Sempron Shortly

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Xbit Labs has an article which talks about overclocking a Sempron, the socket 754 type.

They manage to overclock it to a tad over 2.5GHz, where it does quite credibly against its higher-end competition.

Should you buy one?

In the past, our surveys have indicated that you haven’t been very interested in Semprons. In the past, we’ve never been much for socket 754.

Over the past few months, the arguments against both have been weakened by a number of developments and AMD policy reversals.

Let’s review the arguments against socket 754 and/or Semprons first and see how much water they continue to hold. Then we’ll look at the reasons (really reason) for buying one.

Performance Additional cache and dual-channel memory provided significant boosts to the PIV architecture. They have proven to help rather less in the Hammer environment (though we’ll note that most of the benchmarks XBitLabs used either emphasize raw CPU speed, or are heavily dependent on video card speed).

Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue that a Sempron user is giving up a whole lot in performance compared to a socket 939 user, and whatever advantage is forfeited, one can at least semi-reasonably make a “bang for the buck” argument. Not a big reduction in the price tag, but not much of a reduction in performance, either.

Obsolescence The most powerful argument against socket 754 and any CPU inhabiting it was AMD’s declared intention to make socket 939 the mainstream solution and restrict new innovations like 90nm fabrication and increased speeds to it.

A few weeks ago, AMD apparently reversed that decision for Semprons. While such a decision was not made for socket 754 Athlon 64s, it’s hard to see how AMD can go to 90nm for one and not the other.

This will leave Semprons no more prone to obsolescence than any other Hammer. Unfortunately, any current Hammers will almost certainly be made obsolescent by AMD’s adoption of DDR-2, which will probably require a new socket.

Under such circumstances, if you’re doomed anyway, many would rather be doomed after spending $200 rather than $300 or $400 or more.

Obsolescence (more accurately, the lack thereof) provides another nudge towards the Sempron. 90nm chips aren’t doing much better than 130nm chips, and probably never will get a whole lot better. Getting to 3GHz using air cooling is going to be a huge struggle. I think we’ll see it eventually, but “eventually” could well be next October.

Again, under such circumstances, if you’re not going to get a whole lot more no matter how much more you spend, might as well minimize the costs.

One item of obsolescence which remains with Semprons is x86-64. You won’t get it with a Sempron. Yet. In the long run, we think that AMD will be forced to enable x86-64 on Semprons when Intel does so with Celerons.

Even if they don’t, though, if you ever had the burning desire or need to get it, all you’d have to do is buy a socket 754 Athlon 64.

Oddly enough, the strongest reason I see against these systems is the lack of PCI-E support. Of course, if you have no desire to replace your video card in the next year or so, this factor is N/A.

However, if you do plan on buying a video card in the next year or so, you’ll be better off buying a PCI-E rather than an AGP card in the long run (especially if you plan to keep it a couple years). This doesn’t mean you have to buy a socket 939 system; it does mean you ought to wait a bit for a socket 754 PCI-E system.

The Arguments For…

The Argument For

It’s cheap.

Why babble? Why waste words? Any and all advantages will come down to those two words. On the whole, AMD fans revere the word “cheap” like Christians revere another five letter word “Jesus.”

And like Jesus for Christians, “cheap” washes away sin for AMD fans. A Sempron system performs 10% less than a socket 939? No problem, I saved $100 or $150. A Sempron system will get obsoleted by next June. No problem, I only spent $200 for a CPU/mobo and used my old stuff for the rest.

AMD fans don’t think this way quite yet. But they will.

It’s not because AMD fans are all incorrigible cheap and/or poverty-stricken SOBs. What will change their minds will be the hollowing out of most of the advantages more expensive AMD platforms will give them.

Another factor will be the cost of replacement. AMD decides to enable x86-64 next May? Buy another sub-$100 processor when you feel like it. That’s better than laying out a whole bunch upfront for something you’re not too sure you’ll ever really use.

Conclusion

In a time of uncertainty, Sempron socket 754 systems represent a good stopgap at a good price. For those who are hurting, they’ll give you good performance without much investment, and if you decide to toss it a year from now when something better comes along, the price is right.

Nonetheless, a little waiting will help the patient.

We recommend that those waiting for such systems wait until 90nm Semprons actually show up. You might as well get whatever advantage there is from them, the price ought to be a bit lower, and those interested in PCI-E board might actually find one then.

If you’re thinking socket 939, consider the following: By the time AMD makes any significant improvement to current 90nm technology (if even possible), we’re probably in DDR-2 land with a whole new socket. By going Sempron soon, you won’t have to agonize over buying now and buying later, you’ll do both and get a boost now and later for not much more money.

If you think your socket A is good enough, or that there’s not enough of an advantage to change, well, keep thinking that. This won’t go away.

Why The Change of Mind?

I can’t tell people to do what I wouldn’t do myself. I know I’ve spent a lot of time and words telling people to wait for socket 939, but now that we’ve gotten there, most of the quite legitimate reasons at the time for not buying socket 754 have faded away, some expectedly, some rather unexpectedly, and the reasons for buying the socket 939 systems we’ll see any time soon haven’t faded in.

When push comes to shove, though, I just can’t justify spending close to a couple extra hundred dollars for a system that will only be a handful of percentage points better than the cheapie system and which will be obsoleted by next summer.

The straw that broke this camel’s back was AMD’s decision to go 90nm on Semprons. The relative lack of additional performance from 90nm chips for the moment was another big swaying factor.

And if I can’t do that with my own money, I can’t suggest you do it, either. And frankly, I strongly suspect most AMD fans hold on to the wallet a bit tighter and will be even more willing to talk themselves into a cheaper system than I. 🙂

Ed

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