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AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition 45nm Socket AM3 Processor Review

AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition 45nm Socket AM3 Processor Review - PCSTATS
Abstract: Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition processor is one of the first Phenom II processors, and it's got a secret that has PCSTATS very excited.
 78% Rating:   
Filed under: CPU / Processors Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: AMD Feb 28 2009   Julian Apong  
Home > Reviews > CPU / Processors > AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition

Enter the Dragon (Platform)

The AMD Dragon platform is made up of AMD's three major components - the Radeon HD 4800 series GPU, the AMD 790GX chipset, and the Phenom II processor. It's aimed at gamers and intended as the successor to AMD's previous Spider platform. The new Dragon platform promises to be much more powerful right from the beginning, building on the success of the Radeon HD 4870 and 4870 X2 video cards, and the versatile 790GX core logic. The final component for AMD's Dragon is the Phenom II processor, a faster-clocked, larger-cached processor built on a smaller, 45nm process. This new processor is also cross-compatible, so it can be dropped into existing socket AM2+ motherboards or into new DDR3-based socket AM3 motherboards.

The RV770 has delivered outstanding performance since it debuted in the summer of 2008, and the videocards it's been placed in have typically been a very good value when compared to NVIDIA's rivalling Geforce series of graphics cards. The flagship card in the 4800 family, the AMD Radeon 4870 X2, is part of AMD's new strategy for using dual-GPUs for high-end gaming performance, and combines the power of two RV770 graphics cores onto a single videocard.

AMD's 790GX chipset should also be familiar to long-time PCSTATS readers, although it's recently had a few changes that you'll want to be aware of. The 790GX core logic is versatile, sporting both an integrated graphics processor in the form of the Radeon HD 3300, as well as support for standalone graphics cards, or CrossfireX using dual graphics cards or the IGP and a compatible graphics card. Like the RV770 GPU, the 790GX chipset is fabricated on a 55nm process, meaning it's more power-efficient and generates less heat than older AMD chipsets.

With the advent of the Phenom II processor, the 790GX core logic has learned a few new tricks. 790GX motherboards can now be found in both Socket AM2+ and Socket AM3 varieties, with the former supporting DDR2 memory at up to 1066MHz and the latter supporting DDR3 at 1333MHz. In a consumer-friendly move, AMD has designed the Phenom II processor to work in either variety of motherboard, so while the new Phenom II CPUs are built to socket AM3 specifications, they still maintain backwards compatibility with socket AM2+ and certain socket AM2 motherboards.

The main component of the Dragon platform is the new Phenom II processor. AMD's new lineup of CPUs will launch in both triple-core and quad-core versions, as the Phenom II X3 and Phenom II X4 processors. There will also be a limited release Black edition of the Phenom II, which will have an unlocked CPU multiplier that can be used for increased overclocking potential. While the Phenom and Phenom II processors are built using largely the same architecture, they've been shrunk down to a 45nm process, had their clockspeeds increased significantly, and their L3 cache size increased to as much as 6MB.

AMD Overdrive

AMD Overdrive Is a highly tweakable overclocking utility that works on AMD 700-series chipsets. It's designed for both novice and advanced overclockers, and provides comprehensive control over CPU, memory and chipset controls through a Graphical User Interface (GUI) system. This is similar to setting operating parameters in the BIOS, but allows settings to be adjusted in real-time without the need to reboot the system. The Overdrive software also has a built-in benchmarking tool to see what kind of ill-gotten gains have come from your overclocking, and a stability test to make sure that your performance won't make your system hang or crash under sustained heavy load.

Simple controls that automate most of the overclocking process are available for novice users, who have access to a basic performance slider that will adjust performance from within the GUI. While this feature is made deliberately easy to use so that even those unfamiliar with tuning system performance can take advantage of it, it does provide a lot of feedback and information on which settings are being changed in order to improve performance. It's a good way to learn more about how your CPU and chipset function and what exactly goes on inside your system.

