AMD’s badly needed upgrade

Since the revelation that AMD’s first Phenom processors had an erratum in them the company has worked around the clock to get a fix out in the form of a new B3 stepping of the CPU core. They are here and not only fix the bug but increase clock speeds and performance to boot!

A Brief History of Phenom and the Dreaded Erratum

It wouldn’t surprise me really to find out that some of you might not even have known that AMD’s Phenom processors had been released.  Sure, we had a review up of the technology and have actually done a follow up or two, but to be truthful the new processor from the once-worshiped AMD launched with a thud rather than a bang.  The initial launch parts were released at 2.2 and 2.3 GHz, a considerable drop from their expected clock rates and thus performance was poor when compared to anything Intel had n their top-of-the-line Core 2 series. 

Then of course, the news of the infamous TLB erratum began to spread and spread, going from a “minor issue” to a full fledged emergency as BIOS manufacturers were enabling a software fix for a hardware error and causing significant performance degradations.  AMD was slow to react to this and the enthusiast community was largely in the dark as to what was actually going on?  Did a BIOS option exist on your motherboard to enable or disable the fix?  Did AMD’s Overdrive software allow you to turn that feature on or off?

Meanwhile, AMD had already promised a revision to the processor, known as the B3 stepping, that would fix the error completely and thus eliminate any confusion.  Two problems: this stopped people from lusting after the broken chips and the B3 stepping was delayed several times. 

Now AMD has the B3 stepping done; they have been shipping corrected Opteron processors to customers for a couple of weeks now and the enthusiast consumers are going to be able to get their hands on them too.

What does the B3 stepping change?

(Note: If you want a complete technological background on what the Phenom processor and Barcelona core brought to the table, check out out first Phenom review for all the gory detail.)

The new AMD Phenom 9850 processor that we are testing here today is mainly addressing the TLB bug that existed in previous silicon.  The fix was easy to do, but getting an entire silicon process re-spin up and running is much more work that simply sending out a software patch that folks expected for Windows and games.  Phenom originally launched in November of 2007 and AMD was busting its collective tail to get the B3 Phenoms out the door for us today.

AMD Phenom X4 9850 Processor Review - Long Awaited B3 - Processors 43
Finally worth the money?

If we root ourselves into reality, while the TLB issue was definitely a show stopper for enterprise customers, it should have been a non-issue for gamers and enthusiasts.  The rarity of the error, that could cause a system lock in data sets typical of system virtualization, was probably never actually SEEN by end-users; at least I haven’t seen it.  AMD even offered the press (unofficially) an award for being able to make a system produce the error; it never came.

AMD took the opportunity of the B3 stepping refresh to make some other minor adjustments to the CPUs that we will detail on the follow page.

Also being announced today are the first triple-core processors from AMD; since we first heard about these we have been curious to see how AMD would position and price them though it would appear that AMD is first going to hand these over to the system builders rather than the DIYers and enthusiasts.  These Phenom X3 8000 series parts are going to run at lower clock rates and at slower memory controller speeds as well, so they may not offer the bargain we were hoping for.

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