AMD Phenom II X4 940 & 920: A True Return to Competitionby Anand Lal Shimpi on January 8, 2009 12:00 AM EST
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Architecturally, Phenom II is what the original Phenom should have been. It's not cache starved, and while not as balanced as Core i7, it's a step in the right direction.
Compared to the Core 2 Quad Q9400, the Phenom II X4 940 is clearly the better pick. While it's not faster across the board, more often than not the 940 is equal to or faster than the Q9400. If Intel can drop the price of the Core 2 Quad Q9550 to the same price as the Phenom II X4 940 then the recommendation goes back to Intel. The Q9550 is generally faster than the 940, more overclockable at lower voltages, and a high enough default clock speed to keep you happy in the long run.
The same goes for the Phenom II X4 920 vs. Q9300/Q8200; AMD wins that comparison at the same price point. Compared to the Q9400, the Phenom II X4 920 falls behind. The Q9400 is the better buy of the two, but only if Intel does come through with rumored price cuts. We'll know for sure by the end of the month.
AMD also thankfully produced a good overclocker, at least with our review samples. The fact that we weren't able to overclock too high without increasing the core voltage is a testament to the early nature of AMD's 45nm process. Core i7, on the other hand, was basically able to reach maximum clock speed without so much as touching the voltage dials. Remember that Core i7 is Intel's second 45nm processor while Phenom II is AMD's first; it will only get better with time.
Looking through the performance results, it's also worthwhile to recognize just how fast Intel's Core i7 is. Across the board Core i7 is the fastest thing out there. If the motherboard guys could get X58 board pricing down below $200 and DDR3 memory was available at the same price as DDR2, then the i7-920 would be the clear recommendation. The entry-level Core i7 is pretty much faster than the-top end Core 2 Extreme or the Phenom II. When I originally reviewed Conroe I wrote that it was the world's fastest microprocessor; Core i7 continues to hang on to that title.
Despite Intel's strengths, AMD was able to do very well here today with Phenom II. Being able to have a CPU competitive with Penryn right out of the gates is worthy of a commendation. The scary part is that Intel could easily mitigate AMD's gains here with some simple price adjustments. Even more worrisome for AMD is that Phenom II is its only foot forward until 2011 when the first Bulldozer based CPUs arrive. There's headroom in AMD's 45nm process, but what happens when Core i7 goes mainstream? We must not forget that Phenom II is competitive with a 45nm derivative of a 2+ year old architecture.
If you have a Socket-AM2+ motherboard with BIOS support for Phenom II there's no question - Phenom II is the best upgrade path for you. If you are trying to build a new system from scratch, I'd suggest waiting for either the Socket-AM3 CPUs or see what Intel does with its pricing later this month.
Phenom II is AMD's return to competition, and unlike the best the original could do, the sequel is actually worthwhile. Even if Intel drops prices to maintain control of the quad-core market, you have AMD to thank for that. It's similar to what happened in the GPU market last summer: competition keeps prices in check. Economic woes or not, both AMD and Intel are going to be fighting hard for your business this year.