The top end of the processor market is where the majority of product activity takes place, with AMD and Intel releasing updated cores and ever-faster clock speed revisions, and then letting the older technologies filter down to the mainstream. Of course, every once in a while there is a new blip on the value landscape, where a processor specifically designed for entry-level buyers makes an appearance. AMD introduced the Sempron line is mid-2004, released the promising Sempron 3100+ 754-pin model, and then seemingly forgot about their new line of value processors. At least until now, and we've got a brand new value contender in the Sempron 3300+, which features both a higher clock speed and a new 90nm core.
It has been a while since the introduction of the 1.8 GHz Sempron 3100+, and up until now, it has represented the high-end of the Sempron performance scale. The Sempron 3300+ takes over that role, and although the new CPU does run at a full 2.0 GHz, this release is more than just a basic core speed jump and also brings with it a new core. The 90nm Palermo core is a variant of the Athlon 64 Venice core, and also brings with it SSE3 support and an enhanced memory controller. These memory controller upgrades include improved memory mapping and loading, and the ability to configure and use different size DIMMs on the same channel.
This means that in some ways, the Sempron 3300+ core is an improvement over the Athlon 64 Newcastle core, but AMD has made sure to tailor the new Palermo to ensure it doesn't overstep its bounds. The current Sempron line is purely 32-bit, and the Sempron 3300+ also doesn't support AMD64 extensions. The L2 cache has also been lowered compared to an Athlon 64 model, which was already cut in half from 512K to 256K on the Sempron 3100+. The Sempron 3300+ goes a step further and drops it down to 128K, or only quarter the L2 cache of an Athlon 64. This is pretty significant, and we were quite interested to see how this would impact overall performance, especially on the gaming side. Rest assured that all 754-pin Sempron models include a full 128K of L1 cache, so that side of the equation stays constant.
The base physical specifications and platform of the Sempron 3300+ don't really change, and this CPU is still a Socket 754 model with a 1600 MHz system bus and a 64-bit integrated, single-channel memory controller that supports up to 400 MHz DDR speeds. The core speed may have jumped to 2.0 GHz, but the maximum wattage stays consistent with previous Sempron models at 62W. In terms of compatibility, the new Palermo core made its debut in lower-speed models, so updated BIOS support was really not an issue. We tested the Sempron 3300+ on three different Socket 754 motherboards, and it was identified properly and ran perfectly each time.
With a new 90nm value processor in-house, the logical thing to start doing is testing its core heat and overclocking capabilities. In terms of core heat, we compared the 90nm Sempron 3300+ against the 130nm Sempron 3100+ and found some interesting results. The idle temperatures were quite different for the two models, with the Sempron 3300+ sitting at approximately 31 degrees C, while the Sempron 3100+ was a bit higher at around 34 degrees C. This looked good, but then when the two processors were put under a full workload, the Sempron 3100+ jumped to 38 degrees C, while the 90nm Sempron 3300+ was not far behind at 37.5 degrees C. Part of this is due to the higher 2.0 GHz clock speed, but we've also noticed that these 90nm AMD cores run low at idle or medium usage, but heat up to 130nm levels at full load.
The overclocking side was a bit more difficult than with a comparable Athlon 64 or Athlon 64 FX, as although the Sempron 3300+ supports Cool 'n Quiet technology, it had no facility to downshift the multipliers on our reference systems. That made any overclocking attempt one of purely increasing clock speed, which we managed to attain up to a 236 MHz speed, which resulted in a 2.36 GHz core at 1.5V to 1.525V. This compares quite well to the 2.15 GHz overclock (from 1.8 GHz) we found with the 130nm Sempron 3100+, and bodes well for potential Sempron speed increases from AMD. As with the Sempron 3100+, the main focus of this article is on base performance and features, but in the future we may offer up a sequel to our first Sempron vs. Celeron D overclocking article.