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AMD Phenom II X4 810 & X3 720 Black Edition

Date: February 19, 2009
Author(s): Rob Williams

Phenom II may have just launched last month, but AMD didn’t want to waste time in following-up with their first AM3-based processors. We’re taking a look at two, including the X4 810 and X3 720 ‘Black Edition’. Both offer great performance at their respective price-points, but the X3 became the more appealing chip, thanks to its overclocking ability.



Introduction

Towards the beginning of this year (during CES to be exact), AMD launched their highly-anticipated Phenom II processors, which at the time included only the X4 940 and X4 920. Prior to launch, we all had a fairly good idea of what to expect out of the new offerings, and for the most part, most of those assumptions were found to be spot on once the initial reviews hit.

Clock for clock, AMD lags a little behind Intel, and this is nothing new, and even AMD will admit to this. Because of this fact, though, AMD strives to remain competitive by scaling their prices to match or beat Intel’s comparative offerings. In the end, we all win, so even if AMD doesn’t deliver the fastest CPUs known to man, they’ve helped vastly by giving consumers great bang for their buck.

Many people appreciated this fact when “Dragon” first launched, and AMD was finally put back in a great position. Enthusiasts were beginning to take their offerings a little more seriously again, because although it’s been a long-time coming, AMD is finally releasing new models that are extremely overclocking-friendly, and we saw proof of this at CES with a staggering 6.8GHz overclock.

Closer Look at AMD’s AM3 Processors

But enough about the past… let’s talk about now. Although Phenom II just launched, AMD wasted no time in following-up with a few AM3 processors, two of which we’ll be taking a look at today. We’re a little late on getting this article up, so we won’t exhaust all of what’s new. What’s important to make note of though, is that AM3 processors are backwards-compatible with AM2+ and some AM2 motherboards.

AM3 boards are of course being made available as well, but AMD isn’t too keen on them right now, as there seem to remain un-ironed bugs. So unless you require DDR3 for some reason, you should feel completely confident in the fact that you’ll lose nothing by sticking with AM2+.

That last fact is one that AMD should really be commended for, because to be able to release a fresh design that remains completely compatible with motherboards that have been available for quite some time… is impressive. Anyone who jumped on the Phenom bandwagon when they first arrived to the scene are now able to simply purchase an AM3 CPU and be done with it. That’s a great thing.

This AM3 launch also brings about the first Tri-Core Phenom II’s, which include the X3 720 Black Edition and also the X3 710. The X3 720 BE is of course unlocked, so the skies the limit where overclocking is concerned, while the X4 810 might experience more difficult overclocking, given the bus speed is required to be raised for any gain. The small table below outlines AMD’s current Phenom II line-up, excluding two processors (X4 910, X3 805) which are not available to the public, yet.

CPU Name
Cores
Clock
Cache (L2/L3)
HT Bus
TDP
1Ku Price
AMD Phenom II X4 940 BE
4
3.0GHz
2+6MB
3600MHz
125W
$225
AMD Phenom II X4 920
4
2.8GHz
2+6MB
3600MHz
125W
$195
AMD Phenom II X4 810
4
2.6GHz
2+4MB
4000MHz
95W
$175
AMD Phenom II X3 720 BE
3
2.8GHz
1.5+6MB
4000MHz
95W
$145
AMD Phenom II X3 710
3
2.6GHz
1.5+6MB
4000MHz
95W
$125

One important thing to note is that the new X4 810 chip cuts down a bit on the available L3 Cache, so if you are a hardcore media buff and encode video often, you’d be wise to consider a higher-tier model with 6MB of L3 Cache. In some cases, you might actually see better gains by downgrading to the X3 720 BE, as it strangely enough contains just as much L3 Cache as the Quads.

We’re late enough on this article as is, so without further ado, let’s get to testing!

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a fully-detailed look at how we conduct our testing.

If there is a bit of information that we’ve omitted, or you wish to offer thoughts or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.

Test System

The table below lists the hardware for our two current machines, which remains unchanged throughout all testing, with the exception of the processor. Each CPU used for the sake of comparison is also listed here, along with the BIOS version of the motherboard used. In addition, each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view the respective review of that product, or if a review doesn’t exist, you will be led to the product on the manufacturer’s website.

