Final Words

Overall, the conclusion here isn't too much different from the Phenom re-launch and the X3 reviews: AMD's CPU division is finally competitive again. The return to competition isn't because of an increase in performance or architectural changes, it's simply through very aggressive pricing.

The Phenom X4 9950 BE and 9850 BE are reasonably competitive with the Q9300 and Q6600, although we would still opt for the Intel solutions thanks to lower power consumption and significantly better overclocking potential.  Gaming performance continues to be a strength of Intel's as well.

The Phenom X4 9550 is the sweet spot of AMD's product line and it does do well against Intel's dual-core E8400, as do the X3 8650/8450 against Intel's E7200. As we've shown in the past however, take overclocking or power consumption into consideration and Intel is the clear choice. Unlike AMD's GPU strategy however, AMD does not have a higher end CPU strategy; get beyond the Q9300 and AMD no longer has an answer to Intel's quad-core lineup.

Now it's time to talk about the new energy-efficient quad core chips. While AMD likes to talk about the 9350e and 9150e as both being things that Intel doesn't have (65W quad-core), the two just aren't worth it. Based on the price cuts, AMD's Phenom X4 9350e makes absolutely no sense. You can get nearly the same system power consumption using an underclocked, undervolted Phenom X4 9550 and save $20. The same goes for the 9150e, you can achieve the same thing using a 9550 and the two cost the same amount. The new "e" processors appear to be nothing more than a way of rebadging AMD's leftovers, the 9350e and 9150e just aren't worth the premium.

It's also worth addressing the issues we've encountered with motherboards in the testing for this article. With AMD pushing TDPs of over 100W on many of its Phenom processors, we definitely need better quality components on even mainstream motherboards. As we saw in our testing, even without overclocking the 9850BE caused us some problems on our 780G test platform.

Then there's the business angle.  It's quite possible that a user would want to put a very high end CPU in a motherboard with integrated graphics, if they have no desire to play 3D games.  The problems we've encountered with both AMD and NVIDIA based IGP Socket-AM2+ motherboards have shown us that such a combination isn't always reliable.  The problem gets worse when you realize that many of these motherboards are certified for use with 125W TDP chips, although they are unable to guarantee 100% reliability with them.

Even enabling support for the 140W 9950BE gave us some problems on our 790FX test platform, although not nearly as much as getting a 125W chip to work on our 780G board.

Furthermore it's very tough to say what will come of the Cool'n'Quiet issues we've outlined here today. Even as I write these lines, Derek is sitting next to me and encountering similarly erratic Phenom performance with CnQ. We will continue to work with AMD on figuring out what's going on with CnQ, but until then it's tough to draw any real conclusions.

In the end, overclocking and CnQ issues aside, AMD's latest price cuts do ensure that the Phenom is a viable second choice alternative to Intel's Core 2 Duo and Quad lines. Unfortunately unlike AMD's successes on the graphics side, it's not enough to dethrone the king. We want a Radeon HD 4800 from the CPU division, but instead we've gotten something more along the lines of a 3800. It's good, but not good enough.

Power Consumption
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  • Sylvanas - Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - link

    Wheres the 9950BE overclocking results? It is an unlocked CPU so what about Overclocking the NB? What performance difference does that bring? I doubt people that buy IGP's are going to overclocking much anyway since they are usually silent HTPC rigs... Reply
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - link

    The 9950BE overclocking results are coming in a different article. Unfortunately, our 790FX boards (they have been beat on for six months) were not exactly up to speed and we thought it would be better to not show anything instead of a 2.8GHz clock that obviously is not representative of the processor at this point.

    Also, most of our previous results were run on the 780G, a chipset that when tuned correctly and on a good board will outclock the 790FX with a discreet graphics card by the way. Jetway just released a fairly comprehensive BIOS for their new 780G we ended up using after the others started failing. We just received BIOS updates for the 780a boards and have a new 790FX/SB750 arriving shortly for a CF/SLI update on AMD (gaming is not that bad by the way on the Phenom for the mid-range market).

    Increasing the NB core (IMC) clock (in Phenom it runs async from the Core Speed unlike Athlon which is Sync) drops latencies (especially L3) and increases memory performance/throughput, which in turn improves system performance. The Phenom starts to come to life when you hit a 2.6GHz core speed with a NB core clock at 2200MHz+. Depending on the application and CPU, increasing NB core speeds (getting up to 2200MHz+) can result in performance differences from 3%~12% in most cases.

    Almost as important is increasing HT speed for further optimizing the pipeline links (CPU/Memory/PCIe,etc). Our 9950BE follow up will have an overclocking guide along with optimization details.
    Reply
  • Sylvanas - Wednesday, July 2, 2008 - link

    Excellent, thanks for the info Gary- I look forward to the follow up 9950BE overclocking article. If there is some info on the SB750 aswell that's even better :) Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - link

    AMD post X2 = ROFLMAO

    The C&Q thing is probably another respin waiting to happen. What a bunch of boobs.
    Reply
  • acejj26 - Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - link

    what's a seccond?
    why didn't you include the 9950 in the first page of benchmarks?
    is the 9960 a new processor from AMD?

    i've come to expect these errors from other staff writers, but not you Anand.
    Reply
  • skiboysteve - Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - link

    why are you using 780G to overclock and check stability on the same article you say how someone else wrote an article about how that is a bad idea because of power...

    you even say at the bottom of your overclocking page, a mere footnote, that you got higher clocks on a different platform
    Reply
  • js01 - Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - link

    I think they scale much better then that hothardware got the 9950be to 3.1ghz barely even trying and the 9350e to 2.7ghz.
    http://www.hothardware.com/Articles/AMD_Phenom_X4_...">http://www.hothardware.com/Articles/AMD...nom_X4_9...
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - link

    It depends on the board and CPU actually. We have a retail 9850BE that will do 3.3, but three others struggle to make it to 2.8. Until we see some consistency in the retail parts, we would rather play it safe with the comments. A separate overclocking article is on its way though with the new lineup. :) Reply
  • woofermazing - Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - link

    Odd that you guys couldn't get any OC out of the 9950. Results from other sites have been pretty impressive using the stock cooler. 3.6ghz is the highest of seen so far. Reply
  • Clauzii - Wednesday, July 2, 2008 - link

    I second that!

    PS: And why does the comment page keep looking like pre-95 internet :O (I'm on FF3)
    Reply

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