AMD’s Phenom processors

If you’re reading this article, chances are you already know at thing or two about Phenom processors. After all, they’ve been in development for years, and AMD has been talking about them publicly for quite some time. In fact, we’ve even reviewed the exact same silicon in different outerwear, the quad-core Opterons, earlier this year. We’ve heard all about how Phenom will be the world’s first “native” quad-core desktop processor, how such integration has tangible benefits for performance and power consumption, and how folks will be absolutely stunned by the synergistic convergence of Phenom processors, the 790FX chipset, and Radeon HD 3800-series GPUs.

What we didn’t have, however, were answers about some key Phenom basics: How fast will it be, both in terms of clock speeds and performance per clock? When will it be available? And will it have been worth the, erm, considerable wait?

Today we have some answers, after a long weekend spent in hands-on testing with a Phenom processor. Read on for our extensive first look at AMD’s brand-new CPU.

The Phenom steps up

Yes, it’s called Phenom, which I’ve heard pronounced “fee-nom,” like a promising young pitching savant in some baseball club’s farm system, and “fen-om,” which rhymes with “venom” and sounds positively toxic to my ears. Either way, what the name mainly evokes for me is this: Phenom-ena. I suppose it’s fine as far as CPU names go, though.

The chip itself is the same basic “K10” design found in AMD’s quad-core Opterons. Although those CPU cores are derived from the ones found in current Athlon 64 X2 processors, AMD has made substantial revisions to them in order to improve per-clock performance and efficiency. The cores now have a wider, 32-byte instruction fetch, and the floating-point units can execute 128-bit SSE operations in a single clock cycle. Phenom can execute the Supplemental SSE3 instructions Intel included in its Core 2 processors, but not the newer SSE4 extensions in Intel’s just-introduced 45nm chips. The K10 core has more bandwidth throughout in order to accommodate higher throughput—internally between units on the chip, between the L1 and L2 caches, and between the L2 cache and the north bridge/memory controller.



The quad-core Phenom die. Source: AMD.

These improved cores are, of course, now grouped four to a chip, and AMD has added a third level to the cache hierarchy in order to assist with integration of the cores. As a result, each Phenom core has 64K of L1 data cache, 512K of dedicated L2 cache, and access to the 2MB L3 cache shared between all cores. An interesting quirk of the Phenom design is that the L3 cache runs at the clock speed of the memory controller/north bridge section of the chip, which is typically slower than the CPU core clocks. Since the L3 cache is an integral part of the memory hierarchy, north bridge clock speeds will be a key factor in overall Phenom performance.

The chip’s integrated memory controller can talk to dual channels of DDR2 memory at speeds up to 1066MHz. This memory controller has been improved in various ways, among them larger buffers and an improved mechanism for speculative data prefetch. The memory controller can also be configured to access its two 64-bit memory channels independently, instead of treating them as a single 128-bit entity.

As with any new chip design these days, the Phenom has been tuned for power efficiency as well as performance. Most prominently, in this case, the Phenom’s four cores are clocked independently and can dynamically raise or lower their clock speeds in response to demand. The Phenom’s core voltage is still determined by the power state of the core with highest utilization, but AMD has separated the power plane for the chip’s CPU core from the power plane for its memory controller. Only motherboards conforming to the new Socket AM2+ standard will be able to reap the benefits of Phenom’s split power planes, but Phenom ought to be compatible with—and able to act as a drop-in upgrade for—existing Socket AM2 motherboards. (Though, as always, you’ll want to check with your motherboard maker about compatibility, and your mobo may need a BIOS update. Your mileage may vary. One never knows. All rights reserved. Etcetera.)

Socket AM2+ also brings support for another Phenom feature: HyperTransport 3.0. This interconnect links the Phenom to the rest of the system for I/O and the like, although it’s not a traditional front-side bus, since the Phenom has its own memory controller. Revision 3.0 of HyperTransport doubles the effective clock speed and data rate of the interconnect, giving Phenoms twice the external bandwidth of the Athlon 64 X2 in the same 940-pin socket.

And yes, it is the same socket. Not only should Phenoms be able to fit into Socket AM2 mobos, but Athlon 64 processors should drop comfortably and functionally into Socket AM2+ motherboards. At present, the only Socket AM2+ chipset on the market is AMD’s 790FX, which we’ve reviewed today, as well. Notice how smoothly I worked in that plug there, Geoff. No one will notice.

AMD says it has plans to introduce yet another socket, dubbed AM3, to go along with its 45nm CPUs. That new dynamic duo will enable support for DDR3 memory types, when it arrives in 2008. Or, you know, whenever’s convenient. I wouldn’t put any money on 2008.

The Phenom’s great, big bundle of integrated goodness is manufactured as a single chip on AMD’s 65nm silicon-on-insulator fabrication process at its Fab 36 facility in Dresden, Germany. All told, the Phenom has roughly 463 million transistors, and the chip’s area is 285 mm². That’s fairly large as far as CPUs go. Intel’s brand-new 45nm Penryn chips come two to a package in its quad-core processors, but each chip fits 410 million transistors into a 107 mm² die. Since larger chips are exponentially more prone to manufacturing defects, the Phenom’s relatively large size may cause AMD some headaches over time. The big upside here is the K10’s tighter integration of four cores and faster communication between them, a benefit that may pay bigger dividends in the multi-socket server arena than in desktop processors like Phenom.

I’m hopped up on several gallons of straight espresso, this review is over 12 hours late, and my kids will be eating pop-tarts for dinner for the next month, so that’s all the time I have to discuss microarchitectural specifics in this context. However, you can learn more about the K10 design by reading my review of the quad-core “Barcelona” Opterons, or you can skip over to David Kanter’s incisive Barcelona architecture overview for more detail on the CPU-geek stuff.

AMD’s next top model

I was playing catch with my six-year-old the other day, and she mentioned something she’d heard about in preschool. “Daddy, why can’t AMD get Phenom clock speeds higher?” That’s when I knew AMD’s struggles were not exactly out of public view. We’ve expected the Phenom to launch at many clock speeds over the past six months or so, each one a little lower than the last. Quite recently, AMD told us it planned to introduce a 2.4GHz version at a launch, but alas, that didn’t come to pass. As I told my daughter, “Sweetie, the latest Phenom chip revision has a TLB problem that causes instability at higher clock speeds.” We don’t have precise details on the nature of the problem, but AMD told us that fixing it will require a new spin of the chip, which is why higher speed Phenom variants have been delayed.

As a result, AMD is introducing a pair of Phenom models today, with promises of more later. The Phenom 9500 is the first model; it will be clocked at 2.2GHz, and the Phenom 9600 will run at 2.3GHz. Both chips have a 95W TDP rating. AMD recently introduced its “ACP” power rating system, but the company has yet to assign ACP ratings to its Phenom models. Expect those numbers, when they come, to be lower than the TDP numbers.

We know from experience with the quad-core Opterons that a Phenom at 2.3GHz isn’t going to recapture the overall performance crown from Intel. As we wrote in that review, AMD needs to reach something close to clock speed parity in order to catch Intel, and the top Core 2 processors run at 3GHz. You can do the math on that one. In order to make the Phenom attractive, then, AMD has priced it to move. The 9500 will list for $251 and the 9600 for $281—right in the territory of our current favorite Intel CPU value, the Core 2 Quad Q6600. AMD even plans to sweeten the pot by offering a Phenom variant akin to the recent Athlon 64 X2 5000+ “Black Edition.” This 2.3GHz Phenom will have an unlocked upper multiplier for easy overclocking, and it should be priced similarly to the locked versions of the same. This strategy isn’t a substitute for achieving outright performance leadership, but it’s certainly a nice way to capture the attention—and perhaps the affections—of PC enthusiasts.

Down the road, AMD does plan to introduce higher-clocked variants of the Phenom, starting with the 9700 at 2.4GHz. This model won’t arrive until some time in the first quarter of next year, but when it does, it will follow the same value-oriented pricing scheme as current products, with a price “below $300.” Later in Q1 2008, the Phenom 9900 should debut at 2.6GHz, with a price tag “under $350.” These chips should be newer revisions of Phenom silicon with the TLB bug corrected. Of course, plans like these may sound good, but AMD will have to execute on them, and that’s the tricky part. Also, pricing on the 9700 and 9900 models may look like quite a bit less of a bargain once Intel ships the rest of its 45nm product lineup, which should happen early next year, as well.


