This week our Motherboard memory Lane series turns its attention to the AMD AM3 Socket. The platform boasted an updated processor series that brought DDR3 memory support to AMD platforms for the first time, plus a broad range of dual-core, tri-core, quad-core and hexa-core models that AMD hoped would woo the hearts and minds of overclockers on HWBOT. Let’s move on and check out the motherboards, chipsets, processors and scores that defined the AMD AM3 generation.
AMD Socket AM3: Overview
With Socket AM3 we have the arrival of a new and updated series of AMD Phenom II processors. The most notable feature of the new chips was the modified memory controller (residing in the CPU) which now supported DDR3. This was AMD’s first stint at supporting DDR3 memory which had by this stage become reasonably affordable compared to DDR2 modules, largely thanks to Intel again making the move much earlier to help drive adoption. At launch AMD Phenom II X4 and X3 processors based on the Denab iteration of the K10 architecture arrived supporting dual-channel DDR3-1333 memory with multipliers available for frequencies as high as DDR3-1600. One other key difference was a larger L3 cache and the use of a 2GHz HyperTransport bus (compared to 1.8GHz on the previous gen).
The AM3 Socket officially came to market with a new range of compatible motherboards in February 9th 2009, just a few months after AM2+ boards first arrived on the market. Although physically different from its predecessor, there was again a degree of compatibility with the previous design with AM3 processors being backward compatible with AM2+ motherboards. However if you wanted to enjoy the benefits of DDR3, you would have to use an AM3 Socket board. AM2+ processors were not physically compatible with the AM3 Socket.
At launch new AM3 motherboards arrived using the same AMD 700 series chipset that had become the defacto chipset for AM2+ platform boards. It would be replaced by the AMD 800 series chipset, most notably the AMD 890FX which boasted a largely similar feature set. The key differences being the new AMD SB850 South Bridge which offered support for the new and updated 6Gbps SATA standard (an industry first). Six faster SATA ports were joined by 14x USB 2.0 ports (two more than with 790FX). The platform also offered 44x lanes of PCI Express (PCIe) 2.0 connectivity, but alas no SLI support due to Nvidia’s licensing terms.
Most Popular AMD Socket AM3 Motherboard, the ASUS Crosshair IV Formula
In the transition from AM2 to AM2+ we noted fewer motherboard vendors populating our top ten list. Epox, Abit, Foxconn and Biostar had exited the market which had begun to show signs of real consolidation. With Socket AM3 we find that trend continuing with nine out of ten spots occupied exclusively by just two vendors; ASUS and GIGABYTE. Here’s the list:
- -ASUS Crosshair IV Formula – 13.52%
- -MSI 790FX-GD70 – 5.65%
- -ASUS Crosshair III Formula – 5.51%
- -GIGABYTE MA790FXT-UD5P – 5.27%
- -ASUS M4A89GTD Pro – 3.24%
- -ASUS M4A79T Deluxe – 3.18%
- -ASUS M4A89GTD Pro/USB3 – 3.13%
- -GIGABYTE 890GPA-UD3H – 3.12%
- -ASUS Crosshair IV Extreme – 2.90%
- -GIGABYTE 890FXA-UD5 – 2.83%
After a quick glance at the list, two things are immediately apparent. Firstly, ASUS and its ROG brand is starting to show real strength. Secondly, only GIGABYTE has the means to compete with ASUS, solidifying its position at this time in history as the No.2 motherboard vendor globally. Only MSI manage maintain top ten status with their 790FX-GD70 board proving to be a popular choice on HWBOT, taking 2nd place and a 5.65% share of all AM3 submissions.
By far the most popular board is the ASUS Crosshair Formula, a board that arrived a year after the initial AM3 platform launch boasting the new AMD 890FX chipset and distinctive red and black ROG branding. Two other ROG boards also populate the top ten with the more expensive ASUS Crosshair IV Extreme taking 2.9% of submissions and the AMD 790FX-based ASUS Crosshair III Formula taking 5.51%. In total ASUS command more than 30% of all AM3 submissions with six of the top ten boards. Clearly the company had developed a brand and a reputation with overlockers that was resonating well with HWBOT members.
This is what Hilbert Hagedoorn had to say in April 2010 in his Crosshair IV Formula review for Guru3D:
“The ASUS Crosshair IV Formula is a motherboard to lick your fingertips off like it’s ice-cream. Though more expensive than your average 890FX motherboard, the investment surely is worth your while if you crave the need for something extreme… these motherboards are just made for it they beg you to overclock a little.”
