AMD Phenom II X2 550 and Athlon II X2 250 Processors Review

ajmatson - 2009-05-22 17:47:55 in CPU's
Category: CPU's
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: June 1, 2009
Price: $87 - $102

Introduction:

Lately, the processor market has been the biggest we have ever seen. The competing manufacturers have new CPUs releasing all of the time, aimed at everyone from the hardcore speed enthusiast to the budget minded user. Since not everyone has the cash to drop on the high-end processors, let alone the hardware to support them, there's still a huge market for strong dual core processors. To compete in this market, AMD has used the AMD Athlon X2 line for some time; however, they now bring new secret weapons to the table, aimed and taking charge. There are two new dual core processors that are moving in for the kill, both designed with new technology for today's PC enthusiast.

First, based off of the ever popular Phenom II series, we now get a chance to see the new dual core, dubbed the AMD Phenom II X2. The AMD Phenom II X2 series is a fast dual core solution for those who want speed and dependability without having to break the bank to get it. The specific model we are going to be looking at is the Phenom II X2 550 BE. This model is clocked at 3.1GHz (200x15.5), and can handle a maximum core voltage of 1.425v for pure speed. The second processor is the AMD Athlon II X2 250, which is a 45nm processor with a few secrets of its own. On the Athlon II, there is no L3 cache as in the Phenom II dual core; however, the L2 cache on the Athlon II X2 250 is doubled for a total of 1MB L2 per core, a grand total L2 cache of 2MB. This CPU is clocked at 3.0GHz (200x15), and can handle a maximum 1.425v as well, with a TDP ceiling of 65 watts.

The kicker about these processors, you ask? What makes them so different than other AMD dual cores? Well, how many of the current AMD dual core processors can run DDR3? Yes, I said DDR3 - finally, for the AMD dual core sector. The Phenom II X2 550 and the Athlon II X2 250 both support AM2+ and AM3 boards for DDR2 and DDR3 memory. No longer are you stuck using the slower DDR2 standard for your computers that have dual core processors. Do I have you salivating yet? I know I am, so how about we take a closer look at the CPUs and see how well they run with this new memory spec.

 

Closer Look:

Since these are review samples the Phenom II X2 550 and Athlon II X2 250 arrived to us in an anti-static sample box. The retail versions will have the regular retail packaging, as well as the heatsink, for your new processor. The only way to distinguish the processors is by the stamps on the CPU heat spreader, with the 550 being the Phenom II, and the 250 being the Athlon II.

 

 

The Phenom II X2 550 BE and Athlon II X2 250 look at first like any other current AMD CPUs; the differences are all on the inside. The Phenom II X2 processor is a dual core, based on the Phenom II series processors; it is manufactured using a 45 nanometer process and clocked at 3.1GHz. This CPU is an AM3 socket processor and supports both memory standards up to 1066MHz for DDR2, and 1333MHz for DDR3. There are 758 million transistors, with a HyperTransport 3.0 bus and a maximum bandwidth of 3.6GB/s, full duplex. For the Phenom II X2 550, the cache is broken down into 1MB L2 (512kb per core) and 6MB shared L3, for a total of 7MB cache. This specific processor is a Black Edition processor, which also allows for more refined options to tweak your overclocks - allowing you to get the most speed out of your shiny new CPU.

 

 

The Athlon II X2 250 is clocked at 3.0GHz and is also manufactured using a 45nm process; however, some of its insides are different. As I mentioned above, AMD chose to not include an L3 cache in the design of the Athlon II, but instead to double the amount of L2 cache - giving each core a full 1MB. The Athlon II also runs a HyperTransport 3.0 bus, with a maximum bandwidth of 4.0GB/s, full duplex. Like the Phenom II X2, the Athlon II X2 supports both DDR2 and DDR3 memory with a maximum total system bandwidth of 33.1GB/s when using DDR3 memory.

 

 

Now we are ready to strap these CPUs in and see how they perform.

Specifications:

 

Model Number:
Phenom II X2 550 BE Athlon II X2 250
Clock Frequency:

3.1GHz

3.0GHz

Max TDP:
80 watts
65 watts
Cache Size:
L1 Cache 64K per core(each for Instruction)
L2 Cache: 512KB per core
L3 Cache: 6MB Shared L3
L1 Cache 64K per core(each for Instruction)
L2 Cache: 1MB per core
Process Technology:
45-nanometer SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology
45-nanometer 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)
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
Types of Memory:
Support for unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) -AND- PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333MHz)
Support for unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) -AND- PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333MHz)
Die Size:
258 mm2
117.5 mm2
Transistors
~758 million
~234 million
Packaging:
Socket AM3 / 938-pin organic micro Pin Grid Array (micro-PGA) Socket AM3 / 938-pin organic micro Pin Grid Array (micro-PGA)

 

 

 

Features: 

 

Testing:

To test how the new Phenom II X2 550 BE and Athlon II X2 250 processors perform, I will put them through a series of benchmarks that test scientific and video processing capabilities. To give you a comparison of how they compare to mainstream processors being used currently. I will pit the results up against some other processors - including dual core, triple core, and quad core CPUs. This will give you an idea where these two processors sit among others in their class, and beyond. All hardware used was set to its native operating speeds, timings, and voltages to keep any variables from interfering with the scores. Because of time constraints and hardware availability, the video testing phase will have some of the newer chips included, however not all of them will be shown.

