Picture by richardmasoner

Picture by richardmasoner

This is the second part out of five articles for this week, to help you understand and buy the right CPU.

Here’s a list of the articles in this series:

  1. 12 CPU specifications explained in plain English
  2. How to differentiate CPU models from AMD
  3. How to differentiate CPU models from Intel
  4. The Best CPU for your money: September 2009
  5. 19 of the best CPU articles

How to choose an AMD CPU: How to differentiate the models

Are you lost when you shop for a cpu? Can’t figure out the differences between all the different models? As one of my readers point it out, things were much more simple back “when there were three motherboards available and you could tell the CPU’s apart by the numbers”.

True enough, with single, dual, triple and quad-cores cpus now available, that spiced up things a bit. Intel and AMD also introduced many new products to offer more choice to the customers but unfortunately ended up confusing them more than anything. So today I’ll do my best to simplify things for you, with the AMD cpus.

Note that you’re having trouble understanding CPU specifications and terms, I invite you to read yesterday’s article, 12 CPU specifications explained in plain English.

Let’s start with an example:

You see two interesting cpus from AMD, the Athlon 64 X2 5200+ Brisbane and the Athlon 64 X2 7750 Black Edition Kuma, that are priced within a few dollars of each other. How can you tell which one is the best?

By the Series:

AMD offers the following series, in order of performance:

  1. Sempron
  2. Athlon 64 x2
  3. Phenom X2, X3 and X4
  4. Athlon II X2 and X4
  5. Phenom II X2, X3 and X4

The Sempron is a single-core CPU, while the Athlon 64 is based on the old Brisbane core. Then you have the CPUs based on the first Phenom core, followed by the latest Athlon II x2 and x4, which are based on the most powerful Phenom II x2, x3 and x4 series, but don’t feature any L3 cache.

In order to get the most performance for your money, I recommend getting a CPU from either the Athlon II or Phenom II series, as the other series are based on older cores and offer less performance in general. That is, unless you find a really good deal 😉

By the Model:

To know which cpu is the best, you need to understand what the various model numbers mean:

X2, X3 or X4: Dual, triple or quad-core. Note that the Sempron series is an exception, being single core CPUs.

5200+, 7750, 920, etc.: Performance rating.
Higher number within the same series represents higher performance.

Note that CPUs based on the newer Phenom II core uses a 3 numbers system. Thus why you need to compare performance ratings only within the same generation of cpus for an accurate comparison.

A Phenom II X3 710 Heka is faster than a Phenom X3 8450 Toliman, due to the fact that it’s based on the newer Phenom II generation, despite the confusing performance rating here. See the By the Core section further in this article to understand what I mean here.

e at the end of the model number: This signifies that it is a CPU that consumes less power compared to other CPUs within the same series.

Black Edition: That means that the processor multiplier is unlocked, for easier overclocking.

A comparaison:

Athlon 64 X2 5200+ Brisbane vs the Athlon 64 X2 7750 Black Edition Kuma

Let’s deconstruct their names:

Athlon 64 X2 5200+ Brisbane: Based on the older Brisbane core, features two cores(X2) and has a performance rating of 5200+.

Athlon 64 X2 7750 Black Edition Kuma: Based on the more recent Phenom(Kuma) core, features two cores(X2), has an unlocked multiplier (Black Edition) and has a performance rating of 7750.

With the more recent core, the higher performance rating and easier overclocking, the Athlon 64 X2 7750 Black Edition Kuma is the best processor of the two.

By the core:

In order of performance

Based on the aging Brisbane core:

Single core: Le-1xxx models.

Dual-core: Older models such as the X2 4xxx,5xxx or 6xxx Brisbane.

The brisbane core is really showing its age, as its no longer competitive in the mainstream market. However, it remains a decent choice for very limited budgets.

Based on the first Phenom core:

This one was affected by the TLB bug, which caused a fatal error under a specific context. Disabling an option in the BIOS to fix the bug results in a 5-10% drop in performance.

Definitely a flop for AMD from a marketing point of view., but they are available at a bargain. Better pick xx50 models which fixed the bug. Avoid xx00 models at all costs if you run a 64 bit OS, you’ll keep getting BSOD according to various reports on the Web.

Dual core: Phenom X2 7×50 Kuma

Triple core: Phenom X3 8×00 and 8×50 Toliman.

Quad core: Phenom X4 9×00 and 9×50 Agena

Based on the latest Phenom II:

This core brings various improvement in performance, power management and doesn’t have the TLB bug. Currently the best core from AMD.

Dual core: Athlon II X2 5xx

Triple core: Phenom II X3 7xx

Quad core: Phenom II X4 8xx (95W TDP parts) and 9xx (125W TDP)

Based on the Athlon II:

This core is based on the powerful Phenom II core, but does not feature any L3 cache, making it a bit less powerful, but also less expensive to produce.
Dual core: Athlon II X2 2xx (65W TDP)

Quad core: Athlon II X4 6xx (95W TDP)

By the Frequency, TDP, socket, etc.

You can use all the other specifications that you will find on a CPU product page to make the right choice. In order to understand what all those specifications mean, so that you can choose the right AMD cpu, I invite you to read yesterday’s article, 12 CPU specifications explained in plain English.

Conclusion

I hope that this article was useful to you and helped you learn a thing or two on AMD CPUs. I invite you to come back every day this week for more informative articles on CPUs.

I also invite you to comment and let me know your opinion on this article, ideas that you have or what you would do to improve this article.

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