Final Words

When AMD launched the Phenom II X4 940 and 920 I called it a True Return to Competition. With the rest of the lineup now more fleshed out, it's truly a return to competition. At every price point that AMD targets, it has produced a CPU competitive to Intel's offerings.

These new CPUs from AMD are good overclockers, good performers and they don't have any real drawbacks unlike their predecessors. The most interesting CPU is the Phenom II X3 720; at $145 its only Intel competitors are the Core 2 Duo E7500 and the Core 2 Duo E8400, both of which are dual-core CPUs. The extra core in the 720 can provide a clear advantage in well threaded workloads, not to mention that it's got 1.5MB of L2 cache and 6MB of L3 cache at its disposal. In applications where the third core isn't very useful then the 720 loses its performance advantage, which I suspect will be the majority of mainstream workloads.

The DDR3 question is easily answered: wait. While DDR2 isn't an option for Core i7, on all other platforms it just makes sense simply because of the high cost of DDR3 right now. By the end of the year we won't be having this debate as DDR2/DDR3 will be at the same price, but if you're building today don't even bother looking at DDR3 unless you're building Core i7. The performance benefits aren't worth it for Phenom II, so while AM3 sounds cool, it's not necessary today. Thankfully AM3 CPUs will work in AM2+ motherboards, so you aren't forced into a relationship with DDR3 if you're not ready.

On the CPU side, what we end up with is a buyer's market with tons of choices. At the high end, if you can manage, the Core i7 is simply in a league of its own. Honestly, if I were spending close to $300 on a CPU today I'd do my best to make up for the differences in platform costs and go with an i7 over any Core 2 or Phenom II alternative.

At the low $200 price point you have the Phenom II X4 940 vs. the Core 2 Quad Q9400 once again. The 940 wins in the vast majority of cases and gets the nod at $225. The Phenom II X4 920 isn't as clear cut of a winner, as it competes with the Q8300 or the Q9400 depending on whether you want to spend slightly less or slightly more. Against the Q9400 it loses, against the Q8300 it should be a closer call. At $195 I'd call the decision torn, but I'd lean towards Intel. The same is true about the Phenom II X4 810, it actually does a lot better than I expected it would given the reduction in cache size and at $175 it is competitive with the Q8200. The strongest showing in today's introduction seems to be the Phenom II X3 720. If you do any amount of offline 3D rendering work or use any other heavily threaded apps, you'll appreciate the third core, although in most other applications the E7500/E8400 are competitive despite only being dual-core parts.

Long term this strategy can't work for AMD. Intel can make 3 E7500s in the space that AMD makes a single Phenom II X3 720; the pricing pressure is great for the consumer, but again, I'm not sure how great it is for AMD in the long run.

Other than the clear cut i7 recommendation at the high end, thanks to aggressive price cuts and competitive CPUs, you can actually have your pick of which side you want to go with here. I'd say what it really boils down to is who can deliver the best retail pricing on CPUs and motherboards. Overclockers will probably prefer the Intel route as both Phenom II and Core 2 can overclock to similar levels, but Core 2 is faster at the same clock speed. Intel does have more room to drive prices down if it should so desire and perhaps it will, although I do worry about what will happen to AMD's Phenom II strategy when Core i5 arrives later this year. While Phenom II is competitive with Core 2, remember that it's an old architecture now. Turn to the Core i7 results for where AMD will need to start looking come this fall...

Overclocking, X3 720 sizzles...
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  • thepiratebay - Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - link

    Intel Core i7 920 Nehalem 2.66GHz not 2.8 you put def procer in test and if overclockd you write oc...
    I am sure that intel is better but no so way better
    and in my opinion in the last 2 years you fav intel and nvidia more for what i am sure u have good reasons.Why i think so becas... you point just the bad sides of amd and the good of the other side on price preformance cpu mainbord you name it the diff between amd intel is tiny or amd is better.And another thing i live and work in germany and from 1000 pepole maybe 1 has core i7 pepole dont have money for maybe litle better cpu wich by the way has no software or appp maybe 5 or 10 and you compare that with ddr 2 platform from amd come on now
    Reply
  • thepiratebay - Wednesday, February 25, 2009 - link

    Do some math with me:

    * 790FX/GX motherboard 125 USD
    * Phenom II X3 720 BE 145 USD
    * 2x2GB DDR2 800 MHz 50 USD
    * Radeon HD 4850 150 USD
    * Power supply 550 Watt 55 USD
    * Chassis 50 USD
    * 500 GB HDD 55 USD

    Grand total: 630,- USD
    Reply
  • swaaye - Thursday, February 12, 2009 - link

    Phenom II does not fix XP's performance problems with Phenom's CnQ, btw. Huge performance loss. Saw it first hand. Reply
  • goinginstyle - Friday, February 13, 2009 - link

    It is fixed on Vista and Windows 7 though... also, you need to load the new CnQ driver in XP, if you do, it works there also. Reply
  • swaaye - Saturday, February 14, 2009 - link

    The "new" XP driver appears to be from 2007. Reply
  • otheos - Thursday, February 12, 2009 - link

    I use a 690G based gigabyte motherboard. Gigabyte just posted new BIOS to support these AM3 CPUs (along with AM2 and AM2+) and have been wondering what would be the performance hit from using an older motherboard with slower HT speed?

    A nice review would compare the same AM3 (plus some AM2+) Phenoms on AM2, AM2+ and AM3 (wiht DDR3 Ram). This way people who only want to upgrade their CPU would know what to expect.

    After all that's what AMD have in mind for their backward compatibility of these chips.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • swaaye - Thursday, February 12, 2009 - link

    HT is what connects the processor to the rest of the system. High HT speed seems to be most important for multiprocessor servers and systems that use an IGP. The RAM is directly connected to the CPU, so no bottleneck there. So I doubt you'll see any tangible performance loss.
    Reply
  • corsa - Thursday, February 12, 2009 - link

    The clear cut recommendation is Phenom ..becuase its smoother :) Reply
  • Mr Roboto - Wednesday, February 11, 2009 - link

    Unreal. I mean look at where the now ancient Q6600 still ranks compared to AMD's latest and greatest. *sigh*

    I don't want an Intel monopoly. I don't want the only choices to be Intel and Microsoft. That's not a world I wanna live in! *Loads pistol*
    Reply
  • loimlo - Wednesday, February 11, 2009 - link

    Thanks for such an informative review!

    Though 790FX/790GX is very good, I think 780G with SB700 would be a better combination for X3 720/710 considering its lower price. I've to admit I may take this upgrade path. Anyway, thanks for your hard work.
    Reply

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