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Low-Power Face-Off: AMD's Athlon X2 Vs. Intel's Core 2 Duo

Low-Power Face-Off: AMD's Athlon X2 Vs. Intel's Core 2 Duo

AMD, which dominated the processor market with its Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 X2 just a few years ago, was able to make a return with the recent Phenom II processors. While these new 45 nm CPUs cannot trump Intel's Core i7, they offer performance that can match a Core 2 Quad here and there. Unfortunately, there is no low-power version available yet, so we decided to look at AMD’s remaining low-power option.

The latest Athlon X2 dual-core CPUs are very affordable, and supposedly efficient. Our shootout includes an Athlon X2 5050e (45 W TDP) and a 5600+ (65 W TDP) as well as several Intel processors.

Low Power Versus Efficiency

Power users will certainly focus on performance first, while all other users want to have the best of both worlds: a fast processor that does not consume more power than necessary.

Performance is easy enough to define. It is the time required for a workload to complete, or workload execution within a given time. However, efficiency is still sometimes misunderstood, because efficiency does not equal low power. A low-power device such as Intel’s Atom processor has low power consumption, but it is far from being efficient.

We define efficiency as the power that is required to complete a specific workload. In this case, power is measured in Watt-hours (this isn’t watts per hour, but watts times hours). Some readers had noted that work energy should be stated in joules. One joule equals one watt-second, so a watt-hour equals 1 x 60 x 60 = 3,600 joules. We decided to stay with Watt-hours (Wh), as this is the way we are charged for electricity.

CPU Power Versus Platform Power

On the CPU side, AMD has traditionally had two advantages over Intel. First there is the SOI manufacturing process (at 90, 65, and 45 nm), which ensures low power requirements in idle mode thanks to low leakage power. This makes it very much competitive with Intel’s manufacturing, which has typically been 12-18 months ahead of AMD with regards to transistor size (note that AMD processor manufacturing is being outsourced). Second, AMD processors have come with integrated memory controllers since the introduction of the Athlon 64 in late 2003, which typically provides a power consumption advantage over logic that is part of the Intel chipset. Core i7 has started to introduce a paradigm change in this direction with Intel, but that doesn’t apply to Core 2.

So there is the platform, which contributes to power consumption. Especially if you look at all-in-one integrated chipsets such as the AMD 780G, AMD has offered much better 3D performance and power efficiency than Intel chipsets. We used an integrated AMD 780G motherboard as well as an Intel board based on the latest G45 chipset for this article, as well as two representative AMD processors, two Intel dual-cores chips, and two Intel low-power quad core CPUs.

What To Expect?

AMD’s Athlon X2 processor is a rather aged product and cannot compete with any of the Core 2 processors in terms of performance—this is a given. So don’t take this article as a performance shootout, but rather as it was intended: a look into the efficiency of AMD’s low power / low budget offerings, since the AMD Socket AM2+ platform still provides a great basis for office systems in the value range. In the end, performance is still many times better than what you’d get from an Atom nettop. In light of $299-399 netbooks, it makes a lot of sense to consider a low cost PC instead, as you can easily stay below $500 even with a reasonable display.

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  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 31 March 2009 16:15
    Surely the newer more current Athlon X2 7750BE would have been a better choice than the 5400BE?
    Same price newer core and faster.
  • 1 Hide
    aron311 , 1 April 2009 02:11
    Alright so where the hell do get hold of a Fortron FSP220-60LE, 220W ? I would really like to know! Needs to be UK deliverable too...
  • 1 Hide
    tranzz , 1 April 2009 04:11
    As your throwing quad cores into the mix it would have been nice to see a HD9450ODJ4BGH AMD Phenom™ X4 Quad-Core 9450e 2100 65 W too.
  • 1 Hide
    wild9 , 1 April 2009 09:25
    If I was to choose AMD right now it would be for several reasons:

    1) Most people in my can't afford faster hardware and don't need it. The performance of any of these CPU's would be exception for almost any task, and the AMD rigs would be good as servers or clusters.
    2) The price/performance ratio of AMD's chipsets is second to none
    3) Intel is more expensive, especially if you want HD and 3D stability
    4) The power consumption of Intel C2D is bound to be low, since it has no intergrated memory controller. Try also adding a graphics card.