Component
AMD Test System
Processors
AMD Phenom II X4 810 – Quad-Core, 2.60GHz, 1.325v
AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition – Tri-Core, 2.80GHz, 1.325v
AMD Athlon 64 X2 7750 – Dual-Core, 2.70GHz, 1.325v
Motherboard
Gigabyte MA790GP-DS4H – 790GX-based, F3 BIOS (01/13/09)
Memory
Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-1066 5-5-5-15-2T, 2.10v
Graphics
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Intel X-25M 80GB SSD
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
Corsair HX1000W
Chassis
SilverStone TJ10 Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Thermaltake V1
Et cetera
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

 

Component
Core i7 Test System
Processors
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme EditionQuad-Core, 3.20GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core i7-920 Quad-Core, 2.66GHz, 1.30v
Motherboard
ASUS Rampage II Extreme – X58-based, 0705 BIOS (11/21/08)
Memory
OCZ Gold 3x2GB – DDR3-1066 7-7-7-20-1T, 1.56v (920/940)
OCZ Gold 3x2GB – DDR3-1600 7-7-7-20-1T, 1.56v (965)
Graphics
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Intel X-25M 80GB SSD
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
SilverStone DA1200
Chassis
SilverStone TJ10 Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Thermalright TRUE Black 120
Et cetera
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

 

Component
Core 2 Test System
Processors
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 – Quad-Core, 3.00GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 – Quad-Core, 2.83GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 – Quad-Core, 2.66GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 – Quad-Core, 2.33GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 – Dual-Core, 3.33GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 – Dual-Core, 3.16GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 – Dual-Core, 3.00GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Duo E8300 – Dual-Core, 2.83GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 – Dual-Core, 2.53GHz, 1.30v
Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200 – Dual-Core 2.50GHz, 1.30v
Motherboard
ASUS Rampage Extreme – X48-based, 0501 BIOS (08/28/08)
Memory
Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-1333 7-7-7-15-1T, 1.91v (1333FSB)
Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-1066 6-6-6-15-1T, 1.91v (1066FSB)
Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-800 6-6-6-15-1T, 1.91v (800FSB)
Graphics
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Intel X-25M 80GB SSD
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
Corsair HX1000W
Chassis
SilverStone TJ10 Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Thermalright TRUE Black 120
Et cetera
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

(Sim) represents models that were tested using a faster, but under-clocked processor. For example, for the Q9550, we used the QX9770, since the specs are identical all-around, except for the clock speeds. Those were adjusted appropriately, effectively giving us a Q9550 to test with.

When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows Vista from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing slightly inaccurate results. Disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.

Application Benchmarks

To help test out the real performance benefits of a given processor, we run a large collection of both real-world and synthetic benchmarks, including 3ds Max, Adobe Lightroom, TMPGEnc Xpress, Sandra 2009 and many more.

Our ultimate goal is always to find out which processor excels in a given scenario and why. Running all of the applications in our carefully-chosen suite can help better give us answers to those questions. Aside from application data, we also run two common games to see how performance scales there, including Call of Duty 4 and Half-Life 2: Episode Two.

Game Benchmarks

In an attempt to offer “real-world” results, we do not utilize timedemos in any of our reviews. Each game in our test suite is benchmarked manually, with the minimum and average frames-per-second (FPS) captured with the help of FRAPS 2.9.5.

To deliver the best overall results, each title we use is exhaustively explored in order to find the best possible level in terms of intensiveness and replayability. Once a level is chosen, we play through repeatedly to find the best possible route and then in our official benchmarking, we stick to that route as close as possible. Since we are not robots and the game can throw in minor twists with each run, no run can be identical to the pixel.

Each game and setting combination is tested twice, and if there is a discrepancy between the initial results, the testing is repeated until we see results we are confident with.

The two games we currently use for our motherboard reviews are listed below, with direct screenshots of the game’s setting screens and explanations of why we chose what we did.

Call of Duty: World at War

1680×1050
2560×1600


 

Crysis Warhead

1680×1050
2560×1600


 

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

1680×1050
2560×1600

 

SYSmark 2007 Preview

Synthetic benchmarks have typically been favored for performance testing, but the results they provide can be fairly abstract, and the methods they use to assign their scores can be dubious at times. By contrast, real-world application benchmarks provide performance metrics that apply directly to real-world usage, and we endeavor to apply both in our performance comparisons.

