AMD released today its first six-core processors for desktops, only a few weeks after Intel released its first six-core desktop chip. Unlike Intel's "Gulftown," which is available in limited quantities and costs more than $1,000 in retail, AMD's "Thuban" processors start at around $200. AMD claims computer makers should be able to build complete desktops with Phenom II X6 chips for about the same price as the Core i7-980X Extreme alone.
The two new processors are the 2.8GHz Phenom II X6 1055T, which costs $199, and the 3.2GHz Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition, which is $295. (With the Black Edition processors, you can overclock not only the CPU, but also other parts of the system, to further boost performance.) In addition to the six-core processor, this new high-end platform includes a supporting chipset, the 890GX, and Radeon HD 5000 series DirectX 11 GPUs. AMD refers to this platform as Leo. The Phenom II X6 can also be used as a drop-in upgrade in any AM2+ or AM3 motherboard.
Though it is manufactured by Globalfoundries using the same 45nm Silicon-On-Insulator process and shares the same basic design as the six-core server chips, the Phenom II X6 has one new feature: Turbo Core. Like Intel's Turbo Mode, this feature improves performance on lightly-threaded applications that can't really take advantage of six cores (or 12 threads, in the case of Gulftown) by powering down some cores and boosting others. AMD says this will push up to three cores on the Phenom II X6 1090T from 3.2GHz up to 3.6GHz simultaneously.
AMD also released a new version of its OverDrive utility, which simplifies overclocking. OverDrive 3.2.1 adds support for the Phenom II X6 and Turbo Core, memory profiles for the fastest DDR3 memory, and new application-specific profiles.
The new chipset also a few distinguishing features. It supports the faster SAT 6Gbps disk storage interface and, according to AMD, nearly all 890GX motherboards will also have an NEC USB 3.0 controller for connecting peripherals that support the new standard.
Desktops based on Leo platform will initially be available from "whitebox" companies such as iBuyPower, CyberPower, Systemax, MainGear and Velocity Micro. The boxed processors will also be sold in places such as Newegg and TigerDirect. Given the pricing, it will be interesting to see if the Phenom II X6 will also show up in desktops from the tier-1 computer companies, as well as on the shelves at Best Buy.
The benefits of six- and eight-core processors--as well as HyperThreading--are straightforward in servers. They are less clear, however, on the desktop. The real competition for Phenom II X6 isn't Gulftown; rather it is Intel's quad-core processors that are priced around the same level such as the Core i5-650 and Core i5-670. It will be interesting to see how they stack up. Several sites have already posted reviews of the Phenom II X6: