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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [10.17.08]
Manufactured by: AMD


2nd Time's a Charm

To say that AMD's launch of the true quad-core Phenom CPU was a flop would be the understatement of the year. When it launched late last year, the fastest clock speed they could manage was 2.3 GHz. And with clock-for-clock performance still well below that of Core 2 Quad, Phenom didn't stand a chance.

To make matters worse, there was the whole "TLB Erratum" fiasco - basically the chips were broken, and in fact the Opteron version of the chip was immediately discontinued. The desktop part remained, and AMD offered a microcode update to fix the error. A fix that, on average, lowered the CPU's overall performance by about 14%.

With the fiasco behind them, AMD could focus on offering faster, working chips on a new stepping. In late March 2007, they launched the X4 9750 and 9850 processors, running at 2.4 and 2.5 GHz respectively. Since then, they have launched their latest top processor - X4 9950 Black Edition. As you can guess, this one runs at 2.6 GHz. This is the model we'll be looking at today.

As always, their top model is a "Black Edition" which comes with an unlocked multiplier (going up). That means overclocking is as easy as cranking the multiplier up a step or so. As long as your motherboard allows multiplier adjustment (voltage adjustments would help as well), all you need to do is make sure the CPU is cooled sufficiently. Keep in mind that AMD is already pushing their limits with the 2.6 GHz 9950 - it was several months late, and holds a 140 W TDP already.

Nothing much else has changed on the new model - it still has 2MB of L2 cache with each core getting 512 KB for itself, and another 2MB of L3 cache shared among all cores. The HT clock runs at 2 GHz (full duplex), like the other high-end Phenoms.

The Competition

As you can see above, the X4 9950 retails for just around $200 (after a very recent price drop), which seems like an incredible deal for a "top model quad-core CPU". Looking at the same price range on the Intel side of things, it's up against their second-model-from-the-bottom Core 2 Quad Q6700 (2.66 GHz Kentsfield core, 65nm with 8MB of cache). With Intel, you can also consider increasing your budget a bit if you like; something you can't do with AMD since 'entry level' is as fast as they can go right now. Throw another $80-90 into your budget, and you are looking at the Core 2 Quad Q9550 - this is a 45nm Yorkfield CPU with a full-size 12MB of cache running at 2.83 GHz. As we already saw on the dual-cores, the jump from 65nm to 45nm is pretty significant.

So although AMD's "top desktop CPU ever" is toughing it out against Intel's entry-level quad-core, the good news is that entry level is the biggest market by far. We already know that on the very low end, Intel is the way to go, and for high-end dual core, Intel is the way to go. Let's see if AMD has what it takes to conquer the low-end quad-core market!

Next Page: (The Test; CPU Benchmarks)