We're in the midst of a price war folks, and at a time when the global economy is looking a little shaky this actually works very well for us. Let's recap what's happened.

AMD launched its first truly competitive CPUs in over two years in January: the Phenom II X4 940 and 920. Priced at $275 and $235 respectively, these two chips beat out the equivalently priced Intel CPUs, the Q9400 and the Q8200. If you haven't already, I would strongly suggest reading that article in order to get the background information necessary about what was changed in Phenom II to make it so competitive.

Less than two weeks later Intel responded by cutting its quad core prices. The table below shows what happened:

Processor Dec '08 Price Jan '09 Price % Decrease
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 (3.00GHz) $530 $316 40%
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 (2.83GHz) $316 $266 16%
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 (2.66GHz) $266 $213 20%
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300 (2.50GHz) $224 $183 18%
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 (2.33GHz) $193 $163 16%

 

AMD responded immediately, cutting its Phenom II prices to match:

Processor Launch Price New Price % Decrease
AMD Phenom II X4 940 (3.0GHz) $275 $225 18%
AMD Phenom II X4 920 (2.8GHz) $235 $195 17%

 

We really have to applaud both companies here. Intel for responding so quickly and effectively; the 40% price drop on the Q9650 just made sense and now you can have a chip with 12MB of L2 cache for under $300 thanks to the Q9550. And we have to thank AMD for keeping the pressure on and making this possible.

The Phenom II X4 940 is once more priced similar to the Core 2 Quad Q9400, while the 920 is sort of in between a Q8300 and a Q9400. Based on last month's article we know that the Phenom II X4 940 is a better buy than the Core 2 Quad Q9400, but the 920 is a tougher sell compared to the Q8300/Q9400.

Phenom II: Now in Three Flavors

Things get more complicated with today's announcement; AMD is launching no less than five new Phenom II CPUs. Their specs and model numbers are below:

Processor Clock Speed un-core Clock L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X4 940 3.0GHz 1.8GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $225
AMD Phenom II X4 920 2.8GHz 1.8GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $195
AMD Phenom II X4 910 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 6MB 95W $???
AMD Phenom II X4 810 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 4MB 95W $175
AMD Phenom II X4 805 2.5GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 4MB 95W $???
AMD Phenom II X3 720 BE 2.8GHz 2.0GHz 1.5MB 6MB 95W $145
AMD Phenom II X3 710 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 1.5MB 6MB 95W $???
AMD Phenom 9950 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 2MB 140W $173

 

The Phenom II X4 910 is just a lower clocked version of the CPUs we reviewed last month. The 800 series is a bit more unique, albeit not in a good way. The 900 series all have 2MB of L2 cache on die and a 6MB L3; the 800 shrinks the L3 down to 4MB. If you remember back to our original Phenom II article I argued that a big reason for the original Phenom's failure was that it didn't have a large-enough L3 cache. With a 6MB L3 the 900 series seemed like a good balance between L2 and L3 cache size, but going any smaller than 6MB could prove to be overly detrimental to performance. Also keep in mind that Intel's Ronak Singhal was adament that Nehalem shouldn't have any less than an 8MB L3 (or 2MB per core), even the mainstream Core i7 derivatives are slated to have 2MB of L3 cache per core (4MB for the dual-core versions).


A Phenom II X4 900 series die: 258mm2, 4-cores and a 6MB L3 cache

The 800 series is simply an example of die harvesting. Some of the die have too many defects in the L3 cache, but fully functional cores. Instead of throwing away these CPUs AMD turns them into the Phenom II X4 800 series. While physically the same die size and transistor count of the 900 series, these chips simply have some of the L3 cache disabled:


A Phenom II X4 800 series die: 258mm2, 4-cores and a 4MB L3 cache

We've also got the Phenom II X3 720 and 710. These are both triple-core derivatives, once again they are physically the same die as the Phenom II X4 900 series, but this time with only 3 cores enabled. These are further harvested parts used simply to improve yields. I suspect that between the Phenom II 900, 800 and 700 series AMD is able to use as much of a single wafer as possible, all through harvesting and by targeting different price points. Note that this is a smart strategy to compete with Intel because Intel's 45nm yields are already quite mature, thanks to a year-long head start.


