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Test Systems And Benchmarks

Phenom II X2 555 Vs. Pentium G6950: The Rematch
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We used two test systems that share the same type of hard drive, CPU cooler, and memory in order to minimize the variables affecting performance. We also include results from a previously-tested Core i5-750 for reference, but only for application benchmarks, as the game benchmarks are affected by the newer graphic drivers.

To keep the CPUs running cool enough, we need aftermarket cooling capable of outperforming each company's stock cooler, yet cheap enough to apply to budget overclocking systems like the ones we're building. It doesn't make sense to put a $50 cooler on a $100 CPU, as the resulting cost would approach the price of the retail Core i5-750.

Once again, we chose Cooler Master's TX3. While it's not the most effective or quiet cooler out there, the TX3 does a much better job than a stock heatsink/fan combination, and the $20 price tag makes it an ideal fit for these budget CPUs. The Hyper TX3 works on both Socket AM3 and LGA 1156 interfaces, which makes for an ideal comparison in this case.

Now for the motherboards. For the AMD system, we chose Asus's M4A785TD-V EVO, a solid platform built around the 785G chipset that proved its memory support and overclocking prowess in our AMD 785G motherboard roundup. At $100 online, it is a fantastic low-cost AMD overclocking board.

Choosing a board for the Intel system is a little more complicated. The P55 chipset is our first choice, but most overclock-friendly P55 motherboards are a little more expensive, and we want to keep the budget low for this comparison. Since the Gigabyte H55M-USB3 performed very well in fellow editor Thomas Soderstrom's budget H55 chipset roundup, we'll take a leap of faith and give Gigabyte's H55M-UD2H a try. This board costs just under $90 online ($10 cheaper than our AMD board). On a side note, it's not often that the cost of an Intel CPU and motherboard is lower than a comparable AMD setup, but the LGA 1156 motherboard and CPU combo have a $10 advantage in this review.


Intel Test System
AMD Test System
CPU

Intel Pentium G6950 2.8 GHz (Clarkdale)
Dual-core, 3MB L3 Cache, 133 MHz reference clock, 2,000 MHz QPI
Overclocked:
4.3 GHz, 205 MHz reference clock, 2,870 MHz QPI

AMD Phenom II X2 555 (Callisto),
3.2 GHz, 2,000 MHz HT Link, 6MB L3 Cache
Overclocked:
213 MHz HT Ref, 2,139 MHz HT Link/Northbridge
Dual-core: 4.065 GHz, Quad-core: 3.8 GHz

Motherboard

Gigabyte H55M-UD2H LGA 1156
Chipset: Intel H55, BIOSF8

Asus M4A785TD-V EVO Socket AM3
Chipset: AMD 785G, BIOS 0410

Networking
Onboard Gigabit LAN controller
Memory

Mushkin PC3-10700
  2 x 2,048MB, DDR3-1066, CL 7-8-8-8-24-1T
Overclocked:
DDR3-1230, CL 8-8-8-8-24-1T

Mushkin PC3-10700
  2 x 2,048MB, DDR3-1333, CL 9-9-9-24-1T
Overclocked:
DDR3-1420, CL 9-9-9-24-1T

Graphics

Saphire Radeon HD 5850
725 MHz GPU, 1GB GDDR5 at 1,000 MHz

Hard Drive

Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
7,200 RPM, 32MB Cache, SATA 3.0 Gb/s

Power

Corsair CMPSU-750HX 750W
ATX12V, EPS12V , 80-Plus Certified

Software and Drivers
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 7 x64
DirectX versionDirectX 11
Graphics Drivers

