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The Quickest Guide to AMD Processors…ever.

The Quickest Guide to AMD Processors…ever.

What Athlon do I buy?


I visit a lot of forums where people have an interest in technology. The question I most often see is “What Athlon do I buy?” To begin to answer that question here is a compiled list of all the current platforms and brief outlines for each including my personal recommendations for what’s hot and what’s not.

Duron: Socket A

duron

1. Dual-channel capable, but this is dependent on the chipset. Because of the Athlon’s synchronous bus/clock design, however, the Duron is incapable of using more than 50% of dual channel bandwidth.

2. The Duron cannot execute 64-bit code.

3. The Duron is now primarily offered with 64k of L2 cache.

4. Fastest stock Duron: 1.8GHz

5. From oldest to newest, these are the Duron cores: Spitfire, Morgan, Appaloosa, Applebred.

6. Longevity? Slim to none. With the release of the Sempron, expect the Duron to all but disappear. This horse is headed out to pasture.

7. Overclockability. Users have reported up to 2.4GHz out of Applebred-based Durons via air cooling. No one I’m aware of has water-cooled a Duron. Your mileage may vary.

8. Best motherboard to date? Arguably, the Abit NF7-S 2.0 is the best choice for a new Athlon XP computer. It has established itself as both a good entry-level board, and an overclocker’s enthusiast board.

9. SMP-capable? Yes, however bridge modifications are required. Newer Applebred Durons have protected packages that may have thwarted L5 modifications.

Athlon XP: Socket A

1. Dual-channel capable, but this is dependent on the chipset. Because of the Athlon’s synchronous bus/clock design, however, the Athlon XP is incapable of using more than 50% of dual channel bandwidth.

2. The Athlon XP cannot execute 64-bit code.

3. The Athlon XP is now primarily offered with 512k of L2 cache, though earlier models like the Thoroughbred-B came in 256k varieties. The varying cache makes only a slight difference in performance.

4. Fastest stock Athlon XP: 3200+ (2.2GHz)

5. From oldest to newest, these are the Athlon XP cores: Palomino, Thoroughbred A, Thoroughbred B, Barton, Thorton.

6. Longevity? It has about 16 months left in it. AMD is slated to halt delivery in the retail channels by Q2 of 2005, and retail is expected to sell off its stock by Q4 of ’05. However the platforms are powerful, reliable, and can still ably power today’s newest games. Don’t think for a moment that because a successor exists, that this CPU doesn’t shoulder its fair share of the burden. Cheap systems should keep this CPU in mind.

7. Overclockability? On air cooling, the best Barton-based Athlon XP mobile CPUs can achieve in excess of 2.4GHz. On water, users have reported top speeds of approximately 2.7GHz.

8. Best motherboard to date? Arguably, the Abit NF7-S 2.0 is the best choice for a new Athlon XP computer. It has established itself as both a good entry-level board, and an overclocker’s enthusiast board.

9. SMP-capable? Yes, however bridge modifications are required. Previously, with unprotected OPGA designs, connecting an L5 bridge could unlock SMP-capability. With the new, enameled Athlon XPs, SMP-support might have been curtailed. I haven’t seen anything regarding L5 pin-mods.

Sempron: Socket A

1. Dual-channel capable, but this is dependent on the chipset. Because of the Sempron’s synchronous bus/clock design, however, the Sempron is incapable of using more than 50% of dual channel bandwidth.

2. The Sempron cannot execute 64-bit code.

3. The Sempron for the Socket A interface is primarily offered with 256k L2 cache. Exceptions include the 2200+ with 512k and the 2400+ with 128k.

4. Fastest stock Sempron: 2800+ (2GHz)

5. From oldest to newest, these are the Sempron cores: Thoroughbred-B and Thorton.

6. Longevity? It just came onto the market to replace the Duron. Its market uptake remains to be seen, but users have been reporting good compatibility. My predictions for the CPU are based on AMD’s decision to phase Socket A out soon: This is merely a stepping-stone chip to the 754/939 market, and I expect it to be a relative flash in the pan as far as CPUs go. At this point it would be silly for someone to purchase a Socket A sempron if a new system is the goal. The CPU, however, is destined to become a cheap workhorse CPU like the existing Barton mobiles. I suspect the enthusiast community will keep it around longer than the rest of the computing world. AMD’s own roadmap indicates that this chip receives no core revisions, which doesn’t bode well for continuance.

7. Overclockability? On air cooling, the best Thoroughbred-based Sempron CPUs can achieve in excess of 2.2GHz. On water, users have reported top speeds of approximately 2.5GHz.

