AMD's Phenom X4 9950, 9350e and 9150e: Lower Prices, Voltage Tricks and Strange Behaviorby Anand Lal Shimpi & Gary Key on July 1, 2008 12:00 AM EST
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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.