Final Words

If you were looking for a changing of the guard today it's just not going to happen. Phenom is, clock for clock, slower than Core 2 and the chips aren't yet yielding well enough to boost clock speeds above what Intel is capable of. While AMD just introduced its first 2.2GHz and 2.3GHz quad-core CPUs today, Intel previewed its first 3.2GHz quad-core chips. We were expecting Intel to retain the high end performance crown, but also expected AMD to chip away at the lower end of the quad-core market - today's launch confirms that Intel is still the king of the quad-core market.

As we've seen from our mainstream CPU comparisons however, all of this could change with some clever pricing - something AMD seems to have forgone with its Phenom launch.

Phenom manages to fill a major gap in AMD's desktop CPU product lineup: the company can now offer quad-core CPUs. And with the needed updates to the K8 architecture AMD is now competitive in some areas that it sorely needed improving in. Windows Media and x264 encoding are both strong points of the Phenom architecture, making it on par with Intel's quad-core offerings. The same can be said about some games, but at the same time Intel really pulls ahead in our DivX and other game tests.

Inevitably some of these Phenoms will sell, even though Intel is currently faster and offers better overall price-performance (does anyone else feel weird reading that?). Honestly the only reason we can see to purchase a Phenom is if you currently own a Socket-AM2 motherboard; you may not get the same performance as a Core 2 Quad, but it won't cost as much since you should be able to just drop in a Phenom if you have BIOS support.

If you ask AMD, this is platform story; after all, who wouldn't want to combine a Phenom with the 790FX chipset and a pair of Radeon 3850 graphics cards. The problem is that you can pair up 3850s on an Intel chipset just as easily, leaving the biggest benefit to 790FX the ability to run 3 or 4 3850s, which we're not even sure is a good idea yet. There are some auto-overclocking features, but talking about Phenom's overclocking isn't really accenting one of its strong points. The platform sell is a great one to an OEM, but it's simply not compelling enough to the end user - if Phenom were more attractive, things would be different.

To make the CPU more attractive AMD desperately needs to drop the price, and from what we've heard, that will happen in Q1. From what we've seen, AMD needs to be at least 200MHz ahead of Intel in order to remain competitive - that means bringing out a Phenom 9900 that's cheaper than the Q6600, at least. If AMD can do that, it's quite possible that in early 2008 we'll have the first sub-$200 quad-core part as the 9500 drops in price.

Oh and just in case AMD is listening: the Phenom 9600 has no business being here, the extra 100MHz only clutters up the product line. Once the 9700 and 9900 are out let's try and stick to 200MHz increments shall we?

Here's what really frightens us: the way AMD has priced Phenom leaves Intel with a great opportunity to increase prices with Penryn without losing the leadership position. Intel could very well introduce the Core 2 Quad Q9300 (2.33GHz) at $269 and still remain quite competitive with Phenom, moving the Q9450 into more expensive waters. Intel has't announced what it's doing with Penryn pricing in Q1, but our fear is that a weak showing from Phenom could result in an upward trend in processor prices. And this is exactly why we needed AMD to be more competitive with Phenom.

It's tough to believe that what we're looking at here is a farewell to the K8. When AMD first released the Athlon 64, its performance was absolutely mind blowing. It kept us from recommending Intel processors for at least 3 years; Phenom's arrival, however, is far more somber. Phenom has a difficult job to do, it needs to keep AMD afloat for the next year. Phenom is much like the solemn relative, visiting during a time of great sorrow within the family; let's hope for AMD's sake that it can lift spirits in the New Year.

Power Consumption
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  • mpholland - Friday, November 30, 2007 - link

    Maybe AMD just had to release these early to make a little capital this year. Personally I think that it is good that AMD let people know SOMETHING is close. I am hoping that with a little tweaking AMD and some MB partners can get performance up a little and be competitive with Intel sometime in 2008. I have seen just simple driver tweaks work wonders on other hardware, maybe just a little more time can help. Reply
  • Clauzii - Thursday, November 22, 2007 - link

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  • Clauzii - Thursday, November 22, 2007 - link

    By reading through the benchmarks, where a single core (of a quad) is compared to all four cores running, it looks like the 8 core version of the "Phenom" would scale even better than the four-core one. The Barcelona btw. also shows this behavior, by having one core being just a little faster than the Opteron core, but the four running in tandem scales very well.

