It's surreal isn't it? Is this how you pictured it? With forty-three days left in the year, AMD is finally letting us publish benchmarks of its long awaited Phenom microprocessor. The successor to K8, AMD's most successful micro-architecture to date, and the cornerstone of AMD's desktop microprocessor business for 2008: Phenom is here.

But shouldn't there be fireworks? Where's the catchy title? The Star Wars references were bound to continue right? Why were there no benchmarks before today, why are the next several pages going to be such a surprise?

AMD had been doing such a great job of opening the kimono as its employees liked to say, giving us a great amount of detail on Barcelona, Phenom and even the company's plans for 2008 - 2009. The closer we got to Phenom's official launch however, the quieter AMD got.

We were beginning to worry, and for a while there it seemed like Phenom wouldn't even come out this year. At the last minute, plans solidified, and we received our first Socket-AM2+ motherboard, with our first official Phenom sample. What a beautiful sight it was:

These chips are launching today, with availability promised by the end of the week. Phenom today is going to be all quad-core only, you'll see dual and triple-core parts in 2008 but for now this is what we get.

The architecture remains mostly unchanged from what we've reported on in the past. This is an evolutionary upgrade to K8 and we've already dedicated many pages to explaining exactly what's new. If you need a refresher, we suggest heading back to our older articles on the topic.

The Long Road to Phenom

Ever wonder why we didn't have an early look at Phenom like we did for every Core 2 processor before the embargo lifted? Not only are CPUs scarce, but AMD itself didn't really know what would be launching until the last moment.

At first Phenom was going to launch at either 2.8GHz or 2.6GHz; then we got word that it would be either 2.6GHz or 2.4GHz. A week ago the story was 2.4GHz and lower, then a few days ago we got the final launch frequencies: 2.2GHz and 2.3GHz.

Then there's the pricing; at 2.2GHz the Phenom 9500 will set you back $251, and at 2.3GHz you'd have to part with $283 (that extra 100MHz is pricey but tastes oh so good).

The problem is, and I hate to ruin the surprise here, Phenom isn't faster than Intel's Core 2 Quad clock for clock. In other words, a 2.3GHz Phenom 9600 will set you back at least $283 and it's slower than a 2.4Ghz Core 2 Quad Q6600, which will only cost you $269. And you were wondering why this review wasn't called The Return of the Jedi.

AMD couldn't simply get enough quantities of the Phenom at 2.4GHz to have a sizable launch this year (not to mention a late discovery of a TLB error in the chips), and the company was committed to delivering Phenom before the holiday buying season as these are tough times and simply waiting to introduce its first quad-core desktop parts was just not an option. Rather than paper launch a 2.4GHz part, AMD chose to go with more modest frequencies, promising faster, more competitive chips in Q1 2008. It's not the best PR story in the world, but it's the honest truth.

Two more quad-core Phenoms will come out in Q1: the 9900 and 9700, clocked at 2.6GHz and 2.4GHz respectively. The Phenom 9900 will be priced below $350 while the 9700 will be a sub-$300 part. As you can probably guess, the introduction of those two will push down the pricing of the 9600 and 9500, which will help Phenom be a bit more competitive.

It's worth mentioning that in the 11th hour AMD decided to introduce a multiplier-unlocked version of the Phenom 9600 sometime this year that will be priced at the same $283 mark. Whether or not it's called a Black Edition is yet to be determined.

Intel Responds with...really?
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  • Screammit - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    All we can do as consumers is make educated choices based on the information we can get.
    Your arguement is "wait and see," which is not a bad position to take, but this is the first TANGIBLE evidence of what AMD can do with its new chips, which most of us have been waiting over a year for. The information we have right now says that the current best AMD quad core chip can't compete in performance with the slowest intel based quad core, which if our information is correct, will cost the same.
    By comparison, you can see the first time Anand got a hand on a test sample of Conroe, the results eventually foreshadowed real world performance:
    Reply
  • casket - Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - link

    I wonder what happened on this test?
    http://www.tomshardware.com/2007/11/19/the_spider_...">http://www.tomshardware.com/2007/11/19/the_spider_...
    Reply
  • Iketh - Thursday, November 22, 2007 - link

    the same way cpuz showed the phenom as single-channel memory, this sandra test is probably showing the result from 1 of the memory controllers... thus both channels together are undoubtedly pumping out 10000+, which makes a LOT more sense Reply
  • sdmock - Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - link

    So apparently AMD's chips have higher memory bandwidth for integers and FPs. But so what if it ain't faster? Reply
  • stmok - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link

    I've waited for Phenom as a potential upgrade to my current three systems (Socket 754 Semprons, AMD64). Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link

    Yeah, I was in a similar position a couple months back too but I could tell from the winds that the Phenom wasn't going to be that much better than the Core2 if at all so I sprung for the Q6600. Looks like (unfortunately) my estimation was quite correct =/ Reply
  • stmok - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link

    ...And I guess it looks like the wait wasn't worth it.

    This article confirms to me I should be leaning towards the Intel C2Q Q9450.
    Reply
  • rhatsaruck - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link

    On page 4 titled "Socket-AM2+, Not So Positive?" Anand writes:

    Currently, the L3 cache/NB on these chips runs at a fixed frequency that's actually lower than the rest of the CPU frequency: 2.0GHz. We tested Phenoms running from 2.2GHz all the way up to 2.6GHz, and in all cases the L3 cache and North Bridge ran at 2.0GHz.

    What's the performance impact of this limitation? I don't know how to quantify it. It seems like it might have a material effect on performance. Perhaps Anand can re-run his benchmarks at 1.8 and 2.0 GHz to get a sense of the performance boost when this limitation doesn't exist. From this we might be able to determine how much this shortcoming effects performance at speeds greater than 2.0 GHz.
    Reply
  • Iketh - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link

    My Athlon 4200+ (2.2ghz) overclocks to 2.7ghz stable. Anything passed that and the second core skyrockets too high in temp and fails prime95 torture tests, while the first core has yet to fail ANY tests and runs up to 10 degrees C cooler.

    My point is the individual core overclocking is the only positive I see out of phenom. If i had this ability in my current athlon 4200+, it'd be clocked at 2.7 and 3.2+ easily.
    Reply
  • Omega215D - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link

    Ahh the old 9700 makes a comeback but too bad it falls a bit below expectations compared to the 9700 GPU by ATI who is now AMD.

    Maybe there's still time to make some tweaks to the processor?
    Reply

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