Analysis and Conclusions

The new AMD Phenom X4 9850 is a great processor for its segment even though it is still not able to dominate in any fashion over the Intel quad-core options.  Just as with the initial 2.3 GHz Phenom B2 launch, AMD still considers the Intel Core 2 Q6600 its primary competition, and I consider the Q9450 to be another potential threat as well.  This new CPU is definitely getting AMD closer to its performance goals and any enthusiast or gamer looking for a ~$240 processor is going to have a fantastic experience with the 9850.  The added performance and efficiency of the 2000 MHz memory controller and system bus add to the benefits of the 2.50 GHz clock rate producing the best fastest stock speed AMD quad-core CPU to date. 

Though I feel a bit like a broken record, we again should put a caveat on all of this: if AMD COULD put out a part to compete with Intel in the high-end processor segment they would.  The 65nm process that the current generation Phenom is using just won’t allow it and the engineers in Sunnyvale still have a lot of work ahead to start giving Intel competition in the high profit-margin area of $400+ processors.

Still no Phenom 9900?

Despite our acceptance of the Phenom X4 9850 as a great mid-range processor choice based on performance, I feel the need to vent that we STILL have not seen the fabled Phenom 9900 processor – a CPU that was to be clocked at 2.6 GHz and was our original tested processor speed courtesy of AMD in November.  We often give companies like Intel and AMD a hard time when it comes to paper launches, and just as Intel is guilty in the case of the MIA QX9770 CPU, AMD is also under the microscope for the 2.6 GHz Phenom processor. 

Even though we did see a good boost in performance thanks to the move from 2.3 GHz to 2.5 GHz with today’s released Phenom X4 9850, we still want MORE speed from AMD’s processors!

Performance per Watt

Unsurprisingly, the performance per watt of the Phenom X4 9850 isn’t very good when compared with a lot of Intel’s processors or even the aged X2 CPUs.  Why, you ask?  Well, AMD is obviously pushing the cores of the X4 Phenoms very hard trying desperately to get higher and higher clock rates out of the silicon they produce.  If they could get to 2.7 GHz for another 15 watts would they?  Probably.  For 45 watts?  Probably not.

AMD Phenom X4 9850 Processor Review - Long Awaited B3 - Processors 43

This is a delicate process, balancing performance and power consumption, and it occurs across CPUs, GPUs and most areas of computing.  Where AMD used to be the leader of the pack in this area in the days of the Intel NetBurst architecture it has passed the torch to Intel in the world of modern consumer CPUs.  In some areas, such as AMD’s continuing X2 CPU line, such as the X2 4850e that was released with the AMD 780G chipset, AMD is still very competitive thanks to years of process technology development and tweaks. 

Pricing and Availability

The estimated price on the AMD Phenom X4 9850 processor is $235; that’s a pretty good bargain for a quad-core processor that performs very well.  The other new B3-stepping CPUs that will show up in the channel today include the X4 9750 at $215 and the X4 9550 at $195.  When you see the prices stepped like this, it’s hard to justify NOT spending the extra $40 for the extra 300 MHz and the fully unlocked multipliers of the 9850. 

Compared to Intel’s product line up, the closest competitor is the Q6600 currently sitting at $280 or so with the Q9450, based on the 45nm process, is still missing from store shelves.  In terms of performance, the AMD Phenom X4 9850 is very much in line in nearly all of our tests, giving the Phenom AT LEAST a fighting chance for your dollar.

Spider Platform’s Bite

One benefit that can’t be overlooked for AMD’s processors is the entire “Spider” platform that AMD has been quietly building over the last year.  The components are all underdogs in the worlds they live, yet can easily be seen as equal, if not better, options than the competition.  In the world of the GPU, AMD’s HD 3870 X2 1GB card and the HD 3870/3850 line of single GPU cards are strong competitors in the mainstream enthusiast and gamer markets and are priced to sell.  The AMD 790FX chipset is the best core logic option available for AMD processors with the entire stable of NVIDIA 500-series chipsets clearly showing their age.  And now the Phenom X4 9850 offers a great computing experience on par with Intel’s quad-core processors putting the final touches on a complete AMD-designed system.

It’s not quite a Centrino branding, but it is something and consumers are more likely to make the plunge now that the TLB issue has been completely taken out of the discussion.

Final Thoughts

The new Phenom X4 9850 processor is a very welcome newcomer to the processor segment and it could be responsible for a rebirth of interest in AMD CPUs.  It is far from the fastest CPU was have put through the paces but with the B3 stepping AMD was able to fix the TLB erratum, increase the clock speed to 2.50 GHz and raise memory controller clock rate enough to boost performance across nearly all of our benchmarks.  Its price should be attractive to a lot of gamers and enthusiasts as should combining an X4 9850 with a complete Spider platform.  Though AMD’s components aren’t winning the top spot in any of their three markets (CPU, GPU, chipset), they are priced well and perform competitively as a complete solution for real-world gaming and computing making the Spider platform a much more attractive option than it was before. 

Be sure to use our pricing engine to find the best prices on AMD Phenom CPUs and anything else you might need:

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