8. Best motherboard to date? Arguably, the Abit NF7-S 2.0 is the best choice for a new Sempron computer. A recent BIOS updated included the proper strings to support a Sempron. It has established itself as both a good entry-level board, and an overclocker’s enthusiast board.

9. SMP-capable? As the core is based on the Thoroughbred, SMP-capability is plausible. However, I am uncertain if any 760MPX motherboards have Sempron CPU support. It employs the OPGA that protects the gold bridges from tampering, which continues to thwart desktop Athlon-owners, and the bridges may have been changed.

Sempron: Socket 754

1. Cannot run dual-channel. The Socket 754/939/940 interfaces migrated the memory controller from the motherboard to the CPU die, as such, the CPU’s integrated memory controller must support dual-channel. No product on the socket 754 interface, including the Sempron, can support dual channel memory

2. The Sempron cannot execute 64-bit code.

3. The Sempron for the Socket 754 interface is exclusively offered with 256k L2 cache.

4. Fastest stock Sempron: 3100+ (1.8GHz)

5. From oldest to newest, these are the Sempron cores: Paris.

6. Longevity? It just came onto the market to fulfill the budget role in AMD’s tri-socket strategy. Its market uptake remains to be seen, but users have been reporting fair performance and good reliability. It’s hard to predict what will happen with the Socket 754 interface, particularly considering AMD’s strategy to migrate to a 939 platform when posed against the need for extreme budget options like the 754 Sempron. It has to be expensive for both AMD and its manufacturers to keep supporting 754/939/940. With the emergence of cheap 939 options, will AMD keep socket 754 Semprons? According to AMD roadmaps, the 754 Sempron receives a single revision which brings it to the 90nm process, this revision titled Palermo is slated for 1H05.

7. Overclockability? No reports.

8. Best motherboard to date? Arguably, the DFI LanPartyUT NF3 250GB is the best choice for a new Sempron computer. It has quickly established itself as a mildly sparse, but lightning-quick platform for the socket 754 platform.

9. SMP support? Impossible.

Athlon 64: Socket 754

1. Cannot run dual-channel. The Socket 754/939/940 interfaces migrated the memory controller from the motherboard to the CPU die, as such, the CPU’s integrated memory controller must support dual-channel. No product on the socket 754 interface, including the Athlon 64, can support dual channel memory

2. The Socket 754 Athlon 64 is capable of operating in three states of execution: Pure 32, Pure 64, 32/64 Simultaneous. There are no performance hits from any mode.

3. The Athlon 64 for the Socket 754 interface is primarily offered with 512k of L2 cache. Exceptions include the OEM DTR Athlon 64s, the 3400+ and the 3700+ which have 1MB L2 cache.

4. Fastest stock Athlon 64: 3700+ (2.4GHz)

5. From oldest to newest, these are the Socket 754 Athlon 64 cores: Clawhammer, Newcastle.

6. Longevity? It’s hard to predict. AMD has stated that they desire to provide two interfaces to the computing world: 939 for the desktop and 940 for servers. Socket 754 doesn’t seem to fit into the long-term equation. My suggestion is to avoid it with the presence of cheap 939 options, and the nForce4 on the brink of release. If there’s a sure sign I can point to that the 754 is fading, it’s that the Winchester 90nm CPUs and the 4000+ haven’t been seen on the socket 754 platform. There’s no reason to cheat yourself out of dual channel memory, or a more probable longevity by not using the 939 platform. According to AMD’s own roadmaps, socket 754 seems to transition to just the Palermo-based Sempron, while the Athlon 64 keeps going up into the Winchester which is (Thus far) strictly a 939-based product. Where’s the socket 754 Athlon 64? Not on the roadmaps!

7. Overclockability? Some users have reported up to 2.6GHz with Athlon 64s based on the newest cores that have been distributed downwards from the 3700+.

8. Best motherboard to date? Arguably, the DFI LanPartyUT NF3 250GB is the best choice for a new 754 Athlon 64. It has quickly established itself as a mildly sparse, but lightning-quick platform for the socket 754 platform.

9. SMP support? Impossible.

athlon64_939

Athlon 64: Socket 939

1. CAN run dual channel configurations. The on-die memory controller on all socket 939 processors supports the operation of dual channel configurations.

2. The Socket 939 Athlon 64 is capable of operating in three states of execution: Pure 32, Pure 64, 32/64 Simultaneous. There are no performance hits from any mode.

3. The Athlon 64 for the Socket 939 interface is primarily offered with 512k of L2 cache. The only exception is the 4000+ which offers 1MB L2 cache.

