Introduction

In January, AMD launched their new quad-core Phenom II processors that were compatible with existing AM2+ motherboards and DDR2 memory. The new Phenom II processors were the first truly competitive AMD CPUs since Intel's introduction of the Core 2. The Phenom II 940 and 920, priced at $275 and $235, performed better than the equivalently priced Intel Q9400 and the Q8200. Now AMD has filled out the Phenom II line with five new models with integrated DDR3 and DDR2 support.

Intel responded quickly with Core 2 price cuts as we discussed, and AMD countered quickly with price adjustments that placed the Phenom II processors at price points where they compete very well with similarly priced Intel Core 2 processors. With the new Phenom II models just recently introduced, we now have a complete line of AMD Phenom II processors.

AMD Phenom Processors
Model Clock Speed HT Speed L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X4 940 BE 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 OEM
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 OEM
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 $125
AMD Phenom 9950 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 2MB 140W $149

The new Phenom II processors are truly important introductions for AMD. In testing the new 45nm CPUs are competitive with the latest Intel Core II Quad (Penryn) processors. They are also the first AMD processors in over two years that can also compete with Intel processors in overclocking. In our own tests we were able to overclock to the 3.8GHz range with some Phenom II samples. The new Phenom II does exactly what AMD needs it to do to compete through the midrange.


The first Phenom II processors, the 940 and 920, feature a DDR2-only controller and an uncore bus of 1.8GHz. These two models will be phased out over time and replaced with the 945 and 925, which should begin shipping in April. The 945/925 will run a 2GHz uncore speed and will feature the dual DDR2/DDR3 controller used on the rest of the newest Phenom II processors. This will matter to some but it is a moot point from a performance perspective, since we have not found any real performance difference in DDR2 and DDR3 on Phenom IIs that support both memories.

Intel's latest Core i7 is still as much as 30% faster in some applications than the Core 2 Quad/Phenom II processors, so AMD did not reclaim the ultimate performance crown. However, Core i7 is at present a high-end CPU, with prices starting at $300 and extending to over $1000 just for the CPU.

With AMD competitive again through the midrange of the CPU space, it is time to take a closer look at putting together systems with the new Phenom II processors. With a broad CPU price range of around $120 to $230, there are quite a few choices in processors for a Phenom II system.

This Phenom II Buyers' Guide looks at three different builds that you might be considering. For builders who want a Phenom II system for as little money as possible we put together a Phenom II Entry system. The goal was simple - build a competent and balanced Phenom II system for as little money as possible.

Another typical buyer is attracted to the Phenom II because of the tremendous overclocking potential of the processor - something AMD fans have really missed for the last two years or so. As discussed in our overclocking analysis of the latest Phenom II, AnandTech reached 3.31GHz at stock voltage on the 2.8Ghz Phenom II 720 BE and 3.81GHz on the same CPU by increasing voltage and tweaking BIOS settings. That 36% overclock is something we often see with Intel Core 2 processors, but it is the best overclocking we have seen with an AMD CPU in a very long time.

Finally, there is the full-blown or performance Phenom II system. We hesitate to call this a High-End System, since the most expensive Phenom II is just $225. This is a very midrange CPU price. Our system components for the full-blown Phenom II are more upper midrange than high-end. That means we will not be pairing the Phenom II with a $1200 30" LCD monitor for 2560x1600 gaming. However, the CPU power is there if you aspire for more. You could definitely use a high-end graphics card and 30" monitor on a Phenom II 940 or 945 if you choose, and you would achieve superb performance.

Phenom II Entry
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  • just4U - Monday, March 02, 2009 - link

    Well, you have to remember that while Amd was selling fine in the budget area there wasn't much to be had in (what I believe) the real money making arena.. 9X, 8X, 7X Intel cpu's are pretty damn good and while Amd had competing products it was really hard to justify those purchases. Out of their whole last years line-up I only grabbed 3-4 X2's (4800-5200s) and one X3 8650. Now they've cracked that wide open and are only really shut out from the highest end. (not a big deal for many of us as i7 is still out of many of our wallets reach)
    Reply
  • Adul - Monday, March 02, 2009 - link

    The last area to discuss is input devices, where we went with gamer value favorites in the Logitech G11 USB gaming keyboard and the MX518 8-button laser mouse.

    This is an optical mouse. You mean the G5 Laser mouse that is found in a 8 button configuration perhaps?
    Reply
  • oldscotch - Monday, March 02, 2009 - link

    Did I read that correctly? The DDR3 kit was actually cheaper than the DDR2?

