The AMD Athlon X4 880K Review
The last few years have been a challenge for AMDís CPU division. The Bulldozer microarchitecture which defined their lineup for the last half decade (along with its Piledriver, Steamroller and Excavator updates) proved to be a disappointment, APUs havenít gained a foothold in key markets and key ULV processors like Mullins never critical mass. This may sound like a doomsday-style intro but thereís been a number of recently-announced elements that may help redefine AMDís image in the eyes of potential customers.
Even though they have been facing an uphill battle AMD is in the process of rolling out several updates in an effort to refresh their desktop lineup. Motherboards have been updated with new features, additional APUs are being introduced and even the venerable Athlons are receiving a much-needed injection of adrenalin. Thereís also been some news about the highly anticipated AM4 socket alongside the Bristol Ridge and Summit Ridge platforms for the Zen microarchitecture. All of these things point towards a resurgence of AMDís product stack in their efforts to better compete against the Intel juggernaut.
While I personally love covering high end processors, among the many recent announcements one really struck a chord with me: the Athlon X4 880K. So why was I so interested in what amounts to a low-end processor for the FM2+ platform? I feel AMDís FM2+ Athlon lineup has remained relatively under-covered since its introduction even though it contains some of their most enticing price / performance SKUs. This newest addition seems like the perfect little plucky underdog that could meet the needs of budget-focused gamers who want good quad-core performance but donít want to spend upwards of $120 for an entry-level Intel i3 6100. The 880K even has an unlocked multiplier which allows for relatively easy overclocking (more on that later), something that none of Intelís current Skylake CPUs offer unless you want to invest about $250 into an i5 6600K.
Like all other Athlons, the X4 880K utilizes a revised Steamroller core architecture (Excavator still remains exclusive to the lowly X4 845) from the most recent Godavari APUs but rolls it into a die package which doesnít have an integrated GPU. This layout allows it to hit a significantly lower price point despite boasting frequencies that beat all other FM2+ processors. The only exception is the new A10-7890K but which costs a whopping $165. Another interesting aspect of this design is its TDP value; 95W is identical to higher-end APUs and without the iGPU Iím hoping the 880K will be able to hit its maximum Turbo frequency more often.
The aforementioned gap of $70 between the A10-7890K and Athlon X4 880K is an important one since it gives potential buyers two choices depending on their intended usage scenarios without leaving the FM2+ environment. If you are looking to run a dedicated graphics card, then grab the lower-priced X4 880K and put the money saved towards a better GPU. Meanwhile, if a compact form factor, optimal power consumption, light gaming and HD movie watching are key factors for you then an A10 or even A8 series APU will likely be a better choice. With both AMD and NVIDIA divesting themselves from the sub-$100 GPU market, the graphics power from an APU will easily overcome the 880K alongside a $70 dedicated graphics card.
A slightly more fitting competitor for the Athlon X4 880K actually comes from the AM3 side of the fence. AMDís FX-4300 has four cores, very similar clock speeds, an identical amount of L2 cache, costs about $15 less and is attached to a 9-series platform that many feel is more versatile than FM2+.
It should be interesting to see how these two processors line up against one another since the Vishera CPU uses an older Piledriver architecture and was launched more than three years ago. Meanwhile, the Steamroller microarchitecture has higher IPC rates, better memory optimizations and a number of other advancements that help distinguish it from its predecessor. The Godavari revision used on the X4 880K has architected primarily for APUs but its minor enhancements push Steamroller even further towards next generation designs with better TDP management through manufacturing process refinements and enhanced clock gating.
Another addition worth talking about is the new cooling solution the X4 880K processor ships with. It houses a quartet of heatpipes which make contact with a pure copper base and arch upwards into a large aluminum fin array for optimal heat dispersion. Thermal dissipation is rated at 125W which means thereís some thermal headroom if you want to overclock this 95W processor. While the design is basically the same as the one used for AMDís new Wraith cooler, it doesnít have the illuminated shroud. Itís good to see AMD stepping up their heatsink game since the last thing anyone wants is to buy an expensive third party cooler to get reasonable temperatures on their value-oriented processor.
Thereís no denying the X4 880K is an enticing little processor, one that could effectively help budget-minded gamers focus their money on a GPU upgrade. Remember, the $25 gap between it and an i3 6100 isnít huge but when paired up with the cost disparity between DDR3 and DDR4, the savings could lead to a substantial GPU upgrade. The FM2+ platform has also been updated with USB 3.1, M.2 and other features in an effort bring its technology foundation up to todayís standards.
While AMD has obviously worked hard to breathe some new life into their lineup, I have some concerns about how buyers will react to the Athlon X4 880K. While affordability has always been on the green teamís side, thereís an understandable perception that AMDís current processor and platform solutions are the old-timers of todayís CPU market, regardless of how many refreshes are launched. AMD hasnít helped themselves by announcing the upcoming Alpine Ridge and Bristol Ridge platformsí AM4 sockets wonít be forwards compatible with current processors, nor will FM2+ motherboards accept next generation CPUs / APUs. This leaves potential AMD buyers in a nebulous grey zone where they have to ask themselves whether or not to invest into a twilight platform.
Grey zone or not, our last conversations with AMD suggest these new processors are needed since comparable next generation alternatives are still far away for desktop users. If that is indeed the case, the X4 880K may be a perfect option for gamers on a tight budget.
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