Phenom II Value

It has been quite a while coming, but AMD fans can once again put together a capable value priced and very competitive computer with screaming overclocking capabilities with Phenom II. There are two apparent CPU candidates for the Phenom II value system. The obvious choice might appear to be the 810 or 920, but the new 720BE has many charms at a lower price.  Reality also sets in when you see the Phenom II 940, which was introduced in January for $275, now selling at some etailers for as little as $170. For those reasons we chose the unlocked AM3 720BE for a DDR3 value system, and the unlocked AM2+ 940BE - at closeout pricing - for a DDR2 value system.

As discussed in many overclocking articles here, there are normally two types of overclockers. First are those who overclock for value, which are those that select cheaper parts rated at lower specs for their ability to overclock to much higher performance levels. The other group consists of overclockers trying to reach the highest overclock possible, who usually choose the highest priced and higher-performance parts to overclock even further. This last group should likely look to the 955BE in the Phenom II performance system on the next page. That system is built around the new 3.2GHz Phenom II 955BE, which distinguished itself as the best overclocker from AMD we have ever tested.

The choice of the $145 Phenom X3 720BE for the value DDR3 system pushes our perspective on other parts toward the value side of the overclocking equation. That means we have paired the 720 with a new DDR3 $135 motherboard instead of the very best $200 ASUS M4A79 Deluxe. It also means we matched the Full HD monitor with a cheaper video card that can deliver performance as good as you will likely get on a 1920x1080 monitor. It makes little sense to suggest a higher performing video card or CF or SLI graphics system if you can only see the better performance on a 30" monitor that is not part of this system. The same thinking went into the 940BE DDR2 system, which is built around the close-out priced 940BE.

Generally, parts were selected because they are a good value that can become an even better value should you decide to overclock. Below are both DDR2 and DDR3 Phenom II systems. Most components are the same, but the CPU, motherboard, and of course memory do differ between the two value builds.

Phenom II DDR3 Value PC
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Phenom II X3 720BE
(2.8GHz x3, 3x512KB L2, 6MB L3 Cache 95W)
Cooling Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V, 120mm Long Life Bearing CPU Cooler - Retail $40
Video Sapphire 100245HDMI Radeon HD 4850 512MB ($120 less $20 Rebate) $100
Motherboard ASUS M4A78T-E $140
Memory OCZ Extreme Edition 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3-1600 (PC3 12800) OCZ3X16004GK 7-7-7 ($83 less $30 Rebate) $53
Hard Drive Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000333AS 1TB $85
Optical Drive LG BD/HD DVD / 16x DVD+/- RW GGC-H20L - Retail $109
Audio On-Board Audio -
Case COOLER MASTER Centurion 534 RC-534-SKN2-GP Black/Silver Aluminum & Mesh Bezel ATX Mid Tower $50
Power Supply BFG Tech LS SERIES LS-550 550W Continuous@40C SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified ($20 Rebate) $60
Base System Total $776
Display Acer X2333Hbid Black 23" 5ms HDMI Full 1080P Widescreen LCD Monitor (1920x1080) $190
Speakers Logitech X-540 70W 5.1 Speaker System $79
Keyboard Logitech G11 USB Gaming Keyboard $59
Mouse Logitech MX518 8-Button/1 Wheel USB 1800dpi Laser Mouse $40
Operating System Microsoft Vista Home Premium OEM $99
Complete System Bottom Line $1243

With the careful selection of components, there is no real penalty in choosing DDR3 for your Phenom II OC system. If fact the choice of the cheaper 720BE CPU for the DDR3 offsets the slightly higher cost of DDR3 memory. As a result, the DDR3 build is about the same cost as the DDR2 value build. Of course, you also give up one CPU core and 200MHz stock clock speed.

Some may already have very good DDR2, and they may prefer a mature DDR2 board. Below are the component selections for a Phenom II DDR2 OC system. The closeout pricing of the DDR2-only 940BE also makes building a DDR2 Phenom II very tempting as long as those cheaper 940BE processors remain in the market.

