Introduction

As discussed in yesterday's AMD Phenom II 955 launch article, the new 3.2GHz 955 is now the king of the midrange. Intel Core i7 still owns the very top of the performance pyramid, but the 45nm Phenom II is now our CPU of choice for buyers that can't (or won't) move to Intel's LGA-1366. The Phenom II 955 beat the more expensive Intel Q9550 in application performance and in overclocking performance. Today at least the best processor choice for an upper entry to midrange PC is the Phenom II.

That could change with deep Intel price reductions on Core 2 Quad and Duo processors or possibly the coming introduction of Core i5 processors, but AMD's long catch-up strategy is finally starting to pay off in the latest 45nm Phenom II offerings. With the new 955 and 945, and with Phenom II now the CPU of choice where it competes, it is time to revisit Phenom II system components in an update to our last Phenom II System Buyers' Guide.

In January AMD launched their new quad-core Phenom II processors that were compatible with existing AM2+ motherboards and DDR2 memory. The new Phenom II processors were the first truly competitive CPUs since Intel's introduction of Core 2. The Phenom II 940 and 920, then priced at $275 and $235, performed better than the equivalently priced Intel Q9400 and Q8200. However, the first Phenom II processors support only DDR2 memory and can only be mounted on an AM2+ motherboard. A few weeks later AMD filled out the Phenom II line downward with five new models with integrated DDR3 and DDR2 support. These new AM3 processors could mount in socket AM3 and support DDR3 memory or mount in AM2+ and support DDR2 memory.

As is generally the case, Intel responded quickly with Core 2 price cuts, which we discussed in our Phenom II X4 810 and X3 720 article. AMD followed suit with price adjustments that placed the Phenom II processors at price points where they compete very well with similarly priced Intel Core 2 processors.

Yesterday AMD filled in the top of the Phenom II line. In just three months, Phenom II has gone from introduction to a new socket and expanded socket compatibility. It now provides a complete processor lineup covering the price range from $125 to $245, with stock processor speeds from 2.5GHz quad to 3.2GHz quad. Here's a quick rundown on the Phenom II parts, including the original Phenom 9950.

AMD Phenom Processors
Processor Clock Speed Un-Core Clock L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X4 955 BE 3.2GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $245
AMD Phenom II X4 945 3.0GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $225
AMD Phenom II X4 940 BE
(DDR2 Memory ONLY)
3.0GHz 1.8GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $225
AMD Phenom II X4 920
(DDR2 Memory ONLY)
2.8GHz 1.8GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $195
AMD Phenom II X4 910 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 6MB 95W OEM
AMD Phenom II X4 810 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 4MB 95W $175
AMD Phenom II X4 805 2.5GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 4MB 95W ?
AMD Phenom II X3 720 BE 2.8GHz 2.0GHz 1.5MB 6MB 95W $145
AMD Phenom II X3 710 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 1.5MB 6MB 95W $125
AMD Phenom 9950 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 2MB 140W $150

With the latest additions to the Phenom II line, the processors are now achieving what AMD hoped for with their introduction. In testing the new 45nm CPUs are at the worst competitive with the latest Intel Core 2 Quad (Penryn) processors. However, in most cases the Phenom II processors are the top performer at each price point, making the Phenom II the current midrange processor of choice. They are also the first AMD processors in over two years that can also compete with Intel processors in overclocking. In our own tests we were able to overclock to the 3.8GHz range at stock voltage with some Phenom II samples, and we reached 4.2GHz with voltage increases and beefed up cooling. The new Phenom II does exactly what AMD needs it to do to compete and win through the midrange.


The first Phenom II processors, the 940 and 920, feature a DDR2 only controller and an un-core bus speed of 1.8GHz. These two models will be phased out over time. The rest of the Phenom II line is designed for socket AM3 or AM2+ and feature a dual mode DDR3/DDR2 memory controller. Yesterday's 955BE and 945 include an updated core and new stepping, and the new core will eventually find its way into the entire Phenom II line. The new 955/945 are the best overclockers ever from AMD and they reflect a more mature 45nm core that will likely benefit other Phenom II models as well.

