AMD Turion 64 on the Desktop

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64-bit Computing ° One thing to consider is that if you're interested in 64-bit computing, your only choice is a Turion. Intel has yet to integrate x86-64 into their lineup of mobile processors ° even the recently released Core Duo (Yonah) chips don't support it. AMD, on the other hand, has supported x86-64 from day one ° no surprise, since they invented it! For most users, however, the lack of 64-bit capability is meaningless; 32-bit computing will continue to be mainstream for some time yet.

SSE3 Support ° Another (minor) point is that the Turion supports SSE3 code, which could make it an attractive choice for multimedia use. The performance boost from SSE3 is rarely large, however, so this too is for special use only. Both x86-64 and SSE3 are if-you-don't-know-what-it-is-you-don't-need-it features.

Power Efficiency ° For many people, power consumption is likely to be the biggest factor in choosing between the Turion 64 and the Pentium M. As always, the different ways in which Intel and AMD declare power requirements make a direct comparison difficult. Even worse is the fact that AMD produces two versions of the Turion for every speed class: An inexpensive, low efficiency model, and a more expensive, high efficiency model. We'll get to actual power measurements later. For now, take these manufacturer's specifications with a grain of salt.

  • All of Intel's current generation of Pentium M processors have a TDP of 27W and a default Vcore between 1.287~1.400V.
  • The "ML" family of Turion 64 processors have a TDP of 35W and a default Vcore of 1.35V.
  • The "MT" family of Turion 64 processors have a TDP of 25W and a default Vcore of 1.2V.

Any power comparison is muddied by the Turion's integrated memory controller and HyperTransport Link. The Pentium M lacks this functionality; the memory controller and FSB are controlled off-chip. This means that, even if the two processors end up consuming exactly the same amount of power, a system with a Turion is likely to consume slightly less power since there is no need for an additional chip to control the memory. In the context of a system, this difference is probably so small that it's irrelevant, but it should serve as a caution against making a big deal out of a watt or two.

What the manufacturers' specifications do tell us is that all of these processors are in the same ballpark when it comes to power. In fact, clock speed may be more of a factor than which processor you choose. Just like performance, the Turion 64 and Pentium M seem to be pretty close in terms of power. In the end, a purchasing decision between the two may come down to price, availability, and ease of use.

Price and Availability ° When it comes to availability, Intel's market presence is tough to beat. Everybody knows Intel, so everybody sells it. What's more, the Pentium M has been on the market a lot longer and is available in a retail box, which makes it easier for retailers to get hold of.

On the other hand, getting a Turion will cost you a whole lot less ° if you can find one for sale. Not only are the processors themselves cheaper, but, thanks to the compatibility with Socket 754, a compatible motherboard can be had for acorns. Compare that to the Pentium M, which requires a special motherboard that comes at a high premium. And, unlike the Pentium M boards, Socket 754 boards are readily available ° you might even own one already!

Turion 64
Clock Speed
Pentium M
Clock Speed
Turion 64 Price Advantage
2.4 GHz
2.26 GHz
2.2 GHz
2.13 GHz
2.2 GHz
2.0 GHz
2.0 GHz
2.0 GHz
1.8 GHz
1.8 GHz
1.8 GHz
1.6 GHz
1.6 GHz
1.6 GHz

* Note that the ML-44 and the Intel 780 are not exact clock speed equivalents. Neither are the MT/ML-40 and the Intel 770.

As of February 13, 2006, the Turion has a significant price advantage over the Pentium M, based on the official price lists from AMD and Intel. For the most part, the Pentium M costs about 30% more than a similarly clocked "MT" part, and about 50% more than an "ML" part.

A similar comparison can be made for motherboards. Online retailer NewEgg sells a total of two motherboards compatible with the Pentium M; both retail for US$220 or more. By way of comparison, they sell 83 different boards for Socket 754, all of which are under US$100 and 23 of which are under US$50. (Admittedly, not all of them will work with Turion 64.) Taking the motherboard into consideration, the price difference between the Turion 64 and the Pentium M jumps significantly ° over $400 for the top-of-the-line processor.

Wide Compatibility with 754 Motherboards ° In addition to the better variety of motherboards that is available, using Socket 754 means that the Turion 64 is compatible with a wide range of aftermarket heatsinks. This contrasts sharply with the Pentium M boards on the market, almost all of which use proprietary cooling solutions which can't be counted on for quiet performance. Even better, because most heatsinks on the market are designed for cooling hot-running desktop chips, it should not be hard to find a heatsink that is capable of cooling the Turion passively, thus eliminating a source of noise from the system.

Many K8-compatible heatsinks can be used with the Turion, like this heavy Zalman 7000CU.

One word of warning: Like the Pentium M, the Turion 64 is supplied without an integrated heatspreader to protect the CPU. Because the bare CPU die is exposed, it is not hard to crack or chip the CPU. The surface of the CPU die is also lower than it would be otherwise, so not all heatsinks may provide the necessary tension. Extra care should be taken when installing and removing the CPU heatsink, and large, heavy heatsinks are best avoided.

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