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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  • Casper42 - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    In the Sysmark benchmark results, you have the following comment:

    Against to its Intel competition, the Phenom II X3 720 falls short of the Core 2 Duo E7500 and the E8400. The X4 810 also falls short of one of its intended targets: the Q8200.

    While the X3 720 does fall to the E7500 (didnt bother comparing against E8400), the second line about the X4 810 losing out to the Q8200 is totally unfounded. The Sysmark results have the AMD chip losing in only 1 test set and the AMD wimming in the other 4 or 5.

    I would probably buy the Intel anyway in today's market, but you should at least keep your review as honest and accurate as possible.
    Reply
  • Lokinhow - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    I've seen some scores with the X4 810 at ~3.7GHz, but not with a 2.7GHz NB clock.
    That would be nice to see some benchmarks at this clock speeds to know what is the boost in performance with a so higher nb clock speed.
    Including a simillar clocked Core2Duo would be very nice too.

    ps: yeah, my english is not so great, so sorry if there is some gramatical erros ;D
    Reply
  • TA152H - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    I'm really surprised that no one there put any thought into testing the difference between the memory controller and L3 cache running at 2.0 GHz instead of 1.8 GHz.

    I mean, you have a BE edition, with the 940, so what would have prevented you from running at at, say 2.6 GHz, like the 920, putting them on the same platform, and then benching them so we could see the difference the "uncore" speed makes.

    It's really an important consideration, because obviously AMD will be releasing Phenom II's at 2.8 and 3.0 GHz, with 2.0 GHz uncore speeds, on AM3, and it helps people make a decision whether to wait or not. With AM2+ is shackled with DDR2 (I don't buy that there's no difference between DDR2 and DDR3, especially when other websites have identified them to be roughly 2%), the degenerate speed of the uncore could exacerbate this issue.

    My other question is, does the uncore on the 910, et al, still run at 2.0 GHz when running in the AM2, and AM2+ platforms? I don't see why it would, but anything is possible.

    I think two sets of benchmarks would be interesting. An underclocked 940 (to 2.6 GHz) versus a 910 processor. One on an AM2+ (yes, it's obsolete, but people will still buy it for a while) with the exact same memory. This assumes, of course, the uncore runs at 2 GHz for the 910 on this platform. The other is the 940 in its obsolete platform running at 2.6 GHz, against the 910 running on the modern AM3 platform, with high performance memory. If you really want to be thorough, you can run the 910 on both the AM3 and AM2+, each with the best memory available for it. I think these would all be helpful.
    Reply
  • jchan2 - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    Any word if there will be a Phenom II Black Edition in the near future? Reply
  • WillR - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    Do you mean another Phenom II Black Edition? Is the 940 not good enough for you? Reply
  • jchan2 - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    Why not? Imagine the ghz you can gain if there was one. AMD did it before, why not now? Reply
  • jchan2 - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    Nvm, didn't realize the 940 was already BE

    Reply
  • WillR - Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - link

    Yep. And it makes sense imo for only the highest clocked quad core and the highest clocked tri core to be Black Editions rather than also having an 8xx BE. I've heard they should have a 990 BE out Q3 or Q4 this year. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    Such as the 720 Black Edition tested here? Reply
  • jchan2 - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    Yeah, besides the 720 such as the 800 or 900 series. Reply

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