AMD Athlon II X2 255, X3 440, X4 635, Phenom II X2 555, and X4 910e Review

ajmatson - 2010-01-13 10:05:52 in CPU's
Category: CPU's
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: January 24, 2010
Price: $74 - $169

Introduction:

With the new year started and the conclusion of CES 2010 a few weeks ago, AMD has released several new processors aimed at the mid-market and energy conscious computer enthusiasts to give our hardware sweet tooth a computer fix, while kicking off the new decade. AMD has always payed attention to the budget-minded computer enthusiast, releasing products that offer a great bang for the buck when it comes to components. Their processor lines, including the Athlon II and Phenom II, are for the most part very low in cost, however, they provide the power that us gamers and overclocking junkies need and crave. This time is no different. The processors that we will be taking a look at are updates to both of the CPU lines, and vary in clock speeds as well as core count. For the Athlon II line, AMD has the new dual core Athlon II X2 255, a triple core Athlon II X3 440, and a quad core Athlon II X4 635. For the Phenom II line, there is the new Phenom II X2 555 and the energy efficient quad core Phenom II X4 910e. The price ranges for these new processors one in the market are expected to be between $74 for the Athlon II dual core, up to $169 for the energy efficient Phenom II X4 910e.

 

Closer Look:

Since these are all socket AM3 processors, they still keep the same characteristics of the AM3 design which included backwards compatibility with AM2+ boards using DDR2 memory, as well as with AM3 boards using DDR3 memory. All of the processors also run with HyperTransport 3.0, for increased processor-to-system bandwidth and the quickest transfer speeds possible. For the Phenom II line below, there is the Phenom II X4 910e which is an energy efficient quad core offering a clock speed of 2.6GHz, an L2 cache of 2MB which breaks down to 512KB per core, and a shared L3 cache of 6MB. The other Phenom II is the Phenom II X2 555, which is a dual core processor featuring a clock speed of 3.2GHz, an L2 cache of 1MB which is 512KB per core, and a shared L3 of 6MB as well. To kick off the Athlon II side, there is the dual core Athlon II X2 255 which is clocked at 3.1GHz with an L2 cache of 2MB, translating to 1MB per core. Then there is the triple core version the Athlon II X3 440, which is clocked at 3.0GHz and has a total L2 cache of 1.5MB, also 512KB per core. Finally, rounding out the new processors is the quad core Athlon II X4 635 which is clocked just a bit lower then the other two at 2.9GHz,  It has a total L2 cache of 2MB, which is 512KB per core. Together, all of them offer DDR3 and DDR2 support, as well as being backwards compatable with AM2+ motherboards, which makes upgrading your hardware less stressful since you can choose what and when to upgrade your components without having to drop down a lot of cash when keeping up with the latest processor releases, unlike Intel's plentiful CPU sockets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that we have them all out and the basics discussed, let's plug these babies in and see where the performance is.

Specifications:

 

Model Number:
Athlon II X4 635 Athlon II X3 440 Athlon II X2 255 Phenom II X2 555 Phenom II X4 910e
Clock Frequency:
2.9GHz 3.0GHz 3.1GHz 3.2GHz 2.6GHz
Voltage:
0.875 - 1.425v 0.875 - 1.425v 0.875 - 1.425v 0.875 - 1.40v 0.85 - 1.25v
Max TDP:
95 watts
95 watts 65 watts 80 watts 65 Watts
Maximum Temp:
71C Degrees 73C Degrees 74C Degrees 70C Degrees 71C Degrees
Cache Size:
L1 Cache: 64K instruction and 64K data cache per core (384KB total L1 per processor)
L2 Cache: 512KB per core (2MB total L2 per processor)
L1 Cache: 64K instruction and 64K data cache per core (256KB total L1 per processor)
L2 Cache: 512KB per core (1.5MB total L2 per processor)
L1 Cache: 64K instruction and 64K data cache per core (256KB total L1 per processor)
L2 Cache: 1MB per core (2MB total L2 per processor)
L1 Cache: 64K instruction and 64K data cache per core (256KB total L1 per processor)
L2 Cache: 512KB per core (1MB total L2 per processor)
L3 Cache: 6MB Shared
L1 Cache: 64K instruction and 64K data cache per core (256KB total L1 per processor)
L2 Cache: 512KB per core (1MB total L2 per processor)
L3 Cache: 6MB Shared
Process Technology:
45-nanometer DSL SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology
45-nanometer DSL SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology
45-nanometer DSL SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology
45-nanometer DSL SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology
45-nanometer DSL SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology
HyperTransport Technology Links:
One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4.0GHz full duplex (2.0GHz x2)
One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4.0GHz full duplex (2.0GHz x2)
One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4.0GHz full duplex (2.0GHz x2)
One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4.0GHz full duplex (2.0GHz x2)
One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4.0GHz full duplex (2.0GHz x2)
Memory:
Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller with speeds: Up to 2.0GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management
Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller with speeds: Up to 2.0GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management
Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller with speeds: Up to 2.0GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management
Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller with speeds: Up to 2.0GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management
Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller with speeds: Up to 2.0GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management
Types of Memory:
support unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) -AND- PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333MHz)
support unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) -AND- PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333MHz)
support unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) -AND- PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333MHz)
support unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) -AND- PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333MHz)
support unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) -AND- PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333MHz)
Die Size:
45nm = 169mm2
45nm = 169mm2
45nm = 117.5mm2
45nm = 258mm2
45nm = 258mm2
Transistors
45nm = ~300 million
45nm = ~300 million
45nm = ~234 million
45nm = ~758 million
45nm = ~758 million
Packaging:
Socket AM3 - 938-pin organic micro Pin Grid Array (micro-PGA) (Backwards compatable with AM2+ 940-pin) Socket AM3 - 938-pin organic micro Pin Grid Array (micro-PGA) (Backwards compatable with AM2+ 940-pin) Socket AM3 - 938-pin organic micro Pin Grid Array (micro-PGA) (Backwards compatable with AM2+ 940-pin) Socket AM3 - 938-pin organic micro Pin Grid Array (micro-PGA) (Backwards compatable with AM2+ 940-pin) Socket AM3 - 938-pin organic micro Pin Grid Array (micro-PGA) (Backwards compatable with AM2+ 940-pin)

