If you have between USD 115 and USD 120 to spend on a CPU, you have two choices, the Athlon II X4 640 (which is a quad-core CPU running at 3 GHz) or the Core i3 530 (which is a dual-core CPU running at 2.93 GHz). Which one should you buy? That is what we will try to find out in this review.

First, let’s meet the contenders.

The Athlon II X4 is a quad-core CPU, so it has two extra cores compared to the Core i3, which is a dual-core CPU. The Core i3, however, has Hyper-Threading technology, a feature that emulates two processing cores per physical core. So even though the Core i3 is a dual-core processor, the operating system recognizes it as having four cores. Of course the processing power of these two emulated cores is not the same as that of two real cores.

The Core i3, on the other hand, comes with an L3 memory cache, a feature that promises to increase performance. Athlon II CPUs don’t have this feature, and in fact, this is the main difference between the Athlon II and Phenom II – the Phenom II does have this component.

As opposed to 32-nm Core i5 processors, the Core i3 family doesn’t support the Turbo Boost feature, which increases the CPU clock rate depending on the CPU load.

Another difference between the two CPUs is the support for SSE4 on Core i3 (both SSE4.1 and SSE4.2). Processors from AMD don’t support this instruction set. AMD has a proprietary implementation called SSE4a, which is not the same thing as SSE4: it has only four instructions, while SSE4 has 54 (47 in SSE4.1 and seven in SSE4.2).

Both CPUs have an embedded memory controller supporting DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz.

A unique feature found in the Core i3 is an integrated video controller. On a Core i3 system, video is produced by the processor and not by the motherboard chipset – unless you add a “real” video card and disable the integrated video. This integrated graphics controller is a DirectX 10 part running at 733 MHz with 12 processing engines (“shader units”).

Since the Core i3 has this feature we decided to install the Athlon II X4 640 on a motherboard with integrated video. Our choice was a model based on the AMD 890GX chipset, priced in the same range as the motherboard used with  the Core i3 (a model based on  the Intel H55 Express chipset). Both systems have more or less the same cost, creating a valid comparison. We also tested these CPUs with a mainstream video card (Radeon HD 5670) installed, disabling the integrated video, so we can compare the performance of these CPUs with the integrated video out of the equation.

Below you have a table comparing the main features of the two CPUs.

CPU Cores Internal Clock Hyper-Threading Core Tech. TDP Socket SSE4 Price
Athlon II X4 640 4 3 GHz No Propus 45 nm 95 W AM3 SSE4a USD 121
Core i3-530 2 2.93 GHz Yes Clarkdale 32 nm 73 W 1156 SSE4.1 + SSE 4.2 USD 115

TDP stands for Thermal Design Power and tells us the maximum amount of heat the CPU can dissipate. The CPU cooler must be capable of dissipating at least this amount of heat.

The prices listed were researched at on the day we published this review.

In the table below, we compare the cache configuration of the two CPUs, while in the next table we compare the basic parameters of the video controller embedded in the Core i3 with the video controller present in the AMD 890GX chipset. More information about the Core i3 integrated video can be found here.

CPU L1 Cache L2 Cache L3 Cache
Athlon II X4 640 64 KB + 64 KB per core 512 KB per core No
Core i3-530 32 KB + 32 KB per core 256 KB per core 4 MB
Graphics Chip Clock Processors DirectX
AMD 890GX 700 MHz 40 10.1
Core i3-530 733 MHz 12 10
Gabriel Torres is a Brazilian best-selling ICT expert, with 24 books published. He started his online career in 1996, when he launched Clube do Hardware, which is one of the oldest and largest websites about technology in Brazil. He created Hardware Secrets in 1999 to expand his knowledge outside his home country.