AMD Phenom X3 8750 Triple Core Processor
Written by Hubert Wong   
Wednesday, 23 April 2008

thumb.jpgAMD Phenom X3 8750 Triple Core Processor

Sandwiched between dual and quad cores, the Phenom X3 provides an alternative for those looking for a solid dollar for performance ratio.

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Over the past couple years, from an enthusiast standpoint, AMD has taken a few shots on the chin from Intel. Right now, the high-end desktop space is going to be tough to crack, but the reality is, that is not where the largest market lies. The biggest share everyone wants is the mid-ranged space as components and peripherals move more often off store shelves at those price points.

PC enthusiasts don't always have deep pockets though, and personally, a true computer enthusiast is somebody who takes something modest and turns it into something more. Starting with the CPU, a lower-priced processor is generally clocked slower, but with a bit of overclocking, it can rival CPUs costing twice as much.

AMD's CPUs have been relatively lower-priced than Intel's for both dual and quad cores. That said, it's still a bit gray here as some of Intel's best performers are not that expensive either. Today we'll be seeing AMD launch another salvo at the sub-$200 market, the AMD Phenom X3 triple core Processor.

 

AMD will be releasing three new 50-series processors, the 2.4GHz X3 8750 ($195), the 2.3GHz X3 8650 ($165) and the 2.1GHz X3 8450 ($145). What makes the X3 different from anything else AMD had released previously is obviously the fact that this Phenom is a triple core. Intel's current desktop CPU design can only do two or four cores. AMD's "native" quad-core design allows more flexibility in that they can release a triple core design very quickly. The current price point allows for three chips to be released, whereas at the time of this wring, Intel only has two options, both of which are only dual core.

With the marketing speak out of the way, what is probably going on is during the fab process, some chips come out bad. By bad, this could mean inoperable or perhaps one core is not functioning correctly. Instead of tossing the chip into the trash, they can be rebranded and sold as triple cores. Overall yields improve as AMD can release both quad and triple cores, creating less waste. Of course, if yields are good, one core can simply be disabled. In the end, whether it's a manufacturing issue or AMD’s decision, releasing triple core chips is a good business move.

The new CPUs are Phenom chips, so the basic architecture won't differ too much. The 50-series Phenom X3 (and X4)processors are all free of the TLB erratum present in the previous revision of the Phenom processors.

To avoid any confusion, all 8000-series Phenoms are triple core and all 9000-series Phenoms are quad-core. From a power standpoint, the X3 has a 95W TDP (as opposed to the X4 9850's 125W TDP), making less power consuming than AMD's high-end part and by default, it runs cooler. In today's day an age of going green, any power we can save is a good thing. Over the long haul, saving power also saves money if you're the one paying the bill.

On the topic of saving money, as we mentioned already, AMD is aiming the X3 at the mainstream market. The new "Cartwheel" platform is AMD's vision of how to enable more powerful mainstream PC. Here is something from AMD:

A good example of what we mean would be to compare the best I.G. platform for entry-level PCs ($500 system price) from Intel and AMD. For $300, you get the foundation of Intel's latest G35 integrated graphics platform and a reasonable dual-core solution... Asus' Asus P5E-VM HDMI ($130) and the 2.33GHz C2D E6550. But for only $265, you could get AMD's latest 780G integrated graphics ($100 Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H) platform and an equally-clocked 2.3GHz Phenom X3 triple core ($165). We know how AMD 780G compares to Intel's G35 in gaming and Blu-ray playback, and you also get the benefit of a multi-core CPU. ("780G and a core for free"). If you go with a less expensive AMD 780G motherboard, you will save enough to add a Radeon HD 3450 GPU into that configuration and get ATI Hybrid Graphics Technology for the same price as an Intel integrated graphics setup. These are the choices AMD's "Cartwheel" platform enables.

Granted, everyone's perception of what constitutes a mainstream PC, but the moral of the story here is AMD's platform is about $35 less than an equally clocked Intel chip with one less core.

Three Cores vs Two?

Therefore, if it weren't clear already, the tagline for today is "At this price, we're offering three cores, while the other guy only has two." Ok, the quote is mine and not theirs, but you get the idea.

This appears to be a great idea, and from a potential CPU yield perspective, it is. How will other applications play though? As we've seen here, many applications have to be written to take advantage of multiple cores. We're seeing it more now where applications scale accordingly, but older apps still rely on instructions per clock. Even if the application supports multiple cores, they are usually written using a symmetric multiprocessing approach with an even number of cores in mind. An odd number of cores should work as well, but will it work as efficiently? That will vary from each application, but in the upcoming tests, we'll point this out if applicable. However, here's a few known issues we're been informed about.

Microsoft Vista users: You may have to to address a known issue where Windows Vista may use fewer processors than expected if the number of cores on a socket is not a power of 2.

Windows Media Encoder 9: There is an issue where there is little or no performance improvement going from 2 cores to 3 cores but significant core-scalability going from 2 cores to 4 cores. This goes back to our earlier statement where the encoder is set to use 1, 2 or 4 threads for multi-core, so as a default it is using 2 threads for triple core. AMD is currently working with Microsoft on the issue.

 

Test Setup

We'll be pairing the AMD Phenom X3 8750 Triple Core Processor with the MSI K9A2 Platinum AMD 790FX Motherboard. A Seagate Barracuda 1TB will handle the storage duties and a GeForce 8800GTX running ForceWare Release 169 for our video needs. Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit is the OS of choice, fully patched up to the time of testing. 4 x 1024MB of Corsair's DDR2 was set to 800MHz, configured in Dual Channel mode for testing. Keep in mind our Vista version only supports 3GB.

