The Cheapest Quad-Core Processors - AMD Athlon II X4 630 & 620

By Vincent Chang - 5 Dec 2009

Relief for AMD

Relief for AMD

What a November for AMD! Starting with a US$1.25 billion-dollar cash payment from Intel to settle a lawsuit over alleged anti-competitive trade practices, AMD also managed to close all outstanding legal and patent issues with its rival, which means that Intel will not contest AMD's divestment of its manufacturing assets to GlobalFoundries. As the first step towards its financial rehabilitation, AMD seriously needs GlobalFoundries to work and succeed, while the cash from Intel will be very useful as AMD tries to get back into profitability.

And that's not all. The company announced plans for its next-gen CPU architecture, laying out the roadmap to 2011, including the much talked about Fusion initiative, which integrates graphics with the CPU. There are still many questions left unanswered and 'what-if' scenarios but there's no doubt that November has been a great month for AMD. Mind you, we haven't even started on the highs from AMD's graphics division, with the Radeon HD 5800 series stomping uncontested at the top now that the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 is available. Or even the recent news that this year's top three supercomputers used AMD's latest six-core 'Istanbul' Opteron processors.

Of course, after the euphoria dies down, the fact remains that it will be a bumpy road to 2011 for AMD. The current CPU microarchitecture is comprehensively outclassed by Intel's Nehalem and with the chip giant going to the 32nm manufacturing node early next year, chances are that AMD will find itself being squeezed out from the middle to the entry/budget and performance computing segments. It is the budget segment that we'll be looking at today, with AMD releasing a cut-down version of its Phenom II processors dubbed the Athlon II.

The AMD Athlon II X4 630 and 620.

This new series will have the most affordable quad-core processors ever, with the lower model, the Athlon II X4 620 going for just US$99. Compare that with Intel's cheapest quad-core, the Q8200 at US$150 and one can see where AMD is going here. Low and lower. How does AMD keep the cost down?

The answer is the removal of the L3 cache that's found on the Phenom II. The entire Athlon II series, which includes dual, triple and quad-cores do not have this cache, allowing AMD to reduce the die size and hence the manufacturing cost. Everything else remains the same, though the Athlon II X4 comes with a lower 95W TDP rating as a result. The new die, Propus, will be used in all Athlon II X4 processors. There's a slim chance that you may get a disabled Phenom II chip when you purchase one of these new Athlon II X4s but as time passes, it will be less and less likely.

The CPU-Z listing for the new AMD Athlon II X4 630 (Propus). The lack of L3 cache appears to be the most significant change.

Currently, there are only two quad-core models for the Athlon II, the X4 630 and 620. AMD also has two, energy efficient 'e' models that we won't be covering here. These are 45W versions that have much lower clock speeds. Anyway, below are the vital statistics for the X4 630 and 620:

The New Athlon II X4 Quad-Core CPUs
New AM3 Athlon II X4 Processors
Processor Model Clock Speed L2 Cache L3 Cache HyperTransport Bus Memory Controller Speed Max TDP (W) Retail Price (US$) Availability
Athlon II X4 630 2.8GHz 512KB x 4 NA 2.0GHz 2.0GHz 95 $123 Now (PiB)
Athlon II X4 620 2.6GHz 512KB x 4 NA 2.0GHz 2.0GHz 95 $99 Now (PiB)

Since the technology is hardly new, we'll be going straight into the testing and benchmarks. For those who are interested in the specifics, we have a table comparing the Phenom II quads with the Athlon II and Intel's Core 2 quad processors on the next page.