AMD – Athlon 64 FX-53 review

claimed to be the fastest desktop processor in the world
Photo of AMD – Athlon 64 FX-53
£520 (estimated)

On the 18th of March the CeBIT 2004 show opened in Hannover, Germany and for the first time in living memory processor company AMD won’t have a stand. However, it will be launching a number of new processors including ‘the fastest desktop processor in the world’, the Athlon 64 FX-53.

That may sound like a bold claim, but AMD managed to beat Intel’s 3.2GHz Pentium 4C with its Athlon 64 FX-51 running at a true 2.2GHz, so the object of the exercise is for AMD to retain the performance crown. The new Athlon 64 FX-53 runs at 2.4GHz and it has to beat the 3.4GHz Pentium 4C, which is expected to be the last of the Northwood cores before Pentium 4E Prescott takes over.

Athlon 64 FX is one version of AMD’s 32-bit/64-bit processor core, borrowing features from Opteron and also adding its own twist. Opteron is a server/workstation processor that supports ECC memory, running up to eight processors at a time. Athlon 64 FX uses the same 940-pin socket as Opteron, with the same 64KB L1 cache and 1MB L2 cache, but it only runs in a single processor configuration, so it is most similar to the Opteron 14x series.

At present the fastest processor in that series is the Opteron 148, which runs at 2.2GHz just like the Athlon 64 FX-51, so on paper the two processors are very similar. The difference between Opteron 14x and Athlon 64 FX lies in the memory controller, which in the latter is built into the processor core instead of the Northbridge of the motherboard chipset. Opteron 14x supports single channel PC2700 ECC memory, but Athlon 64 FX runs PC3200 ECC in dual channel mode.

When it comes to performance the difference between the two technologies is surprisingly slight, but it’s enough to allow AMD to claim the ‘fastest PC processor crown’ for Athlon 64 FX, and that in turns means that it can market the processor at hardcore gamers, or even at professional gamers (although realistically that must be a market that is a few dozen in size at best).

It also means that Athlon 64 FX can be priced as a premium product. AMD charges $733 per unit for a 1,000-unit tray of Athlon 64 FX-51 and that results in a retail price of just over £500 inc. VAT in the UK. Incidentally that is the same price as Opteron 148. We would expect the new Athlon 64 FX-53 to launch at that same $733 price point, with FX-51 dropping by 30 percent or so, but the rumours are that AMD will simply run down stocks of FX-51 and then stop selling it, so FX-53 will take over and there will only be one FX model on sale at a time.

Naturally we tested our FX-53 (2.4GHz, remember) by running Sysmark and 3D Mark, and we happened to have an Opteron 142 (1.6GHz) and an Opteron 148 (2.2GHz) available for direct comparison. Unfortunately we didn’t have an FX-51, which would have made for the most direct comparison of all. We used an Asus SK8V-P1 motherboard with VIA K8T800 chipset, along with 2GB of Corsair PC2700 memory in four modules, and also 2GB of Corsair XMS3200RE PC3200 memory, also in four modules.

Our 3D Mark 2001 scores on a Radeon 9700 graphics card weren’t particularly informative as they merely reflected the core speed of each processor, however the Sysmark 2002 figures we obtained were far more interesting. For reference a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 on an Intel 875P motherboard with dual channel PC3200 memory scored 320, which neatly mirrors the processor speed.

The Opteron 142 scored 257 with PC2700 and 263 with PC3200 memory. The Opteron 148 scored 328 with PC2700 and 334 with PC3200, while the FX-53 scored 348 with PC2700 and 355 with PC3200. For the heck of it we then retested the FX-53 with PC3200 using a pair of 74GB Western Digital Raptor hard drives in a Raid 0 array in place of the original 120GB WD1200 Caviar hard drive and the score leapt to 373.

That’s massive performance but it overlooks a fundamental point, which is that all of these AMD processors can run either 32-bit or 64-bit software, so they have a fair degree of future-proofing built in too.

Company: AMD

Contact: 01276 803100

Most of us won't spend £500 for a processor, but the Athlon 64 FX-53 is important to AMD as it proves that the company has the ability to produce desktop processors that can beat the best that Intel has to offer. These are early days for this new generation of processors, but it is clear that AMD has produced a worthy successor to the Athlon XP.