AMD’s Phenom X3: Not So Odd After All
by Chris Angelini, Reseller Advocate Magazine

Admit it. A processor with three cores sounds just a little strange. Technology has us so accustomed to moving in powers of two that an odd number is jarring. Your customers will get even more of a surprise, though, when you show them the value of AMD’s new triple-core Phenom X3 paired to a 780G-based motherboard.

That’s right—AMD is finally singing the platform tune, and the combined result is a processor, chipset, and integrated graphics engine able to outperform anything in the same price range.

A New Processor Family

Prior to the X3’s introduction, system builders could go one of two ways: either sell the dual-core Athlon X2, based on the K8 microarchitecture, or upsell AMD’s quad-core Phenom X4, which centers on K10.

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The Phenom X3 die looks just like a Phenom X4. The only difference is that one processing core is disabled in hardware, saving power while still delivering the benefits of AMD’s K10 microarchitecture.

Differences between the two chip designs are subtle. For instance, the X4 drops into a Socket AM2+ interface, while Athlons employ the older Socket AM2. Stepping up to AM2+ gives you faster data transfers over a 1.8 GHz HyperTransport 3.0 pathway, compared to the previous generation’s 1 GHz link. Phenom X4s also sport two power planes (the processor and memory controller are driven independently), yielding more granular control over power consumption. The addition of a third cache level, an improved memory controller, and a better branch predictor ensure customers see significant performance gains.

The Phenom X3 inherits the X4’s more advanced feature set. So even while prices on the triple-core chips overlap several dual-core Athlon X2s, the X3 allows you to offer a modern design better able to handle threaded software and environments that emphasize multi-tasking. Customers with more than one monitor are a perfect audience since you already know they’re productivity-oriented.

There are currently three models in the Phenom X3 family. The X3 8750, which operates at 2.4 GHz, the 8650 running at 2.3 GHz, and the 2.1 GHz 8450. Of course, each processor features three execution cores with 128KB of L1 cache and 512KB of L2 cache. A 2MB L3 repository is shared between the available cores.

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Mainstream customers craving a little more graphics performance can add a Radeon HD 3450 to their 780G-based motherboard and turn on Hybrid Graphics, teaming the GPU with the chipset’s internal IGP.

Notice that all three X3s include the xx50 suffix in their model designations, which means they center on revision B3 of AMD’s silicon. This is actually an important distinction because older B2 chips had a cache bug that could cause data loss under the right (or wrong) conditions. B3 fixes the erratum. So if your customers had heard something about a problem with Phenom, assure them these X3s are unaffected.

Your Secret Weapon

Processors play a big role in determining system performance, but they’re one piece in a much larger puzzle. Resellers able to match AMD’s Phenom X3 to a capable platform will be the ones to give their customers a great computing experience.

The X3 is all about offering mainstream buyers an alternative to dual-core CPUs. After all, businesses with larger IT budgets will likely go for quad-core chips. Therefore, you want a platform that complements the X3’s value message. AMD’s 780G chipset fits the role perfectly. Not only does it support the Socket AM2+ interface and all of Phenom’s differentiating features, but the platform also leverages an integrated Radeon HD 3200 graphics core.

A quick look at the I/O panel of Gigabyte’s 780G-based MA78GM-S2H shows how powerful the AMD chipset really is. DVI, VGA, and HDMI outputs, FireWire, USB, Ethernet, and analog/digital audio connections are all included.

Forget what you think you know about integrated graphics. The Radeon HD 3200 incorporates the same logic you’d find in AMD’s entry-level discrete cards to yield the performance and feature set you’d expect from an add-in board. It’ll do DirectX 10 graphics, accelerate Blu-ray movie playback, and even output HDMI to a big-screen TV. When your customer is ready for an upgrade, you can add a $50 Radeon HD 3450 card and enable Hybrid Graphics—a CrossFire-like technology able to use both GPUs for even faster performance.

Best of all, quantifying the value of AMD’s Phenom X3 and 780G chipset is a simple matter of running the numbers. For less than $300, you can get a triple-core processor, a 780G-based motherboard with built-in video, and a Radeon HD 3450 discrete card ready for Hybrid Graphics. Whether you’re selling into businesses or home theaters, the X3/780G combo promises to be a hot seller this summer.

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