    If that's the case, is there any point in going with DDR2 for a new build? It would seem to me that it's better futureproofing with an AM3/DDR3 setup.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, March 02, 2009 - link

    As sometimes happens after we recommend a product, the etailer stopped the rebate on the Reaper 4GB DDR3-1600 and raised the price substantially. I guess that is supply and demand.

    A very good alternative is the Patriot DDR3-1600 7-7-7 kit at $90 after rebate, which is just $15 more than the Guide shows for the Reaper DDR3-1600 kit. You can find the Patriot Viper at http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8... and perhaps the great OCZ Reaper DDR3-1600 7-7-7 price will be back in a few days.
    Reply
  • whatthehey - Monday, March 02, 2009 - link

    You know, I have some major issues with including mail-in rebates as part of the base system price. It would be a lot better if you removed them from the initial calculation and listed rebates in a separate column. Actually, I could swear you did that before, but it has been a while. There are many reasons for this:

    1) Rebates are always transitory in nature.
    2) Not all companies are great about processing rebates.
    3) Many people forget to send in the rebate (or don't do it quickly enough).

    Just because someone has a "deal of the week" where $130 RAM is selling for $60 doesn't mean that should go into a buyer's guide. People will refer back to this guide for months perhaps, and every time they see that crazy unattainable price they're going ton wonder what they're doing wrong. I get the point that DDR3 on sale may be cheaper than certain performance DDR2 kits, but get real: DDR3 still has a price premium and likely will for the next 6-9 months.

    Incidentally, the best price I could currently find for the OCZ kit you listed is now $122: http://www.avadirect.com/product_details_parts.asp...">http://www.avadirect.com/product_details_parts.asp.... That's a far cry from the $65 you originally quoted. And that really isn't particularly high - the Patriot you mention above is roughly the same price without the rebate. Oh yeah, and I'm pretty sure I saw that OCZ rebate listed as expiring on MARCH 1 2009 last week... so your claim that the "etailer stopped the rebate" is specious at best. Seems more like you picked it based on price last week and didn't bother to verify the duration of the rebate option.

    The guide was pretty good overall, but with some questionable commentary and picks in places. RAM and rebates are my biggest beef, but the "Performance" system still ends up feeling like you're being overly kind to AMD. Phenom II really competes with Core 2 Quad on a clock for clock basis, and even there it loses out based on your own testing: http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?... You linked that article several times, and yet somehow are still thrilled with the price and performance Phenom II offers. Here's the breakdown. (Sorry to rain on the AMD parade, but someone needs to keep reality in check.)

    Sysmark 2007: Q9550 is 9.3% faster than Phenom II 940
    Photoshop CS4: Q9550 is 19.8% faster.
    DivX 8.5.3: Q9550 is 4.0% faster.
    x264 pass 1: Q9550 is 7.0% slower. (One of the few wins for AMD, but your own text indicates this pass is not as important as the second one below.)
    x264 pass 2: Q9550 is 5.6% faster.
    WME9: Q9550 is 3.1% slower (a small win).
    3dsmax 9: Q9550 is 5.6% faster.
    Cinebench R10: Q9550 is 0.5% slower (a tie in essence).
    POV-Ray 3.73 beta 23: Q9550 is 0.2% faster (another tie).
    PAR2: Q9550 is 8.2% slower. (A "big" win for AMD, though I have to say I've never used PAR2 or similar. Maybe for the warez kiddiez this will matter?)
    Blender 2.48a: Q9550 is 18.7% faster.
    Microsoft Excel 2007: Q9550 is 68.2% faster! (Is this even real-world, or just more of an outlier?)
    Sony Vegas Pro 8: Q9550 is 9.9% slower. (Another largish victory for AMD, but this is in a Sony program and I refuse to touch anything Sony.)
    Sorenson Squeeze: Q9550 is 0.2% slower (tie).
    WinRAR: Q9550 is 5.5% slower (cache limited test perhaps?)
    Fallout 3: Q9550 is 1.1% faster (tie - game engine limited?)
    Left 4 Dead: Q9550 is 5.7% faster.
    Far Cry 2: Q9550 is 23.0% faster! (Wow... that's a huge margin compared to the other games.)
    Crysis Warhead: Q9550 is 5.8% faster.

    AMD also wins on power consumption, but even a difference of 17W (looking at the Q9650, since the Q9550S is a lower power chip that costs more) is pretty negligible for home users. That works out to around $15 per year or less, even if you're running the system 24/7 at idle (best case scenario).

