Conclusions and Final ThoughtsMy testing of the new AMD Phenom processors is in no way complete; I am still waiting on CPUs to arrive in-house for a complete evaluation. However short our time with the new processor was though, we did get some valuable information.
This part of the conclusion page should be easy to predict if you looked through the benchmark pages as well. AMD’s Phenom 9600 processor at 2.3 GHz, the fastest frequency available at launch, isn’t even close to competing with the top end of Intel desktop processor spectrum. AMD isn’t foolish though and they aren’t going to try to sell these cards for the same prices as an Intel QX9650 even though they’d have loved the opportunity to make those kinds of margins.
If we start by looking at the clock-for-clock performance of the Phenom architecture, something that is important if we want to guess where performance for these CPUs will be in the future, let’s compare the Phenom 9900 at 2.6 GHz to the Athlon X2 5600+ that runs at 2.8 GHz. The Phenom obviously has two more processing cores on it than the X2 5600+, but that’s the best we got in terms of an AMD versus AMD comparison. Under these rules, the new Phenom 9900 is actually a good performance boost and proves that when using multi-threaded applications the true quad-core design of the Phenom CPUs will exceed performance of the Athlon product significantly. Considering that AM2 motherboard users will likely be able to upgrade to a Phenom without buying a new board, this is very good news and should help AMD sell quite a few “upgrade” processors if nothing else.
Comparing the 2.6 GHz Phenom 9900 to the Intel Q9450 that runs at 2.66 GHz and is also a quad-core processor, the AMD architecture is at an obvious disadvantage. In every case the Intel CPU was faster; by as little as 4% in some places and as much as 37% in others. While some basic applications showed little advantage to Intel the media encoding and rendering benchmarks weighed heavily in Intel’s favor. Gaming performance also leaned towards Intel though we know that higher end games are going to be more affected by the GPU in most cases, so getting close can be “close enough” for Phenom right now.
I guess I should note here that both the Phenom 9900 and the Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 are “previews” since both parties are tell us these units will have Q1 2008 releases. We usually don’t test these kinds of “paper launch” products but I felt it was important to include as much data as possible when introducing a completely new CPU architecture. Think of it as looking at overclocked parts if you need to.
Performance per Watt
The initial outlook for performance-per-watt comparisons looks to be pretty good for AMD, though we can’t say anything definitive until we look at the CPU in our labs under identical situations as the rest of the processors tested. But when looking at the power numbers on the previous page, it’s easy to be impressed – with a new chipset and dual HD 3850 graphics boards, idle power and load power under CineBench 10 was at the bottom of the scale for the Phenom 9600. Of course, performance wasn’t mind blowing there, but here’s some quick math using our Handbrake encoding results:
Intel Q9450 = 93.85 FPS / 235 watts (est) = 0.399 frames per second per watt
AMD Phenom 9600 = 75.12 FPS / 212 watts = 0.354 frames per second per watt
That’s a difference of about 12% — yeah I know that once we start getting into the triple-tiered metrics things can get REALLY confusing so I’ll save the majority of that work for when we have the CPUs in hand.
Overclocking and Headroom
I didn’t get a chance to really overclock the Phenom processors, though in effect all of our 2.6 GHz results were overclocked if you think about it. I have heard that others were able to get their initial CPUs up and running at 3.0 GHz or so, but obviously AMD cannot do this reliably or we’d have 3.0 GHz parts going on sale today.
The good news for overclockers and enthusiasts is that AMD has already promised to release some unlocked versions of the Phenom processors, much as they have down with the Athlon “Black Editions” in recent months. This will definitely give our readers a better chance to play with the new architecture and really push it as far as it can go. Any reason AMD can give the enthusiast to buy their parts is going to be plus, and I think unlocked models are a big addition.
Pricing and Availability
As of this writing, here is the official 1ku pricing on the CPUs:
- Phenom 9600 @ 2.3 GHz – $283 (available now) – Tray: HD9600WCJ4BGD / PIB: HD9600GDBOX
- Phenom 9500 @ 2.2 GHz – $251 (available now) – Tray: HD9500WCJ4BGD / PIB: HD9500GDBOX
- Phenom 9700 @ 2.4 GHz – under $300 (Q1 2008)
- Phenom 9900 @ 2.6 GHz – under $350 (Q1 2008)
For enthusiasts looking to upgrade their existing platform to AMD quad-core, one of the promises they have been making for a LONG time now, you can now do so, and for relatively cheap. If you want an Intel Yorkfield today, be prepared to shell out some serious dough as only the QX9650 is available right now.
The Platform – 790FX Chipset and HD 3800 GPUs
If there is one shining point in all this, it has to be in the rest of the Spider platform. Both the HD 3800 cards we reviewed earlier and the motherboards based on the new AMD 790FX chipset have promise. We’ll have a full review of the 790FX chipset motherboards very soon as well as a more detailed look at the AMD Overdrive software, a compelling reason to look at these motherboards if you are an overclocker.
I have no doubts that many readers of this review fill find it disappointing that AMD’s Phenom processors were not competitive with Intel’s high-end quad-core processors. It’s hard to hide my own disappointment as I personally really wanted AMD to do well – competition makes the world go ’round and prices go down; always good things in my book. The Phenom launch isn’t a total loss though thanks to the aggressive pricing that AMD is pinning on these initial CPUs; that will appeal to many enthusiasts.
I can’t help but draw the analogy of the Phenom launch to that of the Radeon HD 2900 XT: it was a technologically advanced GPU that had scaling issues that kept it from competing at the high end of its market thus forcing AMD to drop prices to stay in the game. Now that AMD’s HD 3800 series of GPUs has seemingly fixed that problem, they are presented another with the Phenom desktop processor. Hopefully AMD will make as quick a turnaround on this project as they did on the GPU side and we’ll see the Phenoms truly compete at all price ranges.