    I am not saying Intel is bad, their core performance is very good, it's just that I would not buy an energy-efficient rig for outright performance, and if I can buy one at a great price then it matters not if it's AMD or Intel. In this case, I still buy AMD because of the reasons above and because their technology has been tried and tested. I got fed up pretty quickly with people complaining to me that the Intel chipsets lack decent 3D or stable HD support.
  • 1 Hide
    wild9 , 1 April 2009 09:26
    Most people in my town, sorry.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 1 April 2009 17:08
    And where's the Phenom II x4 710, or E5200?

    Also, the G45 is pathetic compared to 780G. Instead use Nvidia 9xxx board with E5200.
  • 1 Hide
    ukctstrider , 1 April 2009 17:54
    I don't think these benchmarks are really that relevant and probably cloud the issue in Intel's favour.
    As a platform AMD are simply miles ahead in this market, the chipsets are miles better and the processors are cheaper and easier to upgrade.
    What's the point in spending £30-40 ($60) more on a processor just to save £10 a year on electricity? Additionally the way that Intel keep messing around with their sockets do you want to run the risk of CPU failure and having to replace the whole rig because you can't find a compatible processor to drop in.
    AMD's supperior approach doesn't seem to have been enough to convice the market though as everywhere I've worked recently (Large NHS trusts/Local Authorities etc) have PC's supplied by Dell and HP and they almost always have Intel inside.

    Whilst I'd like to have seen the processors mentioned above in the tests, I'd rather have seen tests based on a working days use of Excel or some word processing and see which used the least power doing that. Benchmarks, Games, and MP3 encoding don't represent the workloads that these processors are aimed at.
  • 2 Hide
    Reynod , 1 April 2009 22:33
    A&R have zero cred here anymore.

    They are just a pair of Intel tools who will throw together anything to discredit AMD.

    Where are the low power AMD quads in this mix ??

    They omitted them ...

    We need to get rid of these old hacks and get someone without bias like Chris to run these sorts of tests.

    It is time for GenX to take the helm and the baby boomers need to retire.

    Objectivity please !!
  • 1 Hide
    Reynod , 1 April 2009 22:35
    sorry ... meant S&R
  • 0 Hide
    waxdart , 2 April 2009 00:03
    @ukctstrider - Do you pay the bills in your house? Prices keep going up and up. If you keep the machine on 24/7 and keep the machine around for a few years, it will pay for itself.

    Also the extra power used per chip times x 100,000 people who own them - mounts up to a lot of CO2. sometimes its not always about money cost.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 3 April 2009 07:36
    I am glad I read these ^ comments, now I can go looking specificity for the low power quad cores.

    NB: when I go looking for low power consumption, its because I want three things:

    1. Does not run to hot (ie passive psu's and such in a small case)
    2. I want to play games and...
    3. I do not want to pay to much.

    I find Intel rigs far to expensive, and would rather spend the difference on graphics cards.
  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , 3 April 2009 09:08
    Compare the AMD server platforms to the Intel one's as well..the Intel one's will be more complex (Core 2 Quad), and more expensive. The additional memory control logic and the fact the Intel's aren't quad-core only adds to their power consumption levels. No wonder the overwhelming majority of super-computers are AMD-based.

    For me, I've found that an AMD A64x2 running on Cool 'n' Quiet technology, together with a 55nm AMD chipset is very good on power consumption. I get HD support (plus the right outputs), whenever the folks want to watch a film, and they can also play a 3D game without having to plug in a graphics card. All for a low price..and of course, some peace and quiet from the system case - something AMD and Intel users would welcome :) 
  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , 3 April 2009 09:09
    "the Intel's aren't quad-core"

    oops..this should read: "the Intel's aren't native quad-core"
  • 1 Hide
    Solitaire , 3 April 2009 10:00
    Christ, I thought Roos was ousted a while back... guess I fail then :) 

    Doesn't change the fact that he's a lying Intel hatchet-boy that's killing this site :p 

    Comparing outdated AMD CPUs to newer Intel ones that cost 2-3 times as much? And that's only the dualies! We know that C2D is awesome and that Athlon could never compare to it. But you've told us this at least a dozen times over the last 18 months Roos! Even 5050e vs. E7200 isn't apples:apples once you remember the price differential so how the hell does 5050e vs. C2Q make things better (bear in mind the huge price premiums the 65W C2Qs bear even compared to equivalent 95W C2Qs!) when you refuse to allow the 65W Phenoms to balance the equation?!?! Aside from drop-in compatibility making some ppl's minds up for them (oh noes I have an AM2 board I must replace half the guts of my PC and go Intel before Pope Roos declares me a heretic!) unit cost has a huge bearing on purchase choice and the AMD CPUs are still the right horses for some courses.

