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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  • Denithor - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    Such as power consumption/heat charts for the dual core chips.

    (I mean, come on, these chips still hang with the quads in many cases, I want to see how much better they are from a power consumption standpoint - is it worth the upgrade to quad if you've got a speedy dual?).

    To me it looks like the AMD chips give a lot better scaling when increasing the core count (X3 720 -> X4 920) than the Intel chips (e8400 -> Q9650). In most of the multi-threaded apps the AMD processors saw >95% increase (of the theoretical 33.3% possible) versus Intel with about 70-80% (of the theoretical 100%) on average. I wonder if this has to do with the fact the AMD chips are monolithic in design (more efficient interface among cores).
    Reply
  • waffle911 - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    The image of the "socket AM3" is actually of the AM2... it still has 940 pin sockets, not 938. Reply
  • JimmiG - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    You need to change the "compatibility matrix" to reflect that an AM3 CPU will "maybe" work with an AM2+ mobo. Second-rate manufacturers like Asus will not release the needed BIOS updates for some of their older boards like the 790FX/SB600-based Asus M3A32-MVP Deluxe. If you have a SB7xx-based board and it's not made by Asus or another second-rate mobo manufacturer, the matrix is probably accurate. Reply
  • fishbits - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    "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."

    You're applauding Intel over this? To me, looks like they were screwing over customers with a gigantic artificial price premium. If it weren't for stepped-up competition from AMD, the price would have remained in the stratosphere. Intel is entitled to price however it wants, but I'm not going to applaud them for lowering prices only because another company exposed their gargantuan profit margin.

    Juat a tiny taste of what would be to come if only Intel were left standing. If fanbois who wish AMD harm ever got their wish, there'd be no competitive pressure on CPU prices, and we see what Intel does in that position. We really need two healthy CPU makers in business.
    Reply
  • Finally - Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - link

    You know something's fishy, when a supposed article about a new AMD CPU starts with one full page of how Intel is the greatest evar... (and how much dropped their prices, which shall suggest to your mind that they are more interesting while they in fact go from Gargantuan to "normal" pricing for their products...) Reply
  • Maroon - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    ^agree^

    Why in the hell would you "applaud" Intel for price gouging? I know it's partly AMD's fault by not having truly competitive cpus for the last 2 years, but I'm not gonna give Intel props because they had to reduce prices to remain competitive in those price segments.

    Reply
  • poohbear - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    AMD Phenom II X3 710 is gonna be priced at around 125-135 i imagine, maybe even less, and for that price im sorry its a clear pick for those on a budget!! Its got 7.5mb cache, 3 cores, and will overclock to 3.6ghz if the 720 is any indication. Such sweetness. Any eta on em yet? Reply
  • BLaber - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    As far as I have read on some other sites AMD sent an email along with the test samples to reviewers to test the cpus on AM2+ mobo for time being bcz AM3 mobo bios are having some performance issues. Reply
  • Nightstalker - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    I don't understand the conclusion that there is no benefit to DDR3, when these CPU's were tested with DDR2. How about including results on these CPU's with both types of memory so we can see how they perform? Reply
  • Gary Key - Monday, February 09, 2009 - link

    We will have additional DDR3/DDR2 results this week, we had AM3 BIOS releases coming until Friday night, the last one actually worked although it broke AOD and TurboV compatibility on the ASUS boards. We still cannot get DDR3-1866/2000 working. Of course, DDR3-1333 is the highest official support offered but we figure if it is in the BIOS then it should work. Reply

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