Conclusions

The Athlon 64 FX-55 processor is a beast.  It is able to out perform the competition quite handily in a majority of the benchmarks we saw, with the exceptions of the Sysmark test and the professional rendering applications.  For gaming however, there is little discussion that needs to be made about which processor is going to give you the better frame rate and there by improve your gaming experience — the Athlon 64’s K8 core has become the gamer’s choice of CPUs hands down.

The 4000+, as we expected, performed identically to the FX-53 processor, which makes a lot of sense because ITS THE SAME PROCESSOR.  When introducing the FX line of processors, AMD told us and the world that there would only ever be a single FX processor in active production at any given time, and that it would be the best of the best from their desktop line.  They have kept that promise in word but have not really moved past it in spirit.  The 4000+ is indeed an Athlon 64 FX-53 renamed and AMD has simply done this as they can still make money selling this already produceable processor core.  It makes a lot of sense from a business stand point, but it raises a couple of questions as well.

Will all future releases of the Athlon 64 processor simply be the last releases of the FX processor?  This seems to be the case right now, but what of all the 512 KB cache processors that AMD has been telling us about?  The 3800+ and 4000+ run at the same clock speed but differ in their amounts of L2 cache (512 KB vs 1 MB) and that is their only differentiating feature.  If this trend continues, we’ll see the 4200+ as a 2.6 GHz 512 KB part and the 4400+ as the 2.8 GHz 1 MB part.  Of course, all this discussion is rather useless when you figure that AMD has planned no more processor releases until the 2Q of 2005.  The FX-55 will be the top of stack for some time to come. 

In the meantime, you can expect to see additional SKUs being made of the 90nm versions of their 130nm cousins.  Currently we have the 3000+, 3200+ and 3500+ available in a 90nm version, but the higher performance parts will be left at 130nm for at least the rest of 2004.  Interestingly, AMD recently let us know that their 90nm parts do in fact have improvements made to the memory interface on them, improving performance somewhat over the 130nm cores.  While this isn’t really a surprising move, it is surprising to not see them push these benefits on to the FX line at the same time.  Yields on AMD’s 90nm line must not be high enough to get reliable quantities of higher clocked cores.

Intel is once again finding itself in a difficult sitauation on the desktop processor front.  Its Prescott core processors aren’t performing at the level they hoped they would and the Extreme Edition processors are giving them only so much additional performance.  On nearly all the tests, we are seeing the K8 core toppling over the Intel line at every corner.  I am sure Intel is aware of this, and they have planned a FSB increase as an attempt to counter this trend, but whether or not that change is enough to get back into the race will have to be seen in a couple weeks.  If they don’t, I’m afraid it will take some time for Intel to come back with a processor to put pressure on AMD, and this only leads to a lack of competition and therefore the slow processor releases that I mentioned above.

Price vs Performance Data

As we have done on previous processor releases, we like to take the time to create these “price/performance” ratio tables that make an attempt to place a simple ranking system on the performance of a processor.  Keep in mind that this is simply an ATTEMPT to do this and it is by no means a fool proof or complete representation of a processors performance or value.  I simply take the benchmark results that I presented here in our review, and divide them by the pricing that we have for each processor.  This gives us a normalized comparable value to look at and the bolded ratio is the “winner” or best score of the bunch (ie: the highest).

