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AMD's Piledriver And K10 CPU Architectures Face Off

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.

  • 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