ATI Catalyst 10.3

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
CrysisPatch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit executable, benchmark tool
High Quality, No AA
Fallout 3Patch 1.7, Saved Game "Capital Wasteland" (60 sec)
Highest Details, No AA, No AF
Far Cry 2Patch 1.03, DirectX 10, in-game benchmark
Ultra High Quality, No AA
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.XPatch 1.02, DirectX 10.1, in-game benchmark
Highest Settings, No AA
World in ConflictPatch 1009, DirectX 10, timedemo
Very High Details, No AA / No AF
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunes 8Version: 8.2.1.6 (x64)
Audio CD ("Terminator II" SE), 53 min
Default format AAC
Lame MP3Version: 3.98.2, wave to MP3
Audio CD "Terminator II" SE, 53 min
wave to MP3
TMPGEnc 4.0 ExpressVersion: 4.7.3.292
Import File: "Terminator 2" SE DVD (5 Minutes)
Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
DivX 6.8.5Encoding mode: Insane Quality
Enhanced multithreading enabled using SSE4
Quarter-pixel search
XviD 1.2.2Display encoding status = off
MainConcept Reference 1.6.1
Reference H.264 Plugin Pro 1.5.1
MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 KHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS)
Productivity
Adobe Photoshop CS4 (64-bit)Version: 11.0 Extended, Filter 15.7MB TIF Image
Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Autodesk 3ds Max 2010Version: 11.0, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
WinRAR 3.90Version x64 3.90, Dictionary = 4,096KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334MB)
WinZip 12Version 12.1, WinZip Command Line Version 3.0
Compression = Best, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks
3DMark VantageVersion: 1.01, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark VantageVersion: 1.00, System, Memory, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks, Windows Media Player 10.00.00.3646
SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP4aVersion 2009.9.15.130, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / MultiMedia, Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark
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  • 0 Hide
    ksampanna , 21 May 2010 21:48
    Good review.
    Though why isn't AA enabled for the games which suffer from a GPU bottleneck? That would've spaced out the results.
  • 1 Hide
    swiftsword69 , 22 May 2010 01:18
    i guess ive been pretty lucky in both occasions. Previously i have never touched an AMD cpu but because I found out that they have the phenom's have the potential to unlock the extra 1 or 2 cores (X3 or X4 respectively), I went out and got the phenom II 550. That has been running inside my case OC at 3.6GHZ 24/7 for the past 6 months without any stability problem. I only changed the multipler in the BIOS and didnt even bother changing the voltage and had left it on auto. Because the 550 went so well, I was itchy to build another AMD rig for fun (why wouldnt u if a $90 cpu from 6 months had done so well for you) so I went out and got the Phenom II 555. I have also successfully unlocked it into a X4 and OC at 3.8Ghz. I've left it running for several days straight with benchmarks (ie 3dmark vantage) running in loop and also didnt find any problems with it. In the past I have always used intel CPUs (ie dual core 5200 OC @ 4ghz) but now that I've made a switch to AMD, i am really impressed with their CPU because they have the potential to have their extra cores unlocked. In short, AMD with unlockable cores = good stuff, better than anything intel has to offer because you are effectively getting a phenom X4 for less money. I guess I have been extremely because I never played with an AMD cpu in the past and the only two CPUs (550 and 555) ive got, both were able to unlock with extra 2 cores and OC to higher clock speeds. AMD has so many good budget CPU these days only because they cannot compete in the high end space. Intel's budget solution is not as attractive as AMDs, I would only consider them if I want to build a very high end system.
  • 0 Hide
    swiftsword69 , 22 May 2010 01:29
    I have one question for the core unlocking enthusiasts since I am such a big fan of it. I knew that Phenom II X2s always had the potential of being turned into a X4. How about the Athlon II X2s? I know in the previous batch AMD had made the cpus as a dual core from the factory and therefore its not possible to turn on additional cores when there are no more than 2 physical cores contained on the CPU die itself. Just recently I've seen reports of newer batch Athlon II X2s also having the potential of being unlocked into Athlon II X4s. My question is, for the new Athlon II X2s and X3s, have AMD switched around to the Athlon X4 design (suppose its cheaper for AMD in the long run to just maintain one fabrication design rather than two for both dual core and quad) when they are making these CPUs and then just bin them accordingly similar to what they are already doing with the Phenom II CPUs.
  • 0 Hide
    daglesj , 22 May 2010 05:02
    I'm still waiting for most of my apps to take advantage of two cores let alone the 4 I have.