    But the real catch is that you didn't even look at the newer X2-3xx0e 22W AMD parts; yes we're only talking up to 1.8GHz AFAIK but 22W is lower than many laptop chips. Yeah AMD need to get a move on and start spreading some current-gen 45nm 45/65W love but that does not give Toms the right to turn potentially useful articles into propaganda rants that seem to have been put through a nonsense machine!
  • 0 Hide
    Reynod , 4 April 2009 18:56
    +5 for Solitaire
  • 0 Hide
    anato , 7 April 2009 19:12
    This article is rubbish. Selected Intel system costs 2-4 times more than AMD:s one. And using 780G you get integrated graphichs and lots of 3d power but it will also consume power. By selecting a better chipset for desktop use you beet the Intel.

    This article seems to me been fixed.
  • 0 Hide
    anato , 7 April 2009 19:13
    This article is rubbish. Selected Intel system costs 2-4 times more than AMD:s one. And using 780G you get integrated graphichs and lots of 3d power but it will also consume power. By selecting a better chipset for desktop use you beet the Intel.

    This article seems to me been fixed.
  • 0 Hide
    skgiven , 16 April 2009 05:56
    The AMD 5050e is a fossil. Why not try an old Phenom 9750, at least its vaguely comparable?
    Mind you, both of these chips are 65nm, so there is little point comparing them to any 45nm energy saving chips from the outset.
    Although the 5050e is a reasonably efficient chip in terms of power usage it struggles against Intel’s dual and quad cores because of a number of issues. Firstly, the instruction set is not designed for gaming. It is more for office use. Secondly it has significantly less Cache than intel’s top dual cores, never mind the quads. Thirdly, it is knocking on a bit.
    The 5050e is clocked at 2.6GHz per core and the 9750 is clocked at 2.4GHz per core. The performance of the 9750 is mainly enhanced from using an 1800MHz HT link and having more L2 Cache (2MB) and from actually having L3 cache (2MB). These aspects in themselves make the AMD quad core comparable to many of the Intel dual cores in terms of performance and a few quad cores. That said even the 9750 and its faster sisters are now outdated both in terms of out and out performance and power efficiency. Phenom II, anyone?
    If you want efficiency look at AMDs 85W AM3 quad cores.
    If you want power, look at the Phenom II X4 955 @ 3.2GHz and with 4MB L3 Cache.
    Modern operating systems can underclock the CPU’s.
    Vista could underclock my old 9750 to drop the systems Wattage by 25W idle simply by dropping the CPU frequency from 2400MHz to 1200 and the core Voltage from 1.256 to 1.040V.
    When the CPU was being used fully (100% payload) this dropped the systems Wattage from 193W to 133W.
    I think the E7200 CPU is at least a half generation ahead of the AMD 5050e and with 3MB L2 cache and 2.53 GHz frequency, I would say it is a middle of the road CPU as opposed to an Entry CPU! Certainly not an entry level CPU!
    The Q9000 is a MOBILE Quad CPU. It is out there on its own and not readily comparable to any other Quad, Intel or AMD, in terms of energy efficiency or power! Why even go there?
  • 0 Hide
    skgiven , 16 April 2009 06:25
    The 3250e is a 1.5GHz dual core AMD CPU that has a TDP or 22W.
    Although the Atom 330 dual core uses 8W, its chipset raises this to a total of 25W!!!
    So the AMD 3250e is actually more economical. It is also faster – which is pretty much a given! Lets face it, a 5 year old Celeron can outperform an Atom!
    Alternatively, just buy a 4350+ for under £50 and set Vista to Power Saver whe you are not in a hurry!
    There is also a somewhat dated 3800+ AMD CPU that operates at 35W.
  • 0 Hide
    Reynod , 22 April 2009 19:48
    Try a new 40 Watt Opti ... tons more grunt than these and idles down to nothing.

    2.3Ghz as well.

    No trouble decoding HD wit hthat little beast.

    Plus full HT speeds ...

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