 

 

Features: 

Testing:

This is what we really have been waiting for. I will be running a series of scientific and video based benchmarks designed to give you a sense of where each processor sits on the performance scale. Using this information, you can decide whether or not it is justifiable to upgrade your current processor to the newer ones. I will also be placing the new AMD processors up against other AMD based Athlon II and Phenom II processors, as well as some of the current Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors - so you get a good understanding of the overall performance across the various series of processors. To eliminate any outside variables from tainting the scores, all hardware will be run at the same speeds, timings, and voltages unless noted as in the overclocking section. One thing to note is that because of time constraints and the availability of the processors prior to the launch and because of the limited change in the numbers from overclocking, the video game benchmarks will only be run at their stock speed so the overclocking numbers will not be included.
 

 

Testing Setup AMD AM3 CPU's:

 

Testing Setup: Intel Core i5/i7 Socket 1156

  

Comparison CPUs:

 

Overclocking:

Before we get started going over the overclocking, I wanted to make a note to explain why the Athlon II X2 255 numbers and settings were not included. During the overclocking of this processor, which I have never experienced before, I could no matter how hard I tried and how far I pushed the hardware I could not get anything out of this CPU, not even 10MHz. I even tried a suicide run on the processor and could not get the processor to boot at any voltage or combination of settings. Is this common with a CPU? Not really, however, it occasionally does happen. Since processors are not guaranteed or designed to be pushed past their specs, you can not guarantee every CPU will overclock the same as another, or in this case overclock at all. When you are overclocking, you may or may not get the same or better scores but, hey, half of the fun is pushing your hardware so happy overclocking.

 

Athlon II Overclocked settings:

For the Athlon II series, which have locked multipliers, you have to find a delicate balance between the reference clock and the hardware's multipliers. When you raise the reference clock to overclock the CPU, there are two main multipliers you have to keep and eye on and those are the HyperTransport multiplier and the memory divider. As you raise the clock speeds, you have to adjust these two dividers to keep the hardware stable as the CPU speed raises. Sure, you can push them a bit as well however, as you do keep tabs on your voltages for each part to compensate for the increase in speed. For the X3 440, I was able to only push the reference clock to 221MHz before the system became unstable and could not complete the benchmarks, however, for the X4 635, I was able to get 250MHz on the reference clock but for this I had to drop the HyperTransport and memory dividers down a bit to compensate for the increase in speed. The final overclock for the Athlon II X3 440 was 3.323GHz, which was an increase of 323MHz and for the Athlon II X4 635 was 3.625GHz for an increase of 725MHz, which was about a 25% increase to the processor.

