Welcome to the latest edition of our Motherboard Memory lane series here on HWBOT. This week we turn our attention to the AMD AM2 platform, a platform that most notably featured an updated integrated memory controller that supported DDR2 standard memory. The platform also arrived with a new series of AMD 64 X2 processors based on a new and revamped K8 architecture. Let’s take a look at the AMD AM2 platform, the boards and processors that were popular with overclockers at that time and some of the outstanding scores that were submitted to HWBOT.
AMD Socket AM2: Overview
The AMD AM2 platform officially arrived in May 2006 and was the direct replacement for Socket 939. Although physically the AM2 Socket used exactly 940 pins in the same ZFI (zero insertion force) socket design that is used today, the new platform did not physically support previous generation Socket 940 CPUs due to an intentionally incompatible pin layout. The new socket however did debut a different heatsink retention mechanism with a cage-like design that was attached to the motherboard using four screws, not two. The heatsink / cooler dimensions remained unchanged however.
The new platform arrived with a range of single and dual-core processors, initially based on the Windsor (dual-core) and Manilla (single-core) architectures which were members of the original K8 family which had debuted several years earlier with Socket 754. Subsequent platform refreshes added Brisbane and Orleans architecture models.
The new AMD processors were all 64-bit compatible and were market as Athlon 64, Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64 FX and Sempron branded components. Later AM2 compatible processors also included AMD Phenom branded chips which were actually backwards compatible AM2+ CPUs. The platform initially used the same 1,000MHz HyperTransport bus that we saw on Socket 939.
The main selling point, or feature of the new platform was support for DDR2 standard system memory. The new platform’s integrated memory controller supported dual-channel memory at default speeds of up to DDR2-800. Interestingly Intel had made the transition to DDR2 much earlier with its 925X platform, so that by the time AMD launched the AM2 platform, DDR2 memory prices were actually reasonable with a plentiful supply in the channel. In terms of raw performance, the transition to DDR2 actually offered fairly minimal gains.
In terms of chipset support, Nvidia again proved to be the market leader as far as overclockers were concerned, winning in a space where again we find options from VIA and AMD themselves. Nvidia nForce 500 Series media and communications processors (MCPs), to use the full name, were a popular choice simultaneously on Intel LGA 775 and AMD AM2 platforms.
The nForce 590 SLI was targeted at the high-end enthusiast segment and boasted 2x 16 PCIe lanes (46 in total) with cheaper nForce 570 SLI and nForce 570 Ultra MCPs sitting just below in the hierarchy with 2x 8 lanes. All three were single chip solutions. Notable features included support for quad-GPUs in SLI, up to six SATA 3Gbs ports, two IDE ports and ten USB 2.0 ports.
Most Popular AMD Socket AM2 Motherboard, the MSI K9N Ultra V2.0
The Socket AM2 era is one where we see six motherboards vendors occupy places in the top ten list. While DFI had stolen the show on the previous Socket 939 platform, in the Socket AM2 era they have but one board in the top ten, a massive drop off from having five on the previous generation. Let’s take a look at the motherboard vendors that make it onto the top ten list.
- -MSI K9N Ultra (MS-7250 V2.0) – 10.87%
- -DFI Infinity Ultra II-M2 – 9.67%
- -ASUS Crosshair – 7.59%
- -Abit KN9 – 4.61%
- -Biostar TForce 550 SE – 3.29%
- -MSI K9N SLI Platinum (MS-7250) – 2.76%
- -ASUS M2N-E-SLI – 2.68%
- -Biostar – TA690G AM2 – 2.61%
- -Foxconn A690GM2MA-8KRS2H – 2.42%
- -Abit Fatal1ty AN9 32X – 1.32%
Arguably the AMD AM2 era offers a snapshot of what was happening in the motherboard manufacturing industry at that time. We see several previous OEM focused companies vying for the hearts and minds of DIY builders, gamers and overclockers. While ASUS have two boards in the top ten which together account for just offer 10% of all AM2 submissions, they did launch their first AMD platform ROG board using the now familiar ROG Crosshair motherboard brand.
We see Abit doing well with two boards in the top ten and the launch of the Fatal1ty series brand which would later be used by ASRock. Biostar took a shot at consumer branded boards with two models in the top ten and almost 5% of the pie, while Foxconn prove they had yet to truly grasp consumer branding with their awkwardly named A690GM2MA-8KRS2H board. As with the previous 939 Socket, GIGABYTE is entirely absent, focusing squarely on Intel platforms in this period.