Here’s a look at the Phenom engineering sample we received for testing. Unfortunately, our access to Phenom chips prior to the products’ introduction was limited by an obviously nervous AMD. We only received this CPU late last week, and it’s not entirely representative of consumer products, despite the fact that AMD expects to have processors selling in a few days, in time for Black Friday shopping. Our chip is clocked at 2.6GHz, like the proposed Phenom 9900 model expected next year. We’ve tested it at that speed, but we’ve also clocked it down to 2.3GHz a la the Phenom 9600 for another round of tests.

I should mention that both shipping Phenom models and our 2.6GHz engineering sample come with a 2GHz north bridge clock. We’ll have a look at why that clock is an important one in our benchmark results shortly.

Our Phenom sample came to us with another engineering sample, an early rev of the Asus M3A32-MVP Deluxe motherboard based on the 790FX chipset. The Phenom and 790FX make up two of the three elements of AMD’s so-called “Spider” platform. Unfortunately, the platformization pitch didn’t translate into a stable system. I don’t think we’ve ever experienced so much trouble with a major hardware product so close to its launch as we did with the Phenom/790FX combo. The system simply just wasn’t stable and had to be coaxed through our test suite with a combination of BIOS tweaking, trial-and-error retries, and prayer. We were able to complete our testing, but we’re very much hoping what we experienced isn’t representative of the products that will be shipping to consumers this week. If it is, AMD and its partners are in for a deluge of support requests from frustrated customers.

Intel’s November surprise

You may watch the 2007 New England Patriots and think that rubbing it in is bad sportsmanship. Intel watches them and thinks, “Hey, cool. They hung 56 on Buffalo. Respect!” That, I suppose, is the spirit in which Intel shipped out its little greeting committee for the Phenom, the chip pictured below.



The Core 2 Extreme QX9770

The Core 2 Extreme QX9770 is based on the same 45nm Yorkfield design as the QX9650, but it runs at 3.2GHz on a 1600MHz front-side bus. Like the 2.6GHz Phenom, this chip isn’t scheduled to arrive until next year, but we can give you an early preview now. Of course, unlike the Phenom 9900, this processor won’t cost under $350. Intel says to expect pricing above today’s Extreme processors, which are already topping $1100. Also, this part has a TDP rating of 136W, putting it beyond the traditional power envelopes we’ve come to expect from Intel.



Gigabyte’s X38-DQ6 handled the 1600MHz front-side bus easily

The QX9770 presents another problem, in that today’s motherboards and chipsets aren’t rated for 1600MHz FSB operation, at least officially. That FSB speed will get its official blessing with the introduction of the upcoming Intel X48 chipset. Fortunately, with the latest BIOS, we were able to achieve a stable configuration using a Gigabyte X38-DQ6 motherboard. The board we had on hand was the DDR2 version, so it wasn’t able to use DDR3 memory like our other Core 2 test platform, but that shouldn’t have a major impact on performance.

Clearly, the QX9770 won’t be direct competition for the Phenom 9600 or even the 9900. Instead, it seems to be an exclamation point on Intel’s performance leadership. For our purposes today, we’ll be focusing the bulk of our commentary and analysis on the Phenom 9600 and the Core 2 Quad Q6600, since they are much more direct competitors. The QX9770 results are there for you to ogle, though, if you wish.

Our testing methods

As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least three times, and the results were averaged.

Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4GHz
Core 2 Extreme QX6800 2.93GHz
Core 2 Duo E6750 2.66GHz
Core 2 Extreme QX6850 3.00GHz
Core
2 Extreme QX9770 3.2GHz
Athlon 64 X2 5600+ 2.8GHz
Athlon 64 X2 6000+ 3.0GHz
Athlon 64 X2 6400+ 3.2GHz
Dual Athlon 64 FX-74 3.0GHz Phenom
9600 2.3GHz

Phenom 9900 2.6GHz

Core 2 Extreme QX9650 3.00GHz
System bus 1066MHz (266MHz quad-pumped) 1333MHz (333MHz quad-pumped) 1600MHz
(400MHz quad-pumped)
1GHz HyperTransport 1GHz HyperTransport 1GHz HyperTransport
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6 Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6 Gigabyte
GA-X38-DQ6
Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe Asus L1N64-SLI WS Asus
M3A32-MVP Deluxe
BIOS revision F1 F1 F6b 1201 0505 0307
F4
North bridge P35 Express MCH P35 Express MCH X38
Express MCH
nForce 590 SLI SPP nForce 680a SLI 790FX
South bridge ICH9R ICH9R ICH9R nForce 590 SLI MCP nForce 680a SLI SB600
Chipset drivers INF Update 8.3.0.1013

Intel Matrix Storage Manager 7.5

INF Update 8.3.0.1013

Intel Matrix Storage Manager 7.5

INF Update 8.3.0.1013

Intel Matrix Storage Manager 7.5

ForceWare 15.01 ForceWare 15.01
Memory size 4GB (4 DIMMs) 4GB (4 DIMMs) 4GB (4 DIMMs) 4GB (4 DIMMs) 4GB (4 DIMMs) 4GB (4 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair TWIN3X2048-1333C9DHX

DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz

Corsair TWIN3X2048-1333C9DHX

DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz

Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500C5D

DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz

Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500

DDR2 SDRAM at ~800MHz

Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500C5D

DDR2 SDRAM at ~ 800MHz

Corsair TWIN2X2048-8500C5D

DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz

CAS latency (CL) 8 8 4 4 4 4
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD) 8 9 4 4 4 4
RAS precharge (tRP) 8 9 4 4 4 4
Cycle time (tRAS) 20 24 18 18 18 18
Audio Integrated ICH9R/ALC889A

with Realtek 6.0.1.5449 drivers

Integrated ICH9R/ALC889A

with Realtek 6.0.1.5449 drivers

Integrated
ICH9R/ALC889A

with Realtek 6.0.1.5449 drivers

Integrated nForce 590 MCP/AD1988B

with Soundmax 6.10.2.6100 drivers

Integrated nForce 680a SLI/AD1988B

with Soundmax 6.10.2.6100 drivers

Integrated
SB600/AD1988B

with Soundmax 6.10.2.6180 drivers

Hard drive WD Caviar SE16 320GB SATA
Graphics GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB PCIe with ForceWare 163.11 and 163.71 drivers
OS Windows Vista Ultimate x64 Edition
OS updates KB940105, KB929777 (nForce systems only), KB938194, KB938979

Please note that testing was conducted in two stages. Non-gaming apps and Supreme Commander were tested with Vista patches KB940105 and KB929777 (nForce systems only) and ForceWare 163.11 drivers. The other games were tested with the additional Vista patches KB938194 and KB938979 and ForceWare 163.71 drivers.

Thanks to Corsair for providing us with memory for our testing. Their products and support are far and away superior to generic, no-name memory.

Our primary test systems were powered by OCZ GameXStream 700W power supply units. The Quad FX system was powered by a PC Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool 1KW-SR power supply. Thanks to OCZ for providing these units for our use in testing.

Also, the folks at NCIXUS.com hooked us up with a nice deal on the WD Caviar SE16 drives used in our test rigs. NCIX now sells to U.S. customers, so check them out.

The test systems’ Windows desktops were set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The tests and methods we employ are usually publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Memory subsystem performance

We’ll start, as ever, with some quick synthetic tests of the memory subsystem, which will help give us the lay of the land before we dive into our real-world benchmarks.

The Phenom does indeed have quite a bit more L1 and L2 cache bandwidth than its predecessors, as you can see. This test is multithreaded, and it shows higher bandwidth scores when more cores and cache are available. Even so, the Phenom 9600 at 2.3GHz achieves higher throughput than the Athlon 64 FX-74, a two-socket “quad core” solution using dual Athlon 64 FX processors. Intel’s caches are faster still.

Here’s a closer look at how these systems perform when accessing main memory. The Phenom’s revised memory controller gets to show off a bit, with much higher throughput than anything else we tested.

