Today AMD is launching several entry-level 45-nm socket AM3 Athlon II CPUs and we are going to take a look at the new Athlon II X2 240e (2.8 GHz) and Athlon II X3 435 (2.9 GHz) CPUs and compare them to Athlon II X4 (2.6 GHz) but also with their main competitors from Intel.
As you may guess by the name, Athlon II X2 is a dual-core CPU, while Athlon II X3 is a triple-core CPU and Athlon II X4 is a quad-core CPU. The main difference between Athlon II and Phenom II is the presence of an L3 memory cache on Phenom II, making this CPU more expensive and to provide a higher performance. Both Athlon II and Phenom II are socket AM3 CPUs, meaning that they can be installed on socket AM2+ or socket AM3 motherboards, depending on whether you want DDR2 or DDR3 memories on your computer, respectively.
It is very important that you understand that Athlon II CPUs are entry-level processors and thus must be compared to entry-level CPUs from Intel. When Athlon II X4 was released we saw several websites publishing flawed reviews, comparing Athlon II X4 to high-end CPUs like Core i5 and Core i7, which cost at least double, making the comparison completely unfair. Some websites tried to compare Athlon II X4 to the cheapest quad-core CPU from Intel, but this comparison was completely dishonest, since the Intel cheapest quad-core CPU is 50% more expensive than Athlon II X4. Even a comparison between Athlon II X4 and Core 2 Duo is unfair as Core 2 Duo is 20% more expensive. Thus we ended up with tons of reviews around the web with flawed conclusions as they were comparing bananas to apples.
Why are we telling you this? Because we are afraid that the same thing will happen with most reviews for these new CPUs posted around the web: you have to pay close attention to the methodology used and make sure other websites are comparing apples to apples. Unfortunately from our experience we can tell most websites will be comparing these new CPUs to products that are not their competitors.
We have several different ways to select competitors to the reviewed CPUs. The most obvious would be to select a CPU from Intel with the same price tag. The problem with this methodology is that the total price of the two computers would be different, as motherboards for Intel CPUs tend to be more expensive than the ones targeted to AMD processors. Since no one can run a CPU outside a computer, we have to think about the total price of the system, especially on entry-level PCs, where every little bit counts.
This way we decided to compare two systems with a similar price for the CPU + motherboard combo. Athlon II X2 240e is coming with a suggested price of USD 77 and Athlon II X3 435 is coming with a suggested price of USD 87. Since the motherboard we picked (Biostar TA785GE 128 M) costs USD 80, we have a total budget of USD 157 for finding a competitor for Athlon II X2 240e and USD 167 for Athlon II X3 435.
Since we were using a motherboard with integrated graphics, we had to pick a similar product on the Intel side, and we ended up choosing Intel DG45ID motherboard (based on the Intel G45 chipset). Since Intel DG45ID motherboard costs USD 99.99, this left us with a budget of USD 57 for finding a competitor to Athlon II X2 240e and USD 67 for finding a competitor to Athlon II X3 435.
Finding a competitor to Athlon II X3 435 was easy: we bought a Pentium E5200 (2.5 GHz, a.k.a. Pentium Dual-Core), which cost us USD 68. But finding the correct competitor to Athlon II X2 240e was a little bit hard, because there is no Intel CPU on the USD 57 range. The closest CPUs to this budget are Celeron E3200 (2.4 GHz) at USD 53 and Celeron E3300 (2.5 GHz) at USD 64. So we decided to pick Celeron E3200 (2.4 GHz) as a competitor to Athlon II X2 240e, even though it was not a “perfect” match.
In this review we are also going to include Athlon II X4 620 (2.6 GHz) and its main competitor, Pentium E6300 (2.8 GHz).
Now we had systems with comparable costs, since memories, hard drive, etc were the same. But there was still one important detail. For several of the tests – especially gaming – we were going to rely on the motherboard integrated video, meaning that in fact we were going to measure the motherboard video performance, not the CPU performance.
To overcome this issue, we decided to perform two tests with each CPU: first with the on-board video, and then disabling the on-board video and installing a mid-range video card (a GeForce 9600 GT was chosen for this task). This way we could easily simulate the scenario where the user installed these CPUs with a “real” video card, allowing us to compare the performance exclusively from the CPU, not putting the motherboard performance into the equation. It is important to note that under this scenario we were still comparing two systems with practically the same price, when comparing an AMD CPU to its Intel competitor.
This way this will be a very interesting review were we will cover both scenarios: users using on-board video and users using a “real” video card.
Before going to our results, let’s compare the main specs from the CPUs included in this review.