SYSmark 2007 Preview from BAPCo is a special case, because its synthetic scores are derived from tests in real-world applications. However, we still believe that synthetic benchmarking scores are best used to directly compare the performance of one piece of hardware to another, and not for developing an impression of real-world performance expectations. SYSmark is more useful than most synthetic benchmarking programs in our opinion, because its tests emulate tasks that people actually perform, in actual software programs that they are likely to use.

The benchmark is hands-free, using scripts to execute all of the real-world scenarios identically, such as video editing in Sony Vegas and image manipulation in Adobe Photoshop. At the conclusion of the suite of tests, five scores are delivered: an E-learning score, a Video Creation score, a Productivity score, and a 3D Performance score, as well as an aggregated ‘Overall’ score. These scores can still be fairly abstract, and are most useful for direct comparisons between test systems.

A quick note on methodology: SYSmark 2007 requires a clean install of Windows Vista 64-bit to run optimally. Before any testing is conducted, the hard drive is first wiped clean, and then a fresh Windows installation is conducted, then lastly, the necessary hardware drivers are installed. The ‘Three Iterations’ test suite is run, with the ‘Conditioning Run’ setting enabled. Then the results from the three runs are averaged and rounded up or down to the next whole number.

As far as SYSmark is concerned, the X3 720 and X4 810 are equals. Common logic would tell you otherwise, but as it seems, SYSmark doesn’t swamp the PC with multi-threaded applications constantly, which helped the X3 720 pull ahead in single-threaded segments. The results are quite similar to what many people would experience however. If you are not a major multi-tasker, an extra core on your Quad-Core may very well go to waste (for what it’s worth, the same could be said about a Tri-Core or Dual-Core in some cases).

Although SYSmark delivers fairly accurate results where real-world scenarios are concerned, it is a bit disconcerting to see an E8600 outperform a Q9650. So, let’s see how AMD’s latest creations handle our real-world tests, compared to Intel’s direct competitors.

Workstation: Autodesk 3ds Max, Cinebench, POV-Ray

Autodesk’s 3ds Max is without question an industry standard when it comes to 3D modeling and animation, with DreamWorks, BioWare and Blizzard Entertainment being a few of its notable users. It’s a multi-threaded application that’s designed to be right at home on multi-core and multi-processor workstations or render farms, so it easily tasks even the biggest system we can currently throw at it.

For our testing, we use two project files that are designed to last long enough to find any weakness in our setup and also allows us to find a result that’s easily comparable between both motherboards and processors. The first project is a dog model included on recent 3ds Max DVD’s, which we infused with some Techgage flavor.

Our second project is a Bathroom scene that makes heavy use of ray tracing. Like the dog model, this one is also included with the application’s sample files DVD. The dog is rendered at an 1100×825 resolution, while the Bathroom is rendered as 1080p (1920×1080).

Although the dog results were quite similar between the X4 810 and Q8200, the former breezed past in the bathroom scene, which is rather impressive given the heavy usage of ray tracing. The X3 720 on the other hand, fell behind a little, but it’s no surprise given the application’s heavy reliance on extra cores.

Cinebench R10

Like 3DS Max, Cinema 4D is another popular cross-platform 3D graphics application that’s used by new users and experts alike. Its creators, Maxon, are well aware that their users are interested in huge computers to speed up rendering times, which is one reason why they released Cinebench to the public.

Cinebench R10 is based on the Cinema 4D engine and the test consists of rendering a high-resolution model of a motorcycle and gives a score at the end. Like most other 3D applications on the market, Cinebench will take advantage of as many cores as you can throw at it.

Thanks to Cinebench’s excellent handling of multiple threads, the Q8200 performed quite well when compared to the Tri-Core X3 720. But, as a result of its slightly-lacking frequency, the Quad X4 810 once again lead the pack.

POV-Ray 3.7

Similar to Cinebench, the “Persistence of Vision Ray Tracer” is as you’d expect, a ray tracing application that also happens to be cross-platform. It allows you to take your environment and models and apply a ray tracing algorithm, based on a script you either write yourself or borrow from others. It’s a free application and has become a standard in the ray tracing community and some of the results that can be seen are completely mind-blowing.

The official version of POV-Ray is 3.6, but the 3.7 beta unlocks the ability to take full advantage of a multi-core processor, which is why we use it in our testing. Applying ray tracing algorithms can be extremely system intensive, so this is one area where multi-core processors will be of true benefit.

For our test, we run the built-in benchmark, which delivers a simple score (Pixels-Per-Second) the the end. The higher, the better. If one score is twice another, it does literally mean it rendered twice as fast.