AMD’s processors with integrated memory controllers have traditionally had the lowest memory access latencies around, but that’s no longer the case with Phenom. Intel managed to close the gap somewhat with its memory disambiguation logic in the Core microarchitecture, and AMD has widened that gap with Phenom. The fancy-pants graphs below will show us why.

In these graphs, yellow represents L1 cache, light orange is L2 cache, and dark orange is main memory. What you’re seeing here is memory access latencies at various block and step sizes, in a way that exposes latency for the various stages in the memory hierarchy.

Have a look at the red section representing the Phenom 9600’s L3 cache. This cache’s latencies are about 22 nanoseconds, and the additional task of checking the L3 cache adds latency to main memory accesses, as well. The Phenom includes sharing logic that buffers requests from all four cores—which may all be running at different clock speeds at any given time—coming into the L3 cache. This logic itself undoubtedly adds some delay. Also, as we’ve mentioned, the L3 cache doesn’t run at the full speed of the CPU cores—it runs at the north bridge speed. That means L3 cache performance doesn’t scale linearly with core clock speeds. Both the Phenom 9600 and 9900 models have 2GHz north bridges, for example, and both have the exact same 22ns L3 cache latency penalty.

This additional memory latency isn’t the end of the world by any means, but the fact the Phenom trades this many nanoseconds of latency for the addition of a relatively small 2MB cache is, well, unusual, to say the least. AMD will almost certainly have to raise north bridge speeds along with core clocks in order to keep performance scaling well.

Team Fortress 2

We’ll kick off our gaming tests with some Team Fortress 2, Valve’s class-driven multiplayer shooter based on the Source game engine. In order to produce easily repeatable results, we’ve tested TF2 by recording a demo during gameplay and playing it back using the game’s timedemo function. In this demo, I’m playing as the Heavy Weapons Guy, with a medic in tow, dealing some serious pain to the blue team.

We tested at 1024×768 resolution with the game’s detail levels set to their highest settings. HDR lighting and motion blur were enabled. Antialiasing was disabled, and texture filtering was set to trilinear filtering only. We used this relatively low display resolution with low levels of filtering and AA in order to prevent the graphics card from becoming a primary performance bottleneck, so we could show you the performance differences between the CPUs.

Notice the little green plot with four lines above the benchmark results. That’s a snapshot of the CPU utilization indicator in Windows Task Manager, which helps illustrate how much the application takes advantage of up to four CPU cores, when they’re available. I’ve included these Task Manager graphics whenever possible throughout our results. In this case, Team Fortress 2 looks like it probably only takes full advantage of a single CPU core, although Nvidia’s graphics drivers use multithreading to offload some vertex processing chores.

TF2 doesn’t gain anything from the addition of more than two cores, it seems, and so the Phenoms don’t provide much of a performance boost over the Athlon 64 X2. The Phenom does gain some per-clock performance, though not as much as initially expected from the K10 design.

Living in the now, the Phenom 9600 is slower than the Core 2 Quad Q6600 here, although it’s easily up to the task of running this game fluidly.

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Lost Planet puts the latest hardware to good use via DirectX 10 and multiple threads—as many as eight, in the case of our dual quad-core Xeon test rig. Lost Planet‘s developers have built a benchmarking tool into the game, and it tests two different levels: a snow-covered outdoor area with small numbers of large villains to fight, and another level set inside of a cave with large numbers of small, flying creatures filling the air. We’ll look at performance in each.

We tested this game at 1152×864 resolution, largely with its default quality settings. The exceptions: texture filtering was set to trilinear, edge antialiasing was disabled, and “Concurrent operations” was set to match the number of CPU cores available.

We’re pretty much looking at a GPU bottleneck or something similar in the “Snow” level, where all of the processors are bunched together at around 95 FPS. The Cave level is more intriguing, since it puts four cores to good use. Here, the Phenom 9600 just edges out the Core 2 Quad Q6600, and the Phenom 9900 puts in a respectable showing on a clock-for-clock basis versus the quad-core Intel CPUs.

BioShock

We tested BioShock by manually playing through a specific point in the game five times while recording frame rates using the FRAPS utility. The sequence? Me trying to fight a Big Daddy, or more properly, me trying not to die for 60 seconds at a pop.

This method has the advantage of simulating real gameplay quite closely, but it comes at the expense of precise repeatability. We believe five sample sessions are sufficient to get reasonably consistent results. In addition to average frame rates, we’ve included the low frame rates, because those tend to reflect the user experience in performance-critical situations. In order to diminish the effect of outliers, we’ve reported the median of the five low frame rates we encountered.

For this test, we largely used BioShock‘s default image quality settings for DirectX 10 graphics cards, but again, we tested at a relatively low resolution of 1024×768 in order to prevent the GPU from becoming the main limiter of performance.

Here’s a nice surprise. The Phenoms both run BioShock very well, with the 9900 taking the top spot overall. We’re not talking about especially meaningful differences in performance between the top performers, especially with the manual testing element involved here, but Phenom clearly puts AMD back in the hunt where the Athlon 64 had fallen behind.

Supreme Commander

We tested performance using Supreme Commander‘s built-in benchmark, which plays back a test game and reports detailed performance results afterward. We launched the benchmark by running the game with the “/map perftest” option. We tested at 1024×768 resolution with the game’s fidelity presets set to “High.”

Supreme Commander’s built-in benchmark breaks down its results into several major categories: running the game’s simulation, rendering the game’s graphics, and a composite score that’s simply comprised of the other two. The performance test also reports good ol’ frame rates, so we’ve included those, as well.

The differences are relatively small, but the Phenom 9600 does trail the Core 2 Quad Q6600 in each test.

Valve Source engine particle simulation

Next up are a couple of tests we picked up during a visit to Valve Software, the developers of the Half-Life games. They’ve been working to incorporate support for multi-core processors into their Source game engine, and they’ve cooked up a couple of benchmarks to demonstrate the benefits of multithreading.

The first of those tests runs a particle simulation inside of the Source engine. Most games today use particle systems to create effects like smoke, steam, and fire, but the realism and interactivity of those effects are limited by the available computing horsepower. Valve’s particle system distributes the load across multiple CPU cores.

There’s good and bad news in these results. The good news is that the Phenom 9900 at 2.6GHz outruns the two Athlon 64 FX-74 processors at 3.0GHz, a nice gain in performance per clock. The bad news is that the Phenom 9600 is well behind its would-be competition, the Core 2 Quad Q6600.

Valve VRAD map compilation

This next test processes a map from Half-Life 2 using Valve’s VRAD lighting tool. Valve uses VRAD to precompute lighting that goes into games like Half-Life 2. This isn’t a real-time process, and it doesn’t reflect the performance one would experience while playing a game. Instead, it shows how multiple CPU cores can speed up game development.

The story is much the same here as it was in the last test. The Phenom brings some nice gains for AMD, but they’re not quite enough at current clock speeds to catch the Core 2 Quad Q6600.

WorldBench

WorldBench’s overall score is a pretty decent indication of general-use performance for desktop computers. This benchmark uses scripting to step through a series of tasks in common Windows applications and then produces an overall score for comparison. WorldBench also records individual results for its component application tests, allowing us to compare performance in each. We’ll look at the overall score, and then we’ll show individual application results alongside the results from some of our own application tests. Because WorldBench’s tests are entirely scripted, we weren’t able to capture Task Manager plots for them, as you’ll notice.

WorldBench, like the applications that make it up, is no great respecter of more than two CPU cores. The fact that the Core 2 Duo E6750 ties the Core 2 Quad Q6600 is evidence of that. Still, the Phenom processors turn in disappointing overall scores, with the 9600 trailing the Athlon 64 X2 6000+. This is another proof point for a dawning realization: the Phenom needs to run at higher clock frequencies in order to perform comparatively well in everyday desktop applications.

Productivity and general use software

MS Office productivity

WorldBench’s Office test has a multitasking element, since multiple Office apps are running at once. Even so, the Phenom 9600 and Core 2 Quad Q6600 finish near the bottom of the pack, above only the Core 2 Duo E6750.

