||AMD Athlon XP 3200+ Review
May 12, 2003 Chris Angelini
Summary: With its 400MHz system bus providing up to 3.2GB/sec of bandwidth, the Athlon XP 3200+ is AMD's answer to Intel's 800MHz FSB processors. To coincide with this release, NVIDIA is unveiling its nForce2 chipset on steroids, nForce2 Ultra 400. See how this platform stacks up against Intel's latest 3.0GHz Pentium 4 in today's article!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 13 )|
AMD and Intel go back and forth in an incessant battle for performance supremacy. Yet, it seems that AMD’s journey to the top has been a bit more treacherous, despite the fact that its Athlon XP 3000+ remains highly competitive with Intel’s 3GHz Pentium 4. When the ‘Thoroughbred’ core was first released on a .13-micron process, the Athlon XP was cruising at 1.8GHz. Alas, avid overclocking enthusiasts were disappointed to find that the first-generation Thoroughbred core wouldn’t run much faster than its stock speed. Then the reworked Thoroughbred core arrived, which saw significantly increased operating frequencies, thanks to a ninth metal layer. AMD followed with a “limited edition” Athlon XP 2800+ that kept the processor running tit-for-tat with Intel’s own flagship, but the chip was impossible to buy at a retail outlet. It wasn’t until AMD debuted the Athlon XP 3000+, sporting the ‘Barton’ core, did we witness AMD catch up in terms of performance and availability.
But today is a new day and AMD is taking a confident leap forward by introducing to us a processor that, according to its product rating, should be faster than anything Intel is selling. Some may call this release a preemptive move to reestablish AMD as the performance leader. Other will say that this is AMD’s answer to the 875P chipset. Or maybe AMD has discovered that it can get away with yet another performance boost (Athlon XP 3400+?) before the Athlon 64 arrives in September. Regardless, AMD hasn’t given up on its seventh-generation architecture and the Athlon XP 3200+ is a product not only of AMD’s continual development, but also that of its chipset partners.
Last Stop, All Aboard!
When the Athlon processor launched in 1999, it did so accompanied by the EV6 bus, freshly licensed from Digital Equipment Corp and running at 100MHz DDR. At the time, it was said that the EV6 bus would be scalable up to 200MHz DDR, or the equivalent of 400MHz. Of course, the processor architecture has matured and evolved since then, as has memory technology. It was astounding that the bus could deliver up to 3.2GB per second of bandwidth, especially when 64-bit, PC133 memory was still transferring roughly a gigabyte per second. And so to keep up with Intel’s best efforts, AMD has pushed its front side bus from 100MHz to 133MHz, then to 166MHz and now to 200MHz. That’s right – those who speculated about an equivalent 400MHz front side bus for the past few months were correct. We’re at the last stop on the Athlon XP’s front side bus and the 3200+ is the first processor to bring that setting to fruition.
SIDEBAR: Many nForce2 motherboards, like ASUS’ A7N8X and ABIT’s NF7-S, are capable of unlocking retail Athlon XP processors. That means you don’t have to mess with a conductive pen!
| Inside the Athlon XP 3200+||Page:: ( 2 / 13 )|
The most significant development of today’s launch is the new 400MHz front side bus. In transitioning to a faster bus, AMD has enabled a bandwidth increase of roughly 16 percent. Performance doesn’t scale according to that figure, but the higher bandwidth number coupled with the use of low-latency DDR memory should allow for a moderate boost all around.
Because of the newly added bus speed, AMD has had to revamp its multiplier settings that determine a processor’s operating frequency. The Athlon XP 3000+ runs at 2.17GHz, which is derived from a 166MHz bus multiplied by 13. The new 3200+ operates at a round 2.2GHz (200MHz * 11). Incidentally, the 3200+ is about 30MHz faster than its predecessor. The rest of the chip’s attributes are unchanged. It is still based on the ‘Barton’ core, with 128KB of L1 and 512KB of L2 cache. AMD’s Dresden, Germany-based Fab30 handles production of the chip on its .13-micron process. Apparently, the process still has some life in it, as the 3200+ requires the same 1.65V as the 3000+ before it. The processor does dissipate a bit more heat, though. Its maximum thermal power is 76.8W compared to 74.3 for the 3000+.