After taking a look at the Cinebench results, there’s nothing too surprising here, with a near-identical ranking of all the processors. The results are still rather impressive for AMD, however, as this test relies heavily on ray tracing rendering – something that Intel processors are typically known for being good at (especially on i7, as is evident above).

Multi-Media: Adobe Lightroom, TMPGEnc Xpress

Photo manipulation benchmarks are more relevant than ever, given the proliferation of high-end digital photography hardware. For this benchmark, we test the system’s handling of RAW photo data using Adobe Lightroom, an excellent RAW photo editor and organizer that’s easy to use and looks fantastic.

For our testing, we take 100 RAW files (in Nikon’s .NEF file format) which have a 10-megapixel resolution, and export them as JPEG files in 1000×669 resolution, similar to most of the photos we use here on the website. Such a result could also be easily distributed online or saved as a low-resolution backup. This test involves not only scaling of the image itself, but encoding in a different image format. The test is timed indirectly using a stopwatch, and times are accurate to within +/- 0.25 seconds.

The results here are quite interesting, I must admit. Despite the fact that AMD’s X4 810 is slower than Intel’s Q9400, it managed to outpace it by a little more than five seconds. Both CPUs feature almost identical Cache structures as well, making this result even more noteworthy. The same applies to the X3 720 results, as it beat out every Intel Dual-Core and also the Quad-Core Q8200.

TMPGEnc Xpress 4.5

When it comes to video transcoding, one of the best offerings on the market is TMPGEnc Xpress. Although a bit pricey, the software offers an incredible amount of flexibility and customization, not to mention superb format support. From the get go, you can output to DivX, DVD, Video-CD, Super Video-CD, HDV, QuickTime, MPEG, and more. It even goes as far as to include support for Blu-ray video!

There are a few reasons why we choose to use TMPGEnc for our tests. The first relates to the reasons laid out above. The sheer ease of use and flexibility is appreciated. Beyond that, the application does us a huge favor by tracking the encoding time, so that we can actually look away while an encode is taking place and not be afraid that we’ll miss the final encoding time. Believe it or not, not all transcoding applications work like this.

For our test, we take a 0.99GB high-quality DivX H.264 AVI video of Half-Life 2: Episode Two gameplay with stereo audio and transcode it to the same resolution of 720p (1280×720), but lower the bit rate in order to attain a modest file size. This test also utilizes the SSE instruction sets, either SSE2 or SSE4, depending on what the chip supports.

Before this test even ran, I knew what the results were going to be, and to be honest, half of the issue is the fault of our configuration, but it does prove what kind of a difference SSE4 can make against SSE2. We first found that out way back with our QX9650 review. Simply put, if an application utilizes SSE4, it will perform its tasks much faster on CPUs that also support it. Since adoption has been relatively low, this isn’t really a huge loss to AMD, but it’s still one that should be noted if you are a huge multi-media buff (as in encode/transcode, not playback).

Multi-Media: ProShow Gold, Sandra Multi-Media

While TMPGEnc XPress’ purpose is to convert video formats, ProShow from Photodex helps turn your collection of photos into a fantastic-looking slide show. I can’t call myself a slide show buff, but this tool is unquestionably definitive. It offers many editing abilities and the ability to export in a variety of formats, including a standard video file, DVD video and even HD video.

Like TMPGEnc and many other video encoders, ProShow can take full advantage of a multi-core processor. It doesn’t support SSE4 however, but hopefully will in the future as it would improve encoding times considerably. Still, when a slide show application handles a multi-core processor effectively, it has to make you wonder why there is such a delay in seeing a wider-range of such applications on the marketplace.

Though no SSE4 optimization is taking place here, Intel’s processors managed to beat out AMD’s offerings in both runs. The X4 810, for example, is faster overall where raw frequency is concerned, but it still fell considerably behind the Q8200. Likewise, the X3 720 performed quite similarly to Intel’s Dual-Core E8300, which carries roughly the same clock speed.

Sandra 2009 Multi-Media

This test here stresses the CPU’s ability to handle multi-media instructions and data, using both MMX and SSE2/3/4 as the instruction sets of choice. The results are divided by integer, floating point and double precision, three specific numbering formats used commonly in multi-media work.

This graph puts us back in the same position we were in with our two synthetic 3D rendering benchmarks. Once again, AMD’s X4 810 slightly outperforms the Q8200, while the X3 720 falls just behind it.

