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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  • Proteusza - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    No, I said I hoped it could at least compete with a Core 2 Duo.

    if its too much to hope that a 2 year younger, 758 million transistor CPU could compete clock for clock with a first gen Core 2 Duo, then AMD has truly fallen to new lows. It has more transistors than i7, and yet it cant compete with a Core 2 Duo let alone i7. What happened to the sheer brilliance of the A64 days? It could beat the pants off any Pentium 4. Now the best AMD can do is barely acceptable performance at a higher clockspeed than Intel needs, all the while using a larger die than Intels.

    This keeps them in the game, but it means I wont bother buying one. Why should I?
    Reply
  • coldpower27 - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    Those days are over, their success was also contigent with Intel stumbling a bit and they did that with P4, with Intel firing on all cylinders, AMD at acceptable is just where they are supposed to be. Reply
  • Denithor - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    It wasn't so much of a stumble, more like a face-plant into a cactus. Wearing shorts and a tshirt.

    Intel fell flat with Netburst and refused to give up on it for far too long (Willamette -> Northwood -> Prescott -> Cedar Mill). I mean, the early days of P4 were horrible - it was outperformed by lower-clocked P3 chips until the increased clockspeed was finally too high for architectural differences to negate.

    Into this mix AMD tossed a grenade, the A64 - followed by the X2 on the same architecture. With its IMC and superior architecture there was no way Netburst could compete. Unfortunately, AMD hasn't really done anything since then to follow through. And even today's PII isn't going to change things dramatically for them, they're still playing second fiddle to Intel's products (which means they're forced into following Intel's lead in the pricing game).
    Reply
  • JKflipflop98 - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    Damn it feels good to be a gangsta ;) Reply
  • Kob - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    Thanks for the meaningful comparison with such a wide range of processors. However, I wonder why the benchmarks are so much tilted toward the graphics/gaming world. I think that many in the SOHO world will benefit from test results of other common applications/fields such as VS Compilation, AutoCAD manipulation, Encryption, simple database indexing and even a Chess game. Reply
  • ThePooBurner - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    In the article you compare this to the 4800 series of GPUs. I actually see this as the 3800 series. It works out perfectly. The 2900 came along way late and didn't deliver, used to much power, didn't overclock well, and was just all around a looser of a card. Then the 3800 came along. Basically the same thing, but with a die shrink that allowed it to outstretch, just enough, it's predecessor. It was the first card where they got the mix right. After that came the 4800 with a big boost and even more competition. This is what i now see happening with the CPU line. The Phenom 1 was the 2900, and the Phenom II is the 3800. Getting the mix right and getting ready for the next big swing. But, as you point out, Intel isn't likely to sit back, and we can all agree that they are a much different competitor than Nvidia is. Reply
  • Denithor - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    ...and just like the 3800 series, it falls just short of the target.

    Remember? The 3870 couldn't quite catch the 8800GT and the 3850 couldn't quite match the 9600GT. While they weren't bad cards, they unfortunately also didn't give AMD the muscle to set pricing where they wanted it, instead they had to put pricing in line with how nVidia priced their offerings.

    Same is happening here, with AMD pricing their chips in line with Intel's Q9400/Q9300 processors. And they may have to drop those prices if Intel cuts the Q9550/Q9400 down another peg.
    Reply
  • Griswold - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    Rubbish theory. First of all, these cards were actually available whereas the 8800GT was in extreme short supply and thus much more expensive for many weeks, even into 2008, because it literally made everything else nvidia had to offer obsolete. I couldnt get one and settled for a 3870 for that reason.

    Secondly, the 9600GT? Do you realize how much later that card came to the game than the 3850? It hit the market near the end of february. Thats almost 3 months after the launch of the 38xx part.

    The whole comparison is silly.
    Reply
  • ThePooBurner - Friday, January 09, 2009 - link

    The 3800 line wasn't ever meant to beat the 8800 line. It just wasn't in the cards. It's purpose was to get the reins back under control. Cut the power and get back to a decent power/performance ratio as well as get equal power to a previous generation in a smaller package to help improve margins. It was a stage setter. From the first time i read about it i knew that it was just a setup for something more, something "bigger and better" that was going to come next. And then the 4800 came along and delivered the goods. I get this same feeling reading about the Phenom II. It's setting the stage. Getting about the same power (a small bump, just like the 3870 over the 2900) in a smaller package, a better power/performance ratio, etc.. This is simply a stage setting for the next big thing. The next CPU from AMD after this one is going to deliver. I'm sure of it. Reply
  • Kougar - Thursday, January 08, 2009 - link

    If you tried Everest and Sandra, what about CPU-Z's cache latency tool? It's not part of the CPU-Z package anymore, but they still offer it. Link: http://www.cpuid.com/download/latency.zip">http://www.cpuid.com/download/latency.zip

    I thought this tool was very accurate, or is this not the case? It even detected the disabled L3 cache on a Northwood that turned out to be a rebadeged Gallatin CPU.
    Reply

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