The world's first mainstream six-core microprocessor, AMD's Phenom II X6 1055T, has gone on sale in the UK at prices that might give Intel's Core i3 and Core i5 systems some serious competition.
Independent system builder, Mesh, is offering its AMD X6 system for £699 ($1,070) inc VAT, which includes 4GB of DDR3 RAM, 500GB hard drive, integrated ATI Radeon HD3200 graphics, plus a 23 inch monitor. Novatech, meanwhile is offering the same general spec, but with superior ATI Radeon 5770 graphics and a larger hard disk for £769.
The chip itself has some tricks up its sleeve that should attract the power hungry, starting with the 3MB of level 2 cache and 6MB of level 3 chip cache. Chip cache is known to play a big part in real-world microprocessor performance, though that cache has to work with six cores rather than with four or two cores in AMD's previous Phenoms.
The chip runs at 2.8GHz, but this can be scaled to 3.3GHz by using only three cores at the higher frequency, a design feature AMD calls Turbo Core.
A separate AMD X6 1090T Black Edition has the same 9MB of combined cache and 125 watts maximum power consumption but ramps up the turbo from a base 3.2GHz to a maximum of 3.6GHz, unexpectedly reintroducing clock frequency as a performance battleground.
The chip itself - and the reason it does not cost the earth in real systems - is that it can sit in the long-established AM2+ and AM3 motherboards in contrast to Intel's flurry of new chips, some of which have required new motherboard designs. It does feature a new chipset, however, the AMD 890FX, which supports up to four ATI Radeon graphics cards at once.
As a bonus, the 890FX when coupled with the SB850 can be used to enable SATA 6Gb/a technology, which will be a huge plus for hard drive performance when coupled to a compatible drive. AMD claims that many systems will also come with USB 3.0 enabled too.
Users looking to build their own system can get the chip on its own for around £153 inc VAT, or buy the more expensive six-core 1090T Black Edition for £245 or thereabouts.
Do more cores necessarily mean better performance? For most applications, nobody can decide, but the marketing message sounds good.