Mathematics: Sandra Arithmetic, Crypto, Microsoft Excel

With each new processor launch, one thing that’s bound to prove faster are mathematical equations, which when all said and done, plays a massive role in a lot of our computing today. The faster an equation can be completed, the faster a math-heavy process can finish.

Sandra includes applications designed to specifically test the mathematical performance of processors, with the main one being the arithmetic test.

Like a few of our previous tests, this one in particular takes absolute full advantage of all the threads available, and also scales well with frequency. The results seen here are what we expected, with Intel having a slight lead overall.

Sandra 2009 Cryptography

Crypto is a major part of computing, whether you know it or not, and certain processes can prove slower than others, depending on their algorithms. User passwords on your home PC are encrypted, as are user passwords on web servers (like in our forums). Past that, crypto is used in other areas as well, such as with creating of unbreakable locks on files or assigning a hash to a particular file (like MD5).

In Sandra’s Cryptography test, the results are outputted as MB/s, higher being better. Although this is somewhat of an odd metric to go by, generally speaking, the higher the number, the faster the CPU tears through the respective algorithm, which comes down to how fast a password is either encrypted, decrypted, signed, et cetera.

From a clock-to-clock perspective, AMD’s offerings perform a little under Intel’s, but the differences are small, so overall, this is quite nice to see.

Microsoft Excel 2007

Most, if not all, businesses in existence have to crack open a spreadsheet at some point. Though simple in concept, spreadsheets are an ideal way to either track information or compute large calculations all in real-time. This is important when you run a business that deals with a large amount of expenses.

Although the importance of how fast a calculation takes in an Excel file is, we include results here since they heavily test the mathematical capabilities of each processor. Because Excel 2007 is completely multi-threaded (it can even take advantage of an 8-Core Skulltrail), it makes for a great benchmark to show the scaling between all of our CPUs.

I’ll let Intel explain the two files we use:

Monte CarloThis workload calculates the European Put and Call option valuation for Black-Scholes option pricing using Monte Carlo simulation. It simulates the calculations performed when a spreadsheet with input parameters is updated and must recalculate the option valuation. In this scenario we execute approximately 300,000 iterations of Monte Carlo simulation. In addition, the workload uses Excel lookup functions to compare the put price from the model with the historical market price for 50,000 rows to understand the convergence. The input file is a 70.1 MB spreadsheet.

CalculationsThis workload executes approximately 28,000 sets of calculations using the most common calculations and functions found in Excel*. These include common arithmetic operations like addition, subtraction, division, rounding and square root. It also includes common statistical analysis functions such as Max, Min, Median and Average. The calculations are performed after a spreadsheet with a large dataset is updated with new values and must re-calculate many data points. The input file is a 6.2 MB spreadsheet.

Continuing with the theme of the previous benchmark, we see a similar theme here. AMD’s processors perform well overall, but Intel’s superb math-handlers equate these problems a wee bit faster.

System: Sandra Memory, Multi-Core Efficiency

Generally speaking, the faster the processor, the higher the system-wide bandwidth and the lower the latency. As is always the case, faster is better when it comes to processors, as we’ll see below. But with Core i7, the game changes up a bit.

Whereas previous memory controllers utilized a dual-channel operation, Intel threw that out the window to introduce triple-channel, which we talked a lot about at August’s IDF. Further, since Intel integrates the IMC onto the die of the new CPUs, benefits are going to be seen all-around.

Before jumping into the results, we already had an idea of what to expect, and just as we did, the results seen are nothing short of staggering.

As far as I’m concerned, benchmarking for memory bandwidth is almost a moot point, because at some point, we hit a wall when the real-world benefits will stop being increased. In the case of AMD, their integrated memory controller avails us more than enough bandwidth, out-performing Intel’s entire Core 2 line-up with absolute ease. It falls a bit short of Intel’s triple-channel configuration, but that was to be expected. Again though, anything over 5,000MB/s is very unlikely to benefit a regular consumer.

The latency though, is far more important. The faster the instructions can get sent from the processor to the memory, and vice versa, the better. For the most part, no CPU here is truly lacking, except maybe the E5200 and X2 7750, as they have very high latencies. The rest of the results are fairly equal latency-wise across all Intel and AMD CPUs.

