Clock for Clock, Still Slower than Core 2 & Core i7

It was important on the last page to point out that the predominant difference between Phenom and Phenom II is the larger L3 cache; although there are minor architectural tweaks we're fundamentally looking at a core that remains very similar to the Phenom it replaced. The larger L3 cache helps Phenom II stay fed more frequently without painful trips down main memory lane, but Intel's architectures should still be faster at the same clock speed. To prove that point let's look at the following data. It's a subset of the benchmark suite for this article and what we've got below is Phenom II, Core i7, and Core 2 Quad all running at 3.0GHz (the Core i7 runs at 2.93GHz):

Processor Clock Speed Adobe Photoshop CS4 (lower is better) x264 Pass 2 3dsmax 9 Cinebench SYSMark 2007 Overall Left 4 Dead FarCry 2
AMD Phenom II X4 940 3.0GHz 24.2 s 17.8 fps 10.8 12393 182 116.2 fps 48.2 fps
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 3.0GHz 19.4 s 19.9 fps 12.0 12983 209 125.2 fps 61.9 fps
Intel Core i7-940 2.93GHz 15.8 s 29.2 fps 16.2 17346 229 123 fps 71.0 fps
Core 2 Quad Q9650 Advantage - 19.8% 11.8% 11.1% 4.8% 14.8% 7.7% 28.4%
Core i7-940 Advantage - 34.7% 64% 50% 40% 25.8% 5.9% 47.3%
Core 2 Quad Q9650 Disadvantage $265
Core i7-940 Disadvantage $295+

Clock for clock, Intel has the advantage across the board. It gets very close between Phenom II and Penryn (Q9650) under Cinebench, but 3dsmax 9 shows a wider gap of 11% between the two. Gaming also looks pretty close if you look at Left 4 Dead; however, Far Cry 2 (a newer engine and much more heavily threaded game) is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The take away point is that compared to Penryn, Phenom II is slower clock-for-clock. The gap grows with Nehalem; Phenom II only gets close in older game engines, while the rest of the time Nehalem is 30-60% faster at the same clock speed.

What matters isn't just absolute performance however, it's performance at a given price point. The last two rows tell an important story; while Intel is faster at the same clock speed, the CPUs themselves cost twice as much as AMD's Phenom II. Nehalem's cost premium is even higher as X58 based motherboards are still above $200, plus they require DDR3 memory. It doesn't matter that AMD won't win the absolute performance crown with Phenom II; like the Radeon HD 4800 series, what's important here is whether or not AMD is competitive at the performance mainstream price points. It's this question that we'll be answering over the course of today's review.

Core i7: Total Cost of Ownership

While Intel's Core i7 is undeniably the fastest CPU on the market today, it comes at a steep cost. The i7 920 is competitively priced at $295, and outperforms the Phenom II X4 940 across the board, but it will only work with DDR3 memory and requires an X58 motherboard - and those are currently selling for no less than $200. The table below summarizes the problem with comparing Nehalem to Phenom II:

Processor CPU Motherboard Memory* Total Cost
AMD Phenom II X4 940 $275 $120 $75 $470
Intel Core i7-920 $295 $210 $150 $655
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 $270 $100 $75 $445

Note: This is the cost for 6GB of DDR2-1066 or DDR3-1333 memory, although you can only install 4GB or 8GB in the Phenom II/Core 2 Quad boards

 

Despite the similar CPU costs, the motherboard and DDR3 memory costs make the i7-920 a 40% more expensive purchase. For the difference in platform cost you could purchase a faster graphics card, bigger hard drive, or even put money towards an SSD. Core i7's total cost of ownership keeps it from being Phenom II's direct competition; instead Phenom II is really competing with Intel's 45nm Core 2 Quad processors.

While X58 motherboards will always be pricey thanks to the high-end chipset costs (the minimum pricing we're hearing is $185), DDR3 prices should fall over time, especially once AMD starts moving over to DDR3 in the coming months. Right now DDR2 is incredibly affordable, working in AMD's favor.

