AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition Review

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For several years now, the demand for quick, powerful, quad core processors has been the craze throughout the computer industry. This has left the dual core platform along the wayside as the market has become dominated by the more expensive and significantly more powerful quad cores. The market is seeing a change now, however, with the growing significance of home theatre PCs that don’t necessarily require the more expensive and more powerful quad core processors. We have also seen an increase in the need for more affordable processors during these tough economic times. AMD has recognized this need and seems to have found the answer.

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The all new AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition processor is a dual core processor built on the AM3 Phenom architecture, but with the lower cost of a dual core processor. The AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition processor was designed to bridge the gap between increased performance and lower cost by utilizing advanced technologies and reverse compatibility, fused with the unlocked multipliers for additional performance enhancements. The AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE processor, unlike the other X2 dual cores currently offered from AMD, benefits from being built on the Dragon platform as a Phenom II AM3 die, allowing for the X2 to be utilized with DDR3 RAM on AM3 boards or be utilized on older motherboards featuring reverse compatibility. 

 

AMD has been at the forefront throughout the years with filling the voids in the market for various price points that have developed a demand in the user market. With the current economic times and the ever growing popularity of the HTPC, AMD has yet again answered the call of filling that spot in the processor market with a CPU that features newer die technologies, DDR3 or DDR2 capabilities depending on the motherboard, and cost efficient pricing as a dual core CPU. The AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE sits poised to be a formidable processor with much potential in many different system applications.

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Efficiency" title="Efficiency" class="system-pagebreak" />

Efficiency

Processors have continued to evolve over the years, with the size of the technology continually shrinking, while the performance and efficiency have continued to increase. The development of the AM3 processor technology has seen a significant improvement in the power of the processor as well as the efficiency. To test the dual core version of the AMD Dragon AM3 Phenom II CPU, I will run the system at idle and under load with the OCCT stress testing program and measure the energy used by the system with a kill-a-watt wattage tester.

Motherboard

MSI DKA790GX

Processor

AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE

Memory

4GB Patriot Extreme Perf DDR2-1333

Graphics Card

Sapphire ATI Radeon 4870 X2 2GB

HDD

Western Digital Caviar 160GB SATA

Power Supply

Thermaltake Pure Power 600W

 

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Review Philosophy" title="Review Philosophy" class="system-pagebreak" />

Review Philosophy

The dual core processor is making a comeback in the industry, thanks in part to the current turn of the economy and the emergence of the PC in home entertainment centers. The cost of building a PC or an HTPC can grow exponentially when you begin to factor in DDR3 RAM and AM3 motherboards with quad core processors. AMD has answered the call to give the flexibility of DDR2 or DDR3 RAM by developing a dual core CPU based on the AM3 quad core Phenom II 45nm die that is completely reverse compatible with the AM2+ socket.

The AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE processor can be built on three different types of systems, based largely on performance and price point. The first would be a total budget system that could easily be utilized for a HTPC and can feature DDR3 RAM based around a Gigabyte microATX motherboard.

Budget System: $246.98

AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE Processor

$103

Gigabyte GA- MA78GM-US2H

$74.99

4GB Patriot Viper DDR2-1066 RAM

$68.99

Mainstream System: $544.97

AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE Processor

$103.00

MSI DKA790GX Motherboard

$122.99

4GB Patriot Viper DDR2-1066 RAM

$68.99

ATI 4890 Graphics Card

$249.99

Enthusiast/Gaming System: $752.97

AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE Processor

$103

Gigabyte 790FXT-UD5P Motherboard

$169.99

4GB Patriot Extreme Perf DDR3-1600 RAM

$79.99

Sapphire 4870 X2 2GB Graphics Card

$399.99

 The three systems provide varied cost from budget to gaming level systems with certain benefits and disadvantages to each. Based on the performance benchmarks of each system, a better understanding will be had about which path is a better way to go, when factoring in the cost difference between an AM2+ DDR2 system and an AM3 DDR3 based system, and what the user wants or needs to get out of their system. Provided in the review will be benchmark testing of the mainstream and gaming level systems with the budget minded system being represented by the MSI DKA790GX based system with only using the onboard ATI HD3300 graphics chip, and the gaming system with the Gigabyte UD5P and single 4870 X2 graphics card.  Another very option based on an individual's personal taste, a newer ATI 4890 graphics card would also work very well with either of these example systems and save you a little money on he graphics end as well since the price of a 4890 is only $250.

