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AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE & Athlon II X2 250

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AMD’s newest processors, the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition and the Athlon II X2 250, priced aggressively at $102 and $87 respectively, are aimed squarely at the bread and butter value segment of the desktop processor market. We take a look at their non-gaming and energy efficiency performance, and compare them against likely Intel competitors.

AMD Phenom II & Athlon II

June 5, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Product AMD Phenom II
X2 550

AM3 Processor
AMD Athlon II
X2 250

AM3 Processor
Manufacturer AMDAMD
MSRP US$107US$87

Today we will be looking at two of AMD’s newest processors, the Phenom II X2
550 Black Edition, and the Athlon II X2 250. Priced at a suggested retail price
of $102 and $87 respectively, they are aimed squarely at the bread and butter
value segment of the desktop processor market. Not only are they the first dual
core parts for the AM3 socket, they are also the first dual core AMD chips manufactured
using the same 45nm fabrication process as the Phenom II X4’s.


Our Phenom II X2 and Athlon II X2 samples.

The Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition runs at 3.1 GHz, has an unlocked multiplier
and a thermal envelope of 80W. The Phenom II X2 series (code name Callisto)
are simply Phenom II X4 900’s with two cores disabled, and as such they have
a healthy 6MB of L3 cache. Manufacturing defects will often produce CPUs with
one or two faulty cores, so recycling them as dual and triple core CPUs is a
very economical strategy. This also opens up the possibility of processors with
four good cores being repackaged as dual cores to satisfy demand, though this
may be rare due to the popularity of the Phenom II X4 series.


CPU-Z screenshot: Phenom II X2 550 BE.

"Regor" is AMD’s code name for their Athlon II X2 processors. These
parts have only two cores on the die and no L3 cache, though they have twice
as much L2 cache. The X2 250 is easier and cheaper to manufacture, resulting
in a reduced price tag and lower 65W thermal design power. It seems appropriate
that the Athlon name is reused for these processors. Like Callisto, Regor is
an AM3 part so it can be used on both of AMD’s current desktop sockets. The
Athlon II X2 250 is clocked at 3.0 GHz.


CPU-Z screenshot:Athlon II X2 250.

Compared to Intel’s current lineup of 45nm dual core CPUs, both of AMD’s new
dual core chips land in unoccupied territory: the $90-$100 price point. They
are sandwiched on one side by the more expensive Intel Core 2 Duo E7000 series
with 3MB of L2 cache and a 1066 MHz front side bus, while on the opposite side
reside the Pentium E5000 series with 2MB of L2 cache and a 800 MHz front side
bus. All of these competitors are 65W parts.

Comparison Table: Dual Core 45nm Processors (June
2009)
Model
Clock Speed
L2 Cache (total)
L3 Cache
FSB/HT
TDP
Mfg.
Price
E7400
2.80 GHz
3MB
N/A
1066 MHz
65W
$113
E7300
2.66 GHz
3MB
N/A
1066 MHz
65W
$113
E7200
2.53 GHz
3MB
N/A
1066 MHz
65W
N/A
X2 550 BE
3.1 GHz
1MB
6MB
2.0 GHz
80W
$102
X2 250
3.0 GHz
2MB
N/A
2.0 GHz
65W
$87
E6300
2.80 GHz
2MB
N/A
1066 MHz
65W
$84
E5400
2.70 GHz
2MB
N/A
800 MHz
65W
$84
E5300
2.66 GHz
2MB
N/A
800 MHz
65W
$74

TEST METHODOLOGY

Common Test Platform:

Intel:

AMDs:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • CPU-Z
    to monitor CPU frequency and voltage.
  • CPUBurn
    K7

    processor stress software.
  • Prime95
    processor stress software.
  • Cyberlink
    PowerDVD
    to play H.264/VC-1/Blu-ray video.
  • Eset NOD32 as
    an anti-virus benchmark.
  • WinRAR as an
    archiving benchmark.
  • iTunes
    an audio encoding benchmark.
  • TMPGEnc
    Xpress
    as a video encoding benchmark.
  • PCMark05
    as a general system benchmark.
  • Seasonic
    Power Angel
    AC power meter, used to measure the power consumption
    of the system.
  • Custom-built, four-channel variable DC power supply, used to regulate
    the CPU fan speed.

