AMD Athlon II X2 250 CPU Review

Author: Carl Poirier
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, June 1st, 2009
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/aii_250/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Earlier this last month, AMD launched for its 40 years of existence the 2.8GHz Athlon Kuma 7850 Black Edition, the last of the Athlon series, which also celebrated its 10 years. Today, we are presented to its son: the Athlon II X2 250. It is the first of that new series and is clocked at an healthy 3Ghz.


This baby was born by applying all the tweaks that the Phenom series received to the existing Athlon dual-core architecture. However, compared to the Athlon Kuma, it does not feature L3 cache but has a full 1MB of L2 cache per core instead of 512kB on current Phenom IIs, for a total of 2MB.

The other big difference is that it does not features an unlocked multiplier. From now on, the Black Edition versions will be reserved to the Phenom II series. This means there will be no unlocked Athlon II. Furthermore, like the previous AM3 processors, the processor's PCB is dark green. Note that in this comparison picture, there seems to be a lot less gold than on the previous processor. It is simply because the larger bases of the pins, which cover most of the pins area from above, are not plated.

This processor retails for a mere $87 which, in this price range, makes it compete against the 2.8GHz E6300 and 2.7GHz E5400, priced at $82 and $90, respectively. These 45nm Pentium dual-cores should be no challenge for the Athlon II X2 250, which sports the same 65W TDP as them.

Specifications

Model Number & Core Frequency
X2 250 = 3.0GHz
TRAY OPN# 
ADX250OCK23GQ
PIB OPN# 
ADX250OGQBOX
L1 Cache Sizes

64K of L1 instruction and 64K of L1 data cache per core (256KB total L1 per processor)

L2 Cache Sizes
1MB of L2 data cache per core (2MB total L2 per processor)
Memory Controller Type
Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller
Memory Controller Speed
Up to 2.0GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management
Types of Memory Supported

Support for unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-6400 (DDR2-800MHz) -AND- PC3-8500 (DDR3-1066MHz)

HyperTransport 3.0 Specification
One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4.0GHz full duplex (2.0GHz x2)
Total Processor-to-System Bandwidth

Up to 33.1GB/s bandwidth [Up to 17.1 GB/s total bandwidth (DDR3-1066) + 16.0GB/s (HT3)]

Up to 28.8GB/s bandwidth [Up to 12.8 GB/s total bandwidth (DDR2-800) + 16.0GB/s (HT3)]

Packaging
Socket AM3 938-pin organic micro pin grid array (micro-PGA)
Fab location
GLOBALFOUNDARIES Fab 1 module 1
Process Technology
45-nanometer DSL SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology
Approximate Die Size
117.5 mm2
Approximate Transistor count
~ 234 million
Max Temp
74o Celsius
Nominal Voltage
0.85-1.425V
Max TDP
65 Watts

We will see how the Athlon II fares against the Core 2 Duo E8400 clocked at the same frequency. I do not have my hopes set really high since the E8400 is a processor that costs almost twice as much, but unfortunately that is all what I have on hand. I will also compare it to the previous Athlon architecture codenamed Kuma.

As for the benchmarks, there will be a set of system benches and another set of gaming benches. Fraps will be used to record the FPS in Mirror's Edge, Bioshock and Call of Duty: World at War whereas for all other gaming tests, the built-in benchmarking tool will be used. All of these will be ran at 3 different resolutions except Call of Juarez, Lost Planet and World in Conflict where the minimum settings will be used to prevent bottleneck from the graphics card.

Test Setups

Athlon II system:

Phenom II system :

Core 2 Duo system:

Athlon system:

Benchmarks:

This program includes benchmarks for most hardware. The CPU arithmetic and multi-core efficiency benchmark will be run as well as memory bandwidth and latency.

In all cases, the Athlon II scored better than his ancestor, but not high enough to catch up with the other crowd, except for memory bandwidth where the Intel E8400 fell at the complete bottom of the list. Once overclocked, the X2 250 climbed to the top of the podium, except for multi-core efficiency.

HandBrake is an application that converts sound and video files to other formats. Compared to TMPG we used in previous reviews, this one is multi-threaded so it can use the processor to its full potential.

POV-Ray, for Persistence of Vision Raytracer, is a 3D rendering software that has impressive photorealistic capabilities.

In video encoding, the E8400 appeared to be the king. At 3.78GHz, the Athlon could almost reach it. As for its stock performance, it scored much closer to the Phenom II X2 than to its ancestor the Athlon X2 7850. POV-Ray demonstrated the same performance order, except that the overclocked Athlon II got at the top, leading by a big margin.

Everyone knows WinRAR, so no need to explain what it is. I will compress our custom 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files using the greatest compression setting, in the ZIP format.

Cinebench 10 is another rendering program. I will run both the single-threaded benchmark as well as the multi-threaded.

WinRAR scales very well with clock speed. As one can see, the X2 550 gets first since it is the highest clock. The Athlon II follows, and finally... the E8400! The Athlon II was able to beat all its competitors once it got a speed bump. Cinebench also supports the general trend; the Athlon II falls right behind the Phenom II, but well ahead of its ancestor.

