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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  • quan111000 - Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - link


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  • Emessjay - Sunday, March 15, 2009 - link

    I'm having to rebuild much of my system, and I don't have tons of money to throw out doing so. Given that, this article was absolutely ideal for me. I'm not a computer DIY guru by any stretch. I simply needed some good info and recommendations. So, thanks very much for this. You've earned one more reader. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Friday, March 06, 2009 - link

    2 things:

    -The Xigmatek CPU cooler is a great bang for the buck cooler but I severely dislike the push pin design. While not crazy heavy like some other coolers it is still heavy enough that I am not confident that the pushpins will hold for years in a tower system. I just built a C2D system with essentially the same cooler (not called the Dark Knight, but looks identical minus the LED lighting), and it was a frustrating installation experience. They sell a backplate for an extra $10-15 that I would HIGHLY recommend, but then that pushes the price up significantly and you are looking in the realm of the top end air coolers.

    -4850, with the recent price drops and significant performance advantage of the 4870 ove rthe 4850 I would not have recommended the 4850 except as an addition to the low-end system (ie mention as you do with most other component choices that you can upgrade to the 4850 for a very nice entry level gaming system). I think the 4870 512meg would be a perfect fit for the mid-range system and the 4870 1gig would match your recommendation for the "high"-end system.

    Good guide overall, just wanted to give my 2 cents on the cpu cooler and gpu recommendation.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, March 06, 2009 - link

    The Xigmatek for Intel Socket 775 DOES use push pins. That is convenient, but many do not like the pushpin system.

    However, on the AMD AM2/AM2+/AM3 the Xigmatek uses a lever clip for a very secure mounting to the existing AMD CPU cage on the motherboard. This is mentioned and described on the page where the Xigmatek is mentioned. Keep in mind that AMD doesn't have a push-pin system. That is an Intel "innovation" that first appeared on Socket 775.

    I mention the upgrade possibility to 4870 for a relatively low cost in the Phenom II OC recommendation. However, at a net price of $125 and owing to the fact that the 4870 is basically a 4850 clocked higher I think the recommendation of the 4850 as a value OC choice is still valid. Those who want even more graphics power can choose the "pre-overclocked" 4870 with perhaps even more head room.
    Reply
  • Kinshinlink - Wednesday, March 04, 2009 - link

    that 4850 before rebate your paying 155. for 10 bucks more you could get a 4870 from sapphire on newegg. Reply
  • v12v12 - Wednesday, March 04, 2009 - link

    Hrmm... how do I start this — with a rant? Or with just general observations?

    1) Thank god for the "post a comment" option, or else you guy really did have me thinking that AMD HAD made a real comeback?! Thanks to WHATHEHEY factual breakdown, I now see that so-called "comeback" was merely a glancing blow, but didn't do any real damage to the jaw of WIntel! Makes for a nice highlight article, but fast-forward to the END of the fight and WIntel is getting interviewed and giving out shout-outs, while AMD is getting it's eye's checked by the ring doctor!

    2) I think you've done your readership a HUGE disservice by not keeping the article as succinct as possible: AMD still considerably behind i7 and still behind the soon to be antiquated Penryn. If this were politics, I'd have almost voted for the LOSING candidate. Come guys, get professional and cut the tip-toeing, bias and dancing around the hard facts... as a reader had to point out the spin'n bias to us. Shame on you!

    3) Thank god though AMD did make some kind of showing Vs the drunken party crasher, who thinks he's cool b/c he showed up wasted, while everyone laughs and points in dismay. HAHA! Look at who just rolled in — it's our drunken and unkempt classmate: AMD! Swaggering around touting of a comeback, breath wreaking of bias and hyped numbers, shoes on the wrong feet, stepping on customer's toes...

