We were hoping to make this review a tale of two halves. The first was to be a story of the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition in standard triple-core trim, the second was to include revelations of a fourth core freed from its digital shackles.
But like the other two AMD chips with hidden cores (that's the Athlon II X3 435 and Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition), the triple-core 720 disappointed. The fourth and final core in our review sample is a dud. At least it proves AMD doesn't try to influence the press by handing out carefully vetted samples.
Anyway, the result is thatthePhenom II X3 720 BE must make a case for itself purely as a triple-core chip. Unfortunately, that's a tough ask. As an all-rounder, the 720 is reasonable. It's notably faster than the dual-core Phenom II X2 550 BE in multi-threaded software such as video encoding. Similarly, it has the edge over AMD's bargain-priced quad, the Athlon II X4 620, in games.
The 720 also overclocks fairly well, hitting 3.8GHz on air cooling and a tweak of the CPU voltage settings. Problem is, while the 720 isn't awful at anything, it also falls well short of excellence across the board. In a word, it's mediocre. If you are a hardcore gamer, the high-clocking Phenom II X2 550 BE is probably a better bet. For everyone else, the quad-core Athlon II X4 620 makes more sense and costs less.
With Intel sticking to even core counts, it was almost inevitable that AMD would step in with some triple-core chips. The Phenom II X3 720 BE certainly makes for an interesting triple-core option and is worth a look if you're looking for a true all rounder with a very low price tag.
If you know what you want from your PC, odds are you won't like the triple-core 720. Adequate at all things, it's not great at anything. Whether it's gaming or encoding, there are better chips for the money. And remember, there are no guarantees when it comes to unlocking that hidden fourth core.
AMD's triples look good on paper, but somehow don't add up to the sum of their parts.
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