Yes, the AMD speed bumps are here again. In what has almost become a bi-monthly tradition, we're starting to take the company's increasing clock rates and seemingly-static price tags for granted.
Unfortunately, we can only overclock our Phenom II X6 1100T sample to 4.0 GHz. While this is a respectable speed for a hexa-core CPU, it’s the same ceiling that our older Phenom II X6 1090T would hit. When you consider that the realistic cap for the Phenom II X6 CPU on air cooling is around 4 GHz, and that the Phenom II X6 1100T's Turbo CORE clock is already set to 3.7 GHz, it's pretty apparent that these speed bumps can't go on forever. In fact, we remain convinced that the Sandy Bridge launch will put even more pressure on AMD. What can the company do at that point? It's hard to say.
Having said that, AMD offers plenty of entry-level processors that could be scaled up to run faster at similar prices, if it needed. The Athlon II line is capped much closer to 3 GHz at the moment, and the Phenom II X4 processors have some wiggle room. The Phenom II X6 base clock could certainly be increased on future models, even if it had to leave the Turbo CORE limit in place. But all of these possible outcomes skate the fact that the company's future rides on the success of its Fusion initiative.
But Fusion isn't here yet, so let's concentrate on the here and now: the 3.0 GHz Phenom II X6 1075T is $200 at the time of writing, but it performs better than the Core i5-750 in most applications, and is generally on par with the Core i7-920 in our benchmarking suite. Priced $35 higher, the Phenom II X6 1190T Black Edition sports an unlocked CPU multiplier for overclockers and is just about as likely to hit 4 GHz as the Phenom II X6 1100T flagship. Enthusiasts will likely consider the 1090T about as good as the newer chip priced higher. Finally, $265 gets you AMD's fastest hexa-core desktop CPU $600 below Intel’s entry-level six-core model.
Don’t foget the new Phenom II X2 565 with its 6MB of cache, high 3.4 GHz clock, unlocked multiplier, and (if you’re lucky) the potential for triple- or quad-core operation at $115 dollars. Last but not least, the $87 Athlon II X3 455 promises a speedy 3.3 GHz clock speed and triple-core ability for well under a hundred dollars, making it an interesting starting point for a budget PC with exceptional potential.
Of course, Intel’s Core i5 and Core i7 processors aren't slouches, and we would be remiss to ignore the overclocking potential of Intel's more advanced 32 nm manufacturing node compared to the 45 nm process AMD continues to massage. But the attractive AMD price/performance ratio is undeniable: at stock clocks, the Phenom II X6 and Athlon II X3 are solid contenders when it comes to threaded applications and budget computing, respectively.
Fusion and Sandy Bridge might be around the corner, but AMD isn’t waiting for the next generation to deliver value. The Athlon II and Phenom II lines continue to offer very impressive performance for the price. Would we recommend an upgrade today, though, knowing that Sandy Bridge is a couple of weeks away, and the first Brazos-based CPUs are going to be unveiled at CES? If you can, it certainly seems like a better idea to wait. After all, the computing landscape could very well change in less than a month.