Clock for Clock, Still Slower than Core 2 & Core i7

It was important on the last page to point out that the predominant difference between Phenom and Phenom II is the larger L3 cache; although there are minor architectural tweaks we're fundamentally looking at a core that remains very similar to the Phenom it replaced. The larger L3 cache helps Phenom II stay fed more frequently without painful trips down main memory lane, but Intel's architectures should still be faster at the same clock speed. To prove that point let's look at the following data. It's a subset of the benchmark suite for this article and what we've got below is Phenom II, Core i7, and Core 2 Quad all running at 3.0GHz (the Core i7 runs at 2.93GHz):

Processor Clock Speed Adobe Photoshop CS4 (lower is better) x264 Pass 2 3dsmax 9 Cinebench SYSMark 2007 Overall Left 4 Dead FarCry 2
AMD Phenom II X4 940 3.0GHz 24.2 s 17.8 fps 10.8 12393 182 116.2 fps 48.2 fps
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 3.0GHz 19.4 s 19.9 fps 12.0 12983 209 125.2 fps 61.9 fps
Intel Core i7-940 2.93GHz 15.8 s 29.2 fps 16.2 17346 229 123 fps 71.0 fps
Core 2 Quad Q9650 Advantage - 19.8% 11.8% 11.1% 4.8% 14.8% 7.7% 28.4%
Core i7-940 Advantage - 34.7% 64% 50% 40% 25.8% 5.9% 47.3%
Core 2 Quad Q9650 Disadvantage $265
Core i7-940 Disadvantage $295+

Clock for clock, Intel has the advantage across the board. It gets very close between Phenom II and Penryn (Q9650) under Cinebench, but 3dsmax 9 shows a wider gap of 11% between the two. Gaming also looks pretty close if you look at Left 4 Dead; however, Far Cry 2 (a newer engine and much more heavily threaded game) is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The take away point is that compared to Penryn, Phenom II is slower clock-for-clock. The gap grows with Nehalem; Phenom II only gets close in older game engines, while the rest of the time Nehalem is 30-60% faster at the same clock speed.

What matters isn't just absolute performance however, it's performance at a given price point. The last two rows tell an important story; while Intel is faster at the same clock speed, the CPUs themselves cost twice as much as AMD's Phenom II. Nehalem's cost premium is even higher as X58 based motherboards are still above $200, plus they require DDR3 memory. It doesn't matter that AMD won't win the absolute performance crown with Phenom II; like the Radeon HD 4800 series, what's important here is whether or not AMD is competitive at the performance mainstream price points. It's this question that we'll be answering over the course of today's review.

Core i7: Total Cost of Ownership

While Intel's Core i7 is undeniably the fastest CPU on the market today, it comes at a steep cost. The i7 920 is competitively priced at $295, and outperforms the Phenom II X4 940 across the board, but it will only work with DDR3 memory and requires an X58 motherboard - and those are currently selling for no less than $200. The table below summarizes the problem with comparing Nehalem to Phenom II:

Processor CPU Motherboard Memory* Total Cost
AMD Phenom II X4 940 $275 $120 $75 $470
Intel Core i7-920 $295 $210 $150 $655
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 $270 $100 $75 $445

Note: This is the cost for 6GB of DDR2-1066 or DDR3-1333 memory, although you can only install 4GB or 8GB in the Phenom II/Core 2 Quad boards

 

Despite the similar CPU costs, the motherboard and DDR3 memory costs make the i7-920 a 40% more expensive purchase. For the difference in platform cost you could purchase a faster graphics card, bigger hard drive, or even put money towards an SSD. Core i7's total cost of ownership keeps it from being Phenom II's direct competition; instead Phenom II is really competing with Intel's 45nm Core 2 Quad processors.

While X58 motherboards will always be pricey thanks to the high-end chipset costs (the minimum pricing we're hearing is $185), DDR3 prices should fall over time, especially once AMD starts moving over to DDR3 in the coming months. Right now DDR2 is incredibly affordable, working in AMD's favor.

With Core i7 out of the running, our eyes turn to Core 2 Quad as Phenom II's intended competition. The table above hints at the Q9400 as Phenom II's competition today, but let me flesh things out a little more:

Processor Clock Speed Cache 1K Unit Cost
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 3.00GHz 12MB L2 $530
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83GHz 12MB L2 $316
AMD Phenom II X4 940 3.0GHz 2MB L2 + 6MB L3 $275
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 2.66GHz 6MB L2 $266
AMD Phenom II X4 920 2.8GHz 2MB L2 + 6MB L3 $235
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300 2.50GHz 4MB L2 $224
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 2.33GHz 4MB L2 $193
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (65nm) 2.40GHz 8MB L2 $183

Other than the Q6600, all of the CPUs in the above chart are 45nm parts (congrats AMD). But look at where the Phenom II slots in. The Phenom II X4 940 is slightly more expensive than a Q9400, while the 920 is a Q8300 competitor. With Core i7's platforms pricing it out of the comparison, the table above should indicate what you need to look at when comparing Phenom II and Core 2 Quad.

