AMD Athlon II X3: Affordable Compromise

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Processor Value

To judge performance/value, we gave all our timed benchmarks equal weighting with the top performer, the X4 630, given a score of 100 on our performance scale. Similarly, the CPU that delivered the best performance per dollar, the X2 250, was given a score of 100 on the value scale.


Performance and value, sorted by CPU pricing.

On our test suite, the strongest CPU turned out to be the Athlon II X4 630, thanks mostly to its dominance in our two video encoding tests. The Phenom II X2 555 was a close second, followed by the X3 440 and X3 720 which gave 94~95% of the performance of the X4 630. The rest of the field trailed by only 2~3% with the exception of the low power X3 705e and 415e which fell well behind the competition.

When it comes to value however, the X4 630 and X2 555 are no match for the Athlon II X2s and X3s. Thanks to their low exceptionally low price-tags, they score very high on the value meter. From this perspective it seems that the X3 435 and 440 would be an affordable and safe compromise if you're unsure whether a dual or quad core is right for you. In many cases, their high clock speeds and lower prices make up for the loss of one core over a quad.

The X2 250 or 255 may be the better choice if energy efficiency is the most important criterion, but with the margins so tight between the processors, we don't think this is a difference maker. Getting a good chip or a poor chip could easily tip things one way or the other. For example, our X3 435 sample uses more power than our X3 440 sample despite having lower operating voltages and being slower by 100 MHz, defying common logic. If they had been cut from the same wafer, the results might have been reversed.

The X3 705e, once a sought-after energy efficient gem, looks rather dated in the face of the other triple core processors in our roundup. Its 65W TDP is decidedly unimpressive compared to the X3 415e. Even the 95W X3s aren't that far off when it comes to power consumption.

Operating Cost

For argument sake, let's compare the energy cost of our test platform using the two chips with the best and worst power consumption, the X3 415e and X3 435. For our hypothetical scenario we will leave the system idle for 6 hours a day, then we will run our timed benchmark suite 15 times which will take about 5.7 hours on the X3 435 and 6.5 hours on the X3 415e. This imaginary system will be shut down after its completed the last run, and the process will repeat every day for a year.

Estimated Yearly Energy Cost:
6 hours idle + 15 benchmark runs (5.7~6.5 hours) daily
Electricity Rate
X3 415e
X3 435
Difference
340.4 kWh
385.5 kWh
45.1 kWh
$0.10/kWh
$34.04
$38.55
$4.51
$0.20/kWh
$68.08
$77.10
$9.02
$0.30/kWh
$102.12
$115.65
$13.53
$0.40/kWh
$136.16
$154.20
$18.04

By our calculations, the X3 435 will use about 45.1 kWh (AC) more than the X3 415e in one year. In locations where electricity is relatively cheap, say 10 cents per kWh, the difference is less than $5 between the two processors. The higher financial cost of using the less efficient chip isn't significant unless you work the system harder than our scenario and/or live in a region with much higher energy rates. For most of the other processors in our roundup, the difference is even smaller, to the point where we would consider it negligible in most cases.

Final Thoughts

Though it has been several years since the debut of quad core processors, many programs still aren't capable of taking advantage of the extra threads. Unless you're strictly encoding video and the like, this creates a quandary for some users as to whether to go for a higher clocked dual core or a lower clocked quad core. If you're on a budget, the Athlon II X3 seems to cover all the bases. Generally speaking, the 3rd core gives it a boost over equivalently-priced dual core models in multithreaded applications and multitasking, and for regular ho-hum programs, the higher clock speeds gives it a bump over the X4s with lower clock speeds.

As for energy efficiency, compared to the rest of AMD's budget chips, they're average at best and slightly below average at worst. However, even in the latter case, the difference is small enough to ignore unless you reside in a local with exorbitant energy costs, are going to tax the system heavily for lengthy periods of time, and/or are fanatical about your carbon footprint. If you are, then a low power X3 like the 415e may be right for you, but keep in mind it comes with both a heavy price and performance penalty.

Our thanks to AMD and for Athlon/Phenom II processor samples used in this review.

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Articles of Related Interest
Athlon II X4 610e & Phenom II X4 910e: 45W & 65W Quad Cores
AMD's 890GX Chipset
Asus P7H55D-M EVO LGA1156 microATX Motherboard
Intel Core i5-661: A 32nm CPU with Integrated Graphics
Athlon II X4 630 & 620: Affordable Quad Cores
Intel's LGA1156 and Lynnfield core

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