AMD touts the fact that the Athlon is still running on the Socket A interface, but it should be noted that platform support is fairly limited for processors utilizing a 400MHz front side bus. In fact, unless you’ve managed to get your nForce2 board running stably at 400MHz, you’ll likely need a new motherboard. Such is the life of an early adopter, unfortunately.
On the bright side, the infrastructure necessary to support the 3200+ is already in place. SiS’ 748 chipset should be available shortly, working properly with a 400MHz bus and a single channel of DDR400 memory. It also sports SiS’ proprietary MuTIOL 1G technology that links the 748 North Bridge to the 963L South Bridge with a 1GB per second interconnect. Unfortunately, SiS’ 964 South Bridge (with Serial ATA) isn’t quite ready, so motherboard manufacturers will have to continue incorporating third-party controllers for that particular feature.
VIA’s entry to the 400MHz will be a bit later. It’s been a while since its KT400A chipset sampled, yet we still haven’t seen widespread adoption of that product, and it is a 333MHz platform. VIA is reportedly working on its KT600 chipset, which will support the new bus but probably won’t be out before this summer. If VIA encounters further delays, it risks missing an important window of opportunity before Athlon 64 is readied later this year.
Not one to be left out, NVIDIA is unveiling two new chipsets concurrently with the 3200+ launch. The first, nForce2 400, is a single-channel solution that only works with NVIDIA’s value-oriented MCP. The second has been dubbed nForce2 Ultra 400. It sports two channels of DDR400 memory and accepts either the MCP or the higher-end MCP-T (the MCP-T supporting FireWire, dual Ethernet MACs, and Soundstorm audio). Both the nForce2 400 and nForce2 Ultra 400 are System Platform Processors, meaning none of the 400MHz platforms will include integrated graphics. Instead, NVIDIA expects that the enthusiasts interested in a flagship processor like the Athlon XP 3200+ would prefer a discrete graphics solution. NVIDIA claims that motherboards based on nForce2 Ultra 400 will be available immediately. Considering that our tests were run on an ASUS A7N8X Deluxe Revision 2.0, we’d tend to believe NVIDIA.
SIDEBAR: On a recent trip to visit Brandon, NVIDIA representatives were able to operate an nForce2 board with a 500MHz bus, though it wasn’t completely stable.
| System Setup||Page:: ( 3 / 13 )|
AMD Athlon XP 3200+ (2.2GHz)
AMD Athlon XP 3200+ @ 2.4GHz (12.0 x 200MHz)
AMD Athlon XP 3000+ (2.17GHz)
AMD Athlon XP 2700+ (2.17GHz)
Intel Pentium 4 3GHz
ASUS A7N8X Deluxe Rev. 2 nForce2 400 Ultra Motherboard
Intel D875PBZ 875P Motherboard
512MB Corsair XMS3200 CAS2 Memory
ATI RADEON 9800 Pro 128MB
Catalyst 3.2 Drivers
120GB Seagate Serial ATA 7200RPM Hard Drive
Reference Silicon Image Serial ATA RAID Controller
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1
Desktop resolution 1024x768, 32-bit color, 75Hz refresh
All power saving options were turned off, as were the Automatic Update and System Restore services. Graphics options under the ‘Performance’ tab were all disabled for maximum performance. We also disabled audio on the nForce2 board (the Intel D875PBZ does not have onboard audio).
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
3D Mark 2003
Quake III: Arena; Demo001
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
Business Winstone 2002
Content Creation Winstone 2002
SiSoft Sandra 2003
SIDEBAR: AMD’s approved heat sink list has been updated once again. The cooler that came with our Athlon XP 3200+ kit is relatively quiet, considering the processor’s heat output. It features a copper base and aluminum fins.
| 3D Mark 2003||Page:: ( 4 / 13 )|
3DMark 2003 CPU Test
Futuremark’s description of the 3D Mark 2003 CPU test is vague at best, yet it provides results inline with what we’d expect for a processor rated slightly above the 3GHz Pentium 4. The metric appears to be sensitive to both front side bus and processor frequency, as the overclocked 3200+ scores roughly five percent better than the stock processor. Meanwhile, the Athlon XP 3200+ puts the same distance between itself and the 3000+. Cache also plays an important role, as the 3000+ ‘Barton’ is six percent faster than the 2700+ ‘Thoroughbred’, which runs at the same processor and front side bus speeds.