4. Fastest stock Athlon 64: 4000+ (2.4GHz)

5. From oldest to newest, these are the Socket 939 Athlon 64 cores: Clawhammer, Newcastle, Winchester.

6. Longevity? Extremely sound. AMD has positioned this CPU to fulfill a broad segment of their marketing strategy, filling the entire mainstream to lower enthusiast regions with this chip. Socket 939 is AMD’s primary interface for the desktop market. Shaking the 8 ball says “Outlook good.”

7. Overclockability? On the newest 90nm Winchester core, users have reported air-based overclocks in excess of 2.5GHz. This speed is above the Athlon 64 4000+, and slightly below the Athlon FX-55.

8. Best motherboard to date? Arguably, the EPoX 9NDA3+. As a robust and feature-rich motherboard, EPoX continues to be a provider of high-performance motherboards. Based on the nForce3 ULTRA chipset, the 939 derivative of the nForce3 250GB, the board is both stable and powerful. Having corrected the issues regarding the capacitor scare of 2002/2003, you can feel relatively safe acquiring one of these boards. Bare in mind, however, that the Abit/EPoX/DFI/Asus offerings of the nForce4, which is slated to be released in three flavors at the end of 2004, is probably a better choice. My suggestion is to wait.

fx

Athlon FX: Socket 939

1. CAN run dual channel configurations. The on-die memory controller on all socket 939 processors supports the operation of dual channel configurations.

2. The Socket 939 Athlon FX is capable of operating in three states of execution: Pure 32, Pure 64, 32/64 Simultaneous. There are no performance hits from any mode.

3. The Athlon FX for the Socket 939 interface is exclusively offered with 1MB L2 cache.

4. Fastest stock Athlon FX: FX-55 (2.6GHz)

5. From oldest to newest, these are the Athlon FX cores: Sledgehammer. Another core is scheduled by AMD for 1H05, which is titled the San Diego. It represents a die shrink to 90nm.

6. Longevity? Extremely sound. AMD has positioned this CPU to fulfill the segment of the market that has money to wipe their asses with. Those who demand the “biggest, bestest, fastest, mostest” CPUs go here. I suspect this chip will remain in small quantities for quite some time.

7. Overclockability? On the newest revisions of the Sledgehammer core, this CPU hasn’t gone much faster than 2.7GHz. Additional revisions will have to be made, or the die shrink accelerated before AMD released the FX-57 at a presumed 2.8GHz.

8. Best motherboard to date? Arguably, the EPoX 9NDA3+. As a robust and feature-rich motherboard, EPoX continues to be a provider of high-performance motherboards. Based on the nForce3 ULTRA chipset, the 939 derivative of the nForce3 250GB, the board is both stable and powerful. Having corrected the issues regarding the capacitor scare of 2002/2003, you can feel relatively safe acquiring one of these boards. Bare in mind, however, that the Abit/EPoX/DFI/Asus offerings of the nForce4, which is slated to be released in three flavors at the end of 2004, is probably a better choice. My suggestion is to wait.

9. SMP capability? Impossible.

Opteron: Socket 940

1. CAN run dual channel configurations. The on-die memory controller on all socket 940 processors supports the operation of dual channel configurations.

2. The Socket 940 Opteron is capable of operating in three states of execution: Pure 32, Pure 64, 32/64 Simultaneous. There are no performance hits from any mode.

3. The Opteron for the Socket 940 interface is exclusively offered with 1MB L2 cache.

4. Fastest stock Opteron: 250 (2.4GHz)

5. From oldest to newest, these are the Opteron cores: Sledgehammer is the primary core for the Opteron at this time, fulfilling 1, 1-2 and 1-8 CPU systems. In early 2005, however, it’s then going to be separated into 3 sub-cores. Athens (No SMP), Troy (1-2 CPU SMP configs) and Venus (1-8 CPU SMP configs).

6. Longevity? Extremely sound. AMD has positioned this CPU to be the server chip to have. With a scalable architecture allowing 8 CPUs to communicate simultaneously in one system, the additional property of being allowed to communicate in large clusters with proprietary technology (Cray, IBM, Texas Instruments, Oracle), high benchmarks, robust performance, and an extremely attractive cost/performance ratio, the Opteron is here to stay.

7. Overclockability? On the newest revisions of the Sledgehammer core, this CPU hasn’t gone much faster than 2.6GHz. The next logical step from 2.4GHz in the 250 is the Opteron 252 at 2.6GHz which is extremely likely given the current state of AMD fabrication. The die shrink to 90nm, or additional revisions will have to be made in order to support the 254+. This is exceedingly likely.

