Earlier this month, Crave revealed AMD's brand-new flagship processor, the Athlon 64 FX-60. At the time, we speculated it would easily become the fastest desktop CPU money could buy, and we've since spent a significant length of time with the chip to assess its full capabilities.
From a consumer perspective, AMD was literally shooting itself in the foot with its high-end CPUs. The fastest card in its line-up, the £740 Athlon 64 FX-57, was the undisputed king of gaming performance, but the £560 dual-core X2 4800+ was a smarter purchase. Not only was it far cheaper, but it was also better at running everyday applications, and only slightly slower than the FX-57 when running games.
The release of the FX-60 is significant, as it is designed to match the multitasking performance of the X2 range while reinforcing the FX series as the gaming processor of choice.
From a physical design perspective, it's identical to its most recent predecessors in the Athlon 64 CPU family. It has the same physical dimensions and Socket 939 pin layout, so compatibility is almost guaranteed provided you've got a motherboard that works with with a Socket 939 Zero Insertion Force (ZIF) socket.
The primary feather in the FX-60's cap is its dual-core foundation. Like the Athlon X2 line-up, it uses a pair of processing cores on a single die. The dual-core approach isn't designed to simply double overall performance, but the design is proven to facilitate improved multimedia performance, as several applications can be run concurrently without your computer being reduced to a crawl.
Technically, the FX-60 is very impressive. It's almost identical to the X2 4800+, but each of its cores run at 2.6GHz -- 200MHz faster than any X2. It has the same amount of cache memory (1MB for each core) as a 4800+, and is created using the same 90-nanometre fabrication process. Remarkably, despite the combined 400MHz speed increase, the FX-60 has a Thermal Design Power (TDP) of 110w -- only 6W more than an X2 4800+.
Despite its obvious superiority over processors in the X2 range, gaming enthusiasts will probably have noticed that each of the FX-60's cores run 200MHz slower than the single core of an Athlon 64 FX-57. However, our tests concluded that this nominal difference in clock speed does not hinder the FX-60 in any circumstance.
We tested the processor in a range of applications and benchmarks alongside the FX-57 and X2 4800+. Our test system consisted of an Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe gaming motherboard, 1GB of Crucial PC3200 memory, and an ATI Radeon X850 XT graphics card. For reference, we also compared these processors with Intel's flagship dual-core CPU, the Extreme Edition 955.
The FX-60 achieved 6,440 in our 3DMark 2005 gaming tests, which is a slightly higher, if ultimately indistinguishable, score than the FX-60's 6,333, and the X2 4800+'s 6,355. The Intel Extreme Edition 955 wasn't far behind the pack with a score of 6,298.
All three dual-core processors ran rings around the single-core FX-57 in our PCMark 2004 application tests, proving that multi-core CPUs are truly the way to go. The FX-60 topped the group with a score of 5,803, while the X2 4800+ trailed just behind on 5,428. The Intel Extreme Edition 955 achieved a similar score of 5,412, and the single-core FX-57 brought up the rear with 4,431.
These results prove the FX-60 lives up to its billing as the ultimate desktop CPU. Not many people will be able to justify its asking price, and that being the case, we'd recommend you opt for the cheaper X2 4800+. However, if you want the absolute cream of the crop, the FX-60 is undoubtedly the CPU of choice.
We'll be following up this review with future updates about the FX-60's performance. It's already proven its worth in everyday multitasking and productivity applications, but AMD says it will also begin to establish itself as the clear choice for gamers as games developers begin to exploit the potential of dual-core CPUs. We'll also be reviewing complete retail PCs based on the FX-60 in the coming days. Stay tuned. -RR