Firefox web browsing

Multitasking – Firefox and Windows Media Encoder

Here’s another multitasking test, one in which having four cores helps quite a bit more. The Phenom 9600 again trails the Core 2 Quad Q6600.

WinZip file compression

Ouch. The Phenom helps a little bit here, but AMD’s still getting trounced.

Nero CD authoring

The Nero test depends largely on the disk controller’s performance, which explains the basic grouping of results among test platforms. The 790FX chipset handicaps the Phenom here, in part because its SATA controller doesn’t seem to work properly in Windows Vista while in AHCI mode. We had to test with AHCI disabled, which means SATA Native Command Queuing isn’t enabled. NCQ might have helped here. Unfortunately, AMD hasn’t released Vista drivers for the SB600 south bridge’s SATA controller with a fix and didn’t have any suggestions for us when we contacted them about the problem.

Image processing

Photoshop

WorldBench’s PhotoShop test goes poorly for the AMD processors. It’s possible the difference here is made by the Core 2 processors’ larger L2 caches—up to 12MB, in the case of the 45nm quad-core processors. Even with the addition of a 2MB L3 cache, the Phenom’s effective cache size is smaller than the Core 2 Duo E6750’s 4MB L2.

The Panorama Factory photo stitching
The Panorama Factory handles an increasingly popular image processing task: joining together multiple images to create a wide-aspect panorama. This task can require lots of memory and can be computationally intensive, so The Panorama Factory comes in a 64-bit version that’s multithreaded. I asked it to join four pictures, each eight megapixels, into a glorious panorama of the interior of Damage Labs. The program’s timer function captures the amount of time needed to perform each stage of the panorama creation process. I’ve also added up the total operation time to give us an overall measure of performance.

The Phenom 9900 matches the Core 2 Quad Q6600 here, but the 9600 is a little slower. Once again, versus the FX-74, the Phenom does achieve a tangible per-clock performance gain.

picCOLOR image analysis

picCOLOR was created by Dr. Reinert H. G. Müller of the FIBUS Institute. This isn’t Photoshop; picCOLOR’s image analysis capabilities can be used for scientific applications like particle flow analysis. Dr. Müller has supplied us with new revisions of his program for some time now, all the while optimizing picCOLOR for new advances in CPU technology, including MMX, SSE2, and Hyper-Threading. Naturally, he’s ported picCOLOR to 64 bits, so we can test performance with the x86-64 ISA. Eight of the 12 functions in the test are multithreaded, and in this latest revision, five of those eight functions use four threads.

Scores in picCOLOR, by the way, are indexed against a single-processor Pentium III 1 GHz system, so that a score of 4.14 works out to 4.14 times the performance of the reference machine.

Here’s a case where the K10 looks for all the world like a quad-core K8.

Video encoding and editing

VirtualDub and DivX encoding with SSE4

Here’s a brand-new addition to our test suite that should allow us to get a first look at the benefits of SSE4’s instructions for video acceleration. In this test, we used VirtualDub as a front-end for the DivX codec, asking it to compress a 66MB MPEG2 source file into the higher compression DivX format. We used version 6.7 of the DivX codec, which has an experimental full-search function for motion estimation that uses SSE4 when available and falls back to SSE2 when needed. We tested with most of the DivX codec’s defaults, including its Home Theater base profile, but we enabled enhanced multithreading and, of course, the experimental full search option.

This test is obviously a showcase for the tailored instructions of SSE4, which the Phenom lacks. Still, the Phenom 9600 manages to come out ahead of the Q6600, which also lacks SSE4 support.

Windows Media Encoder x64 Edition video encoding

Windows Media Encoder is one of the few popular video encoding tools that uses four threads to take advantage of quad-core systems, and it comes in a 64-bit version. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to use more than four threads, even on an eight-core system. For this test, I asked Windows Media Encoder to transcode a 153MB 1080-line widescreen video into a 720-line WMV using its built-in DVD/Hardware profile. Because the default “High definition quality audio” codec threw some errors in Windows Vista, I instead used the “Multichannel audio” codec. Both audio codecs have a variable bitrate peak of 192Kbps.

In our second video encoding test, the Q6600 turns the tables, finishing before the Phenom 9600.

Windows Media Encoder video encoding

Roxio VideoWave Movie Creator

The Phenoms fare relatively poorly in the two WorldBench video tests, which don’t appear to use more than two cores to any great advantage. Left to use only one to two cores at relatively low clock speeds, the Phenom suffers.

LAME MT audio encoding

LAME MT is a multithreaded version of the LAME MP3 encoder. LAME MT was created as a demonstration of the benefits of multithreading specifically on a Hyper-Threaded CPU like the Pentium 4. Of course, multithreading works even better on multi-core processors. You can download a paper (in Word format) describing the programming effort.

Rather than run multiple parallel threads, LAME MT runs the MP3 encoder’s psycho-acoustic analysis function on a separate thread from the rest of the encoder using simple linear pipelining. That is, the psycho-acoustic analysis happens one frame ahead of everything else, and its results are buffered for later use by the second thread. That means this test won’t really use more than two CPU cores.

We have results for two different 64-bit versions of LAME MT from different compilers, one from Microsoft and one from Intel, doing two different types of encoding, variable bit rate and constant bit rate. We are encoding a massive 10-minute, 6-second 101MB WAV file here.

Here’s another application where only two threads are used, and the Phenoms again struggle, even against the Athlon 64 X2.

Cinebench rendering

Graphics is a classic example of a computing problem that’s easily parallelizable, so it’s no surprise that we can exploit a multi-core processor with a 3D rendering app. Cinebench is the first of those we’ll try, a benchmark based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D rendering engine. It’s multithreaded and comes with a 64-bit executable. This test runs with just a single thread and then with as many threads as CPU cores are available.

Have a look at the scores for the Athlon 64 FX-74 and the Phenom 9900. Although the FX-74 has a 400MHz clock frequency advantage, the Phenom 9900’s single-threaded score is almost as high. That’s a nice per-clock performance advancement. Then check out the multithreaded results, where the Phenom 9900 easily scales better than the FX-74 and ends up producing a higher score overall. Those improvements aren’t sufficient to allow the 9600 to catch the Q6600, though.

POV-Ray rendering

We caved in and moved to the beta version of POV-Ray 3.7 that includes native multithreading. The latest beta 64-bit executable is still quite a bit slower than the 3.6 release, but it should give us a decent look at comparative performance, regardless.

The pendulum swings the other way in POV-Ray’s chess2 scene, where the Phenom 9600 finishes 21 seconds ahead of the Q6600 and the Phenom 9900 bests Intel’s Core 2 Extreme QX6850. Intel’s new 45nm Penryn-based Intel processors are faster still, however.

The benchmark scene is largely a single-threaded affair, which helps explains the Phenom’s relatively slow performance.

3ds max modeling and rendering

The DirectX test is more of a modeling session than a rendering test, so we have a little of each here. Even the Phenom 9900 can’t catch the Core 2 Quad Q6600 in either test.

Folding@Home

Next, we have a slick little Folding@Home benchmark CD created by notfred, one of the members of Team TR, our excellent Folding team. For the unfamiliar, Folding@Home is a distributed computing project created by folks at Stanford University that investigates how proteins work in the human body, in an attempt to better understand diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cystic fibrosis. It’s a great way to use your PC’s spare CPU cycles to help advance medical research. I’d encourage you to visit our distributed computing forum and consider joining our team if you haven’t already joined one.

The Folding@Home project uses a number of highly optimized routines to process different types of work units from Stanford’s research projects. The Gromacs core, for instance, uses SSE on Intel processors, 3DNow! on AMD processors, and Altivec on PowerPCs. Overall, Folding@Home should be a great example of real-world scientific computing.

notfred’s Folding Benchmark CD tests the most common work unit types and estimates performance in terms of the points per day that a CPU could earn for a Folding team member. The CD itself is a bootable ISO. The CD boots into Linux, detects the system’s processors and Ethernet adapters, picks up an IP address, and downloads the latest versions of the Folding execution cores from Stanford. It then processes a sample work unit of each type.

