The years 2009 and 2010 were a unique time for computer processors, where you could physically get more cpu than you paid for. The quad core cpu was the de facto high end standard, but it has not become a mainstream standard yet. Many applications and even games could still run perfectly fine with only a dual core processor. But instead of slapping two dual cores together and calling it a quad, a la Intel’s Core2Quad of 2007-2008, both AMD and Intel were now producing real monolithic quad core processors, with all cores located on a single die, along with level 3 cache shared among all the cores. And you could produce numerous variations of such a design to meet market demands and price targets by disabling some cores, disabling some cache, or both. Which is exactly what AMD did with their Phenom II line of processors, resulting in dual and triple core processors, with and without level 3 cache, that were really full fledged quads but with disabled parts.
What makes things really interesting is that AMD chipsets at the time had a feature called Advanced Clock Calibration, which was originally marketed to enthusiasts as something that helped with overclocking. And whether intentionally or not, that feature was soon discovered to have the magical ability to unlock cores that were by default disabled on AMD processors. Often the disabled parts were defective, as my triple core Phenom II X3 720 at the time was unstable with the fourth core unlocked, much to my disappointment. But with a bit of luck it was possible to unlock fully functional parts, and end up with with a quad core processor after buying a dual or a triple core cpu.
Which brings us to the star of today’s show – the AMD Athlon 5000. Not to be confused with the Athlon 64 X2 5000+ for Socket AM2, this one was a Socket AM2+ processor, and was simply labeled as Athlon 5000. By default this processor is a 2.2GHz dual core somewhat similar to an Athlon II. But it can be unlocked to a quad core Phenom II, which also unlocks 6MB of shared level 3 cache, resulting in a cpu that’s more than twice as powerful. And with some overclocking, you can reach even higher performance. Ah yes, back in those days, you didn’t have to pay extra for special overclockable processors. All of them could be overclocked by raising the base clock frequency. In the case of Phenom II, this was especially useful as it not only raised the core frequency, but also the uncore frequency, which controlled the level 3 cache.
In this video, we compare how the Athlon 5000 performs by default, and how much faster it performs in newer games after being unlocked and overclocked.