Phenom II DDR2 Value PC
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Phenom II X4 940 BE
(3.0GHz x4, 4x512KB L2, 6MB L3 Cache)
Cooling Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V, 120mm Long Life Bearing CPU Cooler - Retail $40
Video Sapphire 100245HDMI Radeon HD 4850 512MB ($120 less $20 Rebate) $100
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-UD4H $129
Memory Corsair DDR2-1066 4GB Kit TWIN2X4096-8500C5 5-5-5-15 ($64 less $30 Rebate) $34
Hard Drive Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31000333AS 1TB $85
Optical Drive LG BD/HD DVD / 16x DVD+/- RW GGC-H20L - Retail $109
Audio On-Board Audio -
Case COOLER MASTER Centurion 534 RC-534-SKN2-GP Black/Silver Aluminum and Mesh Bezel ATX Mid Tower $50
Power Supply BFG Tech LS SERIES LS-550 550W Continuous@40C SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified ($20 Rebate) $60
Base System Total $777
Display Acer X2333Hbid Black 23" 5ms HDMI Full 1080P Widescreen LCD Monitor (1920x1080) $190
Speakers Logitech X-540 70W 5.1 Speaker System $79
Keyboard Logitech G11 USB Gaming Keyboard $59
Mouse Logitech MX518 8-Button/1 Wheel USB 1800dpi Laser Mouse $40
Operating System Microsoft Vista Home Premium OEM $99
Complete System Bottom Line $1244

The ASUS DDR3 motherboard is very cost effective, and the DDR3-1800 memory costs all but the same as the DDR2-1066 selected for the DDR2 value system. The ASUS M4A78T-E has proved to be a very capable overclocker with the latest BIOS. In the lab, 3.9GHz was easily reached with the Phenom II 720BE processor. That is as good as we have achieved with the best Phenom II DDR2 motherboards. You may squeeze a bit more from our top overclocking ASUS M4A79 Deluxe, but at a cost of $200 versus $140 for the ASUS M4A78T-E you have to ask whether the cost justifies the possibility of overclocking a bit beyond 3.9GHz.

As shown in the Phenom II X4 810 and X3 720 launch review, the new 720BE is something of a value builder's dream. For just $139 you get an unlocked multiplier, three cores each with 512KB of L2 cache, and the same 6MB L3 cache used in the X4 Phenom II processors. Rated speed is 2.8GHz, which basically makes this an unlocked 920 with a disabled core. In bench testing we easily reached 3.8GHz, about the same as the most expensive first generation Phenom II, and you will only miss that fourth core in a few applications that actually take advantage of parallel processing. On the whole the 720BE is a dream of a value CPU, and you will likely see even further improvement in performance capabilities as the latest AMD Phenom II cores migrate to the 720BE in the future..

We've paired the Phenom II 720BE with an AMD DDR3 motherboard that emerged as a fast and stable computing tool in our test labs. With the latest BIOS, the ASUS M4A78T-E is very stable at standard speeds and a prolific overclocker with good quality DDR3 memory. This is quite an accomplishment for a new technology motherboard that sells for just $135. The socket AM3 790GX M4A78T-E easily reached 3.9GHz in our testing with the Phenom II 720 and quality DDR3 memory.

An OCZ Extreme Edition 4GB high-speed (7-7-7) DDR3-1600 kit was chosen for the DDR3 Value system.  The fast 7-7-7 timings are even faster at DDR3-1333 and should provide great performance in the DDR3 build.  If you plan to seriously overclock you might wish to choose an even faster DDR3 memory for extended headroon, but the 1600 speed does provide all the overclocking flexibility the Phenom II 955BE needs.  This DDR3-1600 7-7-7 is a good value at the normal selling price of $83, but the current $30 rebate drops the net price to just $53.  

The DDR2 OC system is equipped with 4GB of Corsair DDR2-1066. This memory has fast 5-5-5 timings at DDR2-1066 and performed very well in overclocking tests. There is currently a $30 rebate on this memory that drops the price from $64 to $34.

The DDR2 version of the Phenom II value system combines the 940BE with the well-regarded Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-UD4H at $129. This Gigabyte is one of the best overclocking boards in this price range. The $200 ASUS M4A79 Deluxe is a slightly better overclocker but you will pay a good deal for the small increase in OC ability. Those who want the very best overclocker to combine with their bargain 940BE, however, will not be disappointed in the abilities of the ASUS M4A79 Deluxe.

While the stock AMD cooler is adequate for normal cooling and modestly overclocking a Phenom II, better cooling is needed to push the CPU to its limits. The Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V cooler did very well in the lab and it is a good match to the Phenom II 720BE or the 940BE at a price that won't break the bank. You also will not need to remove the motherboard to attach the Dark Knight since it uses a push clip to mount to the existing AM2/AM2+/AM3 CPU cage.