The comparison CPUs will be an AMD Phenom X4 9600 and Intel E6600 (paired with a Gigabyte P35 DDR2 board). Both processors were ran at stock speed. All the hardware peripherals was identical. We chose the X4 for the sole reason that the price point is very close to the X3 8750 we're looking at today. The E6600 matches the clock speed of the X3 8750 (2.4GHz).

The software used is as follows:

- A good indicator of CPU/Motherboard performance is version 4.2, by Xavier Gourdon. We used a computation of 10000000 digits of Pi, Chudnovsky method, 1024 K FFT, and no disk memory. Note that lower scores are better, and times are in seconds.

- We used an Animatrix file, titled , and a WAV created from VirtualDub. The movie was then converted it into a DVD compliant MPEG-2 file with a bitrate of 5000. Times are in minutes:seconds, and lower is better.

DVD Shrink - We ripped the War of the Worlds bonus feature off the disk at 100% and compressed the file from the hard drive to 70%. Times are in minutes:seconds, and lower is better.

- Photoshop is perhaps the defacto standard when it comes to photo editing tools. Given that it is so popular, we incorporated DriverHeaven's latest test into our review process. Lower scores are better, and times are in seconds.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars @ 640x480 and Crysis @ 800x600 at LQ Settings - While higher resolutions tax the video card, lower resolutions rely on CPU and subsystem speed. Higher scores are better. We used Guru3D's Crysis benchmark tool and the for ETQW.

All benchmarks will be run a total of three times with the average scores being displayed. Any system tweaks and ram timings were configured to the best possible for each platform. Despite the slight differences between the motherboards, we matched the tweaks as close as possible. The drivers otherwise were identical.

PiFast

The X3 8750 slips behind the X4 9600 by a small margin, but is is also behind the E6600.

TMPGEnc

Here we're seeing the power of multiple cores. The X4 still finishes on top, but the X3 has a much better showing relative to the comparison CPUs from the last test.

DVD Shrink

The results mirror the TMPGEnc test with the X3 8750 landing right in the middle.

Photoshop

The E6600 edges out the X3 8750 in Photoshop, and both are well behind the X4.

 

Quake ET

Crysis

In the gaming tests, the extra clock speed of the X3 8750 puts it clearly ahead of the X4 9600 by a small margin.

Final Words

We didn't have enough time to run through our overclocking gamut, but we were able to boost the HT clock to 229MHz on air without any problems. Temperatures were also quite good, hovering in the mid-30C using our Zalman CNPS cooler.

While some of the reviews today have followed AMD's suggestion of pairing the CPU with a 780 series chipset, we think the 790FX gives a good idea of how things can look at the higher end of the scale. We had some difficulties gathering processors for a pure price point comparison, what you'll be hearing a lot about today is there aren't any competing offerings with more than 2 cores at the sub-$200 price point. Actually, we'll discuss this further in a moment, but this is certainly true of the X3 8650 and X3 8450.

There's obvious potential for improvement if you venture in overclocking, and given the price point, that option is certainly attractive. Gaming performance is decent, and the chip is more than enough for basic needs such as office applications and Internet surfing. Where we think the AMD Phenom X3 8750 Triple Core Processor will really shine is in the HTPC space. The BE-series of CPUs we've been using are excellent in that they use little power and hence much cooler running. This allows us to use quieter cooling which is a must when viewing multimedia.

The AMD Phenom X3 8750 uses more power and isn't as cool as the BE, but it is less power consuming than the Phenom X4 processors. Why use these CPUs despite being less power efficient than the BE? Even though the AMD Unified Video Decoder can offload CPU usage in HD playback by putting the work on the graphics processing unit, if you're running multiple tasks during HD playback, the system does struggle if it doesn't have the horse power. We don't do it often, but at times we'll be converting files into DivX for sharing, and the CPU is completely maxed out, causing dropped frames during HD playback. For the test files we used, the X3 8750 had no problems with HD and file conversion.

While the new 50-series X3 chips are set to be at the $200 price-point and under, what does this all really mean in the retail landscape? While it's simple to point out "we'll be cheaper by x amount", what is x in reality? If the X3 were $100 cheaper than some of their competitors, even AMD's own chips, we think the X3 would be very, very compelling. The problem is, at the time of this writing, the . , about $6 cheaper. Now, shipping costs vary and if you do extensive shopping around, you may be able to find an X3 8750 in the $190 range, but the fact of the matter is, AMD's own X4 is really not much more expensive, at least not expensive enough where the price where be prohibitive.

Now, another thing to consider, when comparing against Intel, the pricing between CPUs will be causing your head to spin much like it does for AMD. Looking around though, the motherboard prices are more clear cut. For a quality product, the 780 chipset is consistently $30 to $40 cheaper than the P35. If you choose the boards with onboard graphics, from experience, the 780G boards perform much better than anything Intel has to offer at the moment. When looking at a platform cost differential, the gap widens to $60 to $80 real-world.

We find ourselves thus torn with the choices at hand. As far as gaming is concerned, we like the X3 8750. If pricing through the week levels out closer to AMD's MSRP, it becomes very compelling. At this moment though, I'd personally take the X4 9600 which will be a little more expensive, or maybe even cheaper depending where you shop. From a strict dollar standpoint, and let's just say that you're holding both boxes in your hands, if the difference is $20, I would not hesitate to grab the Quad core X4.

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