AMD's Piledriver And K10 CPU Architectures Face Off

Targeting Budget-Minded Enthusiasts With AMD CPUs

Our story back in May, Is This Even Fair? Budget Ivy Bridge Takes On Core 2 Duo and Quad, put a spotlight on the per-clock performance and efficiency improvements made to Intel's architectures over the last five years. We were smacked in the face by the fact that the company's old Core 2 processors, tuned up through overclocking, were often able to fly past the newer budget-friendly Ivy Bridge-based parts.

Once you dip down under the Core i5 family, you're dealing with dual-core CPUs limited by locked multiplier ratios. Factor in a stubborn base clock that requires an enthusiast-oriented chipset to adjust, and we're left with an inability to coax extra performance from the Celeron, Pentium, and Core i3 families.

Thankfully, AMD isn't following suit. The company continues catering to frugal enthusiasts with numerous quad-core Black Edition and K-series processors sporting unlocked multipliers and a more receptive HyperTransport reference clock. Naturally, we felt compelled to explore AMD's offerings in the same way, hand-picking several options that were priced attractively.

Our oldest selection, the Phenom II, first appeared in 2009. Rather than use a four-year-old review sample, we went out and bought a Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition to get a more accurate snapshot of the chip's current overclocking headroom. This once-mighty flagship packs four cores running at 3.4 GHz and a hefty 6 MB of shared L3 cache.

Later in 2009, AMD released the affordable Propus-based Athlon II X4 processors, which were basically Phenom IIs without the on-die L3. We dug out an Athlon II X4 640 test sample running at 3 GHz to represent this configuration. Although the chip's multiplier is locked, we can still overclock it by manipulating the reference clock.

We knew we'd need a modern Vishera-based processor to pit against our former favorites, and AMD sent over FX-4350 and FX-6350 samples. The former sports a pair and the latter comes equipped with a trio of Piledriver-based modules, which in turn pack two integer cores each. Being a budget-minded experiment, the six-core FX is the fastest CPU we're testing.

Lastly, we noticed that the Athlon X4 750K finally reached North America. Although we couldn't get a sample from AMD, we went ahead and bought one to benchmark. This two-module Trinity-based processor lacks integrated graphics and represents the most affordable multiplier-unlocked quad-core chip available.

By comparing AMD’s K10 and Piledriver architectures, stock and overclocked, we hope to see where each excels, hopefully determining the CPUs most deserving of your hard-earned buck.

  • KelvinTy
    So much BS, the old Phenom II X4 and X6 BE are still really competitive after all these years. Yet, if they bother to update the instruction set, and just shrink the thing, then change it to AM3+ socket, that would be great...
    K10 has so much more potential...
  • Personally, I was surprised to see the FX-4350 do so well. The bump up, compared to the FX-4300, has really done it some good.
  • MU_Engineer
    Kelvin, the tests showed that the Piledriver FXes are not that far off the Phenom IIs clock for clock and core for core. The Phenom II X4 965BE at 4.0 GHz was generally about as fast as the stock FX-4350 running 200-400 MHz faster so you figure about a 5% per-clock, per-core advantage for the Phenom II. However, each Piledriver core is quite a bit smaller than a K10 core and they also have a longer pipeline so they can clock quite a bit faster (K10 was pretty well tapped out.) So you get more cores and more clocks out of Piledriver with essentially the same performance per core and per clock. I'd say that the modular architecture used in the FXes finally got the vindication it deserved with this test. Way to go Tom's.
  • Onus
    As I was going through this, at first I was worried about the absence of comparison to Intel, but was relieved to see it at the end. Especially if I don't want to push my 970BE really hard (I'd rather play on my PC than with it), the FX-63x0 looks like a viable upgrade.
  • cmartin011
    I want some juice GPU news. I am aware they are not going anywhere fast with CPUs. My wallet will be open for 8 core in 2 years when performance Increases 20%
  • rmpumper
    I just want some solid numbers on Steamroller already.
  • magnesiumk
    Thank you so much for writing this article. Thank you also for including the Phenom II 965 processor to this test. I use it, and it is somewhat dated, and hard to find compared to newer cores. However it still kicks a lot of butt in gaming. I bought my Phenom II 955BE C3 last year with overclocking in mind

    I always wanted to see how it would compare to newer models, and even intel counterparts. Thank you for this. I loved reading the article. Keep comparisons like this coming.
  • magnesiumk
    I also wanted to add, thank you for listing the 965BE with overclock at 4Ghz. It's easy to clock this processor up to those speeds. That's about what I run at, and it also runs much greater than stock speeds. This is important in future comparison tests. Thanks again.
  • envy14tpe
    Wanted to see i3 and i5 CPUs on the charts. Not just in the "Wrapping things up" section. Also, why not compare to a i5-3470? It's locked, cheaper, and still fast.
  • crisan_tiberiu
    if the 6350 is so close to the 3570k the 8350 eats it alive..and everybody recommends the i5 ^-. AMD has still good value