The Cooler Master Centurion 534 is a good value no matter how you look at it. It does come in different configurations, and the RC-534-SKN2-GP case is a good choice since it comes with three 120mm fans (front, side, and back) for cooling and installation requires no tools other than a screwdriver for mounting the motherboard. There are also plenty of drive bay options with five external 5.25" bays, one external 3.5", and four internal 3.5". Front USB/Firewire/Audio connectors are also featured. Builders report smooth edges and no sharp pieces to cut your hand during assembly. Even the expansion slots are screwless in this design. Our selection at $50 is black with a brushed aluminum and mesh front, but the case is also available in all black if you prefer.

The power supply for the Phenom II OC system is the winner of the recent 500W to 550W roundup. The BFG Tech LS-550 grabbed our Gold Editors' Choice in the roundup for its great balance of performance. The BFG delivered good performance in every aspect, with tight voltage regulation and ripple well within specifications. Efficiency was through the roof, with 86% efficiency at 20% load. It also generated the highest maximum efficiency of 88% on 230VAC and 86% on 120VAC. With a good selection of connectors and reasonable cable lengths, the LS-550 is a great PSU for a value-oriented overclocking system.

We have paired the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 512MB video card with both Phenom II Value systems. As pointed out in the Multi-GPU Update, the 4850 is one of the best values in resolutions up to 1920x1080. At the value price of just $100 after a $20 rebate the Sapphire 4850 is the best price we have even seen for a name brand 4850. It was hard to resist, particularly when you consider that Sapphire is the major AMD/ATI video card manufacturer. If you want more performance, add a second 4850 in CrossFire mode and you can even drive a 30" monitor very adequately for gaming. For a total investment of just $200 the 4850 CrossFire will provide performance for the price that nothing else can really touch. That is a very good match to the goals of a Phenom II value system.

The hard drive used in the Phenom II value systems is the Seagate Barracuda 1TB (1000GB) with true 7200RPM speed, 32MB cache, and 3-year warranty. The Seagate is an outstanding value in 1TB drives at just $85. Early 1.5TB and 1TB Seagate drives did have issues, but the latest firmware has been trouble-free. Still the early problems have forced Seagate to go for a lower price to attract market share, and $85 for a 1TB hard drive from a major manufacturer is a superb value.

The Logitech X-540 has been a perennial favorite of users as a reasonably priced but good performing powered 5.1 computer speaker system. It will certainly not challenge the performance of a separate Dolby amplifier powering audiophile speakers, but it will provide surprisingly good sound for the price.

The last major component to discuss is the display, and here the tilt was toward best value at 1080p Full HD (1920x1080) resolution with the Acer 23" LCD. The resolution is the same 1920x1080 chosen for the budget Phenom II system, but the screen is larger and easier on the eyes for just $10 more. The monitor should be considered a nominal 24" in the new trend toward accurately describing monitor sizes in specifications.

The last area to discuss is input devices, where we went with gamer value favorites in the Logitech G11 USB gaming keyboard and the MX518 8-button laser mouse. Both are very well regarded devices that fit well with the capabilities and concept of a Phenom II overclocking system. If gaming is not your goal you could easily move to the $16 Microsoft OEM keyboard and mouse used in the budget Phenom II build and reduce the complete system prices by $83. If you will use your Phenom II value system for graphics and photo editing but not gaming, you can also drop the G11/MX518 and select precision input devices that better fit your needs.

Phenom II Budget Phenom II Performance


View All Comments

  • ccd - Monday, May 18, 2009 - link

    I am building a system using the mobo and heatsink fan. This is not a good combo for overclocking. The reason is the the Xigmatek is so big, that it blocks the use of one of the yellow RAM slots that the Asus manual states are best for over clocking.

    Just a word of caution.
  • ccd - Monday, June 15, 2009 - link

    I built the system using the components I previously mentioned and you are absolutely correct: the Xigmatek is so big, it does extend over one of the yellow memory slots and this board recommends the yellow slots for overclocking. It might me possible to squeeze memory in the slot under the Xigmatek, but I would worry about it touching the Xigmatek and getting too hot.

    The other issue with this mobo is the location of the connections for the front of your case. The front case connectors for my Lian Li case are too short as the Asus connections are located at the furtheset possible spot from the connectors.

    Other than those two issues, I am happy with this build. The PC turned on and I had no problems once I realized that graphics cards now need to be directly connected to the PS.

    I'm thinking of adding a second graphics card and upgrading the PS.
  • ccd - Wednesday, May 13, 2009 - link

    I'd love to hear any comments from more experienced systems builders on the components I plan to use. This is my second build. The first build did not go well. The PC would not turn on and I had no idea where the problem lay. Then I had the extraordinarily bad luck of getting two bad mobos and compatibiity problems between the mobo that finally worked and my PVR card. It cost me $400 to have someone troubleshoot the PC to get it working.