 

 

Phenom II Overclocked settings:

For the Phenom processors there was a bit of a switch for overclocking. The Phenom II X4 910e is not a Black Edition processor, so the CPU multiplier is locked and in this case at 13x, so to overclock it I had to take the same steps as with the Athlon II processors above and play with only the reference clock to get more speed out of it. I was able to push the reference clock on this energy efficient CPU to 240MHz, which brought the overclocked speed to 3.120GHz which was an increase of 620MHz, which is pretty good for an energy efficient processor designed with a lower voltage setting and TDP. For the Phenom II X2 555, the overclocking is a bit easier since it is a Black Edition processor with an unlocked multiplier. To overclock this processor, I pushed the multiplier as high as I could while remaining stable and able to pass the benchmarks. Once I got the multiplier as high as I could, I then proceeded to push the reference clock up to get even more speed out of this CPU. To my surprise this processor overclocked very well. I was able to push the reference clock to 217MHz which yielded an overclock speed of 4.023GHz, which was a increase of 823MHz and the only CPU to break the 4GHz barrier out of the bunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. Office 2007 Excel Number Crunch
  4. POV Ray 3.7
  5. PCMark Vantage Professional
  6. Sandra XII
  7. ScienceMark 2.02
  8. Cinebench 10
  9. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty World At War
  5. Dead Space 
  6. Fallout 3 
  7. Left 4 Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

Testing:

The first part of our testing will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 100MB and 500MB files to test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds. Additionally, I will use the built in benchmark as a comparison.

 

ZIP:

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

RAR:

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

In Apophysis, the new generation of processors were an improvement over the previous generation. For WinRAR, the higher core processors did better then the lower core ones, no matter how high the clock speed was.

Testing:

Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and performs about 28,000 sets of calculations, which utilizes many of the most commonly used calculations in Excel. The measure of this test is how long it takes to refresh the sheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower Is Better

 

POV Ray 3.7: This program features a built in benchmark that renders an image using Ray Tracing. The latest versions offer support for SMP (Symmetric MultiProcessing) enabling the workload to be spread across the cores for a quicker completion.

 

Higher Is Better

 

PCMark Vantage x64 is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual CPU to see which CPU, if any, rises above the others.

 

 

For the Excel tests, the older generation was a tad bit faster then the newer processors.  However, in POV Ray, the tides turned and the newer processors were a lot better. In PCMark Vantage, the newer processors also performed better.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level, to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

 

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

 

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

 

 

Memory Latency

 

 

Cache and Memory

 

 

 

File System

 

 

 

Physical Disks

 

 

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

 

For Sandra, the majority of the tests were equal between the newer processors and their older versions.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

 

 

Higher is Better!

 

CineBench is useful for testing your system, CPU, and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

 

Higher is Better

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

 

Higher is Better

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

For these benchmarks, again, the newer processors were a bit faster then their older counterparts.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km squared of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Far Cry 2, the scores for the AMD processors were almost on par.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way, there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of the processors were pretty even with the exception of the Athlon II X4 635, which started off behind, then took the win in the middle resolution, then leveled off at 1920x1200.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. The building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong. Its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddies". It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. The environment, as well as the story line, will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of the processors were even throughout the testing in this game.

Testing:

Activision's Call Of Duty World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought COD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a large resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30-inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Again, the processors were dead even on the Call of Duty: World at War tests.

Testing:

In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion, you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse as starting with the crash landing and seemingly silent and "Dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional over the shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Dead Space, the scores were the same across the board.

Testing:

Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the vault has been sealed for 200 years and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks, since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.

Settings:

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of the processors were within a minimal margin with each other.

Testing:

Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters, and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival!

Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trend continues with all of the processors being dead on with each other.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is started. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how these setups fare. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As with the scientific benchmarks, the newer processors were slightly better than the older generation.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, as with 3DMark Vantage, the newer processors offer better performance.

Conclusion:

With the testing done, we can see that the new versions of the Athlon II and Phenom II processors offer some of a performance increase, and if you are looking to upgrade from the less core processors to the higher core count ones, then I suggest to go ahead and spend the bit more to get these newer versions for the increases they offer. If you are just looking to trade up say triple core to triple core, then the differences are not worth the money when what you have is good enough. The Athlon processors offer the best value when it comes to workstations or every day computing systems, where you may need a bit of power for some tasks but do not want to lay down the cash for a high end CPU. These would also include home theater PCs when paired with a nice motherboard, such as one with a 785G chipset. The best bang for the buck goes to the AMD Phenom II X2 555 processor, which during the testing I was able to stable push it above 4GHz with very little effort.  The processor never reached its thermal limit and remained stable for a nice period of time with no issues. The bummer of the bunch was the Athlon II X2 255, which I could not overclock even a bit no matter what I tried. It did, however, perform on par at stock but, hey, we are enthusiasts and do not settle for just stock speeds, right?

Overall the new processors offer a great price to performance ratio and I would recommend them to anyone in the market for a new processor. I would not say go out and toss away an already good processor for a small performance gain, but for a fresh start these are a good buy. If you are on a limited budget and want to overclock, the best out of what you got for $99 the Phenom II X2 555 will offer you great performance on stock and even better when overclocked. With the new silicon used for this processor, you should be able to get above 4GHz often allowing you for the best price to performance out of the bunch.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: