facebook rss twitter

Review: AMD Phenom II: striking back with a vengeance?

by Tarinder Sandhu on 8 January 2009, 05:00 3.35

Tags: Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition, Phenom II X4 920, AMD (NYSE:AMD), PC

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qaqlv

Add to My Vault: x

The lament of 2008

The ill-fated Phenom X4

Being brutally honest, as is our wont, the original Phenom quad-core processors from AMD were a letdown for a number of reasons. Released in November 2007, around a year after Intel delivered its quad-core CPUs, the original Phenoms, launched on a 65nm process, were hamstrung by comparatively low clock-speeds. Further unnecessary burden was imposed by the now-famous TLB issue - overblown in our opinion - to the extent where a new revision of silicon was needed to iron out this and other minor faults.

The new B3-stepping Phenoms arrived on the scene in April 2008, followed soon after by tri-core models, but such was Intel's aggressive pricing on low-end, quad-core chips and AMD's inability to economically yield past 2.6GHz, that Phenom (quad-core) became, effectively, a mid-budget CPU, costing <£150.

Since then, however, Intel's introduced a number of new 45nm quad-core chips, including class-leading Core i7, and AMD's strategy, in the face of no new silicon of its own, has been to steadily cut prices every few months. AMD provides value because it has to. It cannot charge £300 for a desktop CPU because Phenom X4 doesn't have the necessary performance cojones to back up such a price.

We like cheap chips, and AMD certainly provides those in abundance, but, sensibly, to charge more than the £135 etail price for the Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition, AMD has needed to inject the Phenom architecture with a healthy dose of performance, thereby challenging mid-range Core 2 Quads and, perhaps, the Core i7.

And it's not just about bragging rights with respect to pure speed, either. Faster processors open the door towards mid-range parts of the future, showing where a company's bulk revenue will be derived from: today's performance leaders are tomorrow's mid-range.

Deneb shining brightly

A couple of years back, looking at how potent Intel's Core (2) architecture was and destined to be, AMD could have chosen to invest/bring forward a new CPU design that would have seriously challenged today's Core i7. It's easy for me to write that, but the technical and economic difficulties in bringing a grounds-up design to market would have been extraordinary.

AMD chose the sensible path of continuing with the guts of Athlon and adding refinements along the way. That's how Phenom was born. Now, the evolution takes another turn with the introduction of a 45nm manufacturing process for desktop parts, along with core refinements that benefit from a healthy dollop of increased L3 cache. Essentially, this is what AMD's Phenom II quad-core processors are.

Code-named Deneb, Phenom II processors, launched at clock-speeds of 2.8GHz and 3.0GHz, are faster-clocked, quad-core CPUs that also add in an extra 4MB of L3 cache and minor instructions-per-clock-cycle improvements.

I'd urge you to read our original Phenom review to understand what makes it tick. Here we'll further explain the differences between the two Phenom ranges.