Sandra 2009 Multi-Core Efficiency

How fast can one core swap data with another? It might not seem that important, but it definitely is if you are dealing with a true multi-threaded application. The faster data can be swapped around, the faster it’s going to be finished, so overall, inter-core speeds are important in every regard.

Even without looking at the data, we know that Core i7 is going to excel here, for a few different reasons. The main is the fact that this is Intel’s first native Quad-Core. Rather than have two Dual-Core dies placed beside each other, i7 was built to place four cores together, so that in itself improves things. Past that, the ultra-fast QPI bus likely also has something to do with speed increases.

This test is where we can see huge differences between AMD’s and Intel’s CPUs, with Intel being the clear leader in both inter-core bandwidth and latencies. How much this matters in the grand scheme, but seeing as AMD’s offerings scale quite well in multi-threaded benchmarks, I’m assuming it’s not much. Still, it’s rather interesting to see such staggering differences between the architectures here.

Gaming: Call of Duty: World at War, Half-Life 2: Episode Two

While some popular game franchises are struggling to keep themselves healthy, Call of Duty doesn’t have much to worry about. This is Treyarch’s third go at a game in the series, and a first for one that’s featured on the PC. All worries leading up to this title were all for naught, though, as Treyarch delivered on all promises.

To help keep things fresh, CoD: World at War focuses on battles not exhaustively explored in previous WWII-inspired games. These include battles which take place in the Pacific region, Russia and Berlin, and variety is definitely something this game pulls off well, so it’s unlikely you’ll be off your toes until the end of the game.

For our testing, we use a level called “Relentless”, as it’s easily one of the most intensive levels in the game. It features tanks, a large forest environment and even a few explosions. This level depicts the Battle of Peleliu, where American soldiers advance to capture an airstrip from the Japanese. It’s a level that’s both exciting to play and one that can bring even high-end systems to their knees.

Luckily for hardcore CoD players, the game’s performance doesn’t change with a faster CPU, which is rather impressive. Here, the game ran just as well on our lowly E5200 as it did on our QX9770.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

The original Half-Life 2 might have first seen the light of day close to four years ago, but it’s still arguably one of the greatest-looking games ever seen on the PC. Follow-up versions, including Episode One and Episode Two, do well to put the Source Engine upgrades to full use. While playing, it’s hard to believe that the game is based on a four+ year old engine, but it still looks great and runs well on almost any GPU purchased over the past few years.

Like Call of Duty 4, Half-Life 2: Episode Two runs well on modest hardware, but a recent mid-range graphics card is recommended if you wish to play at higher than 1680×1050 or would like to top out the available options, including anti-aliasing and very high texture settings.

This game benefits from both the CPU and GPU, and the skies the limit. In order to fully top out the available settings and run the highest resolution possible, you need a very fast GPU or GPUs along with a fast processor. Though the in-game options go much higher, we run our tests with 4xAA and 8xAF to allow the game to remain playable on the smaller mid-range cards.

Unlike CoD, HL2: Episode Two does love extra CPU power, and that’s evidenced above, but only at the highly-sporadic 1680×1050 resolution. That resolution has proven to be a chore, because the average FPS can fluctuate a great deal. What’s important to note here is that at our top setting of 2560×1600, the differences are almost zero.

Gaming: Crysis Warhead, 3DMark Vantage

As PC enthusiasts, we tend to be drawn to games that offer spectacular graphics… titles that help reaffirm your belief that shelling out lots of cash for that high-end monitor and PC was well worth it. But it’s rare when a game comes along that is so visually-demanding, it’s unable to run fully maxed out on even the highest-end systems on the market. In the case of the original Crysis, it’s easy to see that’s what Crytek was going for.

Funny enough, even though Crysis was released close to a year ago, the game today still has difficulty running at 2560×1600 with full detail settings – and that’s even with overlooking the use of anti-aliasing! Luckily, Warhead is better optimized and will run smoother on almost any GPU, despite looking just as gorgeous as its predecessor, as you can see in the screenshot below.

The game includes four basic profiles to help you adjust the settings based on how good your system is. These include Entry, Mainstream, Gamer and Enthusiast – the latter of which is for the biggest of systems out there, unless you have a sweet graphics card and are only running 1680×1050. We run our tests at the Gamer setting as it’s very demanding on any current GPU and is a proper baseline of the level of detail that hardcore gamers would demand from the game.