  • 0 Hide
    redkachina , 22 May 2010 05:07
    Being an AMD user..I'm amazed to see that intel processors ability to achieve 4Ghz easily..
  • 2 Hide
    hundredislandsboy , 23 May 2010 03:15
    I would have concluded the article differently since not everyone is comfortable with overclocking, not everyone wants to overclock, not everyone knows how to overclock. With that in mind, AMD is the better choice plus you get a 30 to 40 percent chance (anecdotally only) of unleashing it to a quad core and you get ZERO chance with the Intel.

    For further added value for basic motherboards, AM3 mobos start in the high $30s while socket 1156 Intel mobos start in the $70s.

    Fair enough?

  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , 23 May 2010 07:33
    Look at the test setup..you don't need DDR3 memory to run the Phenom II.

    Despite the core and manufacturing updates of the G6950, the Phenom still seems to do a really good job holding it's own.

    So in all I see no real argument in favour or rushing out to sell my AM2 hardware for a budget Intel offering. None at all. I'd just be throwing money down the drain and losing everything the 785G chipset has given me. Plus, of course, I'd lose any hope of unlocking extra core's or L3 cache. The only choice I'd make here would be Phenom II vs i5 or I7, and I'd still go towards the green camp due to the ease of upgrade and bang-per-buck.
  • 0 Hide
    mactronix , 27 May 2010 17:55
    I'm actually going to build around the 555 shortly. I have a 755 board now and have decided on a budget basis that a 790 AM2+ board and a 555 with the possibility of unlocking makes much more sense financially as i can reuse all the DDR2 i have which saves £100+ straight away allowing me to buy better hardware for the rest of the rig and still easily come in under £100+ less than a similar spec ed Intel rig.
    One thing i noticed or maybe i didn't see it but through out the article the chances of unlocking the 555's cores was played down (rightly) because its not a given. The thing that wasn't mentioned was that the OC on the Intel chip isn't a given either. Both chips have a chance of being nothing more than stock items.
    Its not just this article toms seems to point out the possible shortcomings of the AMD architecture without mentioning that the Intel hardware has just as much chance of doing nothing either.
  • 0 Hide
    Solitaire , 27 May 2010 19:27
    Let's look at this review from a European perspective: Two useless CPUs battle it out in a desperate and not entirely successful attempt to score a propaganda piece for Intel and thus fatten certain Toms staff' paychecks.

    To be fair, the X2-555 will be purchased by the odd gamer who religiously believes that multiple cores are the work of the Devil. The Pentium G is an OEM piece with "flop" written all over it. Why buy a CPU that's cheaper than any other part of your system? €80 for a Pentium G, €85+ for an old HD4850, €90+ for an LGA1156 mobo and nowadays €110+ for 4GB DDR3.

    The dire hardware prices have relegated LGA1156 to an upper-mainstream curio; when it does appear it's going to be in a high-end build with an i5-750 or i7-860 sticking out of it. It might (rarely) pop up with an i3-530 in there (a CPU which is pretty much the final nail in the Pentium G's coffin) but why bother when AM2+3 is such a cheaper upgrade path? If you only have DDR2 (and a lot of us have) then get a recent-chipset AM2+ mobo for €50-70 IF you don't already have one then drop in a tri-/quad-core CPU for anywhere between €60-100, OC just a tiny bit to taste and sacrifice the extra cache for a CPU that's going to leave the dualies in the dust in almost any app that actually needs CPU grunt more than a solid GPU.

    With the possible exception of the i3-530 the 32nm parts are consigned to OEM Hell by shoddy CPU and mobo hardware pricing (hmm? €180 for an i5-750 or a fair whack more for the cheapest dual core to have Turbo? Hard choice that...) at the worst time economically possible (with both the recession and memory prices) to even contemplate an upgrade.
  • 0 Hide
    mactronix , 27 May 2010 21:06
    Yep you cant upgrade your Core 2 because the prices are stupid high years after they should have been £40-£60 parts. Hell my old E4600 is half as much again today as when i bought it !!
    i anything needs plenty of cash to upgrade to and so Intel it seems have taken a business decision to price themselves out of the mainstream market.
    Good move. Not
  • 0 Hide
    Avro Arrow , 28 May 2010 04:59
    Pages upon pages upon pages of article with no definitive answer. *sigh*
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