For advanced overclockers there are a lot more options to play with. The Overdrive software can monitor voltages, CPU clockspeeds, CPU multipliers, front side bus speeds, memory frequencies, PCI Express frequencies and even the core speed of the IGP and Sideport memory. There's also a separate page dedicated to memory that lists pretty much every timing option available. It would be nice to see some more built-in recommendations and tooltips of what each RAM setting does, but as it is the included help file at least gives a description of each variable.

 

AMD Fusion

AMD Fusion combines some of the overclocking abilities of the AMD Overdrive CPU tuning software with the AMD Catalyst Control GPU tuning software. It lets users adjust settings for both independently, or automate the process entirely. While this is a handy all-in-one solution to get some easy, free performance out of AMD platforms, it isn't quite as powerful as using AMD's dedicated CPU or GPU tuning software.

Fortunately, Fusion has another, more interesting ability. On computers that are using AMD chipsets, CPUs and videocards, and are running Microsoft's Windows Vista 32-bit operating system (Vista 64 and Windows XP also work, but aren't officially supported), the Fusion utility can turn off background processes, unwanted Windows services and other unnecessary threads that can potentially slow down or interrupt gaming. It creates a clean slate where there's less running to tax your processor and memory, so that all of that performance can be fully dedicated to gaming.

This functionality can of course be replicated by opening up the Windows Task Manager and manually killing processes until only essential Windows services are running, but that's a time-consuming process and it can take a while to track down which process does what. The Fusion utility does all of that for you, letting you customize which threads you want to disable, and shuts them down with a single click. Once you're done gaming, pressing the Fusion Utility button again will launch all the stopped services and threads, so you regain full system functionality.

It's novel concept that definitely has potential, and while it won't always yield huge performance gains, it can prevent potential conflicts such as automatic hard drive defragmentation while games are running full-screen. The AMD Fusion software utility is still in beta right now, but it's updated regularly and the software is more stable and better able to recognize unwanted processes as it gets more mature. It should be noted that while the Fusion software utility is limited to AMD platforms only, this restriction is software-only and abritrarily placed by AMD to provide some incentive to buy into one of their exclusive CPU, chipset and videocard platforms.

Power Savings

Like other recent CPU families, the Phenom and Phenom II processors support a special power-saving state known as Enhanced C1 state, or C1E. This power state can keep individual cores of the processor in an active state, which is referred to as C0, while the remaining cores are in the halted state, known as C1. When programs don't require the use of all of the available processor cores, the C1E state will temporarily disable the non-utilized processor cores.

The Phenom II also has Cool'n'Quiet 3.0 support, which determines the power-to-performance ratio of the processor when it's active in the C0 state or partially active in the C1E state. Cool'n'quiet will dynamically throttle, or underclock, active processor cores in order to cut down the power draw of the CPU. In turn, this lets the CPU run at lower temperatures, and can let cooling fans run at quieter, lower speeds. Two new features make up Cool'n'Quiet 3.0. The first is Smartfetch, which makes more efficient use of Phenom II's larger level 3 cache, so that the processor spends less time searching for data and more time feeding that data into its cores.

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Contents of Article: AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
 Pg 1.  AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition 45nm Socket AM3 Processor Review
 Pg 2.  — Enter the Dragon (Platform)
 Pg 3.  Socket AM3 and compatibility
 Pg 4.  System Power Draw Tests
 Pg 5.  45nm Overclocking Potential?
 Pg 6.  Test System Specs / Benchmarks: Sysmark, PCMark Vantage
 Pg 7.  32-Bit CPU Synthetic Benchmarks: Sandra 2009 Processor / Memory
 Pg 8.  32-Bit CPU Calculation Benchmarks: Super Pi, wPrime2.0
 Pg 9.  32-Bit CPU Calculation Benchmarks: ScienceMark2, WinRAR
 Pg 10.  32-Bit CPU Rendering Benchmarks: Cinebench R10, Bibble 5
 Pg 11.  32-Bit CPU Rendering Benchmarks: POV-Ray, 3.7, SPECviewPerf 10
 Pg 12.  32-Bit CPU Synthetic Gaming Benchmarks: 3DMark Vantage, 3DMark 06
 Pg 13.  32-Bit CPU Gaming Benchmarks: Crysis, FEAR
 Pg 14.  Conclusions: World's First Triple-Core CPU

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