AM2: AMD Reinvents Itself

Conclusion: Good Energy Efficiency, But A Bad Value For Money

AMD is introducing the AM2 platform onto the market and presenting many new processors to go with its new socket. The main argument for the switch is the launch of DDR2 memory, which the competition has already supported for some time. For the user, almost everything's new: processor, heatsink, mainboard and memory. In some cases, the graphics card and hard drive may need to be upgraded as well, to support the latest standards (PCI Express and Serial ATA respectively).

Nothing has changed in the line-up of the fastest x86 processors. Well-heeled users who want the best will find the once-and-former performance king, the Athlon 64 FX-62. However, there's a catch: at 2.8 GHz there's virtually no room for overclocking, as our comprehensive benchmarks show.

AMD has emphasized the importance of energy efficiency for years and it comes out clearly better than Intel again. Especially in the partial load range, the Athlon CPUs are very thrifty, because they automatically lower voltage and clock speed. Special versions of the Sempron and Athlon (labeled "EE") shine with much-reduced power consumption; they come at a higher price, however. In terms of maximum power consumption, almost the same situation prevails at the top of the premium league: the AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 and Intel Pentium EE 965 output 125 W and 130 W respectively.

With Socket AM2 the (OEM) customer now has the option of DDR2 memory from AMD too. In theory, that should produce a higher memory bandwidth, which in practice is only achieved by the expensive top processors. Compared to "old" DDR memory-based platforms, the bulk of AMD's CPUs cannot benefit from the higher bandwidth of the DDR2 memory. A closer analysis of the benchmarks even reveals a marginal performance deficit when pitting the "new" against the "old". It's clear that DDR2 memory only begins to pay off at higher clock speeds of 2.4 GHz and above. And that in turn affects only the CPUs from the Athlon 64 X2 4800+ that have a price of at least $600.

Comparing the low-priced Athlon 64 X2 4000+ (2.0 GHz, 2x1 MB L2 cache) with the Intel Pentium D 950 (3.4 GHz, 2x2 MB L2 cache) costing the same, we do see a performance advantage of up to 20 percent.

The AMD generation has finally reached its long-cherished goal of at least matching Intel on prices. The neutral observer could come away with the impression that the price screws were turned a little too tightly with the switch to AM2. The cost edge that AMD had in the end-consumer market of up to 30 percent has disappeared. If potential customers remember that, they will quickly lose their laboriously won market share. AMD must act, even though the choice between AMD and Intel, particularly among end consumers, is more a matter of credo than anything else.

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