8. Best motherboard to date? Arguably, the Tyan Thunder K8W (S2885). Supporting:

  • Up to two AMD Opteron™ processors
  • Eight 184-pin 2.5V DDR DIMM sockets for up to 16GB (400/333/266/200)
  • Four 64-bit (3.3V) PCI-X slots; one 8X AGP / AGP Pro110 slot
  • One GbE LAN controller; integrated FireWire controller
  • Serial ATA controller (option); integrated audio
  • SSI EEB v3.0 footprint (12″x13″; 304.8×330.2mm)

Tyan has positioned itself, yet again, as a world-class provider of quality enterprise/workstation products. This motherboard makes my heart race.

9. SMP capability? The only SMP-capable 64 bit AMD CPU. Can support up to 8-way SMP technology with the Venus.

Everything compared

If you’re in the market today and looking for an effective, but cheap system, it’d probably be best to purchase an AMD Socket A computer featuring the NF7-S 2.0 and an Athlon XP of your desired flavor. It won’t be modern, but it’ll be powerful enough for good gaming provided you buy a good AGP GPU.

Wait until the arrival of the nForce4 platform if you’re in the market to bring your system up to the current level of technology. Your system will have an upgrade path for a good time to come if you combine nForce4 with a good PCIe video adapter and a 90nm Winchester CPU. You may have to, or want to, switch motherboards to a DDR2-compatible one if/when that technology is realized.

For more information see the AMD website.


Comments

  1. Cygnus_x_1
    Cygnus_x_1 EXCELLENT write up.... :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

    quick, and to the point...
  2. MediaMan
    MediaMan It's all Thrax's work this time. :)
  3. Unregistered
    Unregistered The subject interrest me. Is it possible to add the Athlon XP M in the review ?. (I hope desktop PC will support this kind of CPU in a near future, in order to reduce power used).
  4. Thrax
    Thrax The Athlon XP-M is already desktop-compatible. It can be used on any Socket A motherboard.
  5. deicist
    deicist do socket 940 chipsets still need registered RAM? If so that could do with mentioning as it bumps up the cost of a system and has performance implications...

    Other than that a good write up, concise and informative :)
  6. Thrax
    Thrax Yes, it requires registered memory. Good thought!

    10. Unique to the Opteron platform is the necessity for registered memory. Such memory comes at a price-premium and has a minor performance impact. However, the stability of the Opteron-based system due to data parity and a more rigorous QC process on most registered DIMMs offsets the price gains and slight performance loss.
  7. Omega65
    Omega65 Nice Guide. :thumbsup: You might want to add the Abit KV8 Pro and the AV8 to the Socket 754 & 939 mobo choices as an alternative to the DFI.

    Xbit Labs Sempron 3100+ Overclocking
    pg14 As for the gain you receive by overclocking the Sempron 3100+, we enjoyed a performance growth of about 25% by clocking our sample at 2.52GHz (40% frequency boost). Thanks to that, the overclocked Sempron 3100+ could outperform the Pentium 4 3.4GHz as well as the Athlon 64 3400+ by about 5% in average.
  8. Unregistered
    Unregistered You forgot to mention the mobile athlon XPs, mobile Athlon 64 and the Athlon 64 DTR.
  9. deicist
    deicist The DTR is mentioned under the socket 754 Athlon 64s, the mobile athlon XPs (as far as I know) are just pre-selected Bartons with the clock stepping enabled. Could do with mentioning that under the Athlon XP section I guess...

    dunno about the mobile A64s though...
  10. floppybootstomp
    floppybootstomp Excellent guide Thrax, gets to the meat of the matter without being overblown.

    Only thing that made me think a little was choice of motherboard for Socket A. I think I'd take the DFI NFII Ultra B over the Abit NF7-S 2.0, but that's just me :)
  11. CyrixInstead
    CyrixInstead Yep, brilliant guide Thrax.

    I was soon to be building a system with the Duron and it's a long time since I've seen any info abot it, but looks like I'll wait a bit now...

    BTW ever thought about becoming a journalist & writing guides for a living??

    ~Cyrix
  12. Unregistered
    Unregistered Great article! I'm interested to know where the DDR2 comment comes from? Has any chipset vendor said they're interested in moving from DDR? Or is it simply inevitable?
  13. Deicist
    Deicist It's pretty much inevitable, DDR2 (in theory at least) offers much higher speeds than DDR and both intel & AMD (well, VIA & nvidia) have committed to moving to the new standard in future chipsets. Currently though DDR2 isn't really offering much above and beyond DDR, it's more what it's expected to offer in future that has people excited.
  14. Thrax
    Thrax
    Yep, brilliant guide Thrax.

