AMD Phenom II X4 810 and X3 720 BE Print E-mail
Written by Michael Schuette   
Feb 07, 2009 at 03:00 PM



A recent article in eWeek summarized the state of the personal computer industry as follows:

"The U.S. economic recession and global downturn did no favors for the x86 processor market, which faced a double-digit decline in the fourth quarter of 2008 as purchases of desktops, notebooks and enterprise server systems declined. Intel’s market share for the x86 processor market grew slightly on the strength of the Atom processor for mini-notebooks, netbooks and other devices, while AMD and Via’s portion of the market remained largely unchanged."

The economic slow down has fostered some interesting social trends, particularly the growing acceptance and popularization of bargain bins. Whereas ony last year, getting caught digging through the remnant section was totally uncool, bargain hunting now is not only socially acceptable but has shed the negative taste of avarice to become an expression of "street smartness". Running the risk that this may come across the wrong way, this is also becoming the primary business model in the semiconductor industry. High-end is out (maybe not quite so), mid range is just hanging in there and the bottom feeders are the ones that are generating the primary revenue stream. At least this picture is painted by about every analyst. Of course, this also begs the question, how much of the economic downturn has been inflicted by the analysts spreading panic and causing everybody to avoid spending money by all means – just to be on the save side.

This is also the environment that has fostered AMD's latest Socket AM3 offerings featuring a 938 pin configuration and smaller L3 cache or triple cores. Not to mention some 1200 MHz overclocking headroom using air cooling at room temperature.

The good thing for AMD according to the above quote is that their market share has not changed, but the bad thing is that the overall market is down and, therefore, revenue is down while the financial burn rate stays relatively high. Along the same lines, the shift towards the bargain bin sectors can only successfully be monetized if a bargain is available. In view of the Phenom II release, naturally the Agena core-based original Phenom fits this role but lowering prices with the primary purpose of emptying out the inventory is not a financially sound solution, at least not on the financial balance sheets of any company with more write-off than net profit.

Phenom II X4 810 and X3 720 side by side

Downbin strategies

From a business perspective, a more viable strategy is to take the existing product line and convert cores with some minor flaws into some down-bins that are different not only with respect to the rated frequency but rather the feature set, in this case, number of cores or cache size. Given the opulent 6 MB L3 cache of the Deneb design, it appears that there is some room for culling and clipping without hindering real world performance too much. After all, most of the advantages of a large L3 cache are seen in benchmarks and as important as the latter may be for marketing, benchmarks are what they are and especially in the case of more seasoned reviewers, the subjective terms "purveyance of smoothness" and "experience" are becoming increasingly popular metrics – as long as you trust those folks.

The Phenom II X4 810 features a smaller L3 cache of 4 MB only.

The other area for optimizations, as much as we despise it in theory, is to limit the number of cores, for example to three. ATI has done this very successfully in the past with the various iterations of RADEON GPUs. The Agena-based Phenom also had a triple core (X3) version and to be honest, most of our skepticism is simply based on the inability or lack of commitment of the different software vendors to support numbers of core that are not n power of 2 with their multithreading algorithms.

The Phenom II X3 720 has one of the cores disabled but uses the full L3 cache of 6 MB. Interestingly, AMD uses a different code name, that is "Heka" for the tri-core version but seriously, who cares?

However, particularly in gaming applications, where everybody still more or less operates using a single-thread, it is of absolutely academic importance whether two cores are idle or only a single one toggles in and out of low power states. At least, that is the current state of the gaming industry with the caveat that the change-over towards multithreading is finally on the horizon.

To add more momentum to the Tri-core solution, one thing we noted in our Phenom II X4 940 article is the possibility that not all cores on a die may be capable of running the same frequency. For example Cinebench 10 would run at certain frequencies on two or three cores until it froze when trying to access one of the remaining cores/workload sections. By extension, simply disabling the weakest core could, in this scenario, also increase the headroom or frequency range of the entire CPU.

The forth argument for either way of reducing features is that they put AMD into a position where they can produce as many perfect dies as possible without having to worry about killing their own market – if they can’t sell them as top bins, they can simply lock out some cache or a core and then sell them as lower models without creating in-house competition. If we put names or rather numbers on this, we end up with two new series of CPU, the 800 series (not to be confused with the X3 8000 series) featuring all cores but only a 4 MB L3 and the 700 series sporting only 3 cores, which is further denominated by the X3 moniker. ‘tis a bit confusing, isn’t it?



Last Updated ( Oct 01, 2009 at 12:28 PM )
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