    Because of the not-so-good MHz numbers, it might not take AMD to new glorious heights for now, but when (soon?) 8 cores arive, AMD MIGHT be able to do better, because of their better core-scaling factor.

    Looks like they HAVE to do something like gluing together two Phenoms to at least do 8-cores before intel, and before intel gets TOO fast for AMDs liking and the ability to catch up slips away.

    Unless AMD already is working on a true 8-core design, which would probably scale even better than a glued one. And by incooperating knowledge on multithreading from ATIs designing of GPUs they might be able to do something even more serious in the future.

    But for know, intel is still in the lead.
    Reply
  • praeses - Thursday, November 22, 2007 - link

    I really wish that AMD never went down the road of L3 cache for these processors. As the majority of applications still used today in the desktop/workstation market are going to be only one or two cores, the shared cache itself probably causes more of a hindrance.

    Personally I would have liked to see 128k L1 and 1MB of L2 for the higher models, and simply the 512K L2 for the lower models. The tweaks to the individual cores would almost enable them to catch up clock per clock with Intel without this L3 cache latency getting in the way, and that way powering down the individual cores would also power down all the cache they would be using as well. I realize that routing the L2 cache in larger quantities is trickier and consumes more die space than L3 but they should also be able to gain significantly cost measures in those produced without L3 and be able to compete better in the $180 or so market.

    Granted if a single application was single threaded and the only one taxing the system while taking advantage of all the L3 at once, and the other 3 cores were sleeping, it would be a slight disadvatage, but that's an extreme situation.
    Reply
  • WorkIsAFullTimeHobby - Thursday, November 22, 2007 - link

    I think Anandtech power consumption graphs are way off. Phenom power consumption sould be compared to Penryn power consumption plus NSB power consumption. Does any body see any mention of this fact and do the graphs properly account for this?

    Phenom effectively has the north side memory controller bus built in. After looking at the Architecture now I know why Intel is always trying to increase MB bus speed. They only have one external bus to feed and comminicate between all the CPU's.
    Reply
  • redzo - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    After all of this being said i have only a few words for you:
    - AMD's faith it's in the hands of its ability to cut down the prices even more.
    - Cheaper by 13% it is just not enough ! ! ! unless they cut down the prices even more they'll loose more customers!
    - Of course that they can trust in their marketing strategy( true quad core ), but not for long: It's PERFORMANCE and PRICE/PERFORMANCE that matters and not STYLE or FASHION.
    Reply
  • jwizmo - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    One thing to keep in mind here is that the Quad-Core AMD chip is a 64-Bit part, like it's predecessor. To perform these tests without giving it a chance in 64-Bit mode is not a fair comparison. I would like to see some subset of these same tests with Windows Vista Ultimate 64-Bit. The drivers should be out there for that configuration. Let's see how it performs in that mode, I don't think there will be much competition from Intel then. When everything finally goes 64-Bit AMD will have the advantage, since they got in at the ground floor. Reply
  • newuser2 - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    I was checking holidays buyers guide and then I noticed that in the tests you were using for intel a motherboard that costs $335 and DDR3 memory which is $580 (I think I must be wrong here), while for AMD you used a $180 board and DDR2 memory for $121. That would be comparing a $915 platform vs $301 one, am I correct? Don't misunderstand me, I just think I didn't understand what you used to test what. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    I wondered too, but I guess they figured the newest AMD chipset was most appropriate for the test. Seeing as availability there is shady as well, there aren't many options. Not sure why they didn't choose a cheaper Intel board and DDR2 (since no DDR3 for AMD) but at those speeds their tests don't seem to show much extra performance for DDR3 over DDR2 anyway. Reply
  • newuser2 - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    As I thought I was wrong with memory pricing (it was 274 not 560) so we have $609 vs $301 if now I'm right. Reply

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