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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  • tshen83 - Monday, April 27, 2009 - link

    Quoting a GPU bound FPS benchmark to try to fudge CPU equivalence shows how stupid you really are. Of course the FPS would be close since you are using the same video card. This was my original complaint for the "phenom is a great gaming platform" bs.

    Please for your own benefit, stop calling me a troll, it makes you look stupid. But then again people already know that.

    Right now the enterprise line cpus from both intel and amd are better than their consumer counterparts. For the same price, you get a far better cpu. So get a Xeon or Opteron instead of Phenom junk. I am not joking. Xeon w3520 is d0 stepping and easily does 4.0ghz on air.
    Reply
  • Proteusza - Tuesday, April 28, 2009 - link

    Ha ha, since even the writer of the article questioned your integrity, I think its fair to say you are the greater troll than I.

    So wait... you are saying the benchmark doesnt count because its GPU bound, but you also say Phenom II is not a great gaming platform? Seems to me, that since the benchmark in question is of a GAME, that it kinda matters for determining how good it would be for gaming. And, as I said, you would be paying a few hundred dollars extra for 0.6FPS more. Now why would you do that? Nehalem may well overclock slightly better, but you said so yourself, its GPU bound, if the Phenom II gets to 3.8GHz and the Nehalem gets to 4.0GHz, its not gonna matter much.

    Xeon and Opteron are enterprise CPUs you dolt, they require registered memory and special motherboards which are a lot more expensive. And the CPUs themselves are more expensive. Not a good gaming platform.

    But really, what all of this shows is how pathetic you are, since even if AMD did release a CPU which beat Intel in every single way (and it has in the past, remember Athlon 64 vs Pentium D), you wouldnt buy it because you LOVE Intel. So I'm sure reading guides like this make you froth at the mouth, the idea that peope are buying AMD CPUs and not regretting it, but you know, thats your own fault.
    Reply
  • tshen83 - Tuesday, April 28, 2009 - link

    "Ha ha, since even the writer of the article questioned your integrity, I think its fair to say you are the greater troll than I."

    Only idiots let other people's opinions wash over your own thinking. Just because Jarred called me a troll doesn't mean he is right.

    "So wait... you are saying the benchmark doesnt count because its GPU bound, but you also say Phenom II is not a great gaming platform? Seems to me, that since the benchmark in question is of a GAME, that it kinda matters for determining how good it would be for gaming. And, as I said, you would be paying a few hundred dollars extra for 0.6FPS more. Now why would you do that? Nehalem may well overclock slightly better, but you said so yourself, its GPU bound, if the Phenom II gets to 3.8GHz and the Nehalem gets to 4.0GHz, its not gonna matter much. "

    Games are always GPU bound, and not well threaded enough. It would take a 7Ghz Phenom II to be comparable to i7 @4.0Ghz. Just because you can't tell a difference between two CPUs in some stupid games doesn't mean the two cpus are the same.

    "Xeon and Opteron are enterprise CPUs you dolt, they require registered memory and special motherboards which are a lot more expensive. And the CPUs themselves are more expensive. Not a good gaming platform. "

    Smart consumers are getting the enterprise features(IOAT, less power consumption, higher Tcase tolerance, more intel test validations) for free or cheaper even. There is not a single consumer CPU worth buying right now IMHO.

    1. Nehalems don't need registered memory, only 2S Opterons do.(So get your facts straight before you badmouth me) 1S Opterons can use unbuffered DDR2 ECC ram also.

    2.CPUs are often cheaper if you know which ones to buy: hint W3520 and E5504 and possibly E5520s. Those "server" CPUs are the best gaming platform money can buy right now. Only idiots would buy Phenoms because they think the naming must imply that the CPU is "Phenomenal" right? Did you know that all the good AMD CPUs ended up being Shanghai Opterons with synchronized integrated memory controller that scales linearly with CPU clock speed while consuming far less power? Phenoms are cheap because they are junk. Enterprise people won't buy Phenoms to power their workstations and servers, so the Dubai suckers ended up paying Anandtech to shove the Phenoms down idiots' throats, you know, people like you.