On a system with two CPU cores, for instance, the CD spins off a Tinker WU on core 1 and an Amber WU on core 2. When either of those WUs are finished, the benchmark moves on to additional WU types, always keeping both cores occupied with some sort of calculation. Should the benchmark run out of new WUs to test, it simply processes another WU in order to prevent any of the cores from going idle as the others finish. Once all four of the WU types have been tested, the benchmark averages the points per day among them. That points-per-day average is then multiplied by the number of cores on the CPU in order to estimate the total number of points per day that CPU might achieve.

This may be a somewhat quirky method of estimating overall performance, but my sense is that it generally ought to work. We’ve discussed some potential reservations about how it works here, for those who are interested. I have included results for each of the individual WU types below, so you can see how the different CPUs perform on each.

The Phenom is clearly faster clock for clock than older Athlon 64 X2s with the two Gromacs WU types. Overall, of course, the Phenom easily beats the X2 processors by virtue of having two more cores. The Phenom 9600 is very, very close to the Q6600 in overall points per day,

SiSoft Sandra Mandelbrot

Next up is SiSoft’s Sandra system diagnosis program, which includes a number of different benchmarks. The one of interest to us is the “multimedia” benchmark, intended to show off the benefits of “multimedia” extensions like MMX, SSE, and SSE2. According to SiSoft’s FAQ, the benchmark actually does a fractal computation:

This benchmark generates a picture (640×480) of the well-known Mandelbrot fractal, using 255 iterations for each data pixel, in 32 colours. It is a real-life benchmark rather than a synthetic benchmark, designed to show the improvements MMX/Enhanced, 3DNow!/Enhanced, SSE(2) bring to such an algorithm.
The benchmark is multi-threaded for up to 64 CPUs maximum on SMP systems. This works by interlacing, i.e. each thread computes the next column not being worked on by other threads. Sandra creates as many threads as there are CPUs in the system and assignes [sic] each thread to a different CPU.

We’re using the 64-bit version of Sandra. The “Integer x16” version of this test uses integer numbers to simulate floating-point math. The floating-point version of the benchmark takes advantage of SSE2 to process up to eight Mandelbrot iterations in parallel.

I had hoped this test would be a showcase for the Phenom’s single-cycle SSE instruction execution, and I suppose it is. The 2.6GHz Phenom 9900’s throughput is more than three times that of the Athlon 64 X2 5600+ at 2.8GHz, which means it gains quite a bit more than what its additional cores can provide. Still, the Core 2 processors are considerably faster.

Power consumption and efficiency

Now that we’ve had a look at performance in various applications, let’s bring power efficiency into the picture. Our Extech 380803 power meter has the ability to log data, so we can capture power use over a span of time. The meter reads power use at the wall socket, so it incorporates power use from the entire system—the CPU, motherboard, memory, graphics solution, hard drives, and anything else plugged into the power supply unit. (We plugged the computer monitor into a separate outlet, though.) We measured how each of our test systems used power across a set time period, during which time we ran Cinebench’s multithreaded rendering test.

All of the systems had their power management features (such as SpeedStep and Cool’n’Quiet) enabled during these tests via Windows Vista’s “Balanced” power options profile—with a prominent exception. Our 790FX-based motherboard simply would not work with Cool’n’Quiet enabled. The system would hang shortly after the feature was enabled. As a result, we had to test the Phenoms without Cool’n’Quiet enabled. That means the Phenoms will draw more power at idle and during periods of partial load (as the rendering process starts and finishes) than they otherwise would. Power draw at peak utilization shouldn’t be affected. We will try to test again with Cool’n’Quiet enabled once we get a working motherboard.

Anyhow, here are the results:

Let’s slice up the data in various ways in order to better understand them. We’ll start with a look at idle power, taken from the trailing edge of our test period, after all CPUs have completed the render.

The Phenom systems draw more power at idle than anything but the basket-case Quad FX system. I expect we’d see better results if Cool’n’Quiet were working properly.

Next, we can look at peak power draw by taking an average from the ten-second span from 30 to 40 seconds into our test period, during which the processors were rendering.

Under load, the Phenom systems draw about as much power as those based on Intel’s 65nm quad-core processors in the 3GHz range. Unfortunately, that means the Phenom 9600 compares unfavorably to the Core 2 Quad Q6600 on power draw—and Intel isn’t making things any easier with its 45nm chips. The system based on the Core 2 Extreme Q9770 at 3.2GHz draws 40W less power under load than the Phenom 9600.

Another way to gauge power efficiency is to look at total energy use over our time span. This method takes into account power use both during the render and during the idle time. We can express the result in terms of watt-seconds, also known as joules.

We can quantify efficiency even better by considering the amount of energy used to render the scene. Since the different systems completed the render at different speeds, we’ve isolated the render period for each system. We’ve then computed the amount of energy used by each system to render the scene. This method should account for both power use and, to some degree, performance, because shorter render times may lead to less energy consumption.

This final measurement shouldn’t be greatly affected by the absence of Cool’n’Quiet, since it comes from the time when the CPUs are largely fully occupied. Looked at this way, the Phenom represents true progress for AMD, since systems based on dual-core chips are relatively inefficient at rendering compared to quad-core ones. But AMD has more work to do in order to catch Intel’s 65nm chips, let alone its incredibly efficient 45nm ones.

Conclusions

The Phenom quite obviously isn’t a bad CPU design, given the way it performs on a per-clock basis and how its performance scales from one to four threads. In many cases, its enhanced execution cores crank out some solid gains in instructions per clock over AMD’s Athlon 64 X2. Also, the addition of two more cores can bring substantial performance increases in applications able to take advantage of them, as many of our tests have shown. But at the end of the day, CPU performance comes down to a couple of variables, performance per clock and clock speed, and the Phenom doesn’t have enough of either to allow it to catch up with Intel’s fastest 65nm Core 2 processors, let alone the even-more-potent 45nm ones. I sound like a broken record, but AMD is going to have to achieve something close to clock speed parity with Intel in order to compete for the overall performance lead. That’s how closely these two architectures appear to be matched at this point.

The Phenom 9900 does show some promise at 2.6GHz, but it may not be available until—who knows?—perhaps Februrary or March. Until then, the Phenom 9600 will do battle at 2.3GHz against Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q6600 and its presumptive 45nm successor. AMD has priced the 9600 to compete with the Q6600, and that makes it a potentially attractive product. However, the Phenom’s well-publicized clock frequency issues keep it from being a slam-dunk. The Phenom 9600 was generally a little slower overall in our tests than the Q6600. If it ran at 2.4GHz, then it might be comparatively stronger. AMD’s plan to release an unlocked version of the Phenom 9600 may help tip the scales in the 9600’s favor for some folks, but I suspect they won’t find much overclocking headroom in those chips. In fact, our 2.6GHz engineering sample wasn’t 100% stable, which is why you won’t find any overclocking results in this review.

Unlike in the server space, where Intel’s use of FB-DIMMs gives AMD a built-in advantage, the Phenom trails Intel’s 65nm processors in power efficiency and really doesn’t come close to Intel’s 45nm models. The picture would look better here, at least at idle and during periods of intermediate use, had our test system been stable with Cool’n’Quiet clock throttling enabled. This is, after all, one of the big advantages of the Phenom’s native quad-core design. But it has to work properly in order to be an advantage, and at the time of the product’s public release, we don’t yet have an example that does. As you may have gathered from the preceding pages full of test results, we’re not ones to take things on faith from hardware makers—for good reason.

One bright spot here is the upgrade proposition the Phenom offers to current owners of Socket AM2-based systems. Those folks now have an affordable path to a quad-core solution that’s nearly as fast as a Core 2 Quad Q6600, which is a fine thing and a no-brainer upgrade choice. That said, Socket AM2 owners will want to watch the fine print carefully. Obviously, you won’t get the power savings of split power planes or the increased data rate of HyperTransport 3.0 if you drop a Phenom into an older motherboard. Also, I haven’t yet had time to confirm this myself in a test rig, but I believe the Phenom’s north bridge clock will run a little slower on Socket AM2 board, leading to somewhat reduced performance.

