AMD Athlon II X4 CPU Review

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Overview

  • Pros

     

    • Quad-core computing for $99
    • Reasonable power draw
    • Strong backwards compatibility

     

  • Cons

     

    • 620 CPU better value than 630
    • Doesn't grant wishes

     


For the past couple of years, AMD has had a difficult time competing with Intel at the highest end of the processing arena. Choosing instead to fight for the value segment, the company recently introduced two new quad-core processors, starting at just $99. A quad-core CPU for under a hundred bucks? It sounds too good to be true. Fortunately, it isn’t.

Specifications

  • Manufacturing process: 45nm
  • Cache size: L1 – 128kB per core (512kB total) L2 – 512kB per core (2MB total)
  • Memory type: DDR2 and DDR3
  • Socket type: AM3 (supports AM2+)
  • Die size: 169mm2
  • Clock speed: Athlon II X4 620: 2.6GHz, Athlon II X4 630: 2.8GHz
  • System bus: 4.0GT/s
  • TDP: 95W

Two Athlon II quad-core processors are available for the launch. The Athlon II X4 620 will cost $99, while the Athlon II X4 630 will run around $122. For the first time, users can buy a quad-core processor for less than a hundred dollars, which is an impressive feat. For comparison, the cheapest Intel Core 2 Quad processor, the Q8200, continues to sell for $160 despite its relative age. This is the processor that AMD is obviously targeting with its introduction of affordable quad-core computers and it’ll largely be the basis for our comparison as well.

We hear all the time from people who insist that users don’t really need quad-core processors – dual-core is ‘good enough’. This happens with every new technology and smacks of the stories told by old men who carried their brothers on their back everyday to school, uphill, barefoot, in the snow. Frankly, it’s short-sighted at best. While it’s true that users who do things like render 3-D scenes, edit video and audio and perform serious number crunching stand to gain the most benefit from multi-core processing, your average user can also reap the benefits. The trend in computing these days is for users to leave their computers on almost permanently, letting them go to sleep instead of powering down entirely. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what it means is that a lot of applications run continuously in the background, never getting shut off when the computer restarts.

While any one of these applications doesn’t cause much trouble, using at most half a percent of the CPU at idle, they can add up. Currently, I have fifteen Iron browser tabs open, an IM client, VLC (playing an audio file), Photoshop, Adobe Reader, a few explorer windows and a number of other utilities and assorted services. This system uses a Core 2 Duo E7400 running at 2.8GHz and with the above windows open, shows a processor draw of anywhere from one to five percent when just sitting there. A lot of applications will pull more, like Microsoft’s fantastic (but hungry) new Zune software, or Adobe Flash apps, or even watching HD video. While users may not have a single piece of software that justifies using multi-core processing, they might have a hundred ‘tiny’ apps that do.

So now it becomes a matter of using the computer for multiple things at a time. It used to be that when using the computer for a computationally expensive task, you really couldn’t do anything else at the same time. Fortunately, those days are gone. Now you finish your blog post while downloading a podcast, watching an HD clip, syncing your iPod, uploading something to Flickr, compressing something from your 720p camcorder — the list goes on and on. To say that average users can’t take advantage of quad-core processors is to do them a disservice.

The real issue, then, is cost. As we mentioned earlier, Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q8200 sells for $160. Compare this to their Core 2 Duo line, the least expensive of which retails for $119. The Athlon II X4 620 goes even lower, selling for $99. This opens up a lot of users to multi-core computing who might not otherwise be able to afford it. At the same time, hopefully it’ll mean even cheaper quad-core computers from some of the big manufacturers. We’ve reviewed a number of Q8200-based desktops, the cheapest of which comes in at $499. It’d be pretty fantastic if we started seeing Athlon II 620-based machines for even cheaper. Much like high-speed internet, when things become affordable for the mainstream, new applications arise that can take advantage of it. In that way, AMD’s real accomplishment here isn’t that they’ve brought a cheap processor to market; they have, and all the techies will be happy. No, what they’ve really done is start a shift in what we can do with computers. When even the low-end computers are pretty powerful, how we use them on a day-to-day basis can change dramatically.


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