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AMD took the lead by announcing the first quad-core CPU to be offered on the USD 100 range, Athlon II X4 620. Thus this CPU promises to deliver a terrific performance to entry-level PCs. Will this promise hold true? Let’s see.
Athlon II X4 620 runs internally at 2.6 GHz and has four processing cores, each one with a 64 KB + 64 KB L1 memory cache and a 512 KB L2 memory cache. No L3 memory cache is provided, being the main difference between Athlon II and Phenom II. Like Phenom II, Athlon II is a socket AM3 CPU, and thus can be installed on socket AM2+ or socket AM3 motherboards, depending on whether you want DDR2 or DDR3 memories on your computer, respectively.
AMD is targeting Athlon II X4 620 to entry-level PCs with motherboards based on the AMD785G chipset.
We have several different ways to select a competitor to Athlon II X4 620. The most obvious would be to select a CPU from Intel with the same price tag. The problem with this methodology is that the total price of the two computers would be different, as motherboards for Intel CPUs tend to be more expensive than the ones targeted to AMD processors. Since no one can run a CPU outside a computer, we have to think about the total price of the system, especially on entry-level PCs, where every little bit counts.
This way we decided to compare two systems with a similar price for the CPU + motherboard combo, quoted on the same store (Newegg.com). With Athlon II X4 620 costing USD 107.99 and the motherboard we picked (Biostar TA785GE 128 M) costing USD 80, we had a budget of USD 187.99 to buy an Intel counterpart. Since we were using a motherboard with integrated graphics, we had to pick a similar product on the Intel side, and we ended up choosing Intel DG45ID motherboard (based on the Intel G45 chipset), that costs USD 99.99, leaving us with USD 88 to choose a CPU. The CPU from Intel that most matched this budget was Pentium E6300, which we bought for USD 84.
Now we had two systems with comparable costs, since memories, hard drive, etc were the same. But there was still one important detail. For several of the tests – especially gaming – we were going to rely on the motherboard integrated video, meaning that in fact we were going to measure the motherboard video performance, not the CPU performance.
To overcome this issue, we decided to perform two tests with each CPU: first with the on-board video, and then disabling the on-board video and installing a mid-range video card (a GeForce 9600 GT was chosen for this task). This way we could easily simulate the scenario where the user installed these CPUs with a “real” video card, allowing us to compare the performance exclusively from the CPU, not putting the motherboard performance into the equation. It is important to note that under this scenario we were still comparing two systems with practically the same price.
This way this will be a very interesting review were we will cover both scenarios: users using on-board video and users using a “real” video card.
Before going to our results, let’s compare the main specs from the two CPUs included in this review.[nextpage title=”Athlon II X4 620 vs. Pentium E6300″]
Pentium E6300, previously known as Pentium Dual Core, is a dual-core CPU. Architecture-wise the main difference between the two is the presence of an integrated memory controller on Athlon II X4 620, which supports both DDR2 and DDR3 memories. Memory support on Pentium E6300 depends on the chipset. Since Intel G45 chipset only supports DDR2 up to 800 MHz, we used the same DDR2-800 modules with both CPUs, this way the memory modules wouldn’t bias the results.
Athlon II X4 620 has 512 KB L2 cache per core, so each core has its own L2 cache. On Pentium E6300 all cores access a single 2 MB L2 cache.
Both CPUs don’t support the SSE4 instruction set. AMD CPUs have AMD’s own implementation of SSE4 called “SSE4a,” which has only four instructions and is not the same thing as SSE4 (which has a total of 54 instructions, 47 on SSE4.1 and seven on SSE4.2).