A Phenom II X3 700 series die: 258mm2, 3-cores and a 6MB L3 cache

As yields improve over time you can expect some of these parts to go away. But for now, AMD basically has a single Phenom II die that it's selling three different ways.

The 700 series is arguably one of the best harvested Phenom II parts AMD has since it retains the 6MB L3 cache of the 900 series. With 2MB of L3 cache per core, this bests even the 900 series.
When AMD produces a Phenom II die if part of the L3 is bad, it gets disabled and is sold as an 800 series chip. If one of the cores is bad, it gets disabled and is sold as a 700 series chip. If everything is in working order, then we've got a 900.

The Economic Problem
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  • thepiratebay - Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - link

    Intel Core i7 920 Nehalem 2.66GHz not 2.8 you put def procer in test and if overclockd you write oc...
    I am sure that intel is better but no so way better
    and in my opinion in the last 2 years you fav intel and nvidia more for what i am sure u have good reasons.Why i think so becas... you point just the bad sides of amd and the good of the other side on price preformance cpu mainbord you name it the diff between amd intel is tiny or amd is better.And another thing i live and work in germany and from 1000 pepole maybe 1 has core i7 pepole dont have money for maybe litle better cpu wich by the way has no software or appp maybe 5 or 10 and you compare that with ddr 2 platform from amd come on now
    Reply
  • thepiratebay - Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - link

    Do some math with me:

    * 790FX/GX motherboard 125 USD
    * Phenom II X3 720 BE 145 USD
    * 2x2GB DDR2 800 MHz 50 USD
    * Radeon HD 4850 150 USD
    * Power supply 550 Watt 55 USD
    * Chassis 50 USD
    * 500 GB HDD 55 USD

    Grand total: 630,- USD
    Reply
  • swaaye - Thursday, February 12, 2009 - link

    Phenom II does not fix XP's performance problems with Phenom's CnQ, btw. Huge performance loss. Saw it first hand. Reply
  • goinginstyle - Friday, February 13, 2009 - link

    It is fixed on Vista and Windows 7 though... also, you need to load the new CnQ driver in XP, if you do, it works there also. Reply
  • swaaye - Saturday, February 14, 2009 - link

    The "new" XP driver appears to be from 2007. Reply
  • otheos - Thursday, February 12, 2009 - link

    I use a 690G based gigabyte motherboard. Gigabyte just posted new BIOS to support these AM3 CPUs (along with AM2 and AM2+) and have been wondering what would be the performance hit from using an older motherboard with slower HT speed?

    A nice review would compare the same AM3 (plus some AM2+) Phenoms on AM2, AM2+ and AM3 (wiht DDR3 Ram). This way people who only want to upgrade their CPU would know what to expect.

    After all that's what AMD have in mind for their backward compatibility of these chips.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • swaaye - Thursday, February 12, 2009 - link

    HT is what connects the processor to the rest of the system. High HT speed seems to be most important for multiprocessor servers and systems that use an IGP. The RAM is directly connected to the CPU, so no bottleneck there. So I doubt you'll see any tangible performance loss.
    Reply
  • corsa - Thursday, February 12, 2009 - link

    The clear cut recommendation is Phenom ..becuase its smoother :) Reply
  • Mr Roboto - Wednesday, February 11, 2009 - link

    Unreal. I mean look at where the now ancient Q6600 still ranks compared to AMD's latest and greatest. *sigh*

    I don't want an Intel monopoly. I don't want the only choices to be Intel and Microsoft. That's not a world I wanna live in! *Loads pistol*
    Reply
  • loimlo - Wednesday, February 11, 2009 - link

    Thanks for such an informative review!

    Though 790FX/790GX is very good, I think 780G with SB700 would be a better combination for X3 720/710 considering its lower price. I've to admit I may take this upgrade path. Anyway, thanks for your hard work.
    Reply

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