Results in hand, let’s discuss AMD’s new processors from the top to the bottom:
Phenom II X6 1075T
AMD’s Phenom II X6 1075T processor offers performance that is somewhat inconsistent, but for the price, there is potential for value. If the user is actively involved in selecting applications that take the best advantage of all six processor cores, the rewards are undeniable. However, buyers who blindly choose the Phenom II X6 expecting great performance across the board will be a little disappointed.
At $245, the new Phenom II X6 1075T fills a large gap between the ~$200 Phenom II X6 1055T and the ~$310 Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition. The 200 MHz boost is appreciated over the somewhat anemic 2.8 GHz base clock of the 1055T, and according to relative performance, the new model is priced right, so there’s little to complain about. It’s nice to see another Phenom II X6 to fill the ranks, and for those knowledgeable about its strengths, the Phenom II X6 1075T does not disappoint.
Phenom II X4 970
Offering a 100 MHz clock boost over its Phenom II X4 965 predecessor, the Phenom II X4 970 demonstrates slightly superior overclockability in our tests thanks to a recent process improvement. At stock clocks, this new CPU compares well against its Core i5-750 competition, winning and losing some tests. But it costs a few dollars less.
As a brand-new alternative to Intel’s Core i5-750, this CPU is a viable choice for folks who operate their processors at stock speeds. If overclocking is part of the equation, Intel's solution has a lot more to offer. Because of its unlocked multiplier, I suppose a case can be made for the Phenom II X4 970 as an easy-to-overclock solution for tinkerers who aren’t comfortable raising bus speeds and putting their entire platform out of spec. But for serious enthusiasts who want to get the most out of their system, the Intel option is superior.
Phenom II X2 560
We’re of two minds when it comes to the Phenom II X2 560. On one hand, the potential for a Phenom II processor with four cores and an unlocked multiplier is very tempting at $105. On the other hand, core unlocking has always been a bit of a black art, and we remain hesitant to make any recommendations based on "what could be," especially since there remains no way to tell if a given chip is unlockable.
At the $100 price point, we do believe that the Phenom II X2 560 is the best dual-core option available. But AMD is fighting against itself here, since $18 less buys an Athlon II X3 450 with three guaranteed functional CPU cores and a mere 100 MHz deficit. Yes, we’re giving up that fat 6 MB of L3 cache, but we’ll choose that third CPU core any day of the week.
The New Athlon II CPUs
The lowest-priced Intel quad-core CPU is $190. While Intel’s Hyper-Threaded dual-core Core i3-520 makes a strong case at $115, AMD continues to offer the only true sub-$125, quad- and triple-core processors on the market.
At $122, there is no competition for the 3.1 GHz Athlon II X4 645 when it comes to multi-threaded applications and multitasking. The 3.2 GHz Athlon II X3 450 at a retail price of $87 sets a new standard for a sub-$100 multi-purpose processor that’s great at gaming, applications, and multi-tasking. And for $76, the 3.3 GHz Athlon II X2 265 delivers the highest-speed budget dual-core CPU available.
On a final note, we should mention the release of new energy-efficient Athlon IIe CPU models into the OEM channel: the 3.0 GHz Athlon II X2 250e, the 2.6 GHz Athlon II X3 420e, and the 2.5 GHz Athlon II X4 615e. While AMD has no plans to release these CPUs at retail, this hardware will find its way into energy-efficient OEM products in the near future. With a 45 W maximum TDP, these CPUs make ideal candidates for powerful mini-ITX computers, and we hope that they'll be available for purchase by the public in the future.
There’s absolutely nothing to complain about when a CPU manufacturer offers processor speed bumps without a price increase. This is a no-lose scenario for the consumer.
Particularly, the power user with an inclination to step up is happiest with AMD’s new CPU models. Do you have a cheap Socket AM3-based Athlon II X2 system? Feel free to upgrade to a Phenom II X4 or even an X6 model, depending on your needs. Still, sitting on a Socket AM2+ motherboard with a single-core Athlon 64? The performance increase with an upgrade to an Athlon II X4 is staggering. No need to change anything else--AMD has an upgrade path that Intel users can only dream about.
But if you’re buying new, Intel’s LGA 1156 platform does look appealing on many fronts, especially for overclockers (just be aware that it's a dead platform; Sandy Bridge will see a shift to LGA 1155). More importantly, if you’re about to invest some hard-earned cash in a new system and can wait a while, the game has the potential to change significantly with the introduction of Sandy Bridge, Fusion, and Bulldozer--particularly if you’re interested in the prospect of low-cost integrated graphics as powerful as today’s entry-level discrete solutions. Even AMD will introduce a revised Socket AM3+ interface to support the next-generation models, although it does offer some backwards-compatibility with AM2/AM3 CPUs.
Then again, folks interested in a low-cost platform with a lot of room to grow can confidently start with an Athlon II/Socket AM3 combo. No matter what the next year brings, the AM3-based upgrade path includes flexible choices that will remain viable for some time to come--especially if you plan on using discrete graphics.