Taking it to Intel
To put it lightly, the first Phenom was a bit of a flop. Had it been competing with the likes of Pentium 4, things might be different. But instead, AMD had to compete with the Core 2 series of processors, which Intel could price as low or as high as they wanted.
So let’s just put that aside, and take a look at the Phenom II. The new 45nm core improves on the Phenom in just about every way imaginable, and the end result is a CPU that can actually perform well in contrast to similarly priced offerings from Intel (or even better, as we may find out). Since the Phenom II has been out for several months, we don’t need to go into great detail all the improvements that have been made. Here are the key points though:
- Larger L3 Cache – The L3 cache has been increased from 2MB to 4 or 6MB, shared across all cores. The two models with 4MB of L3 cache are the X4 8xx series. The rest have 6MB, including the 9xx and 7xx.
- Faster L3 Cache – According to AMD, the L3 cache is also significantly faster (2 cycles) than it was on the original Phenom. They have also improved the prefetching algorithms
- Improved Power Management – Each of the Phenom II’s 4 (or 3) cores has the ability to enter various power-saving states individually – something the original Phenom could also do. However, Phenom II added the ability for individual cores to dump their L2 data into the L3 cache, and enter a deep-sleep state. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite work with Windows, so as of now the cores still enter their P-states as a single unit. We hope this function is added to Vista with a Service Pack, but we may have to wait for Windows 7.
AMD clearly focused on not only attaining higher clock speeds with better power efficiency, but improving clock-for-clock performance overall. The result is a CPU that actually has the ability to compete with Intel’s similarly priced processors (believe it!).
Actually, AMD has always done a good job of pricing their processors below the competition, and they continue to do that here. The X4 955 Black Edition and X4 945 both sell for $245 and $225 respectively. The Core 2 Quad Q9550, which the X4 955 clearly intends to compete with, is about $270 online.
However as you can see, the vaunted Core i7 920 looms in the same price range; the CPU itself is just $10 more than a Q9550. As you recall, when we first reviewed the Core i7 series, the X58-based motherboard required to run these CPUs were ridiculously priced ($285 was about the cheapest you could find) and DDR3 was still significantly more expensive than DDR2. To find out if the Core i7 920 truly is in the same price range as the Core 2 Quad Q9550 that the new Phenom II X4 955 competes with, we put together some barebones system specs to find out overall price.
|AMD Phenom II AM2+||Intel Core 2 Quad||Intel Core i7|
|Motherboard (Price)||Gigabyte GA-MA790X-UD4P ($110)||Asus P5Q SE PLUS (97)||MSI X58 Pro ($179)|
|Memory (Price)||OCZ 4GB DDR2 PC2 6400 CAS5 ($40)||OCZ 4GB DDR2 PC2 6400 CAS5 ($40)||Crucial 4GB DDR3 PC3 8500 CAS7 ($57)|
|Video Card (Price)||GeForce GTX 285 ($310)||GeForce GTX 285 ($310)||GeForce GTX 285 ($310)|
|Case (Price)||NZXT Lexa ($90)||NZXT Lexa ($90)||NZXT Lexa ($90)|
|PSU (Price)||OCZ 700W ($70)||OCZ 700W ($70)||OCZ 700W ($70)|
|Optical Drive||Sony BDROM ($80)||Sony BDROM ($80)||Sony BDROM ($80)|
After factoring in (most of) a full high end gaming system, here’s how the prices compare:
So with all things considered, the X4 955 is cheaper than the Q9550 by about $12. This of course will change, depending on which components you use (you could use an older motherboard if you wanted to, and going with AM3/DDR3, the price will by higher than the Intel system). Most intriguing is the fact that the Intel Core i7 920 system is only about $120 more than a Phenom II X4 955 system – or about a 10% budget increase on a high end system such as the one shown above. That is certainly something to keep in mind when looking at high end CPUs – the X4 955 is going for the Q9550, but really they have to contend with the Core i7 920!
So let’s find out how the Phenom II does against its intended target, and against a not-so-intended target.