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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  • TravisChen - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...

    What's the system configuration of the Power Consumption test and which software did you run for loading the system?
    Reply
  • Clauzii - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    2009 is going to be very interesting for AMD. The foundry layoff should give them some air to breathe and concentrate on the CPU designs. Reply
  • Skobbolop - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    AM2 support sounds good, but as far i can see very few mobos with AM2 chipset acually supports phenom CPU's... too bad..

    i was hoping that i could upgrade with my MSI K9N Platinum.. :(.. this sucks..
    Reply
  • Thorsson - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    Performance isn't really any better, except in a couple of tests, than C2D chips that are 18 months old, so there's no reason to upgrade for a large chunk of us, and most of the rest will want i7.

    They need a top end chip that compares to the top end i7 like the 4870 was to the GT280. And this is some way from that. It's like the 4870 was competitive to the 9800GT, and was the same price as well.

    With no upgrade path this looks like one strictly for the fanboys at the moment.
    Reply
  • calyth - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    Ha. I'm not quite sure whether I hsould try to respond to this, but sure...

    It's a non-trivial task to completely redesign the cores themselves, and I'm not even sure whether they could, say cut out the core, and drop in a new one. It's easy for us sideliners to say they need to improve, and quick, but they need to design a new one that has a much better IPC, with speed, not haste.

    How is this with no upgrade path? This provides an upgrade path for boards up to AM2, which is good enough. With the AM3 versions coming out, people could drop the AM3 version into an AM2/AM2+ board, wait if necessary until DDR3 prices falls some more, and swap to a newer board with DDR3. And now they've a spare computer.

    Look at the i7 prices. Friend of mine just spent 2k for an i7. Sure, he's having fun compiling and playing games with impunity, but I don't think it's the best use of money. Also, C2D is dead. You can't put an i7 into and C2D board, and there's still a good amount of people with older boards that could have a drop in boost.
    Reply
  • Atechie - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    If the CPU had been relased just after Core2, then it might have been a good CPU.
    But today, after 2 years, AMD's "native" quadcore still can beat the Core2 clock for clock...that is more than sad.

    All Intel needs to do now is slash prices of Yorkfield until their i5 socket 1156 dualchannel DDR3 comes out, and they still got AMD by the balls.

    To little, to hyped, to late...
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    This is silly. If the CPU had come out in Summer '06, it would have been god-like. Quad core vs dual-core, higher clock speed, equal or better overclocking, very competitive clock-for-clock, and on a smaller and cooler process.

    What you could say was that if it came out right as Peryn launched it would be a close race...but Peryn improved lots of stuff over Conroe, so it isn't fair to say AMD is 2 years behind.
    Reply
  • Denithor - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    I think that's what Atechie's getting at. Intel took the right path by just cobbling together two dual-core processors to make a quad, while AMD spend excessive time and God only knows how much cash to develop a "monolithic" quad. Which then rolled over and played dead.

    Hopefully AMD has learned from its mistakes. Otherwise Intel may not have much competition in the near future. What's AMD trading at again, these days?
    Reply
  • Proteusza - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    I dont know, this doesnt do it for me. I'm a massive AMD fan - I run a 5600+ right now, my previous CPU was an XP 2400+.

    What is it now, 2 years since the Core 2 Duo was released? And AMD still cant match in clock for clock performance? After the monumental flop that was Phenom, massive delays, poor performance, high power consumption, the TLB bug, patchy backwards compatibility (my MSI K9N mobo with the Nforce 570 SLI chipset cant run AM2+ chips, but the equivalent Asus can), they launch the Phenom II, and the best I can say about it is that is that its acceptable. Acceptable. Not Phenomenal. Just acceptable. Price vs Performance wise, it gets the job done, mostly, sort of. Throw newer game engines at it and even the Q9600, that old workhouse, can beat it.

    Its not that Phenom II is a terrible processor. Its not. Its just not what I expected AMD to launch, many months after the flop that was Phenom. I expected something that could at least beat a 65nm Core 2 Duo, if not a Nehalem.

    As Anand hinted at, Intel is going to drop prices, which they can afford to, forcing AMD to do likewise, which they cant. AMD's die size is similar yet their margins are far smaller. Intel's next CPU will be the die shrink of Nehalem, what will AMD release? Will it even match Penryn? I can only hope.
    Reply
  • KikassAssassin - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    Since the Phenom II was always known to just be a die shrink with some optimizations, you were setting your hopes way too high if you thought it was going to compete directly with the i7. AMD needed this launch to keep them in the game, and it looks like it's probably just good enough to be able to do that. We probably won't be seeing any big breakthroughs from AMD until Bulldozer, so we just have to hope that this architecture will have enough headroom in it to last that long. Reply

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