In the table below there is a column called “external bus.” For the AMD CPU this means the speed of the HyperTransport bus. On Athlon II X4 620 this bus works at 2,000 MHz, which translates in a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 8,000 MB/s (2,000 MHz x 16 bits x 2 data per clock cycle / 8). On Pentium E6300 the external bus is called front side bus (FSB) and works at 266.6 MHz transferring four 64-bit data per clock cycle. Because of that, this bus is also referred as “1,066 MHz” (4x 266.6 MHz). This is equivalent of a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 8,533 MB/s (266.6 MHz x 64 bits x 4 data per clock cycle / 8).
|CPU||Cores||Internal Clock||External Bus||L1 Cache||L2 Cache||L3 Cache||Core||Tech.||TDP||Socket||SSE4||Price|
|Athlon II X4 620||4||2.6 GHz||8 GB/s||64 KB + 64 KB per core||512 KB per core||No||Propus||45 nm||95 W||AM3||SSE4a||USD 107.99|
|Pentium E6300||2||2.8 GHz||8.5 GB/s||32 KB + 32 KB per core||2 MB total||No||Wolfdale||45 nm||65 W||775||No||USD 86|
TDP stands for Thermal Design Power which advises the user of the maximum amount of heat the CPU can dissipate. The CPU cooler must be capable of dissipating at least this amount of heat.
The prices listed were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.
Now that you know the contenders, let’s see how they performed.
[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the CPU being tested and the motherboard, which had to be replaced to match the different CPU sockets.
- Motherboard (Socket LGA775): Intel DG45ID (0113 BIOS)
- Motherboard (Socket AM3): Biostar TA785GE 128M (07/23/09 BIOS)
- CPU Cooler (Socket LGA775): Intel stock
- CPU Cooler (Socket AM3): AMD stock
- Memory: Two 1 GB Crucial CT12864AA800 modules (DDR2-800/PC2-6400, CL6, 1.8 V), configured at 800 MHz
- Hard Disk Drive: Western Digital Caviar SE16 500 GB (WD5000AAKS, SATA-300, 7,200 rpm, 16 MB buffer)
- Video Card: Zotac GeForce 9600 GT Synergy Edition
- Video Monitor: Samsung Syncmaster 932BW
- Power Supply: OCZ StealthXStream 400 W
- Optical Drive: Lite-On LH-20A1L
Operating System Configuration
- Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit
- Service Pack 2
- Video resolution: 1440×900 60 Hz
- NVIDIA video driver version: 190.62
- Intel Inf chipset driver version (Intel): 220.127.116.110
- Intel video driver version (Intel): 18.104.22.1688
- Intel network driver version (Intel): 14.5
- IDT audio driver version (Intel): 6224 v1.78
- Video/Chipset drivers (AMD): Catalyst 9.7
- Realtek audio driver version (AMD): R1.89
- PCMark Vantage Professional 1.1.0
- VirtualDub 1.9.5 + MPEG-2 Plugin 3.1 + DivX 6.8.5
- Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended + GamingHeaven Photoshop Benchmark V3
- Adobe After Effects CS4
- WinRAR 3.90
- Cinebench 10
- 3DMark06 Professional 1.1.0
- 3DMark Vantage Professional 1.0.1
- Half-Life 2: Episode Two – Patch June 23th 2009 + HardwareOC Half-Life 2 Episode Two Benchmark Tool 22.214.171.124
- Fallout 3 – Patch 1.7
We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
[nextpage title=”PCMark Vantage”]
PCMark Vantage simulates the use of real-world applications and gives scores for the following categories:
- TV and Movies
For a detailed description of each one of these tests, please download and read the PCMark Vantage Reviewer’s Guide.
You can see the results for each category below. We are not going to compare the results for the Memories and HDD suites.
Comparing the results achieved using the on-board video, Athlon II X4 620 achieved a score 9.10% higher than Pentium E6300. When we installed a GeForce 9600 GT on both systems the difference increased a little bit, with Athlon II X4 620 achieving a score 13.59% higher than Pentium E6300.
On the TV and Movies benchmark with both systems using their on-board video, Athlon II X4 620 was 15.83% faster than Pentium E6300. When we installed a GeForce 9600 GT the performance of the Pentium E6300 system didn’t increase, differently from what happened with the Athlon II X4 620 system, making Athlon II X4 620 to be 30.88% faster than Pentium E6300 under this scenario.
