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

Introduction

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.

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Unlocked six-core 960T

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Locked 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.

  • 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.
    Reply
  • requiemsallure
    the 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.
    Reply
  • HalfHuman
    power consumption?
    Reply
  • Poisoner
    Wow, AMD kicked a dead horse and put some life into K10.
    Reply
  • IronRyan21
    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.
    Reply
  • drowned
    I 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 ass 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.
    Reply
  • ta152h
    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.
    Reply
  • liquidsnake718
    I wish this was the case with unlocking intel processors!
    Reply
  • killerclick
    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.
    Reply
  • falchard
    This review tells me 1 thing. AMD can probably get away with selling the 1060T for $500.
    Reply