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Thursday, 08 January 2009 15:44

AMD Phenom II closing the gap

Written by Eliot Kucharik

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Review: Competitive again

Today, the 45nm era arrived for AMD. While Intel introduced its 45nm CPUs nearly one year ago, AMD struggled to keep up and lost a significant market share over the past year. Dirk Meyer is urgently rebuilding AMD and pushing for new products, and while in the past AMD has struggled with the Phenom series, the Phenom II promises to change that.

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The major difference between the old and new Phenom, apart from the new manufacturing process, is the huge 6MB shared L3 cache. Besides some small optimizations here and there, the CPU is just an evolved version of its older brother. The TDP is rated at 125W which is quite high, although AMD has improved the Cool'n'Quiet feature. The idle multiplier has been lowered to 4x, so the CPU will run at a mere 800MHz when idling. The 45nm process will hopefully prevent the CPU from hitting this theoretical maximum temperature even during extreme situations

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Testbed:

Motherboard:
MSI DKA790GX (provided by MSI)
Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H (provided by AMD)
AMD 790GX/SB750

CPU:
AMD Athlon X2 3800+ EE
AMD Athlon X2 4850e (provided by AMD)
AMD Athlon X2 7750 (provided by AMD)
AMD Phenom 9850 Black Edition (provided by AMD)
AMD Phenom II 940 Black Edition (provided by AMD)
Intel E7200 (provided by K&M Elektronik)
Intel Q9450 (provided by Intel)

CPU-Cooler:
Scythe Andy Samurai Master (provided by Scythe-Europe)

Memory:
Kingston 2GB Kit PC2-9600U KHX1200D2K2/2G (provided by Kingston)
CL4-4-4-12 CR2T at 1.80V

Graphics Card:
Jetway Radeon HD3870 (provided by mec-electronics)

Power supply:
Seasonic S12II 500W

Hard disk:
Samsung Spinpoint F1 (provided by Ditech)

Case fans:
SilenX iXtrema Pro 14dB(A) (provided by PC-Cooling.at)
Scythe DFS122512LS

Case:
Cooler Master Stacker 831 Lite (provided by Cooler Master)





The default clock of the Phenom II 940 is 3.00GHz, but with a fairly high 1.3500V VCore. We did not expect a 45nm CPU with such a high VCore, especially as the older Phenom's use the same VCore Voltage.

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But as always we tried to lower it and it worked fine with 1.2000V. As you will see later, this has significant effects with regards to the power-consumption under load and it will save you some money on your power bill.

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Overclocking in the BIOS is a piece of cake, because this is a multiplier-free Black Edition. Just increase the multiplier and off you go. With the VCore at 1.5000V we managed a stable 3.80GHz. We tried 4.00GHz but we were not able to boot. AMD recommended using the AMD OverDrive utility, but this tool limits the VCore to 1.4500V (which is essential with the older Phenoms). While AMD have lost its reputation for highly overclockable CPUs, the Phenom II does quite well. The only setback is the huge increase in power-consumption.

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When idling the CPU clocks down to 800MHz and the VCore drops to 1.0000V regardless of the VCore setting in the BIOS.

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Our benchmarks are quite self-explanatory. Besides the usual benchmarks we included the Far Cry 2 Bench, which should only show the benefit of a faster CPU. If you have expected any Core i7 benchmarks here, we have to disappoint you. Because the Core i7 range requires DDR3 memory and very expensive boards, we don't see them as direct competition. Meanwhile the Q9550 2.83GHz has dropped to the same price level as the Phenom II 940. We don't have a Q9550 at hand, but at only 167MHz slower, a Q9450 should give you a good idea on how things perform.

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As you can see the Phenom II is closing the gap against Intel's offer quite nicely. Sadly AMD has not improved the SSE units as much as we hoped, and as such still falls behind Intel when it comes to encoding and multimedia. When gaming you shouldn't notice any significant performance looses, but of course the faster the graphics card, the better.
 




The most disappointing thing about the new Phenom II is the 125W TDP rating, which is only marginally lower compared to the 140W of the Phenom 9950. AMD did a fine job with regards to the idle power consumption, but need to work a lot to lower the power consumption under load. Since you can overclock your Phenom II, it might be interesting to know how much it'll cost you doing do so. The "PhII 940 GB" shows the processor on the Gigabyte board, MSI has the superior VRM and uses less power. The Q9450 was tested on a Gigabyte EP45-UD3P, while the E7200 run on the MSI P35 which is quite old and not very efficient.

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While the Phenom 9850 has the same TDP as the new Phenom II 940, you see it does save about 40W under load and another 25W more when you reduce the VCore to 1.2000V. So if you are not into overclocking try to reduce the VCore to save some cash on your power bill.


Conclusion:

In the little time AMD had, it did the best it could. While it seems some engineers took at least a year off and with a few bumps in the road that slowed AMD down considerably, the chipmaker is finally on the right track. The new CPU is clocked faster as well as performing faster in comparison to its older brother, and it's closing the gap against Intel CPUs.

The price for this new CPU is around €250,- while the 200MHz slower Phenom II 920 is around €30,- cheaper. In our opinion Intel still has the better offer with it's Q9-series, especially in terms of power consumption, but apart from that AMD has closed the gap significantly and is competitive again. With further price reductions we reckon a comeback for AMD is around the corner, especially considering the low motherboard and memory prices.

We liked the fact that it overclocks well and that the total platform cost is much better than Intel's Core i7 platform. The Phenom II works in existing boards and DDR2 is very cheap memory, so the price of an upgrade is around $300 in the US or €250 in Europe. This CPU goes directly after the 45nm Penryn based Core 2 Quad's and it is doing a good job.

Overall its a good CPU and this definitely gets AMD back in the game.


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Last modified on Thursday, 08 January 2009 21:58
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