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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [01.05.04]
Manufactured by: AMD

 

Speed Bump Ahead

I'm pleased to announce that we are finally able to review AMD processors again! It's been over a year since our last AMD review, so a lot has changed since then. From here on out, we will be able to cover a lot more products, including Athlon64 motherboards and coolers, and maybe in the future we'll be able to cover the Athlon64 FX part.

Our last AMD review was the AthlonXP 2700+. That was AMD's first jump do a 333 MHz FSB. In terms of the AthlonXP, there have been a couple changes since then. With the Barton core, the L2 cache has been upped to 512K from 256, and now it runs on a 400 MHz FSB. New motherboard chipsets were released, and luckily we were able to cover all that.

But the significant release of course was the Athlon64 almost 4 months ago. By now you probably would have read enough reviews on the Athlon64 to know what it is all about. I am only going to cover the new features briefly:

  • Integrated memory controller - Instead of requiring a north bridge memory controller, the CPU communicates directly with the memory at the full speed of the CPU.
  • 1MB of L2 cache - *Most* Athlon64 CPUs contain a whopping 1MB of cache - the amount usually reserved for server processors. Desktop computing is starting to get to the point where it really benefits from this extra cache. The L2 cache varies on some chips however - we'll get to that later on...
  • Support for SSE2 Instructions - Introduced by Intel on the Pentium 4, SSE allows the execution of a single instruction on multiple data targets at one time, and handles 128 bit double-precision floating point math. AMD and Intel have an agreement to use each others' instruction technology (which is why you see MMX support on AMD CPU's, but I wonder why Intel decided not to use 3dNow! at all?)
  • HyperTransport(tm) - HyperTransport technology provides a much simplified, high bandwidth method of communication to the CPU. The Athlon64 we are reviewing today allows for up to 1600 MHz of bandwidth.
  • AMD64 Instruction Set - In addition to the SSE2 instruction set, the Athlon64 introduces a set of new extensions to the x86 ISA. This is what enables the Athlon64 to work flawlessly (and quite capably, as you will soon see) as a 32 bit x86 processor, while allowing it to be completely future safe when 64 bit desktop computing finally hits the scene.
  • Slightly longer pipeline - The reason AMD CPU's are able to compete with Intel CPU's at such a low clock rate are because of its comparatively short prediction/recovery pipeline. The Athlon64 is bumped from 10 stages to 12 stages, but is still well short of Intel's 20 stage pipeline.

Okay, that was a bit more than I expected, but hey, now you know everything you need to know about the Athlon64 platform, and we can get right to the processor being released today!

Athlon64 3400+

The Athlon64 3400+ runs at 2.2 GHz (11 x 200 MHz CPU clock), a 200 MHz jump from the 3200+. Other than that, nothing has been changed, which makes things surprizingly simple compared to the other Athlon64 AMD launched last month.

The Athlon64 3000+ was launched last month, and hits a wonderful price point of only $218 in 1K units. The 3400+ will go for $417, which is what the 3200+ originally launched at. I would expect the 3200+ to move down to around $380 or so now.

Certainly $218 seems like an awesome price for a slight decrease in speed, but it wasn't quite that simple - rather than run the same CPU at a lower speed (1.8 GHz would have made the most sense), instead we get another 2 GHz part, but with 512K L2 cache, instead of 1MB. This throws a monkeywrench into the Athlon64 brand right off the bat, and as far as I know there is no coding to describe the difference. The speed rating should work out about right (AMD has been quite good with that), but it's just odd to see them change their brand lineup so soon, and seemingly temporarily. I wonder if they will offer another 3200+ that runs at the speed of a 3400+, but with half the cache? Ack, I am just confusing myself now...

$417 makes the 3400+ the most expensive mid-range desktop CPU available (we'll save the Athlon 64 FX and P4 Extreme discussion for a later date). This is the first time in quite a while that we've been able to say that for an AMD CPU, and they are noticably proud of that fact. Finally, AMD is leading the way, and Intel is coasting. Of course sale figures are nowhere near being similar, but this is a great step for AMD. As 64 bit desktop comuting increases, expect the margin to widen for AMD.

The Test

And now we get to review the CPU! First, have a look at our test systems:

Athlon64 System:

CPU: Athlon64 3400+
Motherboard: Shuttle AN50R (NVIDIA NForce3 150)
Memory: 512MB OCZ Gold PC4000 (running at stock DDR400)
Video Card: ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB (3.10 drivers)
HDD: Seagate 80GB Barracuda V ATA100
WindowsXP SP1, DirectX 9b, NForce UDP 3.13

Pentium 4 System:

CPU: Pentium 4 3.2 GHz (HyperThreading enabled)
Motherboard: DFI Lanparty D875B (Intel 875P)
Memory: 512MB OCZ Gold PC4000 (running at stock DDR400)
Video Card: ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB (3.10 drivers)
HDD: Seagate 80GB Barracuda V ATA100
WindowsXP SP1, DirectX 9b, Intel INF Update 5.1.1.1002

Most of the benchmarks we use that are freely available can be found on our Downloads Page.

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