The immediate path ahead for AMD is blindingly obvious. They’re going to have to supply enough Phenom 9500 and 9600 chips to meet demand, which could be a challenge, and they’re going to have to work on reaching higher clock frequencies as soon as they can. They also have some work to do, along with their partners, in bringing the Phenom’s Socket AM2+ infrastructure up to snuff. The chipset operation AMD purchased in the ATI acquisition was in many ways still a fledgling effort, and our initial experiences with 790FX motherboards haven’t inspired much confidence. AMD has convinced Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI to produce 790FX-based boards, but it doesn’t appear to have convinced them to dedicate top-shelf engineering resources to these efforts. We will, of course, be working to get our hands on newer versions of Phenom and 790FX hardware as these products become available consumers. We’re hopeful that our experiences with the final products will be better than what we’ve seen to date.

Comments closed
    • Archer
    • 12 years ago

    Contra-fanboy.

    Now I’ve seen it all.

    Ollie, what was your role in the Iran Contra-Fanboy Affair?

      • provoko
      • 12 years ago

      Damn, you guys like the word “hater” instead? Haha.

    • data8504
    • 12 years ago

    Does anyone else think the die image looks like one side of a Borg cube?

    …maybe I’m crazy.

      • moose17145
      • 12 years ago

      haha, it does a little bit actually. I wonder if you damage it if it will self repair o.0

    • provoko
    • 12 years ago

    There’s a major cloud of ignorance in here. Companies don’t go out of business because of one bad product line. *[

      • tfp
      • 12 years ago

      So its not like AMD has one bad product. The point is they are losing a lot of money, haven’t really made money in a while. Both the graphics and cpu sections are not doing great.

      At some point they will need to make money or they will go under.

      • indeego
      • 12 years ago

      And AMD didn’t make one bad product line, they have a string of sub-par products and a string of bad financials. I don’ thtink anyone saw the buy of ATI and said, “WOW, this will really save AMD and immediate profit will result!”

      AMD is a different company than it was three years ago. It was on a roll then, and it obviously genuinely scared intel to lose market share, I imagine especially in the server space, where AMD made incredible inroads, (which is a lucrative high margin marketg{<.<}g) I'm curious about the suit for AMD versus Intel. it could have good repercussions for AMD/its consumersg{<.<}g

        • tfp
        • 12 years ago

        It might just be their last hope if they don’t turn things around.

    • lyc
    • 12 years ago

    the link to the quadcore opteron article is dead.

    • albundy
    • 12 years ago

    By the time amti catches up, intel will be 2 steps ahead. the benchies were a little bit unfair, as the intel setup had ddr3 ram with faster fsb’s, not that amd’s setup uses old technology. its gonna be very very hard to convince me price/performance wise not to go with the q6600 this year.

    • ReAp3r-G
    • 12 years ago

    TLB…could someone tell me what that means exactly? i can’t quite figure that one out

      • srg86
      • 12 years ago

      TLB Stands for Translation Lookaside Buffer. It’s used in the page translation mechanism, translating virtual addresses to physical addresses. In main RAM are data tables telling the MMU what physical address comes from a particular virtual address. The MMU having to keep accessing main RAM would really slow the system down, so the TLB caches page table entries for quick accesses.

      It’s nothing to do with the L1 or L2 caches, but is an extra cache just for page table entries.

    • VILLAIN_xx
    • 12 years ago

    Am i ugly?

      • BoBzeBuilder
      • 12 years ago

      Most likely. Yet I can’t see the relevance of your looks to the Phenom processors.

        • moose17145
        • 12 years ago

        LOL! Neither can i, but it made me laugh regardless.

    • KlasHeX
    • 12 years ago

    I see now that how close AMD and former ATi way of thinking is. Both think that aiming for achieving a more complex technical architecture (or more acvanced on paper) equals better performance in real world applications.

    I remember back when Dave Orton was talking about the superb “unseen levels of bandwidth” on the R600 and how he made everyone making up a dream GPU out of R600 in their minds. Oh yes it was a technical achievment to have a 512bit bus for R600 but thats just it a tech achievement nothing more. What was an R600 owner supposed to do when his card flopped in almost 99% of games with AA/AF? Whip out his magnifying glass and look for all the traces of the 512bit bus on the PCB and drool over that?

    Same story with Phenom. Native quad core yep a tech achievement but again that doesnt translate into super performance the way AMD executed it. Again its the case of removing the IHS off Phenoms and drooling over solid block of four cores in one die nothing more.

    Unless youre a super die hard AMD fan P H E N O M is a F L O P.

      • flip-mode
      • 12 years ago

      Define “flop”.

      • VILLAIN_xx
      • 12 years ago

      I notice the hardest critics are the gamers…

      But

      Did i witness a stock Phenom 9900 2.6ghz compete almost neck in neck with a Intel 3.0ghz on Bioshock?

      Wow.

      isnt this what Core 2 people were bragging about when E6600 2.4ghz defeated an AMD FX at 2.6ghz on games?

      hope the CPU and motherboard revisions will be better.

    • droopy1592
    • 12 years ago

    I really don’t think they are priced to move

    • bogbox
    • 12 years ago

    i like the name :)) phenom

      • bogbox
      • 12 years ago

      i’m waiting for quand fx

    • srg86
    • 12 years ago

    It seems the K10 is becoming the next K5. Very late to market because of engineering problems and not faster than the competition. The K5 also needed a second revision to improve its performance. Also its floating point performance was never as good as that of the Pentium (and so with K10 and its SSE performance). Plus with yield problems make it a very similar situation. Still the budget area should be okay (like with the Am5x86). The difference is that there is no NexGen to buy out for a decent design to use (Nx686 design became the K6) to bail them out.

    They are on their own this time.

    • droopy1592
    • 12 years ago

    I was waiting for this to figure out my upgrade path…

    Won’t be AMD.

    Ah, but the 3800+ x2 is still kicking!

      • provoko
      • 12 years ago

      Have an AM2 socket? Smartest upgrade would be Phenom, just drop it in. If they made a 939 version, I’d probably get one too.

    • wiak
    • 12 years ago

    [quote]
    AMD says it has plans to introduce yet another socket, dubbed AM3, to go along with its 45nm CPUs. That new dynamic duo will enable support for DDR3 memory types, when it arrives in 2008. Or, you know, whenever’s convenient. I wouldn’t put any money on 2008.
    [/quote]

    you forgot to metion that AM3 cpus will work in AM2 & AM2+ sockets 😛

    • tsoulier
    • 12 years ago

    what a let down

    • kraquen
    • 12 years ago

    Why does the quad core intel 6600 lose to the dual core intel 6750 on the folding @ home test? Can’t the quad core work on 4 WU’s at the same time vs 2 for the 6750? Or does the test only run 1 WU / time? or 2?

      • Flying Fox
      • 12 years ago

      IIRC I think it is testing one single WU on each run.

    • Dposcorp
    • 12 years ago

    Nice review Scott………worth the wait.

    I’ll be more then happy to pick up one of these once a B2 or C3 re-spin is out, maybe even a black edition.

    If they can get it to around $150 or so, it will be a great upgrade for us AM2 guys. Those of us that fold are not going to have any idle cores anyway.

    The respun CPUs should hit 2.7-3.0Ghz easy, and with 4 cores I’ll be humming along nicely until DDR3 or DDR4.

    Besides I buy AMD products to keep Intel & Nvida honest, so we don’t go back to the old days of over priced CPUs and GPUs.

    That is worth a little performance loss now.

    Thanks for goodies TR.

    • ew
    • 12 years ago

    Great review as always. I have one special Christmas request though. Can we get another one of those awesome price/performance reviews? My head is hurting from trying to understand the true value of processors without those great graphs that factor in price.

    • Mr Bill
    • 12 years ago

    How about some realistic user scenario benchmarks?

    Scenario (1)
    (1A) Start VLC and play DVD music video in a window
    (1B) Start that big compile job
    (1C) Fire up the shooter game and play till the compile is finished.

    Scenario (2)
    (2A) Start VLC and play a DVD music video in a window
    (2B) Start EAC to rip a CD or DVD of music files and convert to MP3s using the LAME encoder.
    (2C)Play shooter game till EAC finishes.

    So, how do the CPU’s compare on how much time the EAC or the compile jobs take and how does it affect fps of the shooter game? And does the music video stutter or have the sound interrupted?

      • danny e.
      • 12 years ago

      you’re compiling while fps gaming? i dont think so.