    I was soon to be building a system with the Duron and it's a long time since I've seen any info abot it, but looks like I'll wait a bit now...

    BTW ever thought about becoming a journalist & writing guides for a living??

    ~Cyrix

    I have, but I've never seen something even remotely close to an opportunity regarding it. That would actually be my dream job.
  15. Unregistered
    Unregistered Couple of comments:

    - Since you mention SMP, you should include the Athlon MP - the only Socket A SMP supported

    - What about the Socket 940 Athlon64 FX? It should be noted that the only difference between Opteron 1xx and FX-5x (e.g. Opteron-150 / FX-53) is the unlocked CPU multiplier.

    - The 64-bit CPUs (Athlon 64, FX, Opteron) all support 16-bit protected mode execution state, if Micro$oft doesn't want to support it w/ the LoseDoze XP 64-bit Edition.
  16. Unregistered
    Unregistered One quick note all semprons have 256k l2 cache http://www.amd.com/us-en/Processors/ProductInformation/0,,30_118_11599_11604,00.html for reference as does the fact i've used the 2200 and 2400 in systems and they both definetely have 256k l2
  17. Unregistered
    Unregistered There are a couple of mistakes in the socket A Sempron section.

    1. All Sempron socket A processors have 256Kb L2 cache except:-
    2. The 3000+ which has 512Kb L2 and is not mentioned.
    3. The 3000+ is a Barton core (2000MHz/512Kb/33Mhz).

    [url=]http://139.95.253.213/SRVS/CGI-BIN/WEBCGI.EXE/,/?St=36,E=0000000000181574915,K=7205,Sxi=3,Case=obj(5080)[/url]


    Aussie
  18. Unregistered
    Unregistered Your commentary is excellent - maybe you could modify the article and do the comparison of various processors using a table? That's a quick and easy way to summarize the parameters under scrutiny.
  19. Thrax
    Thrax Here's to hoping the higher ups make the necessary corrections! :D
  20. Micks 109
    Micks 109 That was great article Thrax
    i have already built two systems. your article will be helpful when i next build a system
  21. Spinner
    Spinner Great job Thrax!
  22. Unregistered
    Unregistered Good clear information...... just waht the Doctor requested.

    Thanks

    Teek
  23. Unregistered
    Unregistered As some viewers already have pointed out, all Semprons have a 256 kB L2 cache.

    - Tapio Nuutinen
  24. Unregistered
    Unregistered
    8. Best motherboard to date? Arguably, the Tyan Thunder K8W (S2885). Supporting:

    Up to two AMD Opteron™ processors
    Eight 184-pin 2.5V DDR DIMM sockets for up to 16GB (400/333/266/200)
    Four 64-bit (3.3V) PCI-X slots; one 8X AGP / AGP Pro110 slot
    One GbE LAN controller; integrated FireWire controller
    Serial ATA controller (option); integrated audio
    SSI EEB v3.0 footprint (12"x13"; 304.8x330.2mm)
    Tyan has positioned itself, yet again, as a world-class provider of quality enterprise/workstation products. This motherboard makes my heart race.

    I'm not sure if IWill's DK8N was out when this was writted but it's the best dual opteron board around a step below the new boards with PCI-E.
  25. Unregistered
    Unregistered one hell of *good* information on one page :)
    *bowing before the author*
  26. Unregistered
    Unregistered Hey would an athlon xp-m 1500+ work in a socket a motherboard? or do only the newer xp-m's work on socket a boards?

    thanks,
    -Ryan
  27. Thrax
  28. Unregistered
    Unregistered would the amd sempron run on my socket a motherboard running at 266 mhz fsb
  29. Unregistered
    Unregistered 'Tyan has positioned itself, yet again, as a world-class provider of quality enterprise/workstation products. This motherboard makes my heart race.'

    Seen the k8we. Yowza. Great page, btw.
  30. Unregistered
  31. Unregistered
    Unregistered Just a note of thanks. I now have the info needed. AMD's site was a waste of time.
  32. csimon
    csimon I'd like to see the venice and san diego cores added as well as the multi-cores.
    Great job Th :thumbsup: rax!
  33. Thrax
    Thrax They're being added. I started updating the article last week.. I'll finish it soon.
  34. John Smith
    John Smith If i buy an AMD processor, will software that says it needs INTEL PROCESSORS work still??
  35. BuddyJ

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