    ...Well I guess I'm glad that at least our buddy AMD did manage to show up to the party at all? Normally he'd have still been passed out in his own hype and Apple like bias, like before... See you at the party Richter! *Tossing AMD cores off the platform*
    -----
    You know it's hard to NOT vote for AMD... it's the whole "vote for a winner" phenomenon (pun intended). Even if people don't like the candidate running, if he/she is in the lead, a large one at that; people will instinctually start to side with the "winner," even though he/she is not the right candidate for them. And this is the case we see with AMD Vs WINtel. I'm on an Turion X2 right now, thinking to myself "wtf how can I trash AMD, when most of my systems are in fact AMD based?!" Guess what, my wallet doesn't give a sh!t about AMD or WINtel. My wallet cares about CASH and cash only. Whomever saves it enough cash, WILL get it's vote. As for me, personally I'd like to still champion AMD, but in the end, the Wallet is what matters at the moment... Come on AMD I KNOW you have it in you to become the former champion you once were! Until then, I'll continue to put off building a new box, but WINtel is sure looking nice with all the belts it holds.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, March 04, 2009 - link

    You might want to check out our Core i7 Buyers Guide at http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=351...">http://www.anandtech.com/guides/showdoc.aspx?i=351.... In both guides we are VERY clear that the Phenom II now competes in the mid-range with Intel, but that the I7 owns the top performance crown. However, Core i7 starts at around $300 and goes to $1010, while Phenom II is $120-$230.

    There is reason to cheer that AMD can now compete in the area where most systems are sold. That has not been true for almost 2 years. If this was not clear to you in reading the Guide then you must have skipped reading most of the article.
    Reply
  • v12v12 - Wednesday, March 04, 2009 - link

    The problem with that, as I said in another comment on this board, is SOCKET LOCK. Who wants to buy into this under performing hardware platform. Yes at this current time it is slightly competitive, but as the above break down shows, it's ONLY because of current pricing. And as minor as that is, I'd still go with the Intel b/c even if it is a smidge ahead, you know that higher end (Penryn) chips that would blow the PH-II away are coming down in price also, thus leaving the PH-II back where they started - behind.

    The keystone for intel is the ROAD MAP. Intel's is much more robust, and certainly deliverable; they already have a working 32nm... Where is AMD is all of this? Still trying to play catch-up with antiquated Penryns. If I had the money right now... I'd still pay ~$150 more for the intel platform. It's PROVEN; solid; reliable; and no socket-lock.
    Reply
  • Rrcccc - Saturday, March 07, 2009 - link

    Am I to assume that there is a lot of money floating around here?! You have people talking about a $100 bucks as if it is nothing at all. Income wise, I am in the top 1% of the country and I still recognize that’s real money!
    This article is dead on money. For our economy this article shows how you can get close to the top of performance and save money. Very few people will use this guide as a blueprint for a system. Most will use it as a guide to upgrade components or for a system overhaul. Minimum upgrade for I7 systems (realistic upgrade) is way out of most people’s league. $560 is min for cpu, board and memory – that’s an unrealistic setup. Buying an I7 and $185 board is and the cheapest memory is a fool’s errand. And it is still a $120 more than a 940 Phenom, equivalent mb (Asus M4A78T-E vs GIGABYTE GA-EX58-UD3R X58) and memory. A realistic min I7 upgrade is more in the $650 (us) a $200 + increase.
    In the real world that’s a day at Disneyland for 2-3 people. Gas money for a month or 2, ect. Not realistic for 95% of the world (98% if count out the fan boys would sacrifice a decent woman to buy there favorite chip).
    I’m one the few 30+ year gamers (“there is a sword here”) And I have no loyalties to Amd or Intel. I have last years Intel upgrade next to my 2 weeks ago Amd Phenom II upgrade. Loyalties cost you money. Bleeding edge cost you money. Competition saves you money.
    This article is perfect for today. And that’s what really counts. Great job Wesley Fink and Anandtech team. If the situation changes in the next couple of months… then I look forward to hearing that conclusion.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, March 04, 2009 - link

    Well, your Intel socket options are currently either LGA775, which will likely see no more processors released for it; or LGA1366, which may never see what most would consider to be mainstream processors released for it. Reply

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