On the Gaming set with the on-board video enabled, Athlon II X4 620 was 21.02% faster than Pentium E6300. It is important to keep in mind that what we are measuring here is mostly the performance of the on-board video (AMD785G vs. Intel G45). The true CPU performance can only be measured with a “real” video card installed. When we installed our GeForce 9600 GT Athlon II X4 620 was 11.56% faster than Pentium E6300.
On the Music benchmark with the on-board video enabled both Athlon II X4 620 and Pentium E6300 achieved the same performance level. When we installed a GeForce 9600 GT performance from Pentium E6300 stayed on the same level, with the performance of Athlon II X4 620 increasing 12.72%, making it to be 9.93% faster than Pentium E6300.
On the Communications tests with on-board video enabled, Athlon II X4 620 achieved a score 7.11% higher than Pentium E6300. When we installed a GeForce 9600 GT Athlon II X4 620 achieved a score 8.86% higher than Pentium E6300.
And finally on the Productivity benchmark Athlon II X4 620 achieved a score 7.41% higher than Pentium E6300 with on-board video enabled and 9.69% higher when we installed a GeForce 9600 GT.
[nextpage title=”VirtualDub + DivX”]
With VirtualDub we converted a full-length DVD movie to DivX format and saw how long it took for this conversion to be completed. The DivX codec is capable of recognizing and using not only more than one CPU (i.e., more than one core), but also the SSE4 instruction set (feature not available on the reviewed CPUs).
The movie we chose to convert was Star Trek – The Motion Picture: Director’s Cut. We copied the movie to our hard disk drive with no compression, so the final original file on our HDD was 6.79 GB. After compressing it with DivX, the final file was only 767.40 MB, which is quite remarkable.
The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the better.
On DivX encoding using the on-board video Athlon II X4 620 was 26.47% faster than Pentium E6300. Installing a GeForce 9600 GT increased encoding performance but Athlon II X4 620 wa
s still faster than Pentium E6300 by 21.41%.
[nextpage title=”Photoshop CS4″]
The best way to measure performance is by using real programs. The problem, though, is creating a methodology using real software that provides accurate results. For Photoshop CS4, there is a methodology created by the folks at GamingHeaven that is very accurate. Their script applies a series of 15 filters to a sample image, and we wrote down the time taken for each filter to run. At the end, we have the results for each individual filter and we simply added them up to have the total time taken to run the 15 filters from the GamingHeaven batch. The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the number the better.
On Photoshop CS4, on the other hand, Pentium E6300 was 24.44% faster than Athlon II X4 620. Installing a GeForce 9600 GT didn’t make any difference in performance.
[nextpage title=”After Effects CS4″]
After Effects is a very well-known program for video post-production that is used to add animation and visual effects in videos. To evaluate the performance of each CPU running this program, we ran a workload consisting of 25 compositions that applied several filters and effects to a variety of input file types such as PSD (Photoshop), AI (Illustrator), EPS, and TIF. After each filter was applied, the composition was rendered to an uncompressed AVI file with the same resolution as the input files. The results below are the time each CPU took to finish the whole batch, given in seconds, so the lower the number the better.
On After Effects CS4 Athlon II X4 was 10.58% faster than Pentium E6300. Installing a GeForce 9600 GT didn’t make any difference in performance.
We measured the time each CPU took to compress five high-resolution 48-bit uncompressed TIF images, each one with around 70 MB, to RAR format with the popular WinRAR application. The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the number the better.
On file compression using WinRAR both CPUs achieved the same performance level in both scenarios (on-board video and installing a GeForce 9600 GT).
[nextpage title=”Cinebench 10″]Cinebench 10 is based on the 3D software, Cinema 4d. It is very useful to measure the performance gain given by having more than one CPU installed on the system when rendering heavy 3D images. Rendering is one area in which having more than one CPU helps considerably, because usually, rendering software recognizes several CPUs. (Cinebench, for instance, can use up to 16 CPUs.)
Since we were interested in measuring the rendering performance, we ran the test called “Rendering x CPUs,” which renders a “heavy” sample image using all available CPUs (or cores – either real or virtual, as on CPUs with Hyper-Threading technology, each core is recognized as two cores by the operating system) to speed up the process.