Keep in mind that Intel's latest Core i7 is still as much as 30% faster in some applications than the Core2/Phenom II processors, so AMD did not reclaim the ultimate performance crown. However, Core i7 is at present a high-end CPU, with prices starting at $300 and extending to over $1000 just for the CPU. If you're not concerned with overclocking, one alternative for a complete Core i7 system is to just pick up something like the Dell studio XPS. Or if you prefer a bit more flexibility, you might want to look at our last Buyers' Guide. As you approach the upper range of Phenom II performance, we would certainly suggest looking at Core i7, but for now let's return to the midrange.

With AMD now the best performer through the midrange of CPU space, it is time to take a closer look at putting together systems with the latest Phenom II processors. With a broad CPU price range of around $120 to around $245 there are quite a few choices in processors for a Phenom II system. This Phenom II Buyers' Guide looks at three different builds that you might be considering. For builders who want a Phenom II system for as little money as possible we put together a Phenom II budget system. The goal is simple: build a competent and balanced Phenom II system for as little money as possible.

Another typical buyer is attracted to the Phenom II because they want the best bang-for-the-buck. For these buyers we have put together two value systems, one based on the socket AM3 DDR3 standard and another based on the AM2+ DDR2 platform. Value for some means bringing over as many of their current components as possible, and that often means reusing DDR2 memory. With two options buyers can mix and match what they have, go for a new DDR2 720BE system overclocked to the hilt, or go somewhere in between.

Finally, there is the full-blown performance Phenom II system. We hesitate to call this a high-end system, since the most expensive Phenom II is just $245. This is an upper midrange CPU price. Performance, however, is the best you will find with any CPU south of the Intel Core i7. Going along with the CPU, our system components for the performance system are more upper midrange than high-end. That means we will not be pairing the Phenom II with a $1200 30" LCD monitor for 2560x1600 gaming. However, the CPU power is there if you aspire for more. You could definitely use a high-end graphics card and 30" monitor on a Phenom II 955 or 945 or 940 if you choose, and you would achieve superb performance.

Phenom II Budget
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  • 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.
    Reply
  • Hamlet2000 - Monday, April 27, 2009 - link

    I ordered the OCZ Platinum 4GB just in case - the last thing I want to deal with is memory that doesn't play nice with my heatsink when I'd rather just enjoy my new build.

    Here's what I purchased:

    AMD Phenom II X4 955 $245
    GIGABYTE GA-MA790XT-UD4P $125 after rebate
    -$20 New Egg combo(CPU/mobo)
    OCZ Platinum 2x2GB DDR3 1333 7-7-7-20 $59
    Western Digital Caviar Black 640MB $75
    XIGMATEK Dark Knight $39

    At the end of the day I'll pay $530 with shipping. I'll use my old case, graphics card, sound card, monitor, etc. Not bad for a top of the line AMD CPU, AM3 mobo with DDR3 memory. And since most of the time the computer is used for gaming, AMD Phenom is a no brainer for price/performance.

    Below is my current build so as you can see it has been a few years - looking forward to today's modern speed.

    Now if only Windows 7 was available today!
    Reply
  • Hamlet2000 - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    Oops I didn't mention the board I was looking at, which is the Gigabyte 790XT, which is what was this site recommended. So if the CPU cooler is in the way of the memory perhaps anandtech needs a new recommended memory module (I'm assuming without looking it up that the Gigabyte 790XT prefers the memory in slots closest to the CPU). Reply
  • tshen83 - Saturday, April 25, 2009 - link

    Two of the top three articles are pumping the Phenom IIs as if anyone with a BRAIN would buy one.

    Seriously? You are recommending the Phenom IIs with "In WIN" Power supplies and Seagate hard drives?

    Why not rename Anandtech.com to PayAnandToAdvertiseJunkTech.com?

    For a value system, I don't see anything that will beat either the Xeon W3520(i7 920) for single socket system or Dual Xeon E5504s on Asus Z8NA-D6C. Ditch the seagate and get the Western Digital Caviar Black, and ditch the "inwin" for an antec or PC power and cooling 750W. Ditch the freaking Radeon for a Geforce GTX275.
    Reply
  • AlexWade - Saturday, April 25, 2009 - link

    Question: How long have you been on Intel's payroll? Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Saturday, April 25, 2009 - link

    The two articles also clearly said you should buy an Intel Core i7 if you have $290 or more to spend on a CPU. If you want to spend less on a rig then the articles recommend you buy a Phenom II.