    3. Dual Socket Nehalem boards can be found for about 230 now. Compared to $170 PhenomII class motherboards, it is not even close.

    "But really, what all of this shows is how pathetic you are, since even if AMD did release a CPU which beat Intel in every single way (and it has in the past, remember Athlon 64 vs Pentium D), you wouldnt buy it because you LOVE Intel. So I'm sure reading guides like this make you froth at the mouth, the idea that peope are buying AMD CPUs and not regretting it, but you know, thats your own fault. "

    Today's Intel isn't the Intel from PentiumD days. I had over 7 Athlon XP CPUs in my room during the PentiumD days, so please don't assume anything. I don't give a crap about Intel, and often critisize Intel's overpriced SSDs. Nehalems are hands down the best CPU since the Pentium Pros.

    Last point: during an argument, don't start your offense or defense with the word "if", especially if the "if" is about "AMD release a CPU which beat Intel in every single way" It makes your whole statement false. Discreet Math 101.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, April 25, 2009 - link

    Not everyone needs even quad-core, let along quad-core plus Hyper-Threading. Spending $150+ to move from our performance (top-end) AMD Phenom II to a faster Core i7 920 is fine if you plan to do 3D rendering or video encoding, but most people won't notice the difference. We mentioned several times that i7 is the fastest current platform, but it's also the most expensive current platform.

    What is "inferior" about AMD Phenom II? Have you even used the platform, or are you looking at a few benchmarks and concluding it's "superior"? Or maybe that IN WIN PSU is "inferior"... tell me, who manufactures the IN WIN PSU? Most likely Enhance or Seasonic, given the look, and both are very good companies. IN WIN has been around a while, and that PSU launched at a price of over $200, so it's almost certainly a decent build, and an efficiency rating of over 80% gives you everything you need.

    Your "dishonest" business claims are... well, I won't even bother responding to that. Basically, I'm with Wes: there's a lot of FUD being spread, with little to back it up. Who cares about Xeon processors when we're reviewing a consumer CPU? And on the server side, we've pretty clearly shown that AMD is hurting.
    Reply
  • C'DaleRider - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    [quote]...tell me, who manufactures the IN WIN PSU? Most likely Enhance or Seasonic, given the look, and both are very good companies.[/quote]


    The proper answer is it a CWT PUC design, as attested to by JonnyGuru's test of the InWin Commander back in Jan. of this year.

    Decent designed power supply, but has the usual CWT flaws...3.3V rail falls apart under high load, ripple/noise that increases to almost ATX spec limits under rated load, etc.

    Not a bad supply but certainly not up to the standards of a good current designed Seasonic or Antec/Delta or Enermax build.
    Reply
  • Summer - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    I would say that I'm an average consumer who uses the computer for web surfing, word processing, gaming, photoshopping and family video editing/encoding. From my experience, my 720x4 is already overkill compared to my dual core. I can't imagine the average user needing more than 4 cores for anything basic around the house. Even if the computer is for gaming, wouldn't the extra money be better used for a videocard? Reply
  • marraco - Friday, April 24, 2009 - link

    I would like to see the gaming performance of the Phenom II 955BE + DDR2 + Radeon 4890 against the SAME price spent in i7.
    surely you need to downgrade video to stay on budget, so:

    What is better: Phenom2 + 4890, or I7 + same budget video?

    I bet on AMD!
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Saturday, April 25, 2009 - link

    Obviously since in the real world game settings the video card determines the performance except in a very few games. Better video card = better gaming hasn't changed. Reply
  • DanStp1 - Friday, April 24, 2009 - link

    I had an AM2 MB a couple of years ago, and I could not use all 4 memory slots with a big CPU cooler, like the ones in this article.

    Have the newer AM2 MB's been redesigned so that tall coolers clear all 4 memory slots?

    If you have 4 slots but can not use them it limits the platform.

    Thanks:)
    Reply
  • icingdeath88 - Saturday, April 25, 2009 - link

    This one is high enough off the motherboard that it clears the ram. By quite a bit too. It's more to do with the cooler design than the motherboard design, though. I would imagine that it might still have problems with ram with those big heatsinks or heatpipes on them. Reply

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