SIDEBAR: The ‘Barton’ core measures 101 square millimeters.
| Business Winstone 2002||Page:: ( 5 / 13 )|
Business Winstone 2002
The Athlon’s execution pipeline is much shorter than that of the Pentium 4. As a result, business-related applications are generally faster on the K7 architecture, which doesn’t suffer as often from branch mis-predictions. It doesn’t look like the chip gains much from the move to a 400MHz bus, but overclocking certainly gives it a boost, as does the extra 256KB of L2 cache that accompanies the ‘Barton’ core.
SIDEBAR: The Athlon XP 3200+ is made up of 54.3 million transistors.
| Content Creation Winstone 2002||Page:: ( 6 / 13 )|
Content Creation Winstone 2002
Intel’s Pentium 4 usually dominates the content creation benchmarks, but you’ll notice we left the P4 out of this round. Late in our testing, AMD supplied us with a patch that purportedly allows Content Creation 2002 to properly enable SSE support in the Athlon XP. The patch looks to be valid, and from Microsoft. However, we also tried installing it on our Pentium 4 platform just to double check it didn’t affect that platform. Interestingly enough, the Pentium 4 system crashed each time we’d run the metric. Rather than risk misrepresenting one platform or the other, we’ll only present the Athlon XP scores, along with the results of the patched benchmark to demonstrate the effects of SSE on the processor’s performance.
Once again, the 400MHz bus doesn’t have a particularly pronounced impact on performance; at least, not nearly as much as the larger cache or the extra 200MHz afforded by overclocking. On the other hand, the patched SSE support boosts the 3200+’s score by an even 10 percent!
SIDEBAR: AMD seems to favor the Ajigo MF035-032 as its heat sink of choice.
| Serious Sam 2||Page:: ( 7 / 13 )|
Serious Sam SE - OpenGL
As we’ve seen in the past, Serious Sam SE seems to favor the Athlon XP over Intel’s Pentium 4. More specifically, the 3200+ is about 11 percent faster at 800x600. Then again, if you plan to buy an Athlon XP 3200+, we’re sure you’d also want to be playing games like Serious Sam at higher resolutions. At 1600x1200, AMD’s lead shrinks to six percent.
SIDEBAR: AMD boasts an exclusive cache, which means data in the L1 memory doesn’t need to be duplicated in L2 (that’s why AMD can claim a total of 640KB of cache).
| Quake III||Page:: ( 8 / 13 )|
Quake III v.1.17 Demo001 – OpenGL
Quake III is a particularly strong showing for the Pentium 4. The 3GHz chip, paired with Intel’s new 875P platform outpaces the Athlon XP 3200+ by about eight percent at 800x600. As we just pointed out, though, most gaming enthusiasts with the latest hardware won’t want to play at such a low resolution. At 1600x1200, game play is limited (if you can call more than 200 frames per second limited) by the RADEON 9800 Pro, not processor performance.
SIDEBAR: AMD’s Opteron processor takes advantage of dual-channel DDR memory. The Athlon 64, on the other hand, is said to support a single channel, which would lead us to believe that come September, the processor may support DDR400.
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 9 / 13 )|
Comanche 4 – DirectX 8
Like Quake III, Comanche 4 favors the Pentium 4. At 800x600, it is about nine percent faster than the Athlon XP 3200+. But whereas Quake III proves to be limited by graphics performance, Comanche 4 continues to stress processor speed, and even at 1600x1200, the 3GHz Pentium 4 maintains an eight percent lead. Increasing the Athlon’s front side bus yields a three percent increase in frame rate at 800x600.