I'll mention this briefly here (and more later). Pay close attention to the Q9650 and Q9550. Intel has the ability to move those down the price list, whereas the Phenom II X4 940 is going to be the fastest Phenom II out for the next couple of months.

Ok, I lied, Intel Spoils the Party. Rumored Intel Price Cuts

At the end of last year Intel made some minor price cuts across its product lineup. There was no reason to do anything more serious as AMD hadn't even begun to threaten anything above the Core 2 Quad Q6600.

I've heard, through reliable but very quiet channels, that before the end of January Intel will aggressively cut prices on its entire quad-core lineup. Given how Intel historically cuts prices, we could expect the Core 2 Quad Q9550 would take the place of the Q9400 and have the Q9400 move down to the price point of the Q8300, thus creating a price war; and you thought 2008 was the last of that.

If Intel were to push its prices down like that, the Q9550 would compete with the Phenom II X4 940, and the Core 2 Quad Q9400 would go up against the Phenom II X4 920 instead. If this happens, the conclusion I mentioned on the first page changes. The Phenom II X4 940 can't beat the Q9550, and the 920 can't beat the Q9400. Intel has the ability to do this; it's got faster chips that are more expensive and has just enjoyed 2+ years of unchallenged competition. The Intel from the Pentium 4 days may have let AMD launch Phenom II unchecked, but today's Intel is much more...dynamic.

The take away is that today Phenom II competes with the Q9400 and the Q8300, but by the end of this month that may change to the Q9550 and Q9400.

Phenom II's Secret, In Pictures Cache and Memory Controller Comparison
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  • Walkeer - Thursday, October 15, 2009 - link

    Super, so because MS Vista has a really bad and stupid CPU scheduler, AMD had to disable perfectly legit and smart power saving feature = CnC per core rather than per chip. I really love windows! I expect that CnC per-core caused no problems under linux for example.... Reply
  • CuE0083 - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    I have been a reader of this site for a few years (first time commenting) and I just wanted to know how you guys determine that a particular processor is a good overclocker.

    1) Do you guys try overclocking multiple chips?
    2) Do you just walk into the store, pick a random chip, and try overclocking it?
    3) Or does AMD send you a chip?
    Reply
  • v12v12 - Thursday, July 23, 2009 - link

    All this bickering and nick picking—when to me the solution seems simple.

    All the poor folks clamoring about numbers they COULD NOT EVER POSSIBLY tell the difference if using Intel Vs AMD in a dboule-blind test! None of you can tell the measurable diffs in FPS and temp. It's all little programs with numbers telling you there's a difference. So wtf is all the fus about?

    Phenom-II is for people that already have an old AM2 rig and want to upgrade. But you forget that your old, slow ass mobo chipset and antiquated ram wouldn't even come close of a newer Intel system period.
    A Brand NEW Phenom-II would "compete," but it barely does that. And as prices drop Phenom-II is losing even more ground as someone with an intel 775 can spring for a fast Quad-core, while you're stuck with the SAME OLD MOBO and RAM DERRRRR?
    Stop all the nit-picking and bemoaning over Intel.

    Does it make sense to scrap your current AMD rig for a completely new Intel unit?

    YES = If you're doing video/AV editing and plan on getting an i7/i5 or if you’re not broke!

    NO = If you currently have an AMD and need some extra horse-power.

    But to falsely rationalize your purchase/mindset by suddenly putting the i7 into the "it's SO expensive" BS category; you're BROKE, you have no say about price. Get a real job and stop spending money on other nonsense and SAVE up like smart people do. It's YOUR own fault you cannot afford a damn $1100-1400 computer: that's NOT a lot. Just b/c YOU cannot afford it doesn't mean there's something "wrong" with i7.

    You're comparing a 2yr old Q6600 against AMD's newest unit LOL? That's like a car magazine comparing the newest lambo to a 2 year old Ferrari etc. BUT PRICE OMG... Prices steadily go DOWN, thus folks with 775 can still upgrade to 6700, 6800 and so forth.

    I'm glad AMD is "sort of" showing a rally to CATCH UP... BUT... when you buy into INTEL you're buying into a PROVEN ROADMAP OF PERFORMANCE VS AMD: you're buying into a mystery grab-bag of performance PROMISES.