With Core i7 out of the running, our eyes turn to Core 2 Quad as Phenom II's intended competition. The table above hints at the Q9400 as Phenom II's competition today, but let me flesh things out a little more:

Processor Clock Speed Cache 1K Unit Cost
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 3.00GHz 12MB L2 $530
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83GHz 12MB L2 $316
AMD Phenom II X4 940 3.0GHz 2MB L2 + 6MB L3 $275
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 2.66GHz 6MB L2 $266
AMD Phenom II X4 920 2.8GHz 2MB L2 + 6MB L3 $235
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300 2.50GHz 4MB L2 $224
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 2.33GHz 4MB L2 $193
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (65nm) 2.40GHz 8MB L2 $183

Other than the Q6600, all of the CPUs in the above chart are 45nm parts (congrats AMD). But look at where the Phenom II slots in. The Phenom II X4 940 is slightly more expensive than a Q9400, while the 920 is a Q8300 competitor. With Core i7's platforms pricing it out of the comparison, the table above should indicate what you need to look at when comparing Phenom II and Core 2 Quad.

I'll mention this briefly here (and more later). Pay close attention to the Q9650 and Q9550. Intel has the ability to move those down the price list, whereas the Phenom II X4 940 is going to be the fastest Phenom II out for the next couple of months.

Ok, I lied, Intel Spoils the Party. Rumored Intel Price Cuts

At the end of last year Intel made some minor price cuts across its product lineup. There was no reason to do anything more serious as AMD hadn't even begun to threaten anything above the Core 2 Quad Q6600.

I've heard, through reliable but very quiet channels, that before the end of January Intel will aggressively cut prices on its entire quad-core lineup. Given how Intel historically cuts prices, we could expect the Core 2 Quad Q9550 would take the place of the Q9400 and have the Q9400 move down to the price point of the Q8300, thus creating a price war; and you thought 2008 was the last of that.

If Intel were to push its prices down like that, the Q9550 would compete with the Phenom II X4 940, and the Core 2 Quad Q9400 would go up against the Phenom II X4 920 instead. If this happens, the conclusion I mentioned on the first page changes. The Phenom II X4 940 can't beat the Q9550, and the 920 can't beat the Q9400. Intel has the ability to do this; it's got faster chips that are more expensive and has just enjoyed 2+ years of unchallenged competition. The Intel from the Pentium 4 days may have let AMD launch Phenom II unchecked, but today's Intel is much more...dynamic.

The take away is that today Phenom II competes with the Q9400 and the Q8300, but by the end of this month that may change to the Q9550 and Q9400.

Phenom II's Secret, In Pictures Cache and Memory Controller Comparison
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  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, January 16, 2009 - link

    Why didnt you include an overclocked E5200 in the testing?!?!?!

    omg this is horrid. How do these $230-$270 CPUs compare to an $85 E5200 coupled with a $105 Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3R? That combo will easily overclock to 3.8 Ghz on stock cooling. CPU, mobo + RAM all for less than the cost of a Phenom II. And better performance too.
    Reply
  • Reynod - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    Another excellent article Anand.

    Would you be able to write a short piece on the AM3 socket and the "likely" impact on performance once you have some samples please?

    Reply
  • R4F43LZiN - Saturday, January 10, 2009 - link

    I wanted to see some Phenom II overclocked gaming benchmarks... Reply
  • zagortenay - Saturday, January 10, 2009 - link

    To correct my mistake in above post:
    "And check the link of very respectable "Guru of 3D" yourself, X4 940 beats Core i7 920 in higher resolutions." Not Core i7 940.
    Reply
  • zagortenay - Saturday, January 10, 2009 - link

    Great comments Aranthos! AMD did a great job with Phenom II, no doubt about that.
    Anandtech review is kind of fair and balanced when it comes to giving the final verdict, but the tests are deceiving and unfair as usual.
    First of all, as somebody else has already pointed out, they used an average mobo to test Phenom II, while they used expensive enthusiast level mobos for Core2 Quad and Core i7 (230 and 250 Dollars respectively). They could not find an Asus M3A79-T (which is much cheaper at 185$) There is no excuse for that! Either a deliberate move not to show what Phenom II can deliver at its best, or Anand needs to learn a lot from us. Just check the below link to see the performance difference between 790GX and 790FX. Quite some performance difference in some benchmarks and consider that it is still a close competition with an average AMD motherboard.
    There IS a difference apparently: http://www.legitreviews.com/article/795/5/">http://www.legitreviews.com/article/795/5/ and it would change some conclusions
    And now introducing a classic: Why Core2 Quads run on DDR3 (Yeah, all Core2 Quad users definitely switched to DDR3, lol!) and Phenom IIs run on DDR2? To show the best of Core 2 Quads... So what happens if DDR2 is used also on Core 2 Quads? See yourself below. X4 940 beats Q9550 most of the time and even Q9650 in some applications.
    http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/2009/01/08/amd-ph...">http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/2009/0.../amd-phe...
    I wander what trick they will do with RAMs, when Phenom II AM3 (with DDR3) comes this February.
    Anand says X4 940 trails Q9650 and by 28.4% when it comes to Far Cry 2. Is it so? Or? Check the above link again. Even with DDR3 RAMs Q9650 leads by only 4.4%. With DDR2, X4 940 leads this time, with a little margin. Same resolution! Who to beleive?
    And check the link of very respectable "Guru of 3D" yourself, X4 940 beats Core i7 940 in higher resolutions. He he!
    http://www.guru3d.com/article/amd-phenom-ii-x4-920...">http://www.guru3d.com/article/amd-phenom-ii-x4-920...
    So what? Don't get fooled, don't get deceived by the "big brother connections".
    Final words: Yes I am a fan boy and I don't pay a penny for Intel!
    Reply
  • Aranthos - Saturday, January 10, 2009 - link