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Specifications" title="Specifications" class="system-pagebreak" />

Specifications

The AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition processor is based on the Phenom II quad core processor die with 6MB of shared L3 cache based on the 45nm silicon technology.  The full specification list is as follows:

Model Number & Core Frequency

X2 550 Black Edition = 3.1GHz

TRAY OPN# 

HDZ550WFK2DGI

PIB OPN#

HDZ550WGIBOX

L1 Cache Sizes

64K of L1 instruction and 64K of L1 data cache per core (256KB total L1 per processor)

L2 Cache Sizes

512KB of L2 data cache per core (1MB total L2 per processor)

L3 Cache Size

6MB (shared)

Memory Controller Type

Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller *

Memory Controller Speed

2.0GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management

Types of Memory Supported

Support for unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) -AND- PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333MHz)

HyperTransport 3.0 Specification

One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4.0GHz full duplex (2.0GHz x2)

Total Processor-to-System Bandwidth

Up to 37.3GB/s bandwidth [Up to 21.3 GB/s total bandwidth (DDR3-1333) + 16.0GB/s (HT3)]

Up to 33.1GB/s bandwidth [Up to 17.1 GB/s total bandwidth (DDR2-1066) + 16.0GB/s (HT3)]

Packaging

Socket AM3 938-pin organic micro pin grid array (micro-PGA)

Fab location

GLOBALFOUNDRIES Fab 1 Module 1

Process Technology

45-nanometer DSL SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology

Approximate Die Size

258 mm2

Approximate Transistor count

~ 758 million

Max Temp

70 Celsius

Core Voltage

0.850-1.425V

Max TDP

80 Watts

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Testing" title="Testing" class="system-pagebreak" />

Testing

Benchmarking

To test all systems, processors, and motherboards, Hi Tech Legion has compiled a list of popular programs to test performance; these benchmarks are taken from programs that are available to the public. We have compiled these to create the Hi Tech Legion Benchmark Suite, which includes system, graphics, processor, rendering, compression, and word processing. All scores will be graphed for each specific test under its category:  video benchmarks (gaming will be rated in FPS: Frames per second), system scores will be graded by numbers which are given as results by their respective programs, higher will be better unless otherwise specified. If file compression is chosen, then all times will be in seconds. All temperatures will be measured in Celsius.

Systems

In this review of the AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE, I will be using an AMD based system with a reverse compatible DDR2 AM2+ board and a DDR3 AM3 based motherboard. In order to thoroughly test this processor for the intended budget and mainstream systems as well as the slightly more expensive gaming systems, I will use three different test systems as follows. 

Budget System:

Motherboard

MSI DKA790GX

Processor

AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE

Memory

Patriot Viper DDR2-1333

Graphics

Integrated Graphics (ATI HD3300)

Mainstream System:

Motherboard

MSI DKA790GX

Processor

AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE

Memory

4GB Patriot Viper DDR2-1333

GPU

Sapphire 4870 X2 2GB

Gaming System:

Motherboard

Gigabyte 790FX-UD5

Processor

AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE

GPU

Sapphire 4870 X2 2 GB

Memory

4GB Patriot Extreme Perf DDR3-1600

 

Benchmarks

System Benchmarks

  • World Bench

  • PCMark Vantage

  • SiSandra (CPU)

  • Everest (Cache and Memory)

  • Cinebench 10 (CPU Rendering)

 

Gaming Benchmarks

  • 3DMark Vantage

  • Brothers in Arms (Hell's Highway)

  • Crysis

  • World in Conflict

Optimization Software

  • AMD OverDrive

  • AMD Fusion

  

<hrdata-mce-alt="System Benchmark (World Bench)" title="System Benchmark (World Bench)" class="system-pagebreak" />