        • Mr Bill
        • 12 years ago

        I don’t fps game (except perhaps MS FS2004 or MS CFS2) but with 4 cores you should be able to at least bench it. Most of the fps games leave plenty of cores idle. A dual monitor card will let you game on the primary monitor one while you view other processes on the secondary monitor.

          • Shining Arcanine
          • 12 years ago

          If you are gaming on one monitor, I doubt you will be viewing information on another monitor. I also doubt that you would have a dual-monitor configuration if you plan on gaming, as the second monitor diverts resources on the graphics card from rendering tasks, especially on Vista.

            • indeego
            • 12 years ago

            I do this at work. I game on my right monitor and I leave email, IM, taskmanager, and a graphical display of my temps/speeds on the left. While gaming I leave the left monitor off most of the time, but turn it on to check status 1-2 times an hour.

            BTW I do this while off company time, lest anyone think I am screwing the man. Sadly, I’m not screwing the woman eitherg{<.<}g Performance isn't affected significantly, btwg{<.<}g

            • moose17145
            • 12 years ago

            I also run a dual monitor setup while gaming, it does not affect performance enough to really be noticeable from my experience, and i run most of my games at 1920×1200.

            • d2brothe
            • 12 years ago

            Agreed, I do this all the time, its nice to game and keep an eye on things. And windows vista drops to basic mode when you start a 3D app, so it doens’t really draw off much. Trust me on this…people game with dual monitors, and you can certainly compile + game on a quad system.

            • albundy
            • 12 years ago

            working hard or hardly working? hope your boss doesn’t read TR! LOL!

            • indeego
            • 12 years ago

            I showed him the games, as he’s a gamer himself. Considering I worked two 70 hour weeks in October, I think he’s all right with it.

            I’m actually trying to use up my PTO, since I have quite a bit of it built up, but no [t enough] money to go on a vacationg{<.<}g 🙁

    • Azazel
    • 12 years ago

    The best review of Phenom I have read!!

    why? there are information about the northbridge and its weird 2Ghz, the L3 latency of 22ns and so on. I would like to read even more info and tests about it, could the tlb problem be related with the 2Ghz or that big latency for only 2Mb? is there any way to overclock the northbridge?

    Whatever I dont understand is some tests (for example, cinebench), I read the anandtech’s review and this one but they dont match and I think anand is quite Intel biased….

    Thanks you very much and waiting for more info! 🙂
    cheers

      • EduardoS
      • 12 years ago

      32 bits vs 64 bits?

        • Azazel
        • 12 years ago

        Anandtech’s review is on Windows Vista 32bits so Cinebech R10 on 32bits:
        CPU – Singlethread – Multithread
        Intel C2Q Q6600 – 2466 – 8691
        Phenom 9900 – 2188 – 8350
        Phenom 9600 – 1948- 7385

        TechReport’s review on Windows Vista Ultimate 64bits and Cinebech 64bits
        Intel C2Q Q6600 – 2743 – 9837
        Phenom 9900 – 2742 – 10461
        Phenom 9600 – 2442 – 9458

        So…the Phenom works best in 64bits mode? In general, in anand review the phenom is lagging behind by far… and in techreport it seems to be quite better and even surppasing intel clock-per-clock basis on a few benchmarks…

        Is this an exception or Phenom scales very well with 64bits apps?

    • deruberhanyok
    • 12 years ago

    Does anyone else find it strange that they have this problem that is causing instabilities at clock speeds above 2.4GHz, but they’re planning on releasing a ‘black edition’ multiplier-unlocked chipped “for overclocking”? Or is this ‘black edition’ supposed to be released after they’ve fixed it?

      • JJCDAD
      • 12 years ago

      I was thinking the same thing. They can’t release a chip that runs at stock 2.6 but they’re gonna release an unlocked chip at 2.4 to provide overclocking? That doesn’t add up.

      • Beelzebubba9
      • 12 years ago

      I assume it’s just a marking gig to try and get the hearts of enthusiasts in their camp. Part of the beauty of the Q6600 is that it’ll hit 3.0Ghz until the cows come home and the children are in bed, and this is not a trait the Phenom seems to share at this point.

        • Deli
        • 12 years ago

        I’m and AMD fan (yes, it’s getting harder now), I wouldn’t mind dropping a low end Phenom on my Am2 boards currently. AMD did menton that the faulty TLB only affects system stability during specific operations at above 2.4ghz. I dont’ think I will be affected by it as I only game, basic uses. But AMD needs to play it safe in case of this f*cking them in the ass later on.

        Black Edition will be cool. But I’ll wait for B3z

    • JJCDAD
    • 12 years ago

    Great review. Tell the kids sorry about the pop tarts.

      • neon
      • 12 years ago

      do not feel too bad; the NEW count chocula pop tarts come with real vienna chocolate and mini-marshmallows. It’s part of a delicious dinner.

      OH! And, there is a free prize in the box – a mini-calculator powered by AMD’s new Geode X4 quad core.

        • JJCDAD
        • 12 years ago

        That made me laugh. 😀

    • Lianna
    • 12 years ago

    AMD did three bad things, and none of them is the Phenom.

    First, they made expectations too high, based just on extrapolations. 20 months ago, Intel knew Core2 rules the roost, but the have shown just 2.66GHz (while planning 2.93GHz) winning surely but not dramatically over 2.8GHz X2. The press where overwhelmed when they saw the real thing in full glory in July. AMD should have said: “our proposition will be the best one during the holiday season.” No one would wink at the delay. Which holiday? Winter ones 🙂

    Second, they misguided the press, several times, and the press does not like it. About the extrapolations, about the testing speeds (2.6GHz while planning only 2.4GHz, not counting the TLB problem) and about introdution time – several times. Some sites did not try to hide they were irritated at the start of testing, which some of them were forced to do at remote locations and not in the familiar and proven environment.

    Third, they should introduce only the 9600 model at the price of 239$. That’s exactly what they did with 38x0s, that are somewhat slower but cheaper than 8800GT and everyone’s fine with them, they are recommended at various sites as an equal price-performance to 8800GT, or at least not much worse. 9600 at 239$ vs. Q6600 at 266$ would be a fine choice and could support thesis about “The best proposition for holidays”, supported by gaming, HPC and upgrade market options, and not much worse at everything else. Some sites would undoubtedly praise them as the cheapest quad-core, calling it the best value, and making quite different impression in the process.

      • wingless
      • 12 years ago

      AGREED! You’re right. AMD got our expectations up with both the R600 and the Phenoms WELL BEFORE they reached the market. If they had come out and been 100% honest about the performance and cut the price, we would all just think of it as the cheaper, worthy alternative to Intel. Now its seen as a failure instead. Same performance, two totally different perceptions. AMD chose poorly like the Nazi in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Hopefully they don’t disintegrate into dust because I would hate to have to buy a $1200 Intel CPU. Intel needs price competition to settle their greedy asses down.

      • provoko
      • 12 years ago

      That’s a nice perspective. That is why people are being fired at AMD as we speak. 😉

      I think another thing they did wrong was talk about their wattage savings like it was something revolutionary. It may still be, but in reality it fails, unless we look only at the Barcelona Opterons. I would never put a Phenom in an HTPC.

      Their Overdrive software is probably their biggest success with these cpus, unfortunately it still may not be worth getting it for that reason.

    • dannyh246
    • 12 years ago

    I’m totally dissapointed!! I’ve been waiting for this to be released for the best part of a year, and lets face it folks its nowhere near what we were promised. Does anyone remember the “its 40% faster” comments from AMD?

    How the hell as AMD squandered a two year lead over Intel? Phenom should have been released 18months ago. It seems once K8 started kicking Intels backside they thought job done and switched off the lights.

    Things really arent looking good!! Yes of course Phenom will improve, we know this. But WHEN? If AMD takes another 3 months to sort this out then it really is game over. How can we believe their claims of their 45nm shrink will be this year? Is anyone actually confident of ever seeing Bulldozer? Contrast this with Intel does anyone think Nehalem will be late?

    Sack the entire AMD board. Someone needs to take responsibility for this.