    I wonder why so many people keep saying "What happened to the AMD from the Athlon64 era? It was whupping Intel!" etc.

    That AMD is still here. The same AMD that so long ago brought us Hypertransport, the integrated memory controller, native dual-core and the like brought us native quad-core and a three level cache heirarchy a full year before Intel did either. As it turned out, Intel did it better - a fact with which I won't even try to argue. However, AMD is still working.

    P1 flopped. It was the most hyped chip in years, and brought all sorts of false promises. All Deneb promised was better overclocking, lower power consumption and more clock-for-clock performance. It did all 3.

    I'm not going to say Intel ripped off AMD by using an IMC and a HT-esque high speed interconnect. Granted, AMD did it first, but Intel would have ended up doing it ANYWAY because it is a good idea.

    Back to the original topic - we still have the old AMD with us. They're still innovating as always. But, we have a new Intel. One that isn't peddling crappy Netburst chips. New Intel is going out guns blazing, and they have the money to make sure that another P4 doesn't happen.

    AMD got lucky back in the P3 -> P4 era. They're gonna have to either pull out a win of epic proportions, or stick to razor thin margins on their chips. Intel has seriously deep pockets, and can easily afford to destroy AMD's prices.

    i7 is epic win. But I'm buying a Deneb anyway. Yeah, people are gonna call me a fanboy, and so what. I'm buying a chip made by a company that is facing a company over 50x their size. While they're not a little family run business, I will support them to their dying breath because they need every sale they can get. I like high performance as much as the next guy, but if buying higher performance (in my case at a higher price [I have an AM2+ motherboard]) puts the business a step closer to being one-sided, then Intel can suck it. They don't need my money.
    Reply
  • Mathos - Saturday, January 10, 2009 - link

    Well, it's not quite a 4800 series equivelent release this time. More like being around the same as the 3800 series was. A good improvement over the hd2000 series cards, in this case a good improvement over the phenom 1.

    On the other hand I am wanting to see what will happen with the AM3 versions. Should improve scores quite a bit on anything that likes memory speed and bandwidth. I'm also wondering what other optimizations will come with AM3. Gonna wait for that, since I should be getting another nice quarterly bonus around the time those come out. Use a pII 945 on my old k9a2 plat till I can get an AM3 board and DDR3 memory.
    Reply
  • Maroon - Saturday, January 10, 2009 - link

    This was a great step forward by AMD. After the Phenom flop they had to transition successfully to 45nm or basically fold. They have done that. AMD doesn't have the resources to compete with Intel on the highend right now, but with this release they can compete in the mainstream market where most processors are sold.

    They're using the same strat that worked for the 4xxx series video cards, performance per dollar.

    Reply
  • Megaknight - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    Have the Intel fanboys noticed that they're comparing a DDR 2 Phenom II to a DDR 3 i7? I know AMD will be slower anyway, but it should close the gap a bit, right? Reply
  • aeternitas - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    Are you serious? DDR3 might be able to give AMD an advantage overall compared to the C2. But then going DD3 and spending that much money, you might as well go i7 anyway. (unless you're a fanboy)

    Seriously guys, if you're going t go around comparing P2 to the i7, you need to focus on price! Else you'll look really bad.

    P2 is against C2. End of story. You cant sit around theorizing some magical item is going to get a P2 anywhere close to the i7.

    Stop defending AMD. They have 18 months of catchup to do and dont need pats on the back and excuses from people like you. They have a good chip and alot of good things in the chip that they dont need to do in the future as they come up with new architecture.
    Reply

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