First Tests: FX-60 Powers Superfast PCs

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AMD today launched its top-of-the-line Athlon 64 FX-60 CPU, and PC World's exclusive tests show the pricey new processor is indeed dominant. The processor powered a pair of our test PCs to the best benchmark scores we've ever seen and outpaced a reference system using Intel's latest Extreme Edition processor.

How much faster is the FX-60? Our fastest test machine notched a WorldBench 5 score about 8 percent higher than our previous top dog, a comparably configured PC with AMD's 2.4-GHz Athlon 64 X2 4800+ CPU.

FX Goes Dual-Core

The FX-60 processor marks the transition of AMD's premium line of FX processors to dual-core technology, replacing the single-core Athlon 64 FX-55, which also runs at 2.6 GHz. The single-core FX-57, which runs at 2.8 GHz, will remain available until it is replaced by a future 2.8-GHz successor to the FX-60, according to AMD.

More evolution than revolution, the $1031 FX-60 CPU is essentially a faster version of the same core (code-named Toledo) that comprises the dual-core, 2.4-GHz Athlon 64 X2 4400+ and the 2.2-GHz Athlon 64 X2 4800+ chips. It comes with the same 1MB of Level 2 cache and incorporates the same on-chip memory controller that works only with DDR RAM. (Intel's processors support the faster DDR2 memory standard; however, AMD-based systems consistently outperform comparable Intel-based systems.) AMD expects to launch a CPU with DDR2 support by year's end, according to the company.

Fast, Pricey New Systems

We tested three new shipping FX-60 systems: the $4250 Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX60 from Polywell, the $4499 Ultimate M6 Sniper II from ABS, and the $3499 Gamer Ultra XLC from CyberPower. Each of the systems came with almost identical hardware: an ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard, two high-performance 74GB Western Digital Raptor hard drives striped in a RAID 0 array, and two SLI EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GTX graphics cards. The CyberPower and Polywell machines had 512MB of graphics memory; ABS's had 256MB.

Two of the systems, the Ultimate M6 Sniper II and the Poly 939N4-SLI2/FX60, came with 2GB of RAM and posted record-breaking scores of 141 and 140, respectively, on the PC World Test Center's WorldBench 5 benchmark. The previous top mark of 130 was set by Xi Computer's MTower 64 AGE-SLI, which runs on AMD's 2.4-GHz Athlon 64 X2 4800+. The third FX-60 system, the Gamer Ultra XLC, came with 1GB of RAM and turned in a WorldBench 5 score of 123.

Intel's New Extreme Edition

Intel isn't ceding the high-end market to AMD's FX line. On January 16 the company will launch its latest high-end processor, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955. No vendor systems featuring the new chip are available yet, but a PC World-built reference system featuring the processor scored higher than any Intel-based PC we've tested. However, it was no match for the FX-60 systems.

Intel's new dual-core 3.46-GHz chip, which will sell for about $1000, comes with 2MB of Level 2 cache per core (double that of its successor, the Pentium Extreme Edition 840).

Other new features include a faster frontside bus (now running at 1066 MHz), which connects the CPU with RAM, as well as Intel's Virtualization Technology, which allows a PC with the appropriate software to run multiple operating systems simultaneously without having to reboot.

We benchmarked the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 using a reference system that included an Intel D975XBS motherboard; 2GB of DDR2-887 RAM from Crucial Technologies; a single EVGA e-GeForce 7800 GTX KO graphics card with 256MB of memory; two 7200-rpm, 160GB Western Digital Caviar SE WD1600JS hard drives striped in a RAID 0 array; and an Antec Turbo-Cool 510 ATX-PFC power supply.

The Intel system's WorldBench score of 109 was more than 10 percent faster than any dual-core Intel-based system we've tested, but it paled in comparison to the new FX-60-based machines.

High-end systems running on the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 will be available on January 16 from Alienware, CyberPower, Polywell, and others, according to the companies. Dell said it will launch a system using the chip sometime in the first quarter of 2006.

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