AMD Unleashed: Four CPUs, Two GPUs, All Overclocked

Back in February, we published a guide to aid in overclocking a few generations of AMD processors. The Asus M3A78-T (790GX / SB750) motherboards we used allowed our AMD Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition to reach impressive core speeds, while Advanced Clock Calibration (ACC) Technology further boosted the overclocking of our two previous-generation K10 processors. Because that story was a “How-To” guide, we felt that we should put our money where our mouth is by showing what performance gains one could expect when overclocking the AMD devices we covered back then, if only to show you what to expect after following our advice. And how better to delve into these performance gains than to run each of these processors, both stock and overclocked, through our complete System Builder Marathon test suite?

Readers familiar with our System Builder Marathon (SBM) series know that each author picks the components deemed to offer the best performance within the allotted budget. While all tests are also run at stock speeds, it’s specifically the overclocking potential and performance that determine the component choices.

Many readers have been vocal about their desire to see an AMD-based SBM machine in the $625 and the $1,250 budget ranges, but no member of the SBM team has felt that building another AMD system would offer the best overclocked performance. But with a lull in the official SBM series (which went live last week, starting with Thomas' $2,500 machine), a new generation of AMD processors, and a slew of AMD hardware from the Overclocking Guide, there was an opportunity to look into the performance that overclocking each of those chips offered and compare to SBM builds from the past. In many ways, our overclocking project could almost be considered an unofficial AMD-based SBM review.  

But while the test suite is the same, the scope is vastly different in this article compared to our SBM series, as there are no budget restraints.  Neither total system cost nor exact component choices are a factor. Rather, the focus is on the potential that these processors offer. We covered AMD’s best offering at the time, the Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition, in our Overclocking Guide. We had the best of AMD’s previous-generation in the Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition. And we also had the super-affordable Athlon 7750 Black Edition, which is a slightly higher-clocked dual-core version of this Phenom processor. 

Those devices alone would offer some interesting comparisons, but there was one key price/performance processor not available while preparing the Overclocking Guide that readers would surely miss. To fill in this missing gap in our line-up, we asked AMD if they could send over a Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition for this performance story. So how will the new triple-core Phenom II compete against these more-expensive quad-core processors once all are overclocked?   

Instead of being constrained by a budget and limited to just a mid-range or a high-end video card for gaming performance, we paired each processor with both to see just what processing power is needed to take advantage of each graphics card. And what better cards to choose than a Radeon HD 4870 512 MB and HD 4870 X2, two of the graphics solutions used in our previous SBM? As you might imagine, the sheer number of benchmarks this story involves is huge, so we hope you're ready to put your analytical hat on as we churn through tons of numbers.

What level of performance will each of these processors offer once overclocked?  Is an inexpensive dual-core enough to get the job done?  Does doubling the graphics power change the situation? These are some of the question we hope to answer.

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  • waxdart
    I just skipped to the conclusion to see if reading the whole thing would be worth it.

    Seems to me like AMD know there stuff is slower and you have to accept that you have to overclock, Or their products have huge temperature problems at higher levels, so let’s "re-brand" it over clocking and let the punter spend X on cooling.

    How much goes into over clocking equipment Vs getting a CPU that runs faster and cooler in the first place? Is that much being saved?
    /Honest question with a hint of sarcasm.

    Also - I accept that just getting a system to over clock as much as possible is a valid waste of free time and good money as any other. If you enjoy it go for it.
  • wild9
    Phenom II X4 is good at stock speed compared to Intel (especially games like GTA IV), and overclocks quite well. Practically any CPU of this nature (both AMD and Intel), will require focus on keeping temps down if you want a decent overclock.