On Cinebench Athlon II X4 620 was 38.58% faster than Pentium E6300. This was expected as for this program the CPU with the highest number of processing cores (either real or virtual, through Hyper-Threading technology) achieves the highest score. Installing a GeForce 9600 GT didn’t make any difference on the results.
[nextpage title=”3DMark06 Professional”]
3DMark06 measures Shader 3.0 (i.e., DirectX 9.0c) performance. We ran this software under its default configuration. The results you can see below.
Using the on-board video Athlon II X4 620 + AMD785G was 41.55% faster than Pentium E6300 + Intel G45 for DirectX 9.0c gaming.
When we installed a GeForce 9600 GT to measure the performance of the CPU alone, Athlon II X4 620 was 5.27% faster than Pentium E6300.
[nextpage title=”3DMark Vantage Professional”]
3DMark Vantage measures Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) gaming performance. First we tried to run this program under the “Entry” profile with the motherboard on-board video enabled. Only AMD785G could run this program (achieving an Entry score of E2311); Intel G45 could not run 3DMark Vantage even on the “Entry” profile selected. This is old news in the industry: while officially Intel G45 is labeled as being a DirectX 10 part, in fact it can’t run DirectX 10 games or simulations.
The numbers you see below are the results running the “Performance” profile with the GeForce 9600 GT installed.
Under the “Performance” profile from 3DMark Vantage with a GeForce 9600 GT installed Athlon II X4 620 and Pentium E6300 achieved the same performance level, showing that for this program under this configuration the video card is the component that matters the most, not the CPU.
Comparing exclusively the CPU benchmark results from 3DMark Vantage, Athlon II X4 620 achieved a score 13.71% higher than Pentium E6300.
[nextpage title=”Half-Life 2: Episode Two”]
Half-Life 2 is a popular franchise and we benchmarked the video cards using Episode Two with the aid of HOC Half-Life 2 Episode Two benchmarking utility using the “HOC Demo 1” provided by this program. We ran the game under 1024×768 with no anti-aliasing and bilinear filtering, i.e., using the lowest image quality possible. The results, given in frames per second, you see below.
Here Athlon II X4 620 + AMD785G was 46.49% faster than Pentium E6300 + Intel G45. When we installed a GeForce 9600 GT Pentium E6300 was 4.49% faster than Athlon II X4 620.
[nextpage title=”Fallout 3″]
Fallout 3 is based on the same engine used by The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and it is a DirectX 9.0c (Shader 3.0) game. To measure performance, we used the FRAPS utility running an outdoor scene at God mode, running throug
h enemy fire, triggering post processing effects, and ending with a big explosion in front of Dupont Circle. First we tried to run this program at 1440×900 with all image quality settings at “low” with the motherboard on-board video enabled. Only AMD785G could run this program (achieving 20.35 frames per second); Intel G45 could not run Fallout 3. Then we installed a GeForce 9600 GT and ran this program with image quality set to “high.” The results for this scenario are presented below.
On Fallout 3 Athlon II X4 620 was 4.82% faster than Pentium E6300.
In most scenarios Athlon II X4 620 was faster than an Intel-based system on the same price range (Pentium E6300). The only important exception was on Photoshop CS4, where Pentium E6300 was 24% faster than Athlon II X4 620, and file compression with WinRAR, where both CPUs achieved the same performance.
Although on-board video is not the best platform for running games, with AMD785G you can at least run them to see how they look like. With Intel G45 we couldn’t even run 3DMark Vantage and Fallout 3. And on Half-Life 2: Episode Two AMD785G was 46% faster than Intel G45. But installing a GeForce 9600 GT made both CPUs to achieve practically the same performance level for gaming (there was some differences between them, but they were below 5%), meaning that for mid-range system (and high-end systems as well) the component that most matters for gaming performance is the video card, not the CPU. But even if you are going to play games a lot buying the new Athlon II X4 620 for building a mid-range gaming system will give you an edge on all other applications you will eventually run, like video conversion.
In summary, AMD hit bull’s eye by releasing an entry-level quad-core CPU on the USD 100 range, providing a terrific cost/benefit ratio.