 

 

Testing Setup AMD AM2+ CPU:

 

Testing Setup AMD AM3 CPU:

  

Testing Setup Core2 CPU's:

 

Comparison CPUs:

Overclocking:

Overclocked Settings Phenom II X2:

Since this is a Black Edition processor, you have more freedom when it comes to overclocking. To get the best speed, I had to push the voltage to the maximum 1.425 volts and set the multiplier to the highest stable, which was x18.5. After that I started pushing the bus speed 1MHz at a time, until I could no longer boot stably - which only amounted to 10MHz. Since the stock speed is 3.1GHz, this gives us a total 785MHz overclock for the Phenom II X2 550 BE. In turn, the memory did rise to 1400MHz, keeping the stock timings of 7-7-7-20.

 

 
 

 

Overclocked Settings Athlon II X2:

Unlike the Phenom II X2, the Athlon II X2 is not a Black Edition processor, so the multiplier is locked at maximum of x15. Without the ability to push the multiplier any higher, I had to rely of the bus speed. So, I slowly started raising it 5MHz at a time and booting into the OS until I could no longer stably run a benchmark. Once I hit the wall at 240MHz, I backed it off 1MHz at a time until I became stable again which was at 236MHz, for a total overclock of 540MHz (since the stock speed is 3.0GHz). The result of having to increase the bus speed pushed the memory to 1547MHz, so I had to loosen the timings a bit to 8-8-8-24 to keep the system stable during testing. 

 

 

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SPECviewperf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02
  7. CineBench 10
  8. 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 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files and test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.

 

ZIP:

 

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

In Apophysis, which measures based on clock speed, the Phenom II X2 550 tied with the Phenom II X4 955, while the Athlon II was just a bit behind. In WinRAR, the scores were close together, except the E8400 which took the lead in the pack.

Testing:

SPECviewperf 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure performance when run in this mode. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Higher is Better

 

PCMark Vantage 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.

 

In SPECviewperf, where higher scores are better, both processors gave the competition a run for its money. In PCMark Vantage, they were right on with the other AMD dual cores, but a bit behind their Intel counterparts.

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

 

Of the AMD dual cores, the Phenom II X2 and the Athlon II X2 were the strongest; however, they still fall behind the triple and quad cores. Compared to the Intel E7200, they scored the same or better.

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 ScienceMark, both of the new dual cores blew the competition away, with the exception of the Phenom II 955. They were also very strong in the single core CineBench tests, but fell behind when multiple cores came into play. In HD Tune, there were ups and downs - but all within negligible margins.

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, all of the CPUs were about tied, except for the quad core Phenom II, which buries the dual cores.

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the storyline 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just about all of the scores matched across the board.

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:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dual cores kept strong, especially at the maximum tested resolution.

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 new dual cores made a strong stand.

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, 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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we have seen already, they just do not want to give in.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new dual core processors kept in line with the others in their class, but fell to the power of the quad core.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the lower resolutions, the DDR3-based processors were faster; however, when the resolution grew, the scores evened out.

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 this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The newer processors sat between the older AMD dual core and the quad cores in 3DMark06.

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, the DDR3-based dual cores had the edge on the older dual core, but not enough to take the quad cores.

Conclusion:

All in all, the new round of dual core processors from AMD proved themselves to be worthy contenders. In the scientific benchmarks they kept up with and passed the Intel E7200, and blew away the older generation of AMD dual core processors. With the ability to run DDR3, you have increased system bandwidth over other AMD dual cores running DDR2. Also since these are AM3 processors, you can run them in both DDR2 and DDR3-based motherboards for flexibility and an easy upgrade path. Factor in the costs of each one, and you have a great basis for a system. At launch, the AMD Athlon II X2 250 is supposed to drop at $87, and the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition will run you $102. Compare that to the $150+ that the E7200 runs currently on pricebrabber.com - and $170 for the E8400 - and you see that for the price, the new DDR3-based AMD dual core processors are great contenders. A big thing I want to make sure gets mentioned is during testing, even when overclocked, the Phenom II X2 never rose above 35 degrees Celsius, and the Athlon II X2 stayed below 32 C, even on a stock AMD cooler.

When it came to overclocking, the Phenom II X2 550 BE was easier to push to higher numbers with its unlocked multiplier, reaching a 785MHz overclock - which is almost a 24% increase. The Athlon II X2 250 did not fair too poorly either, considering it is not a Black Edition and has the multiplier locked at a maximum x15. By pushing the voltage up to 1.45v, I was able to raise the bus speed of the Athlon II to 236MHz, for an overclock of 540MHz - or about an 18% overclock. When compared to the previous dual cores, the Athlon X2 7750 and Athlon X2 7850, these new DDR3-based dual cores are much stronger. However, do not think they are runners for the triple or quad core processors, because they do not come even close. If you are looking for great performing processors at an even greater price, you would be a fool not to consider the Phenom II X2 550 BE or the Athlon II X2 250. Their price to performance ratio is unmatched, and will not leave you hanging.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: