AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE & Athlon II X2 250

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FINAL THOUGHTS

From our tests results, we would say the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition is comparable to the $113 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo E7300. However, the 2.80 GHz E7400 shares the same price-point. The recently released Pentium E6300 is also a compelling product — it is essentially an E7400 with 1MB less L2 cache and is priced at only $84. From a pure price/performance standpoint, the X2 550 underperforms. If you take power consumption into consideration, things get worse. If our E7200 sample is indicative of the average power consumption one can expect from all of Intel's 45nm dual core chips, any of them could easily wipe the floor with the X2 550 in an energy efficiency contest. At idle, they use about the same amount of power, but at load the difference is about 40W.

The X2 550 BE has a few less measurable advantages, however. It supports AMD-V, AMD's virtualization technology which is required for Windows 7's XP mode, which runs XP in a virtual machine to solve potential compatibility issues. The next iteration of Windows is heavily anticipated, and this feature may bypass many of the issues that plagued PC users when they adopted Vista. The E7000 and E5000 series do not support Intel's version of the required technology (Intel VT) — the only dual core Intel chips with VT are the more expensive Core 2 Duo E8000 family and the older discontinued Core 2 Duo E6000 line. The X2 550 also has an unlocked multiplier, so it should be easier to overclock. In addition, there are reports that the 3rd and 4th disabled cores in some X2 550's can be unlocked to give users a free, high-speed quad-core upgrade. How well retail samples unlock and whether or it can be done stably with any amount of certainty is impossible to know however.

Comparison Table: Dual Core 45nm Processors (June 2009)
Model
Clock Speed
L2 Cache (total)
L3 Cache
FSB/HT
TDP
Mfg.
Price
E7400
2.80 GHz
3MB
N/A
1066 MHz
65W
$113
E7300
2.66 GHz
3MB
N/A
1066 MHz
65W
$113
X2 550 BE
3.1 GHz
1MB
6MB
2.0 GHz
80W
$102
X2 250
3.0 GHz
2MB
N/A
2.0 GHz
65W
$87
E6300
2.80 GHz
2MB
N/A
1066 MHz
65W
$84
E5400
2.70 GHz
2MB
N/A
800 MHz
65W
$84
E5300
2.66 GHz
2MB
N/A
800 MHz
65W
$74

The $87 Athlon X2 250 was about 20% slower than the X2 550 in our tests, so we expect the E6300 or even the E5400 would probably be better performers. The X2 250 used 34W more on load compared to the E7200, and though our sample undervolted fairly well, it narrowed the gap to only 20W. The X2 250 also supports AMD-V, but it does not have any extra cores that can be potentially unlocked or an unlocked multiplier to aid in overclocking.

Intel's advantage is simple: their chips perform well for the price and are more energy efficient. Depending on how often and how heavily the system is used, the savings on your electricity bill could be significant. As Intel's chips use less power, they also dissipate less heat, and are thus easier to cool in a quiet and/or silent fashion.

AMD holds one critical advantage. Compared to Intel, motherboards for AMD CPUs are cheaper, offer more features, and have better integrated graphics — everything users look for in a budget PC. For example, today you can spend $80 on the Intel-based Gigabyte GA-EG41M-US2H from Newegg. Alternatively you could pay $80 minus a $10 mail-in rebate for the AMD-based ASUS M3A78-EM, and get a faster IGP, 4 memory slots instead of 2, an extra SATA port, 2 additional rear USB ports, and extra connectivity in the form of eSATA, FireWire, and DisplayPort connectors. Amazingly, an extra $50 is required to get an equivalent Intel board.

Our thanks to AMD for X2 550 BE and X2 250 product samples.

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Articles of Related Interest
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition for AM3
Asus M4A78T-E AM3 motherboard
790GX Showdown: Gigabyte vs. MSI
Phenom II: AMD pulls closer
Intel Core i7: Nehalem Launched
Asus M3A78-T: AMD's IGP Gets Another Boost

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