Benchmark Test Details

  • Eset NOD32: In-depth virus scan of a folder containing 32 files of
    varying size with many of them being file RAR and ZIP archives.
  • WinRAR: Archive creation with a folder containing 68 files of varying
    size (less than 50MB).
  • iTunes: Conversion of an MP3 file to AAC.
  • TMPGEnc Xpress: Encoding a 1-minute long XVID AVI file to VC-1 (1280×720,
    30fps, 20mbps).

Our testing procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption
at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). To stress CPUs we
used Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn (which produced the higher power
draw). We also performed a short series of benchmarks featuring real-world timed
tests and synthetics.

Cool’n’Quiet and/or Intel SpeedStep were enabled (unless otherwise noted).
The following features/services were disabled during testing to prevent spikes
in CPU/HDD usage that are typical of fresh Vista installations:

  • Windows Sidebar
  • Indexing
  • Superfetch

TEST RESULTS

Both our Intel and AMD systems consist of a moderately priced motherboard with
DDR3 memory support, 2x2GB of DDR3 memory in dual channel set to the same speed
(when possible) of 1333 MHz with timings of 9-9-9-24. A GeForce 9400GT graphics
card, WD VelociRaptor and OEM Seasonic power supply round out the test configuration.
Both AMD chips were tested at stock settings and with the core voltage decreased
to the minimum stable level (from 1.275V to 1.175V for the Athlon II X2, and
from 1.325V to 1.1875V for the Phenom II X2).


CPU-Z screenshot: Athlon II X2 250: minimum undervolt at stock speed.


CPU-Z screenshot: Phenom II X2 550: minimum undervolt at stock speed.

Test Results: General Power Consumption
Test State
C2D E7200
Athlon II X2 250
Phenom II X2 550
X3 720 BE
UV*
Stock
UV**
Stock
Idle
57W
60W
65W
76W
VC-1
Playback
67W
76W
84W
83W
85W
97W
CPU Load
88W
108W
122W
126W
129W
153W
*Athlon II X2 250 undervolted from 1.325V to 1.175V.
**Phenom II X2 550 undervolted from 1.275V to 1.1875V.

The power consumption of both chips was much higher than that of our Core 2
Duo E7200 sample. The Athlon II X2 came close when idle (3W more) but during
video playback, the system power draw was 17W higher and at full CPU load, the
difference doubled. The Phenom II X2 was worse off as expected, idling 8W higher,
drawing 18W more during video playback and 41W more at full load. From these
results one may think that either Intel is very conservative with their power
ratings or AMD is very loose.

At load, the triple core X3 720 used 24W more than the X2 550. Taking into
consideration the power supply’s 80% (more or less) efficiency, that’s a difference
of about 19W DC. The X3 720 is a 95W part, so if you take that as a baseline,
80W for the X2 550 is not too far off. The X2 250 however, used about 25W DC
less, which would put it closer to 70W than 65W. By AMD standards, the E7200
is a 45W chip.

The Athlon II undervolted very well, all the way from 1.325V to 1.175V, while
the Phenom II only managed 1.1875V down from 1.275V. Undervolted, the X2 250
used 12-14W less power when stressed, enough to put it in the 60W range (compared
to the 95W X3 720), though it was still far off from energy-sipping E7200. Undervolting
the X2 550 wasn’t worth the effort as the difference in power draw was barely
measurable.