World Bench

World Bench is a system benchmark that tests the rendering, DirectX, video encoding, file compression, data entry, and overall performance of your system. World Bench 6 Beta (stable) gives a base score of 100 for a baseline comparison when different systems are chosen. For our tests, these scores will not be valid; all benchmarks are run individually and will reflect times in seconds as given by the program. If you would like more information here is a link. World Bench 6

 

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="System Benchmark (PC Mark Vantage)" title="System Benchmark (PC Mark Vantage)" class="system-pagebreak" />

PCMark Vantage

Designed for Windows Vista, PCMark Vantage benchmarks your system with a variety of tests including video, photo editing, gaming, and communications. For results, a total PCMark score will be given (default setting) and individual scores for the tasks that are tested. To learn more about PCMark Vantage visit Futuremarks website.

 

 

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="System Benchmark (Si Sandra)" title="System Benchmark (Si Sandra)" class="system-pagebreak" />

 

Si Sandra

One of our favorites, Sandra from SiSoftware is a system benchmark that individually tests all components of your system. For our benchmarking purpose, we will use the processor section, which includes Processor Arithmetic, Multicore Efficiency, and Multimedia. All scores will be listed as given by benchmark, higher will be better unless otherwise stated.  SiSandra

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="System Benchmark (Everest)" title="System Benchmark (Everest)" class="system-pagebreak" />

 

Everest

Everest is a diagnostic and benchmarking tool. Everest will be used for its Cache and Memory benchmark. System memory, L1 cache, L2 cache, and L3 cache will be benchmarked for latency, read, write, and copy.  Lavalys is the producer of this software.

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="System Benchmark (Cinebench R10)" title="System Benchmark (Cinebench R10)" class="system-pagebreak" />

 

Cinebench R10

Created by Maxon, Cinebench R10 tests rendering of your CPU and GPU and scores their performance individually. We will be using the CPU rendering portion of the program and benchmark single CPU and multiple CPU performance.

 

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Gaming Benchmark (3D Mark Vantage)" title="Gaming Benchmark (3D Mark Vantage)" class="system-pagebreak" />

 

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage is a gaming benchmark used to test the DirectX performance of your graphics card. There are four tests plus a custom setting that can be run:  Entry (1024x768), Performance (1280x1024), which is the default setting, High (1680x1050), and Extreme (1920x1200). In each resolution, a total score, a CPU, and GPU are generated. Futuremark

Max resolutions used for gaming benchmarks will be 1280x1024. Remember, we are upgrading our system and are working within a budget. Average users are still working with 19 to 22 inch wide screen monitors which will not exceed 1680x1050. 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Gaming Benchmark (Brothers In Arm's: Hell's Highway)" title="Gaming Benchmark (Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway)" class="system-pagebreak" />

 

Brothers in Arms (Hell's Highway)

Hell's Highway is the newest edition to the Brothers in Arms saga.  It is a WW2, first person shooter that utilizes the newest Unreal Engine. This edition is based on Operation Market Garden that took place in September of 1944.  You will play as one of the men in the 101st Airborne.

Settings

  • All Levels set to High

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Gaming Benchmark (Crysis)" title="Gaming Benchmark (Crysis)" class="system-pagebreak" />

 

Crysis

One of the most demanding games a video card has ever had to contend with, this first person shooter can wreak havoc on an entry level video card, even at low resolutions.

Settings 

  • AA 2x

  • Levels: High

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Gaming Benchmark (World In Conflict)" title="Gaming Benchmark (World In Conflict)" class="system-pagebreak" />

 

World in Conflict

Do you have what it takes to conquer your opponent? World in Conflict is a DX10 game where, if you don't defeat your opponent, you don't gain. This is an all out, winner-take-all, modern war scenario.

