AMD Phenom II X6 1090T: Six Cores on a Shoestring Budget

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With the release of Intel's six-core Core i7-980X Extreme Edition processor, it was only a matter of time before AMD launched their retort: the six core Phenom II X6 1090T.

At a glance, it's apparent that the 3.2GHz Phenom II X6 1090T lags behind Intel's six-core behemoth. Previously codenamed Thuban, the 1090T is a 45nm part, while Intel's 980X has been shrunk down to the 32nm process. Where the 980X offers a 12MB L3 cache for improved memory management between multithreaded applications, the 1090T offers only 6MB. And AMD's technology doesn't address Intel's much touted Hyper Threading technology, which turns their six-core processor into twelve available cores for applications to dabble with.

By most measures, Intel's six-core processor is the superior part. But in typical AMD fashion, what the Phenom II X6 1090T lacks in raw power, it makes up for with a tantalizingly competitive price: the 1090T can be had for as little as $300. By comparison, Intel's admittedly superior silicon comes with a $1000 price tag, making it virtually inaccessible for many enthusiasts. And that's assuming you already have a compatible motherboard. The 1090T offers drop-in support with existing AM3 and AM2+ socket motherboards, after a BIOS upgrade. The 980X, by contrast, requires the LGA 1366 socket.

We just have to wonder: is that $700 difference worth it?

A Tale of Two Chipsets

The launch of the new Phenom II X6 platform is linked to the launch of the new 890FX chipset. We tested the 1090T on one of the first boards to support the new chipset, an Asus Republic of Gamers Crosshair IV Formula motherboard. The 890FX chipset bears much in common with the 890GX chipset we reviewed in March, and features support for SATA 6GBp/s, delivering transfer speeds of about 500MB/s. While the 890FX chipset lacks integrated graphics, it nearly doubles the number of available PCI lanes -- 42, against the 890GX's 22.

A greater number of lanes per slot translate into greater available bandwidth for installed hardware. As AMD's handy diagram explains (click for greater detail), the 870FX chipset offers support for up to two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots, which operate as four x8 slots, if you add four graphics cards. By contrast, the 890GX's pair of x16 slots operate as a pair of x8 slots if you add two graphics cards. The 870FX chipset also offers six x1 slots and one x4 Express slot, as well as another pair of x1 slots located on the SB850 southbridge. Like the 890GX, the 890FX chipset lacks native USB 3.0 support -- the Crosshair IV offers USB 3.0 care of an NEC host controller.

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