    Geesh. Just get the Phenom-II if you cannot afford the i7. Nobody with sense is talking about going from a Q6600/9xxx to 2 year behind the pack Phenom. This is just sophomoric nonsense.

    Common-sense would tell you:

    1) GET A BETTER JOB (education/certs etc)

    2) Stop spending money on other hobbies and misc junk

    3) STFU already and improve your financial situation, THEN you have a say. It's YOUR fault you don't have enough for a paltry $1200 machine. WHO doesn't have $1200? If you don't you haven't EARNED the right to complain. Complain b/c it's someone else's fault - I'm betting it's mostly your own lack of saving & discipline that's the problem.

    None of you may like or agree w/me, but guess what? I don't care b/c I HAVE $1200 to spend so Fsck it I'm happy. Stop drinking, doing drugs, going out, blowing money on cable-TV and crap, for a change? Most of you are guilty of 1 or more of these frivolities.

    Honestly THINK about what you’re saying here? You’re complaining about a superior i7 that is too expensive to do WHAT— play some damn video games? So your rationale is to do what? Buy a new or CPU upgrade to do the same? So THUS instead of continually saving to get the best… You BLOW your loads for inferior technology… and so the cycle continues. You’re NOW BROKE AGAIN and behind. Maybe you’ll start saving once again and come out of the wood work 2-3yrs later and STILL be complain once again “OMG it’s TOO EXPENSIVE” “I’ll by the cheap crap instead!”

    LMFAO NOW THAT IS Ludicrous!
    Reply
  • goofbud - Tuesday, December 06, 2011 - link

    Are you serious dude?

    It ain't the money. I know. I have money. I also have a lambo a porche and an evo. I like testing AMD because they give us "certified" techs something to tinker with and work on. AMD is a brand for builders and true techs like to tinker with a processor and see how far it can go. Even when I was in high school I owned 486's which were the latest and greatest that time. I had an INTEL PC and it sucked dirt once Microsoft came out with windows. Maybe Intel is ahead now but AMD is catching up. They can create the ultimate processor but they don't have to. Not yet.

    BTW, watch how you talk. Be considerate. It ain't the money man. I can afford to buy as many alienware pc's I want. But I don't. Am I a gamer? Yes! I have a powerful system now and am happy I did not spend a lot of money on it. See, this is the thing. If you are smart you just don't want to buy the fastest CPU and fastest RAM that comes out. It's like buying an PS3 for $6,000.00 on ebay just because you want to be the first to play it. That is stupid.

    People buy AMD because they are tweakable. They try to buy the cheapest parts out there, tweak it, and see how far it can go. Makes sense?

    So what if you have the fastest computer in the world. If you don't use it everyday you just wasted money.

    Understand now kid. Now STFU and Go to your room!
    Reply
  • sandstones - Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - link

    I know that we should look at relative sysmark scores, but I'm still puzzled by the higher scores in this batch of tests, compared to those done in April 2008.

    For example the top performer from April - Core 2 Duo E8400 got a score of 161 on Overall in April 2008, and 191 in Jan 2009. The X4 Phenom 9750 went from 126 to 148. Other CPU's in both tests had similar differences. That's a bigger percentage difference than what gets used to debate whether Intel or AMD is better.

    Anand - any comments on what caused such a large difference?
    Reply
  • Amitjakhar - Friday, February 20, 2009 - link

    http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/phenomii94...">http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/phenomii94...
    After overclocking it really comes near and sometime it gets better performance them Core i7. Which is good. AMD has done superb job and they are in the right direction. Next black edition will make Intel so worry they have to go to work again.
    Reply
  • Amitjakhar - Friday, February 20, 2009 - link

    Phenom II is showing power much better then here. To me it seems they have not done the testing properly. You better check out this link and find how its performing genuinely
    http://www.guru3d.com/article/amd-phenom-ii-x4-920...">http://www.guru3d.com/article/amd-phenom-ii-x4-920...
    Reply
  • salem80 - Tuesday, January 27, 2009 - link

    The Q9400 are 126W~174W not like what Intel said 95W ?
    even E8600 (124W~157W) while they say 65W ?
    their huge deferent in numbers here .
    Reply
  • pcuser123 - Saturday, January 24, 2009 - link

    I think the new i7 core sucks compare Phenom II. Just look at the pricing vs performance on those two.
    Here is the benchmarks http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/phenomii94...">http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/phenomii94...
    Reply
  • gipper - Monday, January 19, 2009 - link

    You do the overclocks but don't show us the results? Following overclocking, those stock processors have WIDELY different capabilities.

    I'd love to see those video encode charts redone with the overclocked processors. That would tell me the TRUE value of the 64x2BE, C2D, Phenom, PhenomII, and i7 relative to one another.

    Otherwise, your overclock information borders on worthless.
    Reply

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