    As for overclocking, I'm far more confident in Intel chips when it comes time to push clock speeds and voltages. Remember that the above results are comparing a 3.0GHz AMD chip to a 2.83GHz Intel chip, and AMD is already losing. The Q9550 can frequently hit 4.0GHz, and even if AMD keeps up in clock speed that would further boost Intel scores by around 6% (i.e. they'd be at the same clock instead of AMD having a 6% advantage).

    So, yeah, AMD is competitive... sort of. If you want to support the underdog, you can do so and not feel like you're giving up much. Personally, there are enough instances where Intel is clearly superior with it's old Penryn chip (Far Cry 2, Sysmark, Photoshop for example), not to mention Core i7 which is completely viable at $2000, as you've already shown. I think this final "performance" system is in there just so AMD doesn't feel bad. :-p

    Note that I'm not accusing you of being biased or fanboys. That shit gets thrown around way too much. I'm just saying you could have been a bit more reserved with your praise of AMD, considering all they're really doing is closing the gap with Intel's outgoing architecture. The truly sad thing is that Core i7 is a similar size chip to Phenom II and is substantially faster (I've seen 263mm^2 vs. 258mm^2 listed), and as you pointed out Penryn is only 164mm^2. AMD is not at all in a pretty position, as Intel could drop prices on Core i7 at any time they feel it's necessary, and likewise for Penryn parts!
    Reply
  • Kiijibari - Wednesday, March 04, 2009 - link

    You might want to check the minimum fps within your games ;-) Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Monday, March 02, 2009 - link

    I agree in concept with the idea that rebates can be confusing when included in the pricing. However, with the economy in sad shape right now we are seeing rebates in almost every product category. To ignore the rebates is to reward those who don't use rebates to reduce price.

    Frankly, I am almost for rewarding those who don't use the rebates, because I truly believe reducing the price is a better way to to create value, but in some categories almost every product is using a rebate to lower the price.

    This time I included the rebated price but I did list the rebate amount in parentheses so readers would know which products had a rebated price. What would you suggest as a better method?

    Last, I have no problem with the rebate ending on an item if that is what happened on the Reaper DDR3-1600 kit. In fact the memory has now reappeared at $99 with a $20 rebate, which makes it the same price as the Patriot, and $15 more than quoted in the guide. Details are at http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8....


    Reply
  • just4U - Monday, March 02, 2009 - link

    What excites many of us about the PII's is it adds more options to the table for system builds. It can always be a bit of trial to fit what you want into a budget afterall. Something to consider ...

    Your paying (in the States) I believe 20% more for the 9550 for a mere 2% gain (overall) Here in Canada Your paying 30% more for that gain which could be spent on it, saved, or put into other parts. Those are nice options to have. Plus getting certain parts (for those that by locally) can be a bit of a pain with stock always a issues so having more options to go with is excellent.

    No reason not to cheer on these new cpu's as they open up a closed market that was totally dominated by Intel... Now it's not. What's so bad about that?

    Reply
  • whatthehey - Monday, March 02, 2009 - link

    Prices I can find right now are $254.50 for the Q9550 and $214.50 for the Phenom II 940, which is indeed a 20% increase. However, it's only an ~2.5% increase in total system cost (not counting peripherals). Both prices for CPUs came from eWiz, a pretty major vendor that I've used and had a good experience with:

    http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?p=HDZ940XCBX&c=...">http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?p=HDZ940...efb4b1c0...

    http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?p=Q9550&c=fr&am...">http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?p=Q9550&...efb4b1c0...

    Moreover, their own list of parts for a Core i7 system is only $100 more for roughly similar specs, but much higher performance: http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=351...">http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=351... If you're looking at anything close to $1500 for the system, or $2000+ total, you'd have to be pretty stupid (or biased) to stay away from Core i7 right now.
    Reply
  • just4U - Monday, March 02, 2009 - link

    Oh comeon, that's just a foot in the door price.. If you price out a high end i7 setup with all the bells and whistles it's going to cost substantially more then comparable PII's or Q9x ddr2 solutions. The I7 isn't even a consideration for most and sure as hell isn't the platform that's selling like hotcakes in the desktop market. All Amd's new products have done is offer choices in one of the highest selling areas that was dominated by intel. That's something that's good all around and that's what many of us are pleased about.

    Also last I checked (in reference to the anandtech link) most of us are not buying $300 motherboards, Nor are we buying 3G kits. I don't know about you but If I was of a mind to pay that much for my motherboard I certainly wouldn't be settling for anything less then 6G since anything less then 4 would a downgrade.
    Reply

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