Our previous games didn’t show real differences between CPUs, and Crysis Warhead is no different. You can be rest-assured that no matter your PC, this game is going to run like molasses!

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

Although we generally shun automated gaming benchmarks, we do like to run at least one to see how our GPUs scale when used in a ‘timedemo’-type scenario. Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage is without question the best such test on the market, and it’s a joy to use, and watch. The folks at Futuremark are experts in what they do, and they really know how to push that hardware of yours to its limit.

The company first started out as MadOnion and released a GPU-benchmarking tool called XLR8R, which was soon replaced with 3DMark 99. Since that time, we’ve seen seven different versions of the software, including two major updates (3DMark 99 Max, 3DMark 2001 SE). With each new release, the graphics get better, the capabilities get better and the sudden hit of ambition to get down and dirty with overclocking comes at you fast.

Similar to a real game, 3DMark Vantage offers many configuration options, although many (including us) prefer to stick to the profiles which include Performance, High and Extreme. Depending on which one you choose, the graphic options are tweaked accordingly, as well as the resolution. As you’d expect, the better the profile, the more intensive the test.

Performance is the stock mode that most use when benchmarking, but it only uses a resolution of 1280×1024, which isn’t representative of today’s gamers. Extreme is more appropriate, as it runs at 1920×1200 and does well to push any single or multi-GPU configuration currently on the market – and will do so for some time to come.

The results here are just as we expected. Generally, the better the CPU, the higher the score. The overall 3DMark Score doesn’t vary much, however, as the benchmark doesn’t weigh the CPU score that heavily, which after taking a look at our three games tested here, is a good thing.

Overclocking AMD’s X4 810 & X3 720

Before discussing results, let’s take a minute to briefly discuss what I consider to be a worthwhile overclock. As I’ve mentioned in past content, I’m not as interested in finding the highest overclock possible as much as I am interested in finding the highest stable overclock. To me, if an overclock crashes the computer after a few minutes of running a stress-test, it has little value except for competition.

How we declare an overclock stable is simple… we stress it as hard as possible for a certain period of time, both with CPU-related tests and also GPU-related, to conclude on what we’ll be confident is 100% stability throughout all possible computing scenarios.

For the sake of CPU stress-testing, we use IntelBurnTest, for reasons I’ve laid out in a recent forum thread. Compared to other popular CPU stress-testers, IBT’s tests are far more gruelling, and proof of that is seen by the fact that it manages to heat the CPU up to 20°C hotter than competing applications, like SP2004. Also, despite its name, IntelBurnTest is just as effective on AMD processors. Generally, if the CPU survives the first half-hour of this stress, there’s a good chance that it’s mostly stable, but I strive for a 12 hour stress as long as time permits.

If the CPU stress passes without error, then GPU stress-testing begins, in order to assure a system-wide stable overclock. To test for this, 3DMark Vantage’s Extreme test is used, with the increased resolution of 2560×1600, looped nine times. If this passes, some time is dedicated to real-world game testing, to make sure that gaming is just as stable as it would be if the CPU were at stock. If both these CPU and GPU tests pass without issue, we can confidently declare a stable overclock.

Overclocking AMD’s X4 810 & X3 720

Contrary to my heading above, I won’t be talking much about the X4 810, simply because I didn’t spend near as much time overclocking it as I did the X3. Like most AMD Quad-Cores, it just didn’t want to overclock too far, and after finding a stable clock of 2.99GHz, I was unable to push it any further, even with a few hours worth of tweaking. Adding 400MHz to the CPU is nice, but I really don’t think the time invested really makes it worthwhile.

The X3 720 on the other hand is far different. Similar to Dual-Cores, it was a breeze to overclock, and we even managed to push it 400MHz above stock without touching a single piece of voltage, as seen in the image below:


3.20GHz Stable Overclock – 1.325v CPU, Default Secondary Voltages (10 Iteration Test)

That overclock isn’t one to brag about though, because achieving it required next-to-nothing in terms of tweaking. To push the CPU even further though, it became quite a challenge. I’m unsure if temps became an issue at the top-end, or the fact that the CPU just has a hard-limit. Either way, my top stable overclock proved to be 3.50GHz, which required a bump of 0.075v, to settle in at 1.40v:


3.50GHz Stable Overclock – 1.40v CPU, Default Secondary Voltages (25 Iteration Test)

Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to put these chips through gruelling half-day stress-tests, but with what we’ve accomplished here, I’m rather confident these are indeed stable. IntelBurnTest is such a hardcore CPU tester, that normally any instabilities are found out about in under the first five iterations. If you get past ten, you are likely going to soar through to infinity.