MSI are enjoying a purple patch in this moment in history and have two boards in the top ten. The MSI K9N Ultra V2 was the most popular board, being used in just over 10% of all AM2 submissions while in second place the DFI Infinity Ultra II-M2 takes 9.67%.
MSI hit a sweet spot with the MSI K9N Ultra, packing some impressive performance in a product that offered less in terms of bling and fancy features. In short if offered really impressive bang for your buck, exactly what AMD overclockers grave it would seem.
Most Popular AMD Socket AM2 Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ (Windsor)
AMD launched its new range of Athlon 64, Athlon 64 X2 processors alongside the company’s first $1,000 CPU, the AMD Athlon 64 FX-62, a 125 watt dual-core chip that AMD hoped would compete with Intel’s Extreme Edition parts. The FX-62 was not the popular choice with overclockers however, who as with the previous platform were much more tempted by the proposition of pushing cheaper parts and getting a genuinely free performance boost.
In terms of submissions over time on the AM2 platform, the AMD Athlon X2 3800 (Windsor) is the most popular CPU, being used in 6.14% of all submissions on HWBOT. What is interesting is that this model was in fact the most affordable of the dual-core X2 branded models, retailing for a modest $300 USD on launch day. Clearly the good old days of overclocking still involved a great many HWBOT members pushing cheaper parts to get good performance.
The Athlon 64 X2 3800+ had a default clock speed of 2.0GHz and featured a smaller 512KB (x2) L2 Cache compared to the larger 1MB (x2) L2 Cache found on more expensive models. It had a TDP of 89 watts and was manufactured on AMD’s 90nm process. A reasonably good overclocker could push his Athlon 64 X2 3800+ to a performance level of something similar to the a Athlon 64 X2 4800+, going from 2GHz to 2.4GHz and beyond.
This is what Legit Reviews had to say on the topic of overclocking a Athlon 64 X2 3800+ CPU:
The results speak for themselves, the X2 3800+ is an outstanding performer in the right environment… With dual core ability, and overclocking well into the 4800+ range, the 3800+ is a great processor at a great price. Looking around different forums I’ve noticed most people hitting 2.6 to 2.7GHZ with good cooling, and a few hitting 2.8 to 2.95GHz on extreme cooling… the X2 3800+ is great choice for a budget user or for the hard core enthusiast.
AMD Socket AM2: Record Scores
We can now take a look at some of the highest scores posted on HWBOT using AMD’s Socket AM2 platform.
Reference clock overclocking may not be the most important benchmark in today’s world, but back in the AMD Socket AM2 era, it was a crucial way to determine a motherboard’s ability to perform well. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using this platform came from Indonesia’s Placid in 2014 when he was competing in the HWBOT Team Cup. He used a GIGABYTE GA-MA785G-UD3H board to eek out a reference frequency of 573.01MHz using an AMD Athlon 64 3800+ (Orleans) CPU.
Here’s a shot of the rig used by Placid:
You can find the submission from Placid here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2635147_placid_reference_frequency_ga_ma785g_ud3h_573.01_mhz
Although raw CPU frequencies are not really treated as true benchmarks today, they remain an important performance metric for most overclockers. The highest CPU frequency ever submitted to HWBOT on the AM2 platform came from Polish overclocker MaSell who pushed an AMD Athlon 64 X2 6400+ (Windsor) CPU to 4298.9MHz (268.7MHz x16) using single stage phase cooling and a DFI Infinity Ultra II-M2 motherboard.
You can find the submission from MaSell here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/720520_masell_cpu_frequency_athlon_64_x2_6400_(windsor)_4298.9_mhz
Finally we come to the classic SuperPi 32M benchmark, an important benchmark in terms of historical relevance. The fastest SuperPi 32M run submitted on HWBOT on the AM2 platform was also submitted by MaSell who managed a run of 17min 57sec 240ms using an AMD Athlon 64 X2 6400+ (Windsor) chip clocked at 4,080MHz (+27.50%).
Check out the submission from MaSell here: http://hwbot.org/submission/718679_masell_superpi___32m_athlon_64_x2_6400_(windsor)_17min_57sec_240ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return next week when we will look upon the AMD Socket AM2+ platform and the motherboards, chips and scores that defined that era.