Hall of Fame baseball player Willie Keeler once stated that his secret was to "hit 'em where they ain't", a very simple strategy can also be applied to the business world. If your competitor is hammering your current product line, then try to find somewhere that "they ain't". One of AMD's answers has been to aggressively price their latest Phenom processors, creating some mismatches against Intel Core 2 models, while another has been the development of a triple core processor. The Phenom X3 offers an interesting combination of better-than dual core performance at lower-than quad core power and thermal requirements.
The Phenom X3 line shares the same basic specifications as the Phenom X4, but in a triple-core design rather than quad. The Phenom X3 processors are still built on the 65nm SOI process, but include only three active cores. To even achieve a processor with three individual cores is a testament to the *true* multi-core Phenom architecture, as opposed to the "two Core 2 Duo processors on the same package" design of the Intel quad cores.
This also translates into lower L1 and L2 total cache levels compared to a Phenom X4. Each core has the same 64K + 64K of L1 instruction/data cache and 512KB of L2 cache, but with only three cores, this adds up to 384KB total L1 and 1.5MB total L2 cache per Phenom X3 processor. The 2MB of integrated, shared L3 cache is constant through both the Phenom X3 and X4 lines, as is the transistor count of 450 million and a die size of 285 mm2.
The Phenom X3 shares the same 128-bit DDR2 memory controller (configurable for dual 64-bit channels for simultaneous read/writes), with support for up to DDR2-1066 memory, and running at its own fixed clock. The Phenom X3 line does sport a lower 1.8 GHz HT (3.6 GHz full duplex) speed, rather than the full 2.0 GHz of the higher-end Phenom X4 models. The Phenom X3 uses the 940-pin AM2+ design, which is fully backward compatible with the AM2 socket.
The Phenom X3 line has a nominal core voltage of 1.05-1.25V and a TDP of 95W, while offering enhanced Cool'n'Quiet support that can dynamically change the clock speeds and voltages of each individual core, or even shut down parts of the CPU to save power. As with the 50-series of Phenom X4 processors, all of the Phenom X3 models released today feature the latest B3 core revision, without the TLB erratum.
The Phenom X3 8750 is the flagship model in the AMD triple-core line. As its model numbers implies, this processor runs at a clock speed of 2.4 GHz and uses a 1.8 GHz HT 3.0 speed. The 1.05-1.25V max voltage is lower than the 1.2-1.3V of the Phenom X4 9850, while its 95W TDP matches the specifications of the lower-speed Phenom X4 9550 and 9650. The base core design of 384K L1 and 1.5MB L2 represent the tri-core architecture, while the 2MB L3 remains constant and is shared between all three cores.
AMD announced three different Phenom X3 models today, the 2.4 GHz Phenom X3 8750 we are reviewing, and two lower-clocked models - the 2.1 GHz Phenom X3 8450 and the 2.3 GHz Phenom X3 8650. Why the 2.2 GHz speed was skipped is anyone's guess, and we'll have to wait and see if AMD fills the gap. All of these processors share the same specifications, voltages, HT speeds, and TDP ratings outlined above, with the only difference being the clock speed. There are also no "Black Editions" in this launch, so any overclocking will be done the old-fashioned way.
Here is a small chart that should properly differentiate the various Phenom and Phenom X4/X3 models, using their clock/HT speeds, number of cores, L1/L2 cache levels, TDP, and 1KU pricing: