AMD Phenom II X4 940 & 920: A True Return to Competitionby Anand Lal Shimpi on January 8, 2009 12:00 AM EST
- Posted in
Finally, Cool 'n' Quiet You Can Use
Modern day microprocessors have many operating frequencies they can choose from; these are called p-states. The original Phenom only had two p-states: full frequency and 1/2 frequency. A Phenom 9950 2.6GHz would either run at 2.6GHz or 1.3GHz. The original Phenom was the first quad-core x86 CPU to allow each core to operate at an independent p-state. All of Intel's quad-cores at that point required all four cores to run at the same p-state.
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.
Phenom II fixes this by not allowing individual cores to run at clock speeds independently of one another; if one core must run at 3.0GHz, then all four cores will run at 3.0GHz. In practice this is a much better option as you don't run into the situations where Phenom performance is about half what it should be thanks to your applications running on cores that are operating at half speed. In the past you couldn't leave CnQ enabled on a Phenom system and watch an HD movie, but this is no longer true with Phenom II.
Honestly, AMD's initial Phenom approach is more elegant, but unfortunately the current task scheduling mechanism causes problems. The other issue is that Phenom wasn't switching core speeds quickly enough; ideally it shouldn't matter that a high-priority thread got bounced to a new core, as the new core should simply scale up to full speed in a fraction of a second. Regardless, Phenom II addresses the issues with Phenom CnQ performance not being where it should be.
The Phenom II now supports a maximum of four p-states, with a minimum clock speed of 800MHz. The states for each chip are defined below:
|Processor||Max P-State||P2||P3||Min P-State|
|AMD Phenom II X4 940||3.0GHz||2.3GHz||1.8GHz||800MHz|
|AMD Phenom II X4 920||2.8GHz||2.1GHz||1.6GHz||800MHz|
Intel still has the technological advantage with Core i7; while it too runs all of its cores at the same frequency, idle cores can be turned off completely thanks to the use of Intel's power gate transistors. While this would be nice to have with Phenom II, at least we finally have a working CnQ.
I ran SYSMark 2007 to demonstrate the performance impact of CnQ on Phenom and Phenom II:
|Processor||SYSMark 2007 Overall Score
|SYSMark 2007 Overall
|% Increase When Disabling CnQ|
|AMD Phenom II X4 940||182||185||1.6%|
|AMD Phenom 9950BE||136||157||15.4%|
Note that the performance on Phenom goes up by over 15% when I disable CnQ, while Phenom II shows less than a 2% gain. This is actually a best case scenario for the original Phenom, however; in my testing I've seen situations where performance is cut in half. Bottom line? The Cool'n'Quiet problems are now resolved, and Phenom II is starting to look recommendable.