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?


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  • 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
  • haylui - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    Hopefully IPC improved Shanghai are doing flawlessly in AMD's R&D Lab now. Phenom is worth buy when their TLB errata and quickly ramp up to 3GHz stable cpu.
    Quad CF is something attractive to hardcore high end gamers when Phenom 9 series can come out something at 3GHz that are able to give some really competition to Intel's Penryn and Kentsfield.
  • Lithotech - Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - link

    AMD's OverDrive Utility looks very good, and extremely exciting to hear it actually works. nTune's screens are much larger when sized big enough that there are no scroll bars on the screen, something that's annoyed the carp out of me since it's release. While I do have a couple high res displays, most of the stations in my workshop have only 1024x768 or 1280x1024. I very much like how AMD has designed the interface, and look forward to trying it some time soon.

    Other thoughts:

    There is no doubt good value in these new quad cores.

    Monitary value if and when AMD cuts pricing -- if the last year is any indication of their commitment to this, we may see much more than just sub $200 quads. For mid-range parts, these processors are plenty fast and any mainstream user would be plenty happy using one. The non overclocker does not consider how much headroom is in a CPU and the fact that the Intel equivelents will clock much faster than AMD's parts is completely nullified. It gets right back to basics: price. The overclocking community is growing fast however, and it's nice to see both AMD and Intel recognizing a dedicated and loyal clientel by releasing the Black Editions and showcasing that new chip of Intels.

    Value in technological advancement -- AMD doubtless needs Phenom core technology, and accompanying chipset and socket technology in order to evolve into the next generation. Like Formula 1 racing (or any racing for that matter), not moving forward in technological development equates to moving backwards because if you are standing still, everyone else is passing you. AMD has/is learning a tough lesson in letting the competition catch up as they coasted for so long with the Athlon64.

    Value in power savings -- Each core is independant, and can be clocked at different speeds?! CoolnQuiet on 2 cores, the other two happily crunching full speed in some game? Lower overall temperatures in the end? Oh yeah, baybuh, watch the Silent PC enthusiasts and HTPC builders flock to this!

    Value in reduced spoilage -- one core out of four not quite up to snuff? Disable it and bin the part as a Tri-Core CPU at rediculously attractive prices! In the end, less waste means lower costs to us all as the overall cost of all the products will be greatly reduced. Over time, less spoils per wafer will doubtlessly be achieved, but by then we should see spoiled and binned 8-core CPUs appearing as 6-core, 5-core, 7-core, maybe even 4-core! This is a tough thing for Intel to match untill they get their quads all on one die.

  • extraflamey22 - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    Are people just completely ignoring the fact that the listed Phenom prices are PER 1,000? There's no way you'll be able to buy a $280 2.3GHz Phenom at "launch" (if you can find a retailer who has them in stock).

    Also, the Q6600 is a completely fictional product, and can't be bought from Newegg retail for $279.00 USD. This is why people are pointing to the Phenom as the clear price/performance leader. *boggle*

    While I'm glad AMD fans can find some redemption in Phenom by pointing to the inevitable price cut, this is incredibly short-sighted. Simply put, AMD CANNOT AFFORD to play the margin-slashing game with Intel forever. Phenom needed to *destroy* the Q6600. That would have given AMD the ability to charge a performance premium, and start MAKING MONEY. High-end Phenoms would have been great chips to bridge the gap in performance between the ridiculously priced Extreme chips and the Q6600 (and be priced accordingly), but instead it's outperformed by chips over a year old, and has difficulty keeping up with the still amazing Athlon 64s (albeit in single-threaded apps, but still...)

    Kyle at was exactly right, AMD needed to launch a high-end 3GHz part, and bin down to 2.2GHz to fill out the processor family. They did not do this, and are in trouble.

    I was really hoping AMD could come out with something special, and gain some much needed market share.

    Right now it's clear Intel is holding back (whether to soak up profits or in fear of completely destroying AMD and bringing anti-trust/monopoly investigations down on their heads... or both... is dependant on how you spin it) and a revitalized AMD would have kicked Intel into high gear, bringing advances to the market and the end-consumer faster and lower-priced.

    I really hope AMD gets over it's yield issues FAST, and is bolstered by sales of it's Spider platform, but overall this is bad news for the industry. Competition pushes technology forward, and while Intel's tick-tock cycle (and frankly the necessity for Intel to compete against it's own previous-gen products, if nothing else) will keep moving us forward, no one doubts a stronger AMD would have pushed both companies to bigger and better things.
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    [quote] Also, the Q6600 is a completely fictional product, and can't be bought from Newegg retail for $279.00 USD. [/quote]

    not sure what you mean by that.">

    a product known as the Q6600 for $279.99 in stock. Guess they were off by 99 cents.
  • extraflamey22 - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    Sorry, I thought my sarcasm was pretty clear (hence, *boggle*), but apparently it's not transparent enough.

    I posted that because I kept reading posts over and over from people saying the Phenom has the best price/performance ratio. It clearly does not. I simply wanted to emphasize that based on the initial pricing from AMD, the Q6600 is a huge problem for the Phenom, as it's simply the much better buy.

    My apologies.
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, November 21, 2007 - link

    The rest of your post was sensible, so I was not sure if you were joking or not.

    Wasn't boggle a board game?
  • extraflamey22 - Thursday, November 22, 2007 - link

    As a matter of fact, it is a board game. I use it as short-hand for "that just boggles the mind...(i.e. doesn't make sense)", which may or may not be common usage, but hey, it's how I talk. :) Reply
  • lectrolyte - Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - link


    First time posting here, I've noticed that no one has made any comment about the power useage of the processors. The claim that the Intel processor is more efficient at idle is only telling half the story and is misleading.

    Intel has quiet clearly claimed the performance crown with the core 2 duo but anyone who has been following the direction of the industry over the last couple of years will notice that performance is not as much of an issue as it used to be. Even a three year old processor can quite happily perform most everyday tasks, qed performance is no longer king.

    Alot of effort is being placed into efficiency and performance per a watt. Evidence of this can be seen from VIA still being alive and well selling it's C7 processors, the growth of AMD in the datacentre and the growth of dual core chips.

    I wont say that the phenom is a stellar peformer it's not, but if you look at the improvements that have been made to it you will notice that most of them centre around power management and efficiency.

    back to my original point, comparing the power draw of only the processors at idle is incompentant at best and deliberately misleading at worst due to the fact that the memory controller is build onto the chip of the phenom. You really need to see the power draw of the system at full load compared to make any reasonable assumptions.

    Consider that quad cores are more likely to end up in a data centre than a home system in the near future and that for every 1w of energy dissipated by your computer you will be spending ~1.5w to keep it cool and then Phenom starts to become much more interesting, add the extra memory bandwidth and native quad cores and I think you will find the performance gaps start to close a little bit on sevrer oriented applications (obviously this statement is conjecture, i'd really like to see some comparrisions of server-type loads if anyone has them but i suspect the differences would be much smaller than shown on end user loads)


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