The Hexa-core is here: AMD's latest CPU, the Phenom II X6 1090T is reviewed

The Hexa-core is here: AMD's latest CPU, the Phenom II X6 1090T is reviewed

Hexa-core is here, but how does it stack up? John Gillooly assesses AMD’s bid for the hearts and minds of desktop builders.

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There are very few hexa-core processors in the wild. Intel has one, in the form of its expensive enthusiast ‘Gulftown' Core i7-980X Extreme Edition. AMD uses two hexa-core dies in its latest generation of Opteron server processors, and has become the first manufacturer to produce mainstream hexa-core CPUs in the form of the Phenom II X6 processors.

These Phenom II X6 CPUs are the latest iteration of AMD's now venerable K10 architecture that first appeared on the desktop with the launch of Phenom in late 2007. The Phenom II X6 CPUs are based upon the design codenamed ‘Thuban'; they resemble the recently released ‘Instanbul' Opteron processor, which slaps two hexa-core dies onto a single package.

Built using 45nm technology, these cores each have 128KB of L1 and 512KB of L2 cache. They all share access to 6MB of L3 cache.

The Phenom II X6 is designed to work with DDR3 1600 and supports faster speeds for some combinations of memory, thanks to AMD's Black memory profiles. AMD has so far released two mainstream Phenom X6 processors at competitive prices that will appeal to desktop system builders, and plans to launch more in the coming months.

As with the Dragon before it, AMD provides further scope and tools for overclocking if the CPU is used as part of a Platform that combines them with new AMD 890 chipsets and the ATI Radeon HD 5000 series graphics cards.

The top of the range Phenom II X6 1090T has six cores running at 3.2GHz - the T at the end of the name stands for Turbo-Core, an update of AMD Overdrive. Turbo-Core attempts to make the most of the processor for single-threaded applications and occasions where all six cores would be overkill.

AMD uses software to turn off three cores, and overclock the remaining three: in the case of the 1090T to 3.6GHz. This is similar to Intel's Turbo-boost technology but not as elegant. Whereas Intel can adjust how much how much the cores are overclocked in increments, AMD simply turns up three cores to a single higher speed when it detects that fewer than three are being used.

Turbo core is incredibly important to the Phenom II X6's performance. Because the majority of work performed by the processor in your average desktop is single threaded, the CPU will likely spend most of its time as an effective tri-core processor running at 3.6GHz. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; the processor offers the flexibility of adapting to its load in a crude but effective way.

AMD's literature about the Phenom II X6 suggests it is designed for ‘extreme megatasking' situations. Maybe a little hyperbolic, but it does indicate where the Phenom shines, which is when all six cores are working away.

It was noticeable in our testing that single threaded and light multitasking tests show performance improvements in line with those expected from a faster version of the K10 core. In our real world benchmarks the Phenom II X6 1090T scored 1.74 overall, which is in line with similarly clocked Phenom II processors tested in the past.

However when we used Maxxon's Cinebench to load up all six cores with rendering tasks there was a huge improvement over quad core Phenom II processors. In our tests the X6 scored 1.07 points in the single core rendering test and 5.65 points in the multicore one.

That six cores perform more than five times better than one core is impressive, especially when you consider that the single core was running at 3.6GHz, thanks to Turbo-Core, while the multi-core tests had six cores each running at 3.2GHz.

While you can pair the X6 with 890FX, 890GX and 870 chipsets, the 890FX is the one AMD suggests for partnering the Phenom II X6. It offers some nice additional features, such as native support for SATA 6Gbps, support for two 16x PCI Express lanes (or four lanes running at 8x) to allow for multiple graphics cards, and improved PCI-Express connectivity for other onboard devices.

But, chipset decisions aside, the major advantage for the Phenom II X6 is that it offers six cores for the price of four Intel cores. Intel's processors still beat AMD's in single-core performance, but if your workload involves rendering or other tasks that can take advantage of the number of threads rather than raw speed, the Phenom II X6 stands out.

We'll have to wait until AMD lifts the lid on its Fusion platform next year to see the next generation of the AMD vs Intel war. What AMD has done with the Phenom II X6, however, is play to the architecture's strengths.