Power Consumption, Final Thoughts

It goes without saying that power efficiency is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds today, and for good reason. Whether you are trying to save money or the environment – or both – it’s good to know just how much effort certain vendors are putting into their products to help them excel in this area. Both AMD and Intel have worked hard to develop efficient chips, and that’s evident with each new launch. The CPUs are getting faster, and use less power, and hopefully things will stay that way.

To help see what kind of wattage a given processor draws on average, we use a Kill-A-Watt that’s plugged into a power bar that’s in turn plugged into one of the wall sockets, with the test system plugged directly into that. The monitor and other components are plugged into the other socket and is not connected to the Kill-A-Watt. For our system specifications, please refer to our methodology page.

To test, the computer is first boot up and left to sit at idle for five minutes, at which point the current wattage is recorded if stable. To test for full CPU load, IntelBurnTest is run with maximum memory stress for a total of five minutes. During that run, the highest point the wattage reaches on the meter is captured and becomes our “Max Load”. For i7, we use eight instances of SP2004 instead of IntelBurnTest, as the latter is not yet fully compatible with the newer processors.

Both of AMD’s new CPUs offer superb power efficiency here, partly in thanks to their 45nm process. The X4 810 is especially interesting, as it proved to draw less power than AMD’s own Dual-Core 7750. Twice the cores, and less power… gotta love progress! I should also note that the AM2+ board we benchmarked with is nowhere near as robust as the one we use for our Intel machines, so some skewing in our results will occur because of that. However, Gigabyte’s board that we chose is one of the most popular at the moment for new system builders or upgrades, so the results above are still highly relevant.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned in the intro, AMD’s main goal right now is to remain price competitive. Their processors are not quite as fast as Intel’s offerings clock-for-clock, so pricing is a huge concern not just for AMD, but consumers as well. The current state of the economy aside, consumers always want the best bang for the buck, and if it means paying a little more for a far better processor, they’ll probably do it. Likewise, if they can save $20 and cut back on 100MHz they won’t notice gone, they’ll take that route as well.

Both of the processors we’ve taken a look at today are priced almost on par with Intel’s offerings that AMD was going after. In this particular case, the X3 720’s (~$170) target was the E8400 (~$165) at 3.0GHz, and the X4 910 (~$196) was to take on the Q8200 (~$170) at 2.33GHz, which in most cases, it did just that, and well.

The X3 720 was the more impressive of the two, however, but primarily thanks to overclocking. AMD said the chip would be competitive to the E8400, and that I do believe, as it beat it out in pretty-well all of the important tests. But, at $170, it’s priced identically to the Q8200… the chip that the X4 910 was designed to compete with. When those two CPUs are pit against each other, the Q8200 will come out the winner, as seen throughout our results. The Q8200 has the extra core to thank for that. If it were a Tri-Core, it wouldn’t be that competitive due to its much lower frequency.

Choosing between these two chips, though, is quite simple. Let’s start off with the X4 810, which is the more difficult of the two to dissect. This chip, at ~$196 is quite competitive with Intel’s Q8200, which is $26 less expensive. The X4 810 out-performed that chip in our most important tests, and I guess that’s how it should be, as it’s the more expensive of the two. If it was a matter of choosing between them and no overclocking would occur, then either or would be a fine choice.

After toying around with the X3 720 though, I quickly forgot about the X4 810. This $170 chip starts out at a great clock speed of 2.8GHz, and proved itself to be much faster than Intel’s equally-priced E8400. It also happens to have great power efficiency and overclocking-ability. We hit 3.2GHz with no voltage increase whatsoever, and 3.5GHz with a modest 0.075v boost. While the X4 was a chore to overclock, the unlocked X3 was not, and I actually found myself having fun pushing it to its limit.

Regardless of which model here has caught your eye, you’re very unlikely to regret either. From a stock-clocked perspective, both offer excellent performance in both single-threaded and multi-threaded perspectives, and the price is right (although I wouldn’t mind seeing the X4 810 priced closer to the Q8200… it would become a dominator). If there’s one thing to be said here, it’s that it’s great to see AMD back, and competitive. It’s something enthusiasts have been waiting for, and we can all hope that the year ahead will continue to bode well for the company.

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