Unreal Tournament 2003: 1024x768x32 MAX
  Avg FPS Price FPS Per Dollar
Athlon 64 FX-55 
263.4
$827
0.31
Athlon 64 4000+
254.8
$729
0.34
Athlon 64 3800+
240.2
$608
0.39
Athlon 64 3500+
225
$288
0.78
Intel 3.4EE 
201.6
$999
0.20
Intel 560
192.1
$475
0.40
Intel 550
183.9
$288
0.63
Quake III: 1024x768x32 MAX 
Athlon 64 FX-55 
484.5
$827
0.58
Athlon 64 4000+
461.4
$729
0.63
Athlon 64 3800+
423.3
$608
0.69
Athlon 64 3500+
398.2
$288
1.38
Intel 3.4EE 
463.8
$999
0.46
Intel 560
437.3
$475
0.92
Intel 550
408.6
$288
1.41
Doom 3: 1024x768x32 HQ
Athlon 64 FX-55 
113.8
$827
0.13
Athlon 64 4000+
108.6
$729
0.14
Athlon 64 3800+
102.5
$608
0.16
Athlon 64 3500+
96.4
$288
0.33
Intel 3.4EE 
89.5
$999
0.08
Intel 560
87.7
$475
0.18
Intel 550
83
$288
0.28

With a quick look at gaming here, we see the lower priced processors are giving us a much better score for the money we are paying for them.  While this has always been the case with processors, at least of the same manufacturer and generation, it is interesting to see how the top dog’s from Intel and AMD compare against each other as well.  In our UT2003 test, the Athlon 64 3500+ gives us the better performance ratio by a significant margin over the Intel 550 processor.  Also of note is how the new FX-55 is a much better gaming processor than the 3.4EE when it comes to our ratio scheme here.  The Intel 560 processor on the other hand is priced well below the top of the line Athlon parts, and as such is able to keep up with the FX-55 and surpass it. 

Content Creation Winstone 2004
  Points  Price Points Per Dollar
Athlon 64 FX-55 
36.2
$827
4.37
Athlon 64 4000+
34.3
$729
4.70
Athlon 64 3800+
33.7
$608
5.54
Athlon 64 3500+
31.3
$288
10.86
Intel 3.4EE 
30.7
$999
3.07
Intel 560
31.1
$475
6.54
Intel 550
29.7
$288
10.31
Sysmark 2004 – Internet Content Creation 
Athlon 64 FX-55 
235
$827
28.41
Athlon 64 4000+
218
$729
29.90
Athlon 64 3800+
220
$608
36.18
Athlon 64 3500+
204
$288
70.83
Intel 3.4EE 
232
$999
23.22
Intel 560
243
$475
51.15
Intel 550
233
$288
80.90
PCMark04 Overall
Athlon 64 FX-55 
5171
$827
6.25
Athlon 64 4000+
4872
$729
6.68
Athlon 64 3800+
4824
$608
7.93
Athlon 64 3500+
4499
$288
15.62
Intel 3.4EE 
5310
$999
5.31
Intel 560
5557
$475
11.69
Intel 550
5277
$288
18.32

In our “real world” tests we are comparing the Winstone and Sysmark Content Creation results as well as the PCMark04’s overall results.  AMD’s processors come out with a win on the Winstone results, with the Athlon 64 3500+ getting a 10.86 points/$ result.  Again, while the FX-55 come out ahead of the high-priced 3.4EE processor from Intel, it is behind against the 560 processor by quite a bit.  The Intel 550 has a good show as well.  The Sysmark results are similar, with the Intel 3.4EE much worse off than any of the other CPUs, but the 560 and 550 both beat the entire lot of AMD processors.  Finally, on the PCMark04 results, they are a mix of the Winstone and Sysmark ratios with the Intel 550 winning.  

Again, I make no claims that these ratios are any kind of be-all-end-all for comparing processors against each other.  They are simply another method to compare the competition to each other and see where they stand.  Price and performance are always issues that both Intel and AMD push to their customers, and this is our initial attempt at trying to find a way to comprehend this kind of data.

Conclusion

The AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 processor is the fastest gaming processor we have ever seen at PC Perspective — there is simply no denying that.  The Athlon 64 4000+, which is really just a renamed FX-53, settles into a price point that had been unoccupied by any other processor and is still a great performer.  While I can’t simply recommend that everyone go out and get the first FX-55 they can find simply because of its price point, if you are in the market for the absolute best when it comes to performance, you’re money shouldn’t be spent anywhere else.  

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