The AMD we used to know and love is back. As I write this sentence, most of AMD is still on vacation. By the time you read this, that will have changed, but it's such a stark contrast to what happened when the original Phenom processor launched. In the months leading up to Phenom, AMD treated it like it would be its hero. "Just wait", we were told. So we did. And Phenom was the biggest disappointment AMD had ever left us with.

AMD re-launched Phenom the following year, in 2008, with slightly better reception. The CPU evolved from something unsellable to an honest alternative to Intel's CPUs, just not one we'd recommend. Phenom ran too hot, didn't offer better performance, and offered some strange behavior with Cool'n'Quiet enabled.

While AMD was very excited about the first Phenom, we heard relatively little about Phenom II. The first time we heard the name was at AMD's Financial Analyst Day a couple of months ago, and then a month later we had a chip. AMD invited us to overclock the CPU, but I was busy working on another AMD story at the time and couldn't make it. I was done with flying around for AMD CPU launches; if Phenom II was going to be good, the chip would have to prove itself without an exotic locale or delicious Texas BBQ to sweeten the deal.

And good it is.

AMD is launching two new 45nm Phenom II CPUs today. There's the Phenom II X4 940 at 3.0GHz and the 920 at 2.8GHz. I'll go ahead and say that although it's a little long, I like the name. The II just works. I'm also feeling a bit chipper, so I'll go ahead and give you the conclusion now too.

Here's how it breaks down. The Phenom II X4 940 is usually the same speed or faster than Intel's Core 2 Quad Q9400, and priced similarly at $275. There are some areas where the Q9400 will be faster than the Phenom II X4 940, so if you happen to use an application that runs better on Intel hardware then you've got your choice made out for you. But for the most part, if you're buying a quad-core processor at around $275 today, Phenom II will tempt you.

Similarly, the Phenom II X4 920 is generally better than or equal to Intel's Core 2 Quad Q9300, and priced less (it's more of a competitor to the slower Q8300, but I didn't have one available for testing). The same stipulations detailed above exist here as well; there are some areas where Intel is going to be faster but for the most part our tests showed the Phenom II to be a better option.

Wait, what? An AMD CPU recommendation?

After over two years of us recommending Intel's Core 2 lineup almost exclusively, AMD finally released a real alternative, one that's not just similarly priced, but actually higher performing than the price-competitive Intel part. Over the coming pages I'll explain how.

Now Intel could've spoiled the party, it still has the performance crown and it could easily drive CPU prices even lower. But out of the kindness of its heart, there are no unexpected price cuts, no new product introductions, nothing to spoil AMD's day (yet). While I'll talk about what Intel may do to restore its leadership at these price points, today is all about Phenom II. If you've been waiting for an AMD to be excited about for the past couple of years, today is your day.

Competition is back. Let's get to it.

The Phenom Inspired, Core i7-like, Phenom II
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  • Beno - Monday, January 12, 2009 - link

    fanboys help keep them alive.
    if more ppl started looking at AMD again, then Intel will be scared, so us the consumers will be happy because of prices.

    intel has been greedy and overpriced their c2 because there was no competetion at that time.
    Reply
  • garydale - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    I generally buy AMD processors for two reasons. The first is that I am not a gamer so I'm looking for cost-effective business application solutions. I'd rather double the memory than increase the processor speed, so AMD works well at the price points I build to.

    Secondly, I believe in the need for competition. With the power PC processor virtually absent from the consumer market and there being little else to choose from for the desktop market, AMD is Intel's only real competitor. So long as AMD has chips that are good enough to compete with Intel's on price/performance, I prefer to buy them.

    If Via got their Cyrix processors up to a decent speed, I might be tempted to switch to them, but let's face it, they don't really compete in this market. So in a two-way race, we need to put our money behind the underdog to prevent a monopoly.

    I've been buying ATI cards too for similar reasons. Nice to see that AMD's making advances in both areas.