It is a capable CPU, has more cores than its competitors and is relatively cheap. When paired with the 890FX chipset it brings technologies like SATA 6GB/s that do not yet appear on Intel's chipsets, and the motherboards available for the platform are similarly cheap.

This Review appeared in the July, 2010 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

See more about:  amd  |  phenom  |  ii  |  x6  |  1090t  |  cpu  |  intel

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Comments: 10
18 June 2010
Last I knew, there was still almost NO software for multicore processors. So why buy one if you cannot use it.
Secondly, it more specialized markets there are lots of chips with more cores. Go to Parallax and check out there propeller chip, beyond that there are embedded systems with 64-100 small cores, now that is something. Sun I think is also on the verge of releaseing their next generation SPARC CPU (Rock)with 16 cores capable of pushing 2 threads each.
Of course, all of this is outside the PC space, but when it comes to counting computers, I've read quotes suggesting that Intel/AMD has only 2-5% of the whole computer market, so these other chips are FAR more popular than PCs and Macs.

Comment made about the PC Authority article:
The Hexa-core is here: AMD's latest CPU, the Phenom II X6 1090T is reviewed?
Hexa-core is here, but how does it stack up? John Gillooly assesses AMD’s bid for the hearts and minds of desktop builders

What do you think? Join the discussion.
20 June 2010
totoaus, "almost no software"? You're kidding, right? Windows Vista/7 assign processes to different cores, so even programs which don't actively use multiple cores get a speed boost. Sure, these CPUs are best when a program actively assigns work to different cores, but that doesn't make more cores useless. At the price the 1090T goes for, it's a good buy. Worth it over an Intel quad core? That depends on the type of work you do on your PC.
21 June 2010
The answer surely lies in how software will be written over the next 2 - 3 years. Will it be written to take advantage of multi cores or gpu computing?
21 June 2010
Depends on the algorithm petergaskin. Not all programs scale well to multiple cores. Most programs are too trivial for it to be worth the time and effort.
21 June 2010
Srill doesnt answer why video card manufacturers are trying to producing increasingly more powerful cards - cards that are designed to take the load off the cpu.
So my original question still applies - will software writers take advantage fo multiple cores or increasingly powerful video cards?
Alternatively, will powerful video cards die a sudden death as most people find them irrelevant?
Finally, is it about a computers ability to run multiple programs at once.
21 June 2010
They do it for gaming, primarily. They're also used in dedicated servers for highly parallel work. Scientific calculations are often highly repetitive and linear, and adapt to parallel systems really well. They won't die a sudden death, there's no reason why they would.

Why do manufacturers go for more cores? Because it's easier than pushing the clock speed up. Will software take advantage of it? They already do.
21 June 2010
So will the average user need both a multi core cpu and one of those new style video cards?
I am currently running Vista home premium and Windows 2010 beta on a small duo core cpu and with a video card with only 128mb of ram. Seriously, most of the time it is more than adequate for the way I use my computer. So what are the expected changes in the future that may require me to purchase a computer with a hex core cpu?
22 June 2010
Who's the average user? Depends what they want to do. Some people may be perfectly happy with inbuilt graphics.

As for what you need, don't upgrade, simple solution. No one is forcing anyone to get a hex-core. In fact, Intel and AMD are still producing dual-core CPUs at very affordable prices. It all depends on the users needs. Hex core isn't required by most people, doesn't mean they shouldn't exist.

Edited by .:Cyb3rGlitch:.: 22/6/2010 12:27:55 AM
8 September 2010
I have one of these.
I don't know if I utilise all six cores or not, but lets not forget that when it is running a single thread heavy operation, it ramps up the speed.
With a $29 cooler, I have mine sitting comfortably at 3.8Ghz, ramping up to 4.2Ghz when required.
the extra cores are nice to have, simply for the fact that if I DO require them in future, they are there.
And there is also a little more cache than the 965BE x4.
6 April 2011
I have 'only' the 1055T - for photo processing it's a champ. I run it at standard speed. My pic processing s/w can run on 5 cores and I always get a responsive desktop. This CPU wound add even more snap. It's great for running lots of programs at once.
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