AMD Phenom II – NOT!

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Benchmarks for AMD’s Phenom II are starting to roll in and the verdict is decidedly mixed to negative. Anyone looking for a game-changing CPU from AMD will be sorely disappointed.

What follows are summaries from five sites – I encourage you to read through them for details (if you have the time), but I thought comparing the conclusions among the sites would give our readers a fair take on how AMD’s Phenom II stacks up against Chipzilla.


“A comparison between the current top-of-the-line AMD Phenom II X4 940 and the Intel Core i7 shows the Intel processor coming out about 22% faster. On the other hand, in comparison with the Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600, the same Phenom II CPU finishes about 10% ahead.

When it comes to system efficiency and energy consumption, if you put a Phenom II X4 940 system head-to-head against a Core 2 Quad Q6600, an AMD system delivers measurably better “performance per watt” figures. The higher performance available from a Core i7 comes at a higher purchase cost, followed by higher energy consumption costs over a system’s lifetime.”

“If you’re an AMD fanboy expecting Phenom II to put its bootprint on the hind end of Corei7—any Core i7—prepare to be disappointed. The slowest 2.66GHz Core i7 920 beat the Phenom II by double digits in most of our tests. We saw differences from 11 percent to 27 percent in encoding, and in our WinRar test, the Core i7-920 was 35 percent faster. It wasn’t all bad news for Phenom II though. The chip won the ScienceMark 2.0, Quake 4, and PC Mark Vantage tests and eked out a win in the Valve map compilation test. However, we’re still calling this competition for the i7 920.

The Phenom II actually outscored the Core 2 Quad in our MainConcept encoding test, our ProShow Producer slideshow creation test, and Quake 4, and it just about broke even in our WinRar file compression test. The Core 2 Quad hit back in both 3DMark tests, Premiere Pro CS3, Photoshop CS3, and both of our Valve multithreading tests. Although the Phenom has a 167MHz advantage, we’d have to call this one a tie.”

“Compared to the Core 2 Quad Q9400, the Phenom II X4 940 is clearly the better pick. While it’s not faster across the board, more often than not the 940 is equal to or faster than the Q9400. If Intel can drop the price of the Core 2 Quad Q9550 to the same price as the Phenom II X4 940 then the recommendation goes back to Intel. The Q9550 is generally faster than the 940, more overclockable at lower voltages, and a high enough default clock speed to keep you happy in the long run.

Looking through the performance results, it’s also worthwhile to recognize just how fast Intel’s Core i7 is. Across the board Core i7 is the fastest thing out there. If the motherboard guys could get X58 board pricing down below $200 and DDR3 memory was available at the same price as DDR2, then the i7-920 would be the clear recommendation. The entry-level Core i7 is pretty much faster than the-top end Core 2 Extreme or the Phenom II. When I originally reviewed Conroe I wrote that it was the world’s fastest microprocessor; Core i7 continues to hang on to that title.

Despite Intel’s strengths, AMD was able to do very well here today with Phenom II. Being able to have a CPU competitive with Penryn right out of the gates is worthy of a commendation. The scary part is that Intel could easily mitigate AMD’s gains here with some simple price adjustments. Even more worrisome for AMD is that Phenom II is its only foot forward until 2011 when the first Bulldozer based CPUs arrive. There’s headroom in AMD’s 45nm process, but what happens when Core i7 goes mainstream? We must not forget that Phenom II is competitive with a 45nm derivative of a 2+ year old architecture.”

“Let’s be clear: Core i7 is still king of the hill and Core 2 Quads remain the most energy efficient processors. Assuming the Phenom II 940, Core 2 Quad Q9400 and Q9450 end up retailing for a similar amount, as AMD predicts, then the Phenom II 940 is generally better value for money.

Although the Core 2 Quad Q9400 has a thin lead in gaming, the Phenom II 940 is a bit faster in 2D tasks. Leaked pre-order pricing info suggests the Phenom II 940 may cost as much as a Q9550, in which case Intel is the better buy. Of course, if only the price of DDR3 Ram and X58 motherboards would halve in price, then the Core i7 920 would be a no brainer.

If we put our pretend shareholder hats on for a minute and consider the manufacturing side of things, AMD seems to be less competitive than Intel. The Phenom II is a 758 million transistor chip with a 258mm2 die area, while Core 2 Quads with 12MB L2 cache have two dies measuring 107mm2 (in effect 214 mm2) which appears to suggest Intel’s chips use less silicon and are therefore cheaper to make. There are too many factors to say that’s a certainty – yields, manufacturing process, equipment costs – but it does look like AMD is in for a precarious 2009.

That also means we’re in for an expensive 2009, because the lack of Core i7 competition means we’ll be paying sky-high prices for Intel’s best CPUs and its monopoly is assured.

The good: Faster than low end Penryn chips in CPU-specific tasks

The bad: Intel chips remain best for gaming. Phenom II has slightly higher power draw than Penryn chips.

The really ugly: Intel’s monopoly is here to stay”


“[A]ll the changes in the AMD quad-core processor lineup seem significant enough only when compared against the previous generation Phenom X4, and not against their competitors. It took AMD way too long to switch to 45nm manufacturing technology and launch their Phenom II X4. They missed the window of opportunity and the launch of Phenom II X4 doesn’t have the desired effect on the market. The new Phenom II X4 doesn’t look too impressive against the background of contemporary Core 2 Quad and especially Core i7 CPUs.

The results of our tests show that the top Phenom II X4 processors can only be worthy rivals to the Core 2 Quad CPUs from the “junior” Q8000 series. Unfortunately, Phenom II X4 cannot yet do better than that.”


Reading through these first reviews, I can not see how AMD comes out ahead in this market. Comparing the Phenom II to a previous generation CPU from Intel and calling it about a draw does not give me any warm fuzzies that the Phenom is a phenom.

Intel reported on January 7 that their last quarter sales were down 20% from the thrird quarter and down 23% from year earlier sales, blaming this “…as a result of further weakness in end demand and inventory reductions by its customers in the global PC supply chain.”

Translation: Business is falling off a cliff

Intel still has WAY more resources than AMD, and if it has to result to some aggressive pricing, it will with severely adverse consequences for AMD’s financial health. AMD is running out of angels who have money to throw at them (eg, Germany, New York State and Abu Dhubai) and frankly I think AMD is running out of lifelines. AMD will take a large asset writeoff this year, further eroding its financial position.

AMD serves a valuable role to keep Intel from attaining a total monopoly in the CPU market, but that alone does not make AMD a viable company. Economics this year will test companies in ways not seen since the Great Depression and it is not inconceivable that AMD may be pushed into bankruptcy.


About Joe Citarella 242 Articles
Joe Citarella was one of the founders of in 1998. He contributed as a site administrator and writer for over 10 years before retiring. Joe played an integral part in building and sustaining the community.


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