    To be clear, I've got nothing against Intel, at least not since the Pentium fiasco, but I think everyone will agree that having multiple firms competing is better for consumers than having one company dominate (Windows 95, 98, Millenium Edition, Vista come to mind). :)
    Reply
  • aeternitas - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    Much of your post should go next to the Webster definition of "AMDfanboi"

    If you want true competition, buy the better product. I got my sweet A64. I will now consider P2 over a C2D, but because of price/performance/watt alone.
    Reply
  • Certified partner - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    "Blender is one of the few tests that doesn't strongly favor the Core i7, in fact it does not favor them at all. Here the Core 2 Quad Q9650 is the fastest processor, followed by the Phenom II X4 940 and the Phenom II X4 920."
    http://www.techspot.com/review/137-amd-phenom2-x4-...">http://www.techspot.com/review/137-amd-phenom2-x4-...

    "Blender shows Phenom II less competitive than the other 3D rendering tests we've seen thus far."
    http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...

    Both can't be true. Explanations would be highly appreciated. I suggest, that anandtech ask techspot about the test settings. Blender is capable of using several threads but I'm not sure wether the optimization is automated. Please, play with the settings. For example, 8*8 (render) tiles can benefit from 8 threads while 1*1 can't.
    Reply
  • Max1 - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    How much money has paid Intel to you for this "testing"? You have tested productivity of processors only on two games. In both games productivity of Core 2 is above. In one of them much more above, but it happens seldom. Other tests show, that productivity of Core 2 Quad in part of games is above. In part of games productivity Phenom II of same frequency is above. Why there is so a lot of coding and synthetic tests where Intel is faster, and as always there are no other applications? Why you continue to say lies, as earlier liars for money of Intel that Northwood is ostensibly faster, than Barton. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    I'm surprised how long it took the fanbois to start commenting on this article. Didn't really get rolling until several pages into the comments. Reply
  • JimmiG - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    Bit disappointing that it's still slower than Core2 clock for clock. But given the performance of the original Phenom, I think the CPU performs as expected. A big leap for AMD. Unfortunately for them, Intel made an even bigger leap when they switched from Netbust to Core2.

    Also a bit concerned about this supposed "backwards compatibility". Many of the original 790FX boards, my M3A32-MVP Deluxe in particular, will not work with AM3 CPUs because Asus does not plan on releasing a BIOS update. Of course that's the fault of second-rate mobo companies like Asus, and not the fault of AMD. I'll probably end up getting a DDR2 PII-940 to replace my X4 9650, but I'll wait until the prices have dropped some.
    Reply
  • anandtech02148 - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    Just wait till Am3 socket comes out, Intel will have to make a slight cheaper version of x58chipset. Is that sweat i see on their forehead?
    Amd buy Via's Nano and give them a 2 prong attack.
    Reply
  • RogueAdmin - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    AMD has gone a long way to improving the performance of its processors, and everyone should go out and buy them. They need our support, and without it we will have to put up with whatever Intel decide to give us. And everyone here I think remembers the P4 days, let them not come again!
    The AM2 /2+ /3 platform is by far the easiest upgrade option. No need to worry if your NB chipset supports the latest FSB or RAM, because its all integrated into the CPU. A feature than Intel has copied in its new i7. Along with the monlithic quad core design, and level 3 cache. Also do not forget that AMD released the first x86-64 CPU, and intel basically complied to its x86-64 code to be compatible with the software developed for it.
    i7 is fast, very fast. But do you need that kind of performance in your everyday life? i7 is designed for workstation's hence the benchmarks of video encoding and 3D applications. Gamers would be better off getting a top of the line GPU. Is your CPU 100% utilized 24/7?
    I saw a comment about the 2 year old Core 2 Quad being faster, only in Far Cry 2, that one test. And I would rather play Crysis anyday.
    Since its release Intel has tweaked the performance of these with new cores no end.

    Sorry I digest.... lol

    Keep things competitive, buy AMD. Fanboy or no, let the price wars rage on.

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

    1. Most people use their everyday system to *work* too.
    2. Dont compare i7 to P2. Youll just look like youre really reaching and a fanboy.
    3. You dont -Need- anything better than a A64 for everyday tasks. Depending on how long you wanna wait though, you will go to a better system. That point about not -needing- better hardware has always been ridiculous and only applies to grandmas and people that use the computer for browsing and music. Those people dont care about this area in computer so its moot!

    P2 is great, but be realistic. Its competing against C2 right now. Comparing technicalities and -who was firsts- doesnt provide more FPs in anything. It just makes for flame fodder. The numbers speak for themselves and I think this article did a good job in putting the P2 in its place. As a great alternative for people looking to upgrade from older than C2 hardware.
    Reply

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