Settings 

  • AA x4

  • Graphics: Very High

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Putting It All Together" title="Putting It All Together" class="system-pagebreak" />

 

Putting it all Together

 

The current demands in the computer market have shifted with the advent of the HTPC and the need for inexpensive systems to fulfill the demands of these trying economic times. This need has even been further exacerbated by the popularity of the netbooks and the ever growing notebook industry competing with the performance of the desktop market in both performance and price. AMD has recognized this need and has addressed it accordingly with the new introductions of the AM3 X2 dual core processors, including the Phenom II X2 550 BE priced at $103. Intel has made moves toward trying to support this need with the introduction of the core i5 dual core processors to be coming out shortly and by expanding the LGA 775 socket CPU with an additional E series dual core. Though the E7400 has a price tag of only $10 more at $113, the upcoming core i5 processors with bring about the end to the 775 socket, meaning that the E series will become obsolete in the very near future because of the lack of reverse compatibility of the two processor sockets. AMD has addressed these concerns of processors becoming obsolete through the reverse compatibility of the AM3 and AM2+ sockets.

In the current age in which technology is constantly changing and improving, with the “out with the old, in with the new” philosophy, it is refreshing to have a chip company keeping the consumers and their fears of obsolescence in mind by developing new technologies but maintaining reverse compatibility of the previous chip socket technologies. This allows consumers and builders alike to purchase AMD CPU’s with little fear of their purchase becoming obsolete not long after purchase. Intel certainly develops wonderful chips with excellent performance, but they have lost touch with the needs of the consumer and builder when it comes to new technology and having old technology that is competitive in price suffer from the inevitable obsolescence that comes from the lack of reverse compatibility with newer technology.

As can be seen through the performance benchmarks of this new AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE, the $100 price range has been filled with an excellent CPU that can fit into a number of real world systems ranging from budget and HTPC, to mainstream and gaming level systems. The most significant feature, however, is not just the price but the varied applications by way of the reverse compatibility of the platform. This chip can find homes in DDR2 and DDR3 systems, with the ability of older systems being upgraded easily through the compatibility and not needing to build an entire new system, unlike with Intel in going from the older 775 platform, that is becoming obsolete, to the new LGA1366 socket, which is the home for the core i7 and LGA 1156 for Core i5 processors.

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Conclusion" title="Conclusion" class="system-pagebreak" />

Conclusion

 

Price Point

Price: $103.00

Class: Mainstream

The AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Box Edition is a processor that has been developed and now released to provide an answer for the growing demand changes within the computer hardware industry. The 45nm technology and AM3 technology allows this inexpensive CPU to utilize DDR3 RAM for increased performance. This chip can also serve as an upgrade to an AM2+ system utilizing DDR2 RAM as a means for a cost effective upgrade that doesn’t break the bank during these tough times.

Performance

The AMD Phenom II X 550 BE performed extremely well on both test systems with both DDR2 and DDR3 based memory support. The gaming numbers were decent for a dual core CPU but the main area in which the 550 BE shined was with multimedia processing, making it an excellent candidate for HTPC systems. The fact that the CPU also functioned well on a reverse compatible system utilizing DDR2 RAM, demonstrated that this processor can also serve as a modest upgrade to an older system, without the cost of a complete rebuild

Reviewer's Opinion

After spending some quality time with the X2 550 BE, I am very pleased to say that this processor is the best dual core to have come out in the chip market in a long time. The quality of the manufacturing is up to the traditional AMD standards and the performance is top notch. This chip will serve to fill a void in the chip market that has been somewhat ignored since the surge in popularity coupled with the drops in price of the quad core processors.

In many cases, a system does not need all of the processing power provided by a quad core, especially HTPC and general use family computers. These systems could easily be built on a dual core platform with little loss in performance or power, based on the use of these systems. The 550 BE poises to be a knockout punch in the market,, as it features DDR3 support like the more expensive Intel’s, but features reverse compatibility with the older AM2+ sockets to utilize less expensive DDR2 RAM, unlike the Intel chips. In addition to this, the reverse compatibility makes upgrading older systems possible, thus limiting the obsolescence of older systems, a path which Intel has yet to choose. All of this can be had for a fraction of the cost of other upcoming Intel dual cores and just about any other quad core CPU on the market with an entry fee of merely $103. When you think about the fact this chip is 3.1GHz and features DDR2 and DDR3 memory support, AMD has dealt out a real winning punch with the Phenom II X2 550 BE.  

 

Pros:

  • Dual Core 

  • Price

  • Unlocked Multiplier for Overclocking

  • Reverse Compatibility

  • DDR2 and DDR3 Memory support

Cons:

  • NONE!!

  

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