to fit those beastly boards unless you're great with metal-working tools and are willing to slice and dice a full-tower EATX case.

    You also hit the nail on the head as far as RAM prices go, they suck at the present.
  • 2 Hide
    Reynod , May 11, 2010 11:42 AM
    Chris did you have turbo enabled on the Zos, or did the mobo not support it?

    The benchies compared to the PhenomII quad just didn't show much difference ... I'd have though the 200Mhz gap vs the respin would bave edged the Zos a bit closer ... or better with turbo enabled.

    A good review nevertheless Chris !!
  • -6 Hide
    abhishekk89 , May 11, 2010 11:49 AM
    the 1055t failed me... so does the 960 now... i was hoping to buy either one of them over the i5 750... seems i'll have to go with intel again..
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