In case PCMark is unknown to you, it is pretty much the same as the 3DMark suite from FutureMark except the fact that it includes many other tests like hard drive speed, memory and processor power, so we consider it as a system benchmark and not just a gaming benchmark.

That is pretty amazing. Not only did it beat its ancestor, but also the Core 2 Duo E8400. Looking ahead, it is not very far from its cousin the Phenom II X2, which it was able to beat easily once overclocked.

The demo of these two gaming benchmarks can be downloaded for free. Call of Juarez is made by Ubisoft whereas the World in Conflict game is developed by Massive Entertainment. They will be run at the lowest settings possible so the score is not GPU-bound, so that implies a resolution of 1024x768 for Call of Juarez and 800x600 for World in Conflict. This way, the true processor power will be exhibited.

This time, the X2 250 was awarded third place, which it stayed even once overclocked.

Lost Planet is a game developed by CAPCOM. It features a built-in benchmark which will be run at the lowest settings like the previous ones, including a resolution of 800x600. It has two different runs; one takes place in a cave whereas the other one is in a snow landscape.

The Athlon II scored again for third place, although this time it was able to take its revenge once overclocked.

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack of the original Crysis. It uses an enhanced version of the same engine.

Bioshock is a creepy first person shooter. It is the oldest of the games in our benchmarking suite, hence the high FPS.

In Crysis, the Athlon II got ranked third, however it beat the Phenom II X2 550 by a tiny bit once overclocked. In Bioshock, it just owned the Intel E8400 in the last two resolutions. Overclocking allowed it to reach the unlocked AMD dual-core performance.

World at War is the fifth of the Call of Duty series. This time, the game is back to the Second World War, even if the fourth of the same series was futurist.

Far Cry 2 is another first person shooter. It has been developed by Ubisoft compared to the first one who has been made by Crytek. The story takes place in Africa, where the ultimate goal is to assassinate an arms dealer.

In Call of Duty, the E8400 pulled ahead of the competition but it almost got caught by our subject when this one was overclocked. In Far Cry 2, both the Athlon II and the E8400 seemed to bottleneck the system. This is indicated by the numbers not getting better when the resolution decreases. To further verify it, I decided to take a look at the processor activity during the benchmark. I fired up Windows task manager and took a look at the graphs. Then, I ran the benchmark and when I closed the game, I saw that both cores stayed almost at 100% usage during the whole run. Clearly, there was a bottleneck. The Phenom II X2 seemed a tad better.

Left 4 Dead is a first-person shooter developed by Valve. It uses the Source Engine. Four survivors must fight against infected people in order to reach a safe area.

This game scales very well with memory bandwidth. The results just seem to confirm it; The Phenom II, which has the highest memory bandwidth, is first. Then the Athlon II follows with the E8400 right behind. Finally, the old Athlon looks to be bottlenecking at around 85 FPS.

Overclocking

Overclocking the Athlon II X2 250 was a breeze, even if I used a brand new motherboard I had never tried before: the Gigabyte MA790FXT-UD5P. Since this chip is not a black Edition, I proceeded a bit differently. First, I found the approximate base clock the system would support, while decreasing the various multipliers to keep components at their stock clock. 260MHz was too high, so I settled for 250MHz. Then, using the AMD Overdrive utility, I then increased back the multipliers one notch at a time while testing for stability a few minutes between each increase. I was surprised I could max out the northbridge and HyperTransport multipliers without even altering voltages. Then, I proceeded to increase the core multiplier. I got up to x14.5, for a clock of 3625MHz, at stock voltage. A few minutes of testing did not affect the computer's state, however I did not test further because I knew it would go higher. To reach the stock multiplier of x15, I had to increase the core voltage a bit. Next, I tried to  get the memory to run at the next multiplier, but unfortunately I could not, no matter if I increased the CPU-NB and RAM voltage and set looser timings. Finally, I verified if I could not increase the base clock any further than 250MHz.

Here are the settings I had to adjust:

Power Consumption

Unfortunately we cannot really compare the power consumption of the old Athlon with the X2 250 because a different motherboard as well as different RAM sticks were used, but still we can see that the newer system scored 22W lower at load:

As for the Intel-based system, it just was not in the race this time; it consumed 70W higher at load than the Athlon II system. More and more people try to limit their power consumption for a reason of costs but also for the environment. So here, the Athlon II scores a big point.

Conclusion

For a price tag of $87, I must say the performance is amazing. In two out of five real-world gaming benchmarks, the Athlon II was able to beat the $165 E8400. It also pulled ahead in many other benchmarks, for example PCMark Vantage and WinRAR. I am sure it would have owned any other processor in its price range, being the E6300 or E5400. Odds will be that it can also wipe the floor with the E7400 which is clocked at the same frequency as the E6300.

However, it is somewhat disappointing that the Athlon II cannot manage higher memory frequencies; it is limited to DDR2-800 or DDR3-1066, compared to Phenom IIs which can run DDR3-1600 without any problems. Memory bandwidth is greatly reduced; SiSoft Sandra revealed 2/3 of a GB/s were removed compared to the Phenom II which ran the memory at 1333MHz.

Furthermore, it has a quite low power consumption. Intel offerings just do not care about the fatness of your electricity bill and the environment. This makes of it an ideal processor for a home server or any other rig that stays active most of the day.

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