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Review: AMD brings full force of Phenom II to bear with AM3 chips

by Tarinder Sandhu on 9 February 2009, 05:00 3.15

Tags: Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition, Phenom II X4 920, Phenom II X4 810, AMD (NYSE:AMD), PC

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qaqwz

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Final thoughts

AMD's five new Phenom II chips, announced today and shipping in a couple of weeks time, bring a couple of new features to the stable. Firstly, the company introduces a couple of triple-core CPUs on the new 45nm process, X3 720 Black Edition and X3 710, and both provide decent frequency boosts over the older 8-series range. What's more, they overclock well and sensibly fill the performance void that exists between dual-core Athlon X2 7750 BE and a raft of quad-core chips.

Then there are three new quad-core chips, but only one will see packaged in retail form, the X4 810, with the others destined for system builders. AMD then adds a second feature to the quintet, which is the provision of a DDR2/DDR3 memory-controller on the die itself. What this means is that the CPUs work just fine with present AM2(+) boards, supporting widely-available DDR2 memory, but can also interface with DDR3 memories on upcoming AM3-based mainboards. AMD sees this is a method of somewhat future-proofing the CPUs, as uptake of DDR3 increases when prices fall, and we agree. Further, we expect to see the majority of the new CPUs sit on AM2+ boards for a while yet; DDR3 doesn't make much sense for the company's value-orientated wares, especially from a system-builder's perspective.

Phenom II technology is sound enough to trouble Intel's high-end dual-core and low-to-mid-range quad-core chips, and we saw that demonstrated with Phenom II X4 920 and 940. However, the one major obstacle of this launch, concering the quad-core chips, lies with clock-speeds. AMD is bringing a newer technology into place - DDR2/3 memory-controller - but actively hamstringing it by releasing the fastest quad-core at just 2.6GHz - slower than either presently-available Phenom II. What's more, AMD's also reduced the cache on the retail part, and we'd rather pay an extra £15 and by the higher-clocked, full-cache X4 920 instead.

AMD may argue that it's fleshing out the Phenom II line with AM3 technology and has priced the slower frequency quad-core processors in light of this, but we'd really like to see the X4 925 and 945 (AM3) parts announced today. That, of course, would have canniballised present AM2+-only sales, though. We'd rather buy a P2 940/790GX(AM2+)/4GB DDR2-1,066 combination over a P2 810/790GX(AM3)/4GB DDR3-1,333 setup every day of the week. It would be around the same price but much faster. Of course, AM3 is the future for AMD's Phenom chips, but we'd hoped that its inception would have been bolstered by a range of higher-speed X4 chips

By releasing a further five Phenom II processors, split over triple- and quad-core, AMD's bolstered its £100-£150 line-up. With price taken into account, performance is decent enough to trouble high-end dual-core and low-end quad-core Intel chips, but we'd so rather have seen the AMD FX 955 launched today, as well.

The good

Phenom II line-up is fleshed out by triple- and quad-core parts
Overclock well
DDR/DDR3 controller adds flexibility and a modicum of futureproofing
New Phenom II AM3 chips make Phenom I X4 obsolete

The not so good

X4 AM3 chips released at slower speeds than present Phenom IIs. Reduced cache levels, too
Aggressive Phenom II 920 pricing makes X4 810 seem dear

HEXUS Rating

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We consider any product score above '50%' as a safe buy. The higher the score, the higher the recommendation from HEXUS to buy. Simple, straightforward buying advice.


AMD Phenom II X4 810



AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition


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HEXUS Forums :: 16 Comments

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I still don't see DDR3 as being a viable alternative tbh, DDR2 is much cheaper and can still hold its own, particularly if like the majority of apps you don't need to move around gigantic blocks of memory at a time. The main thing that gives i7 an edge is triple channel memory. But technically, you could adopt a DDR2 memory controller to support an extra channel of memory and get the same performance boost for less.
aidanjt
I still don't see DDR3 as being a viable alternative tbh, DDR2 is much cheaper and can still hold its own, particularly if like the majority of apps you don't need to move around gigantic blocks of memory at a time. The main thing that gives i7 an edge is triple channel memory. But technically, you could adopt a DDR2 memory controller to support an extra channel of memory and get the same performance boost for less.

It's future proofing - DDR2 won't be much cheaper by the end of the year.
kalniel
DDR2 won't be much cheaper by the end of the year.

That's true. But not due to any technological advantage. Anyway, you should know as well as anyone that ‘future proof’ and computing is both an oxymoron and buzz. You can grab 8GB today for next to nothing and it'll last you years.
aidanjt
That's true. But not due to any technological advantage.
Thats the same at the start of any new hardware generation. The benefits of first lot of hardware is negligible compared to the very top of the current generation.

DDR2 has been around for almost 6 years now, so it has had that amout of time to almost triple its performance and massively reduce its cost. Obviously manufacturers are reaching the limit of what DDR2 can do, DDR3 will be able to scale much higher than that, which is needed for it to last for another 6 years.

From Wikipedia: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDR3_SDRAM)
Advantages compared to DDR2
  • Higher bandwidth performance, effectively up to 1600 MHz
  • Improved latencies as measured in nanoseconds.
  • Higher performance at low power (longer battery life in laptops)
  • Enhanced low power features
Disadvantages compared to DDR2
  • Incompatible with DDR2 motherboards
  • As of January 2009, costs somewhat more than equivalent DDR2 memory
aidanjt
That's true. But not due to any technological advantage. Anyway, you should know as well as anyone that ‘future proof’ and computing is both an oxymoron and buzz. You can grab 8GB today for next to nothing and it'll last you years.

So you wouldn't mind purchasing a skt 939 CPU that's tied to DDR memory then? At the time of AM2 the same thing was said: no performance gain over DDR (infact, there was a performance loss), but now (or at any time in the last couple of years) would you rather buy more expensive, more power hungry DDR over DDR2?