    With the build, I want to use as many parts from the previous build as possible to save on costs and because I know these parts work. That means I am using my case, a Seasonic 400W PS, a graphics card and sound card. The new parts are:

    ASUS M4A79 Deluxe
    AMD Phenon II X4 940 BE 3.0GHz
    Xigmatek Dark Knight 51283V 120 MM
    Corsair 4GB (2x2GB) 240 Pin DDR2 SDRAM 1066 (PC@ 8500)
    WD Caviar Green WD6400AACS 7200

    The choice of boards is based on this guide and comments at Newegg. Seems like a board that has cause very few problems for the majority of people. Also Newegg has a bundle with the AMD chip for a $35 savings.

    The HDD choice is to make sure my 400PS can handle the new system

    Any thoughts?
  • bmuell - Wednesday, April 29, 2009 - link

    Does anyone know what Gigabyte's official response is to using dimm slots 3 & 4 instead of 1 & 2 (since reapers won't fit under the Xigmatek)? The manual recommends slots 1 & 2 for dual channel. I'm surprised Anandtech selected these parts (with or without the knowledge) given the compatibility issue... I have to decide whether or not to exchange my heatsink, my memory, or use slots 3 & 4. Reply
  • SHANE44 - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    Whats with all the AMD hate. From reading this article it sounds like AMD has a winner. I personally use intel cpu's and nvidia gpu's but I understand that AMD plays a vital role in both industries. Without AMD who's gonna keep intel and nvidia honest. AMD forces both companies to keep advancing technologically and keep competitive prices. Who knows maybe a few more advances from AMD in the cpu department and my next system might be an AMD. I personally hope the best for AMD in the future. Thanks to Anandtech for the great reviews. I find this to be the most informative sight for all current computer news. Reply
  • Hamlet2000 - Saturday, April 25, 2009 - link

    Does anyone know if the Xigmatek heatsink on the CPU will conflict with the heatsinks on the OCZ Reaper memory?

    I'm looking at putting together a system based off the performance specs and I'm concerned about spacing issues.
  • Summer - Saturday, April 25, 2009 - link

    Depends on how far your slots are from your CPU but I'm almost certain that the first dimm set (row 1 & 2) of most motherboards will be blocked by the Xigmatek heatsink if you plan to use OCZ reaper memory. I have two boards (Asrock AOD790/Gigabyte MA790XT) with s-1283v heatsinks and the OCZ Reaper memory kit will not clear on the dimm set closest to the CPU on either board. However, IMO the S-1283 line is one of the best and affordable air-cooler series out there especially if your case can handle the size.

  • Wesley Fink - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    I haven't had any issues with memory and the Xigmatek, as the fin assembly is raised up a bit on the heatpipes before it can potentially overhang the memory slots. However, I haven't really tried it with the Reaper memory, which was selected because of its fast timings (6-6-6) and effective heatpipe cooling. As you saw in the 955BE launch article, the Phenom II worked better with fast memory timings than it did with higher memory speeds in our OC tests.

    After your question I measured some Reaper samples here and the first slots may be a question mark with the Xigmatek. To be safe you could select:

    1 - Crucial Ballistix 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model BL2KIT25664BA1336 with 6-6-6 tings at $68

    2 - OCZ Platinum 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model OCZ3P13334GK with 7-7-7 tings at $60

    3 - OCZ Intel Extreme Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model OCZ3X16004GK at 7-7-7 timings at $53 after $30 rebate.

    These are all standard profile dimms and they snuggle underneath the Xigmatek cooler just fine. The important thing for the Phenom II memory controller is to shop for the tightest timings you can afford with speed of at least DDR1333. For Intel we would probably look for even faster speed, but higher speed does not help that much on Phenom II's memory controller.

  • Hamlet2000 - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    Great, thanks for the reply. It's great that you read the comments and respond. I was looking at OCZ Gold memory at 8-8-8-24 since the price was $44 after the rebate, but I'm reconsidering now . . .

    Thanks again.
  • The Sly Syl - Monday, April 27, 2009 - link

    I'm using the Xigmatek Dark Knight on my FoxConn A7DA-S motherboard with 4 sticks of ram. They all fit fine, Even the Reaper memory with the overly large cooler would fit into 3 of the slots, its only the slot closest to the CPU that might have clearance issues.

    The lower end of the fins are considerably higher than I'd imagine any regular sized stick of ram would ever have to worry about.

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