While enthusiasts are obsessed with flagship CPUs or finding the next Celeron 300C, it’s easy to forget that much of the world is planted firmly in the mainstream. There are no $300 CPUs, massive heatsinks, or multiplier unlocks here. A discrete GPU is a luxury. The very mention of overclocking elicits blank stares. But even if the market is largely a morass of uninspired chips, the mainstream occasionally offers a few surprises, and the Athlon II X4 620 is one of them.
It’s not easy to evaluate a chip which deliberately shrugs the trappings of performance systems; benchmarks merely highlight the architectural compromises that go into hitting a $100 price point. Instead, we felt it would be more valuable to find something it’s uniquely excellent at–an expertise that cannot be expressed in numbers.
We weren’t quite sure how to start when the box arrived from Austin with this little guy packed in there. While it makes perfect sense to run all the standard benchmarks, we knew it wouldn’t make any big headlines or break any records. Let’s be frank: This is not a high-performance part.
While the following configuration is not going to win any performance awards or break any Crysis records, it performs quite admirably for most mid-range tasks.
Meanwhile, the Athlon II X4 series is known internally as Propus. All Propus, Rana (Athlon II X3) and Regor (Athlon II X2) chips are made from the Deneb core used in AMD’s lineup of Phenom IIs. While the Athlon II series has no L3 cache, they are otherwise identical in every respect. The following specs lay out the details of the X4 620 we tested:
- Codename: Propus
- Process node: 45nm
- Frequency: 2.6GHz
- Socket: AM3/AM2+
- L1 Cache: 128k exclusive
- L2 Cache: 512k exclusive
- TDP: 95W
The case for the Athlon II
The Athlon II series consists of dual- and quad-core parts designated X2 and X4, respectively. While these processors are ideally matched with a socket AM3 system, they are backwards-compatible with socket AM2+ boards. They are, therefore, a drop-in upgrade for many older Athlon X2 systems.
Of course, anyone looking to upgrade an Athlon X2 system can spend just a few more dollars and get a Phenom II, which leads back to the initial question: Where do these chips fit in?
There are, in our opinion, two perfect fits for the Athlon II X4 series:
- As a low-power, high performance HTPC processor;
- A low-budget, non-gamer CPU for general consumers.
When mated to the 785G chipset, which our Gigabyte MA785GPMT-UD2H uses, the true power of the Athlon II begins to shine. One can build an exceptionally capable HTPC that easily processes any high-def codec, as well as Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs; the system can even handle light gaming, all for less than $700. To that end, we configured a complete system with Windows 7, a Blu-ray drive, 4GB of RAM, and a quad core Athlon II for $651 at Newegg.
We built one of those systems (sans Blu-ray drive) here in our office and used it with our 46″ Samsung 1080p HDTV for a few days. The system shined at decoding high-def H.264 content: 1080p Apple trailers, HD YouTube videos, and local .AVI/.MOV files were all flawless. We were even able to play Team Fortress 2 on low settings at 30 FPS–at 1920×1080! We were highly impressed, as this was the first time we’ve played a modern game on integrated graphics and had acceptable performance.
Mated with a discrete GPU, our test system would even be perfectly capable for enthusiast gaming. Video cards are easily the dominant factor when it comes to game performance. Combine that with video offloading and GPU physics, and the world of $100 quad cores becomes very tantalizing.
Do we need processors that cost over $500 nowadays? To be perfectly honest, most people don’t. The most demanding task average consumers can throw at a computer is A/V content: They have 1080p AVC-HD video cameras, they have webcams, they have simple movie editing software, and they are producing their own movies for their friends and family. Chips like the Athlon II X4 620 handle those types of jobs with aplomb.
Most enthusiasts won’t find a need to buy an Athlon II X4 alone. Instead, think of it as one part of a bigger picture the next time you put together a low cost system for a family member or an HTPC for yourself.