SIDEBAR: Do you think nForce2 400 Ultra looks cool? Just wait until nForce3 becomes available.
| Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo||Page:: ( 10 / 13 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby – DirectX 8
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch – DirectX 8
AMD takes a victory in Unreal Tournament 2003, where the 3200+ bests the Pentium 4 by a scant percentage point. Overclocking to 2.4GHz extends AMD’s lead to seven percent in the ‘flyby’ and six percent in ‘botmatch.’ There are several other comparisons that can be made by looking at these scores. For our purposes, we’ll stick to 800x600, since the results are most pronounced.
First compare the 2700+ and 3000+ processor, both of which run at 2.17GHz and utilize a 333MHz front side bus. The only difference between the two is cache size – 2700+ has 256KB of L2 and the 3000+ has 512KB. As you can see, the extra cache buys the 3000+ an instant six percent advantage. Next, we can compare the 3000+ and 3200+ processors. They run at similar clock speeds, but the 3200+ has the 400MHz bus, which only yields four percent. Finally, the 2.4GHz Athlon XP is about six percent faster than the 2.2GHz chip. If it needs to, AMD can release a faster processor later this year, and these scores give some indication that there is still performance to be had.
SIDEBAR: If you’d care to learn a bit more about AMD’s Opteron lineup, check out our own Hands-on experience.
| SiSoft Sandra 2003||Page:: ( 11 / 13 )|
SiSoft Sandra 2003 Memory Bandwidth
Though synthetic in nature, SiSoft’s Sandra 2003 memory bandwidth benchmark gives us perhaps the most tangible evidence thus far that the 400MHz front side bus is a positive step forward. In short, the Athlon XP 3200+ is able to push about 91 percent of its theoretical memory bandwidth. Meanwhile, the Pentium 4, running on an 800MHz front side bus, is less efficient at 73 percent of its 6.4GB per second.
SIDEBAR: Previously, there were rumors that Intel would be releasing a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 in response to the 3200+. We were able to confirm, however, that this won’t be happening – at least not in May.
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 12 / 13 )|
Performance: Performance is an almost-inevitable ‘pro’ for a cutting edge processor. The Athlon XP 3200+ dominates in some benchmarks, while in others it succumbs to Intel’s NetBurst micro-architecture. This doesn’t mean one is definitively better than the other, but the constant flip-flopping does indicate that there are applications for which each processor is better suited. As a gamer, consider that you’ll probably be involved in a lot of high-resolution situations limited by video card performance anyway, so the differences between AMD and Intel may be less pronounced.
Platform Infrastructure: If VIA were the only chipset manufacturer backing AMD’s efforts, there might have been a problem. Fortunately, competition has driven NVIDIA and SiS to make strong surges and each company has its own solution ready for AMD’s launch. SiS will likely assume a value position with its 748, while NVIDIA is more likely to command the ranks of performance enthusiasts looking to run dual-channel rigs at low latencies. But be sure to buy some quality memory – we ran our systems as DDR400 2-2-2-5 using a pair of Corsair modules.
Overclocking: Although the micro-architecture is nearly four years old, AMD continues to improve upon it and expose headroom we wouldn’t have imagined possible. The Athlon XP 3200+ runs at 2.2GHz, but we were able to get a stable 2.4GHz out of it. We even hit 2.5GHz; it just wasn’t stable enough to finish the testing suite.
Availability: Because AMD has had availability problems in the past, it is worth mentioning that the Athlon XP 3200+ will already be visible in the retail channel when the chip launches. Coupled with the fact that 400MHz-ready motherboards are also available, there should be little preventing you from owning a 3200+.
Price: Even when AMD wasn’t the performance king, we could always count on its processors to be reasonably affordable. The passing of time has seen AMD move out of that position, unfortunately, and the Athlon XP 3200+ is set to be priced at $464 in quantities of 1,000. It will probably surface for significantly less online, but when you consider that a 3000+ can be had for around $300, it makes the 3200+ a little less compelling. At the same time, the 3200+ will probably emerge just a smidge cheaper than Intel’s 3GHz Pentium 4 that relies on an 800MHz front side bus.
SIDEBAR: You can now buy processors directly from AMD! Not only does AMD’s store offer Athlon XPs but we also saw MPs and Opterons.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 13 / 13 )|
Let us know what you think of our 3200+ review!