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 AMDs 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.