It's surreal isn't it? Is this how you pictured it? With forty-three days left in the year, AMD is finally letting us publish benchmarks of its long awaited Phenom microprocessor. The successor to K8, AMD's most successful micro-architecture to date, and the cornerstone of AMD's desktop microprocessor business for 2008: Phenom is here.

But shouldn't there be fireworks? Where's the catchy title? The Star Wars references were bound to continue right? Why were there no benchmarks before today, why are the next several pages going to be such a surprise?

AMD had been doing such a great job of opening the kimono as its employees liked to say, giving us a great amount of detail on Barcelona, Phenom and even the company's plans for 2008 - 2009. The closer we got to Phenom's official launch however, the quieter AMD got.

We were beginning to worry, and for a while there it seemed like Phenom wouldn't even come out this year. At the last minute, plans solidified, and we received our first Socket-AM2+ motherboard, with our first official Phenom sample. What a beautiful sight it was:

These chips are launching today, with availability promised by the end of the week. Phenom today is going to be all quad-core only, you'll see dual and triple-core parts in 2008 but for now this is what we get.

The architecture remains mostly unchanged from what we've reported on in the past. This is an evolutionary upgrade to K8 and we've already dedicated many pages to explaining exactly what's new. If you need a refresher, we suggest heading back to our older articles on the topic.

The Long Road to Phenom

Ever wonder why we didn't have an early look at Phenom like we did for every Core 2 processor before the embargo lifted? Not only are CPUs scarce, but AMD itself didn't really know what would be launching until the last moment.

At first Phenom was going to launch at either 2.8GHz or 2.6GHz; then we got word that it would be either 2.6GHz or 2.4GHz. A week ago the story was 2.4GHz and lower, then a few days ago we got the final launch frequencies: 2.2GHz and 2.3GHz.

Then there's the pricing; at 2.2GHz the Phenom 9500 will set you back $251, and at 2.3GHz you'd have to part with $283 (that extra 100MHz is pricey but tastes oh so good).

The problem is, and I hate to ruin the surprise here, Phenom isn't faster than Intel's Core 2 Quad clock for clock. In other words, a 2.3GHz Phenom 9600 will set you back at least $283 and it's slower than a 2.4Ghz Core 2 Quad Q6600, which will only cost you $269. And you were wondering why this review wasn't called The Return of the Jedi.

AMD couldn't simply get enough quantities of the Phenom at 2.4GHz to have a sizable launch this year (not to mention a late discovery of a TLB error in the chips), and the company was committed to delivering Phenom before the holiday buying season as these are tough times and simply waiting to introduce its first quad-core desktop parts was just not an option. Rather than paper launch a 2.4GHz part, AMD chose to go with more modest frequencies, promising faster, more competitive chips in Q1 2008. It's not the best PR story in the world, but it's the honest truth.

Two more quad-core Phenoms will come out in Q1: the 9900 and 9700, clocked at 2.6GHz and 2.4GHz respectively. The Phenom 9900 will be priced below $350 while the 9700 will be a sub-$300 part. As you can probably guess, the introduction of those two will push down the pricing of the 9600 and 9500, which will help Phenom be a bit more competitive.

It's worth mentioning that in the 11th hour AMD decided to introduce a multiplier-unlocked version of the Phenom 9600 sometime this year that will be priced at the same $283 mark. Whether or not it's called a Black Edition is yet to be determined.

Intel Responds with...really?


View All Comments

  • leidegre - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link

    I'm currently wondering how much of the cache diff between AMD and Intel is performance related, Intel is shipping CPUs with ~12MB cache, AMD today, still ship 2MB/512K, I'm wondering how much of the gap between AMD and Intel is due to cache sizes?

    Because if you take away this diff what happens then? I strongly believe that AMD has a good architecture once again, but Intel has a superior manufacturing process, and this makes it possible for both higher clock speeds and larger chace levels, and that is one reason why Intel is faster (amoung some things)
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - link

    intel designs their cache structure around their manufacturing strengths. AMD designs their cache structure around their manufacturing weaknessess. That's what you get with 2 totally different sized companies. Reply
  • sdmock - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link

    The difference cache sizes (between Phenom and Penryn) really doesn't make a significant difference in performance. They both have pretty large caches, and increasing the cache will only decrease the misrate by so much. Their caches are so big that most programs probably don't suffer from capacity misses, or misses from limited space in the cache. Making the L2 cache too big would increase the hit time by too much, so I think this is partly why they're using a L3 cache now.

    I think the main reason Intel makes its cache so big is for marketing purposes. They've got more transistors than they know what to do with so they just put them in the cache. I think AMD was smart to reduce its cache sizes (I think in K8?) from 1MB to 512KB because it probably didn't make a significant performance difference (don't know for sure though) and it saved them money. Of course it's important to remember that each architecture will use the cache differently.
  • erikejw - Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - link

    Cache makes a larger difference for Intel due to not having an internal memory controller hence the large differences in cache sizes.

  • sdmock - Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - link

    Intel's Core 2 processors now offer even quicker memory access than AMD's Athlon 64 X2, without resorting to an on-die memory controller.">
  • Calin - Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - link

    There are benchmarks with equal processors (from Intel) differing only in cache size. Usually (in the processors benchmarked, at lower frequencies) the difference is under 10 percent.
    Maybe in quad cores at higher frequency (2.6 instead of 1.8-2) the difference will be bigger.
  • fitten - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link


    I'm wondering how much of the gap between AMD and Intel is due to cache sizes?

    Doesn't matter, unless you intend to buy one of those parts and purposefully disable part of the cache for some reason. You might as well ask "I wonder how much of a gap would be between those parts if a clock cycle was added to the amount of time it took to execute every instruction in the Intel part". The cache is a part of the design (it's just more easily scaled).

    I wonder if the Ferarri 365 Daytona would have performed as well if it had only 8 cylinders instead of 12! You gonna buy one and replace the engine in it to find out?
  • Roy2001 - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link

    I still remember AMD's hype. Well, where is the advantage of native quad core? AMD said phenom is 50% faster than Kentsfield, based on simulated data, where is the benchmark? Reply
  • drank12quartsstrohsbeer - Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - link


    AMD said phenom is 50% faster than Kentsfield, based on simulated data, where is the benchmark?

    They probably simulated a bug free phenom :)
  • soydios - Monday, November 19, 2007 - link

    Little bone to pick at the bottom of page 9" "if you're looking at quad-core, chances are that you're doing something else with your system other than game."
    Future games will use several threads, I'm sure (i.e. Alan Wake). Crysis performance seemed to improve for me when I OC'ed my E6600 to 3.0GHz, holding at a consistent 21-22FPS in the Crysis demo during the more demanding views with my X1900XT. While I'm not exactly running benchmarks under lab conditions, the increase in CPU power did seem to help. IIRC, Crytek has stated that quad cores will be used by Crysis.

    Other than that sentence, excellent article, touching on all the major points.

    I would like to compliment and say thanks to you for Page 3: First Tunisia, Then Tahoe? The situation and your actions described on that page are a primary reason why you and this site have so much credibility with us, the readers, which is why we come here. Keep it up.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now