Performance

Benchmark Comparison
Test
E7200
X2 250
X2 550
X3 720
NOD32
2:47
3:35
2:34
2:47
WinRAR
3:34
4:03
3:09
3:16
iTunes
4:00
5:36
4:44
5:13
TMPGEnc
6:10
5:11
4:54
5:08
PCMark2005
7057
6545
7217
7057

The Phenom II chip was between 5% and 28% faster in our tests (average of 16%)
compared to the Athlon II. As the X2 550 is clocked only 100 MHz higher, the
6MB of L3 cache is likely what gave it such a sizable performance advantage.

The E7200 beat the X2 250 in all tests except video encoding using TMPGEnc
— it was on average 10% faster. Compared to the X2 550, it is marginally slower,
about 5% on average. The higher clocked E5300 or E7300 would be a closer match
for the Phenom II chip.

Average Benchmark Power Consumption
Test
E7200
X2 250
X2 550
X3 720
UV*
Stock
UV**
Stock
NOD32
70W
85W
88W
106W
112W
WinRAR
74W
87W
93W
105W
111W
iTunes
72W
90W
98W
108W
118W
TMPGEnc
79W
99W
115W
117W
118W
130W
*Athlon II X2 250 undervolted from 1.325V to 1.175V.
**Phenom II X2 550 undervolted from 1.275V to 1.1875V.

As expected, the average power consumption for both the new AMD chips during
our timed tests was much higher than the E7200. The X2 250 used 13-20W more,
while the X2 550 used 31-39W more. Undervolting helped the X2 250 bridge the
gap somewhat, but the X2 550’s power figures wouldn’t budge.

Benchmark Power Consumption (Watt-hours)
Test
E7200
X2 250
X2 550
X3 720
UV*
Stock
Stock
NOD32
3.25
5.08
5.26
4.53
5.02
WinRAR
4.40
5.87
6.28
5.51
6.04
iTunes
4.80
8.40
9.15
8.52
10.26
TMPGEnc
8.12
8.55
9.93
9.64
11.12
*Athlon II X2 250 undervolted from 1.325V to 1.175V.

When it comes to absolute energy efficiency (i.e. the average AC power used
by the system multiplied by the time it took to run each test), the E7200 came
out on top once again. Between the two AMD chips, the Phenom II was slightly
more efficient — it completed the benchmarks fast enough to offset its
higher power consumption. The difference between the two was virtually nil once
we undervolted the Athlon II.

AM2+ vs. AM3

Performance on the AM3 platform is only one part of the equation. As many users
have AM2+ motherboards, it is prudent to see how power consumption and performance
differed on AM2+. For AM2+ testing, we used an Asus
M3A78-T
motherboard and 2x2GB of G.Skill DDR2 memory running at 800
MHz with 5-5-5-16 timings.

Test Results: AM2+ vs. AM3
Test State
Athlon II X2 250
Phenom II X2 550
AM2+
AM3
AM2+
AM3
Idle
61W
60W
68W
65W
VC-1
Playback
84W
90W
85W
CPU Load
125W
122W
129W

General power consumption was similar on both platforms for both of AMD’s new
processors. Both CPUs used a few watts less on the AM3 platform, but it was
too little to cause any concern.

Benchmark Comparison
Test
Athlon II X2 250
Phenom II X2 550
AM2+
AM3
AM2+
AM3
NOD32
3:09
3:35
2:34
WinRAR
3:57
4:03
3:20
3:09
iTunes
5:23
5:36
4:48
4:44
TMPGEnc
5:21
5:11
5:03
4:54
PCMark2005
6722
6545
7556
7217
Benchmark Power Consumption
Test
Athlon II X2 250
Phenom II X2 550
AM2+
AM3
AM2+
AM3
NOD32
102W
88W
103W
106W
WinRAR
100W
93W
104W
105W
iTunes
100W
98W
106W
108W
TMPGEnc
112W
115W
117W
118W

The Athlon II performed slightly better on the AM2+ platform, but used more
power in all the tests it won. The Phenom II X2 favored the AM3 test configuration
in the same way. This is rather appropriate seeing as the X2 250 is the cheaper
processor and more likely to be paired with an AM2+ motherboard.

