If you have visited TrustedReviews before, you will probably have already read reviews of PCs based on the Athlon 64 FX51. This PC however sports the AMD Athlon 64 3200+.
You might wonder why there are two different models of Athlon 64, but you’d have to ask AMD about that. One thing we can tell you though is that the Athlon 64 3200+ is the main consumer CPU which will replace the Athlon XP range in due time.
To see how the Athlon 64 3200+ compares with the current Athlon XP 3200+, Evesham supplied a second system with similar specifications but based on the Athlon XP 3200+. It is not possible to do a straight comparison as the motherboards and certain architectural changes have been made, this is a close as you can get.
Lets start with a specification breakdown of the Axis XP 64 3200. The processor is of course the aforementioned Athlon 64 3200+ chip. A healthy 1GB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM is also included which might seem a little over the top, but you can never have too much memory. One of the major differences between the Athlon 64 and any current PC processors is that it features an integrated memory controller. This means that the northbridge is basically just an AGP controller. It is worth noting that the current line of Athlon 64 processors have a limitation of 2GB of RAM.
The motherboard is the MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R, which is based on the VIA K8T800 chipset. The K8T800 chipset is currently the only Athlon 64 chipset with full Hyper Transport bus support as it is capable of running at 800MHz in 16-bit mode. This should give all motherboards based on the K8T800 chipset an edge over any other Athlon 64 motherboard. Currently the only Athlon 64 chipsets available are from VIA, nVidia and AMD, but expect to see products from SiS and ALi soon.
The VIA chipsets does of course support AGP 8X and the VIA 8237 southbridge supports USB 2.0 and native S-ATA support. You’ll also find a Promise IDE/S-ATA RAID controller with support for two IDE and two S-ATA drives. There is also support for FireWire and 5.1-channel sound. The sound is provided by a Realtek ALC655 audio controller and a full set of audio ports can be found in the I/O panel. This is the first motherboard that I have seen with this specific I/O panel design, as it offers discrete 5.1-channel audio outputs, optical and coaxial S/PDIF as well as a line-in and microphone connector.
You’ll also find two FireWire ports next to the audio ports together with four USB 2.0 ports and an RJ45 connector for the integrated Realtek Gigabit LAN controller. There is also an additional bracket with a further two USB 2.0 ports and four diagnostics LEDs. The Evesham case also adds support for two front mounted USB 2.0 ports and headphone and microphone ports.
Evesham hasn’t skimped on the rest of the system specifications either and fitted an ATi Radeon 9800Pro 128MB graphics card. This high-end graphics solution is partnered with a 17in Philips 107B4 TFT display via a digital DVI connection.
It’s a shame that Evesham hasn’t taken advantage of the onboard sound, but in its place you’ll find a Creative Labs Audigy 2 ZS 7.1-channel sound card. This is a great piece of kit which adds near studio quality sound and an extra FireWire port to the system. Complementing the Audigy is a set of Creative Labs Inspire T7700 speakers to complete the 7.1-channel setup.
Evesham has taken full advantage of the S-ATA capabilities of the motherboard and added a 160GB Maxtor S-ATA hard drive with 8MB of cache. A Sony DW-U14A DVD writer capable of writing to DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW and CD-R/RW media is also included. A second optical drive in the shape of a Sony CD writer adds the capability to write CDs at a much faster speed than what the DVD writer can manage.
But let’s get back to the things that count, does the Athlon 64 live up to its hype? Looking at the numbers in the various benchmarks the short answer is yes. However, if you look closely you’ll notice that there is still life in the old Athlon XP core as it manages to get some great number in PCMark 2002s CPU test and in many of the SPECviewperf tests.
The first thing to take into consideration is that there are very few applications that can take full advantage of the Athlon 64 and the Athlon 64 does manage to outperform the Athlon XP by a good 20 points in Sysmark 2002. But for a chip rated at 3200+ it’s not as fast as expected, since a 3GHz Pentium 4 manages to put in very similar numbers in Sysmark 2002 if not better. The 3DMark scores are quite impressive but not outstanding yet again, but it shows that the Athlon 64 is a worthy replacement for the ageing Athlon XP.
One thing is very clear and that is the advantage that the integrated memory controller brings to the Athlon 64. The memory scores in PCMark 2002 for the Athlon 64 are way ahead of its older sibling, even though the Athlon XP was using dual channel memory. This is very impressive and you should be able to see the performance advantage increase with future Athlon 64 processors. The reason for this is that as the CPU speed increases, the memory speed will also ramp up since the controller is part of the chip. With the current generation of PCs, the memory speed can only increase when the motherboard system BUS increases. But the Athlon 64 has taken that control away from the motherboard completely, and consequently ended the problems with memory speed bottle necks.
Other tricks that the Athlon 64 has up its sleeve aren’t as easy to see at the moment, but with a 64bit version of Windows on its way, there should be other major performance improvements to be expected. These are hard to predict but according to AMD one benefit would be improved performance in games. But in the end these are things that we’ll have to experience for ourselves before we can truly quantify them.
You could of course get a 64bit operating system today, but many users are scared of Linux. The main reason for this is that it’s not as user friendly as Windows XP for example and it doesn’t offer the same kind of software and drivers support. But for those brave souls that must use a 64bit OS there is at least an option, and Linux is a very stable operating system if you know how to configure it.
However, there seems to be no issue whatsoever with running 32bit operating systems and applications on an Athlon 64, so what you’re getting is a chip that’s fast now, and potentially faster in the future.
To sum it all up, the Athlon 64 is a worthy replacement of the Athlon XP and it has a lot to offer, even if you don’t intend to use it with a 64bit OS any day soon. AMD has done a great job and created a processor which should bring consumer level computing in to the 64bit age.
The Evesham Axis 64 3200 is a great machine with strong performance figures, but the asking price for the average consumer is very steep and consequently Evesham just misses out on an award. That said, it’s a lot cheaper than an Athlon 64 FX-51 solution.