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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  • 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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