FINAL THOUGHTS

From our tests results, we would say the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition is
comparable to the $113 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo E7300. However, the 2.80 GHz E7400
shares the same price-point. The recently released Pentium E6300 is also a compelling
product — it is essentially an E7400 with 1MB less L2 cache and is priced
at only $84. From a pure price/performance standpoint, the X2 550 underperforms.
If you take power consumption into consideration, things get worse. If our E7200
sample is indicative of the average power consumption one can expect from all
of Intel’s 45nm dual core chips, any of them could easily wipe the floor with
the X2 550 in an energy efficiency contest. At idle, they use about the same
amount of power, but at load the difference is about 40W.

The X2 550 BE has a few less measurable advantages, however. It supports AMD-V,
AMD’s virtualization technology which is required for Windows 7’s XP mode, which
runs XP in a virtual machine to solve potential compatibility issues. The next
iteration of Windows is heavily anticipated, and this feature may bypass many
of the issues that plagued PC users when they adopted Vista. The E7000 and E5000
series do not support Intel’s version of the required technology (Intel VT)
— the only dual core Intel chips with VT are the more expensive Core 2
Duo E8000 family and the older discontinued Core 2 Duo E6000 line. The X2 550
also has an unlocked multiplier, so it should be easier to overclock. In addition,
there are reports that the 3rd and 4th disabled cores in some X2 550’s can be
unlocked to give users a free, high-speed quad-core upgrade. How well retail
samples unlock and whether or it can be done stably with any amount of certainty
is impossible to know however.

Comparison Table: Dual Core 45nm Processors (June
2009)
Model
Clock Speed
L2 Cache (total)
L3 Cache
FSB/HT
TDP
Mfg.
Price
E7400
2.80 GHz
3MB
N/A
1066 MHz
65W
$113
E7300
2.66 GHz
3MB
N/A
1066 MHz
65W
$113
X2 550 BE
3.1 GHz
1MB
6MB
2.0 GHz
80W
$102
X2 250
3.0 GHz
2MB
N/A
2.0 GHz
65W
$87
E6300
2.80 GHz
2MB
N/A
1066 MHz
65W
$84
E5400
2.70 GHz
2MB
N/A
800 MHz
65W
$84
E5300
2.66 GHz
2MB
N/A
800 MHz
65W
$74

The $87 Athlon X2 250 was about 20% slower than the X2 550 in our tests, so
we expect the E6300 or even the E5400 would probably be better performers. The
X2 250 used 34W more on load compared to the E7200, and though our sample undervolted
fairly well, it narrowed the gap to only 20W. The X2 250 also supports AMD-V,
but it does not have any extra cores that can be potentially unlocked or an
unlocked multiplier to aid in overclocking.

Intel’s advantage is simple: their chips perform well for the price and are
more energy efficient. Depending on how often and how heavily the system is
used, the savings on your electricity bill could be significant. As Intel’s chips
use less power, they also dissipate less heat, and are thus easier to cool in
a quiet and/or silent fashion.

AMD holds one critical advantage. Compared to Intel, motherboards for AMD CPUs are cheaper, offer more features, and have better integrated graphics — everything users look for in a budget PC. For example, today you can spend $80 on the Intel-based Gigabyte GA-EG41M-US2H from Newegg. Alternatively you could pay $80 minus a $10 mail-in rebate for the AMD-based ASUS
M3A78-EM
, and get a faster IGP, 4 memory slots instead of 2, an
extra SATA port, 2 additional rear USB ports, and extra connectivity in the
form of eSATA, FireWire, and DisplayPort connectors. Amazingly, an extra $50
is required to get an equivalent Intel board.

Our thanks to AMD
for X2 550 BE and X2 250 product samples.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition for
AM3

Asus M4A78T-E AM3 motherboard
790GX Showdown: Gigabyte vs. MSI
Phenom II: AMD pulls closer
Intel Core i7: Nehalem Launched
Asus M3A78-T: AMD’s IGP Gets Another
Boost

* * *

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