AMD: Loving More Cores And Unlocked Multipliers
For the enthusiasts who enjoy playing with their PCs as much as on them, it's a lot more affordable to overclock an AMD platform. This is in sharp contrast to Intel's Sandy and Ivy Bridge architectures, which the company artificially locks up in order to upsell you on its K-series parts. At least in the mainstream space, AMD's only real weakness is gratuitous power consumption, which hurts efficiency, results in excess heat, and may lead to a noisier machine. I had the luxury of a quiet aftermarket cooler for my experiments, but in general, AMD's boxed coolers are both noisy and inadequate for accommodating higher voltages.
Unlocked multipliers are always appreciated. But we recognize that they mean very little if a CPU is already running close to its maximum clock rate. Thankfully, the processors we chose to test today had some room to scale up, giving us reasonably fast quad-core configurations under $100 and a hexa-core model at $120. An overclocked Athlon X4 750K is generally quicker than a Core i3-3220, and in workloads able to run across six threads, the FX 6300-series stomps Intel's similarly-priced dual-core chip.
What if you're a gamer, first and foremost? Tom's Hardware's editorial team believes that, moving forward, you're best off with a processor able to address four threads simultaneously. But as we saw today, not just any quad-core chip will do. Running at 3.0 GHz, and devoid of L3 cache, the Athlon II X640 is overwhelmed by some of our tests. Overall, it lags behind Intel's less expensive Pentium in measures of average frames per second. Overclocking helps, but the Propus architecture is still unable to match any of the other AMD chips we tested. The last reason to avoid the Athlon II, in my opinion, is AMD's own Trinity-based Athlon X4 750K. It’s the most affordable processor we benchmarked to survive all eight games (although it needed to be overclocked to really make Starcraft II enjoyable). You'll probably need aftermarket cooling and a voltage bump to make it past 4 GHz, but I think a slightly overclocked Athlon X4 750K has great potential in an affordable gaming rig.
AMD's Socket AM3/AM3+-based platforms offer plenty of gaming performance, too. As enthusiasts, we're always looking forward to the next upgrade. But at least for now, if you already own a Phenom II X4, your CPU is still good enough to plow through most modern titles. As with the Core 2 Quad based on Intel's Yorkfield design, you shouldn't need to upgrade any time soon if your overclocked Phenom II is still running well. It's only unfortunate that boxed Phenom II X4 Black Edition processors are so hard to find for $100.
Moving up the list, AMD's dual-module FX-4350 is typically able to outperform the company's older Phenom II X4. Overclocked, it destroys Ivy Bridge-based Core i3s in threaded productivity and content creation applications. It's also able to compete aggressively in games. But positioned between the FX-6300 and -6350, the $130 FX-4350 is a hard sell.
The shining star in today’s comparison is AMD’s FX-6350, which delivers solid performance in games, while besting Intel's Core i5 in a number of our other benchmark workloads. The cheaper FX-6300 is an even more attractive bargain, so long as you're willing to overclock it.