    We also chose the WD 1TB for the Performance rig with a discussion of the issues with the early Seagate and the advice to choose the WD at $105 or the Seagate at $85. As for the nVidia 275 it is $30 more than the 4890. We also like to use AMD GPUs with AMD chipsets and processors if it makes sense - all else being equal.

    Did anyone pay you to post your accusations here? We hear that one of your recommended brands has paid staff whose primary job is to make accusatory comments that question the integrity of websites that recommend anything other than their brand. Since you always have something accusatory and blatantly nasty to say about every review lately we have to wonder. Our integrity is beyond reproach - can you say the same?
    Reply
  • C'DaleRider - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    I guess since I am graced with having a MicroCenter close enough to make shopping there a viable option, I don't have to put up with the Newegg price gouge on Core i7 920 cpus and can buy them for $230, and even get the luxury of having a B&M store to do instant and easy returns for items, instead of the typical 2 week ship-return-reship boogie you have to play with Newegg.

    Given that a Core i7 930 is $230, which undercuts the Phenom II 955, I'd think that in this particular instance the Core i7 becomes the better value and buy.....esp. if buying either the Phenom II or Core i7 would require buying new mb and memory. I'd honestly rather invest the $$ in my wallet in an architecture that has a distinct performance advantage and a longer longevity outlook with the Socket 1366.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    Best price I can find on a Core i7 920 is http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?name=I7-920&ref...">$266 at eWiz, which is quite a bit more than $230. Not sure how MicroCenter is supposed to be so great... their online site doesn't even list Core i7 CPUs that I can see. Perhaps the pricing is for employees only? Reply
  • tshen83 - Saturday, April 25, 2009 - link

    Hey, I can guarantee you that intel doesn't pay me to spread fud. Their CPUs deserve to be praised for technical leadership. I know my comments are usually negative, but ask yourself this question: did you guys deserve it? Anandtech isn't the same when anandtech got started , everyone knows it. Pumping inferior technology makes you look stupid that is all. Anyone recommending AMD platform right now over the nehalems has to really look deep into their heart and see if their intentions are honorable. Europeans are overly AMD biased because of Dresden fab.

    Right now AMD's business practice is dishonorable at best. Look at the way they flush their broken CPUs down consumers' throats. No, the phenom 2 955 is not that impressive: their uncore imc clockspeed is still castrated compared to their opteron line, and Istanbul will only exacerbate the problem.

    Why don't you do some real reviews, like how much ass the xeon e5504 e5520 and l5520 kicks over anything amd has on a performance per watt per dollar metric? Even in the consumer space, phenom 955 just barely caught up with 95w q8200 and it is only 100 dollars at microcenter.
    Reply
  • Proteusza - Monday, April 27, 2009 - link

    So I go to this page http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...

    And I look at the graph. 3.2 Ghz Core i7 = 87 FPS. 3.2GHz Phenom II = 86.4

    So, tell me why I would spend a few hundred dollars more to get 0.6FPS increase? Oh, I know why, its because you are paid by Intel to recommend them, to cause trouble. But one problem though - since you post in such an offensive and obviously trolling manner, your posts generally do the opposite of what you intend. People look at them and think, "Man whatever that guy is recommending, I'm having NONE of it, look how angry he is"

    Besides, if Anandtech really were shills, who has more money - AMD or Intel? Who could afford to pay Anandtech to shill more?

    Yeah, if you gave me another $500 I'd consider a Core i7. Until you do that, I'll put my money where it makes sense - right now thats AMD, but if Intel drops prices on their C2Q's they would get my vote. I really dont care about brand names, I care about performance and price. That you get so offended at the idea of a Phenom 2 recommendation is laughable - Phenom 1 I agree was a piece of crap but Phenom 2 is leaps and bounds better.

    So crawl back under the bridge little troll.
    Reply

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