“So the tweaking options are grand. ASUS also embedded ROG connect onto this motherboard allowing you to overclock through an application on another PC or laptop. It’s all pretty dandy stuff. So the level of overclocking is completely up-to you, and ASUS made sure that all bases are covered whether your choice is to go simple, advanced or sophisticated.”
Most Popular AMD Socket AM3 Processor: AMD Phenom II X6 1090T BE
On the AM3 platform we find the Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition processor to the model responsible for the most submissions historically on HWBOT. Based on the Thuban variant of the K10 architecture, it was the top SKU in an updated range of AMD3 processors that saw the light of day in April and May of 2010. The chip arrived with six cores and a price tag of $295 USD, significantly more affordable than Intel’s first octa-core offering, the Core i7 980X which retailed for $999. Manufactured using the 45nm process that debuted with AMD’s first X4 AM3 lineup, the Phenom II X6 1090T BE had a TDP of 125 watts, a base clock of 3.2GHz (boosting to 3.6GHz) and L2 and L3 caches of 3MB and 6MB respectively.
However, when we consider what was the most popular AM3 processor used by HWBOT members, it’s important also to consider that the AMD Phenom II X4 955 BE was used by 22.53% of members. In fact in terms of submissions it actually narrowly misses out on first place, being used in 12.2% of all submissions. The AMD Phenom II X4 955 BE was based on the Denab architecture and arrived soon after launch as a very attractive alternative to Intel’s Yorkfield based Core 2 Q9550 processor, retailing for an attractive $245.
One of the key aspects which define the AM3 era, was the ability to unlock hidden cores found on Phenom II X3 and certain models of AMD Athlon X2 and Sempron processors. Many of these processors (which were based on Propus, Heka, Callisto and Regor designs) were essentially Denab or or Thuban chips with cores intentionally disabled. This allowed AMD to use chips that arrived with faulty cores, but it also gave overlockers and enthusiasts the ability to go into BIOS and enable these hidden cores – an excellent example of overclockers enjoying a truly free boost in performance based on technical knowhow. Although these unlocked cores were not always stable and reliable, for many it was truly a platform highlight. According to CPU-World.com:
”There are two major reasons why certain features are disabled on AMD processors. Cache memory and extra cores on these microprocessors could be disabled due to internal core or memory defects, or to meet market demand. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to tell whether the features were locked down because the core or cache memory didn’t pass quality assurance tests, or because high-profile OEM company needed a large number of cheap parts with fewer cores and/or smaller size of cache.”
“So far we tried to unlock from 20 to 30 processors from different Sempron, Athlon II and Phenom II families, and in the worst case we had to reboot the system. In our experiments we’ve seen more than 50% success rate. Your mileage may vary.”
AMD Socket AM3: Record Scores
We can now take a look at some of the highest scores posted on HWBOT using AMD’s Socket AM3 platform.
Reference clock overclocking may not be the most important benchmark in today’s world, but back in the AMD Socket AM3 era, it was an important way to determine a motherboard’s ability to perform well. The highest reference clock submitted on HWBOT using the ASUS Crosshair IV Formula came from Bulgaria’s Demiurge when he was competing in the HWBOT Country Cup 2010. He managed a reference frequency of 432.01 MHz using an AMD Phenom II X6 1090T BE CPU.
You can find the submission from Demiurge here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2108440_demiurge_reference_frequency_4_crosshair_iv_formula_432.01_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 AM3 platform came from Mad222 from Hong Kong who pushed an AMD Phenom II X4 955 BE CPU to a monumental 7,378.25MHz (+130.57%) using LN2 and a GIGABYTE 890FXA-UD7 motherboard.
You can find the submission from Mad222 here on HWBOT: http://hwbot.org/submission/2196511_mad222_cpu_frequency_phenom_ii_x4_955_be_7378.25_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 AM3 platform was also submitted Mad222 who managed a run of 9min 59sec 844ms using an AMD Phenom II X4 965 BE ‘Deneb’ chip clocked at 6,991.7MHz (+105.64%).
Here’s a shot of the rig in action:
Check out the submission from Mad222 here: http://hwbot.org/submission/2121248_mad222_superpi___32m_phenom_ii_x4_965_be_9min_59sec_844ms
Thanks for joining us for today’s trip down Motherboard Memory Lane. Return next week when we hone in on the AMD Socket FM1 platform, plus the motherboards, chips and scores that defined that particular era.