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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  • poohbear - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    this is fantastic news! and just when i was about to upgrade from my ancient s939 system to a C2D system, seems i might be sticking to AMD after all! thanks for review! Reply
  • PrezWeezy - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    For less than $20 more the i7 920 looks like it wins in every single test by a fair margin, doesn't seem like this is really all that competitive, considering the i7 is still in the "high price" phase. I can't believe it wont drop to the $275 mark rather soon which would put the XII 940 back to the same position the original Phenom was, too little too late. Reply
  • Roland00 - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    More expensive Motherboard+More expensive Ram makes i7 about 400 dollars more in cost Reply
  • strikeback03 - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    How you figure? By the chart on page 4, it is less than $200. Even if you go for one of the $300 motherboards, you won't see a $400 difference.

    When I built my current system, E6600/P965/2GB DDR2 cost me over $600, and that was considered a decent mid-range system. As my primary use of computing power is Photoshop, I would definitely go for i7 even if cheaper motherboards do not become available.
    Reply
  • Roland00 - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    It isn't quite 400 but here

    motherboard p45 vs x58 most x58 are 300 vs 100-120 for p45,
    Ram, 6 gb of ddr3 is about 200, vs 50 or 60 for 6gb of ddr2.
    For a nonstock cpu cooler you are talking 60 to 70 bucks with the i7 for it is a new socket and their is very few products for it. You can get a good cpu cooler for intel quad for 30 to 40 dollars.

    Savings about 200+140+30=370

    If you get things on sale you might be able to find 6gb ram for 150, cpu for 230, and you may be able to get the motherboard cheaper if you get one of the basic versions but you are still talking about 300 more.
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    I am not saying i7 isn't worth the extra money, it is still new tech but it does show beneficial gains (on encoding, minimum frame rate on games, and overclocking) but right now the motherboards and ram is expensive.
    Reply
  • BSMonitor - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    You are rounding up on i7 side and rounding down on the core 2 side. It is not $50 for 6GB of DDR2. It is not only $300 for x58. I have seen them for $200. I have seen 6GB DDR3 kits for $140 too.

    It's like we are talking about bare entry into Core 2 and Phenom II, but enthusiest for i7. Why does one need 6GB to entry into i7? 3GB would be reasonable and ~$70-80.

    Phenom II is cute yes, but nothing to jump on.
    Reply
  • Roland00 - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    I am rounding up on the I7 side for like most people I buy things with tax (for my state charges tax on internet transactions.) In addition many people buy their equipment in stores such as fry's, microcenter, comp usa, etc.

    370 times 8.25% tax rate (my area's sales tax) is...400 dollars and 52 cents

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    And no I am not overpricing the ram or similar equipment. Go to Fry's, Microcenter, or some other store and you will see the prices I listed or much higher.

    ------

    Regardless you seem to be missing the point, the original poster I was responding to was saying i7 was only 25 dollars higher, and I said that was wrong for you have to figure in the platform costs.
    Reply
  • PrezWeezy - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    You were right, I had forgotten about the new socket and DD3. Even so, using the parts Anandtech used, the i7 is about $187 more expensive than the PII (pun totally intended). The C2D with a Q9400 though is only $44 cheaper than the i7. Almost all of that has to do with the motherboards used here, and I'm sure you could find a combo of motherboard/CPU that would bring the price closer but that's besides the point. Reply
  • calyth - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    "In theory, the AMD design made sense. If you were running a single threaded application, the core that your thread was active on would run at full speed, while the remaining three cores would run at a much lower speed. AMD included this functionality under the Cool 'n' Quiet umbrella. In practice however, Phenom's Cool 'n' Quiet was quite flawed. Vista has a nasty habit of bouncing threads around from one core to the next, which could result in the following phenomenon (no pun intended): when running a single-threaded application, the thread would run on a single core which would tell Vista that it needed to run at full speed. Vista would then move the thread to the next core, which was running at half-speed; now the thread is running on a core that's half the speed as the original core it started out on."

    Anand, read that sentence again.

    The problem isn't AMD designing a chip with broken CnQ. The problem is that Microsoft, after so many years, still can't write a scheduler. The problem persists on XP too. The thread that handles the mouse would rev up, causing the chip to switch p-state. Switching p-states takes time, and because of exclusive caching on AMD chips, when the scheduler puts the same thread on different cores, it causes the L1 & L2 to be ineffective.

    I have trouble in WinXP with CnQ on if I move my mouse, but not surprisingly, the same Phenom chip works like a chap in Linux. Because the scheduler isn't an idiot, and 1GHz is more than enough to handle mouse input.

    AMD erred in fixing a software problem in hardware. Independent p-states saved some power if only a single thread needed the speed.
    Reply
  • Zak - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    Well, I hope AMD won't lose the momentum, because right now there isn't that much to celebrate: they've barely caught up with Intel's 2 years old CPU line:(

    Z.
    Reply

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