      • snowdog
      • 12 years ago

      AMD has destroyed any trust and goodwill I had for them with those bogus claims. AMD was clearly referring to some all but useless benchmark that affects almost no real world software.
      That benchmark reference was also clock for clock and it is clear clock for clock they are behind. Some reviews had 9700 parts running 2.4GHz so perfect head to head with Q6600. AMD still clearly lose.

      The bottom line that at the same clock speed they are behind, throw in that they still can’t even get reliably above 2.4 GHz and this is completely FUBAR. Even if they fix the specific issue they have now they will be clearly trailing Intel which leads not only in IPC but seemingly can clock it’s chips at will, with penryns approaching 4GHz on air.

    • lex-ington
    • 12 years ago

    I am looking for the phenom test setup, but don’t see it. Was the test with the spiffy Giga-byte board you guys just reviewed?

    • WaltC
    • 12 years ago

    Sitting in his high-chair and slurping down some warm milk from from a plastic bottle, my two-year-old grandson, between resplendent belches and burps, asked me a probing question just yesterday.

    He said, “Hey, Ol’ Grandad! Hearken your two ears in my direction, for I have a question I would put to thee:

    “Forsooth, I have noticed in reading yon Internet reviews on Phenom that almost without exception, said reviewers have almost completely forgotten that the state of Core 2 today is much different from the state of Core 2 at its launch a year or so ago. Attend me now, Grandad…

    “What I mean is that at its launch I do not remember a single reviewer complaining that the initial shipping clockspeeds of the new Core 2 cpus were far lower than the ultimate clockspeeds attained by the P4, which came before it. And although during the first year of its development the Core 2 has gone through various improved revisions, core-logic chipsets, bios revisions, and changes to the fsb, just to mention a few things, none of these changes to the initially shipping Core 2 cpu seemed to ever bother or upset any of these reviewers.

    “So why is it, Grandad, that reviewers on Day One of Phenom’s introduction are apparently locked into the notion that the state of Phenom at its introduction as they apprehend it is the last word on the ultimate state of the cpu, as though Phenom, unlike Core 2, is destined for no improvements at all as time moves on into 2008 and beyond? Beg pardon, Grandad, but I cannot parse this conundrum, verily.”

    I have to admit my grandson raises a very salient point here…;) When Core 2 was launched I recall no such jokes and slights and asides as to the future improvements slated for Core 2 as Intel was spinning them, as those things were taken for granted, as they should have been. But with the Phenom launch, it seems, nothing in the way of improvements in the cpu’s future is taken for granted–as such improvements certainly should be. Why the double standard? Beats me…

      • lex-ington
      • 12 years ago

      That is a classic sir.

        • rxc6
        • 12 years ago

        Absolutely! A classic fanboy.

      • flip-mode
      • 12 years ago

      Because Core 2 won every test… unambiguously.

        • insulin_junkie72
        • 12 years ago

        For giggles, go back in the time machine… err, archives… and read his pro-AMD comments in the original Core2 review thread.

        I don’t believe he’s real, or at least is getting his kicks pulling some legs around here.

          • crazybus
          • 12 years ago

          Post #104 specifically 😛
          Hindsight is 20/20 as they say.

      • melvz90
      • 12 years ago

      more like a classical crap…

      when the Core architecture was launched, it blew the K8 on every benchmark conceived (except for the memory bandwidth).

      with the Phenom launch, the chips can barely keep up with the oldest quad-core lineup of the Core architecture.. and it will even require probably several revisions to even keep it at par with an old lineup… something which you all gotta wait…

      AMD has been working for a long time on the K10 and this is the only thing they can come up for now?!?

      that sure hell justifies their disappointment…

      • blockhead
      • 12 years ago
      • Flying Fox
      • 12 years ago

      Let’s say the original C2Ds are on a scale of 10, and the upcoming Wolfdale/Yorkfield are 12.

      When the first C2Ds were released that 10 was by winning *[

      • tfp
      • 12 years ago

      When Core2 launched Intel was WINNING. You post is an oversized waste of space.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 12 years ago

        is there an undersized waste of space? *snort*

          • tfp
          • 12 years ago

          I beleive that was my post

      • packfan_dave
      • 12 years ago

      You’re making the wrong comparison by looking at the Core 2 Duo launch, where Intel’s new CPUs consistently outperformed anything AMD had, and totally outclassed the Pentium D they replaced. And they were priced pretty competitively, too. Hence the C2D was widely praised.

      The right comparison, though, is probably with the Pentium 4 launch. Where Intel’s new chip didn’t always outperform its old chip, and struggled to keep up with K7. And hence was panned in the press, though some saw a fair amount of potential if Intel could ramp the clock up. The bright side is that Intel did ramp the clock up, K8 was late, and in the Northwood era the P4 was probably the best desktop CPU out there. The downside was that eventually AMD did get K8, and especially dual-core K8 out, and that ended Intel’s run at the top until C2D.

      • slot_one
      • 12 years ago

      Is your grandson named Stewart?

      • Jeff Grant
      • 12 years ago

      “Sitting in his high-chair and slurping down some warm milk from from a plastic bottle, my two-year-old grandson, between resplendent belches and burps, asked me a probing question just yesterday.

      He said, “Hey, Ol’ Grandad! Hearken your two ears in my direction, for I have a question I would put to thee:

      “Forsooth, I have noticed in reading yon Internet reviews on Phenom that almost without exception, said reviewers have almost completely forgotten that the state of Core 2 today is much different from the state of Core 2 at its launch a year or so ago. Attend me now, Grandad…

      “What I mean is that at its launch I do not remember a single reviewer complaining that the initial shipping clockspeeds of the new Core 2 cpus were far lower than the ultimate clockspeeds attained by the P4, which came before it. And although during the first year of its development the Core 2 has gone through various improved revisions, core-logic chipsets, bios revisions, and changes to the fsb, just to mention a few things, none of these changes to the initially shipping Core 2 cpu seemed to ever bother or upset any of these reviewers.

      “So why is it, Grandad, that reviewers on Day One of Phenom’s introduction are apparently locked into the notion that the state of Phenom at its introduction as they apprehend it is the last word on the ultimate state of the cpu, as though Phenom, unlike Core 2, is destined for no improvements at all as time moves on into 2008 and beyond? Beg pardon, Grandad, but I cannot parse this conundrum, verily.”

      I have to admit my grandson raises a very salient point here…;) When Core 2 was launched I recall no such jokes and slights and asides as to the future improvements slated for Core 2 as Intel was spinning them, as those things were taken for granted, as they should have been. But with the Phenom launch, it seems, nothing in the way of improvements in the cpu’s future is taken for granted–as such improvements certainly should be. Why the double standard? Beats me…”

      And this is why grandkids shouldn’t do drugs, boys and girls . . .

        • accord1999
        • 12 years ago

        Because the Core 2 Duo :

        a) at launch was far faster than anything on the market (and AMD still has yet to match the 1-2 thread performance of the E6700)
        b) had excellent overclockability

        The Phenom is neither. In fact not only does it clock lower than C2D, it’s also slower clock-for-clock, overclocks less and run hotters.

        Plus:

        c) any improvements AMD can make in the near future pale compared to what the 45nm C2Ds bring.

        • WaltC
        • 12 years ago

        /[

      • swaaye
      • 12 years ago

      I think AMD benefits a bit too much from the underdog status they enjoy.

      Just when in history has an AMD CPU seen notable improvements in performance over time? I don’t recall that ever happening.

      In fact, until Athlon 64, AMD’s CPU performance wasn’t even all that phenomenal in comparison to its various contemporaries. Athlon didn’t blow away P3, Athlon XP didn’t indisputably wipe away P4. They’ve had good value though, at least until they get the advantage and start slowly scaling the prices of their lines up as they did during Athlon 64’s heyday.

      Ironically, I think Core 2 Duo outperformed Athlon 64 X2 more than Athlon 64 outperformed Pentium 4. I think much more commotion came from Athlon64’s debut than Core 2 Duo’s.

      Phenom has a number of obvious disadvantages. First off, its memory latency is dramatically worse than Athlon 64’s. I find this to be especially strange and can only believe that this was done to tailor the CPU for server-oriented applications. That L3 doesn’t seem to benefit much in the desktop realm. And, we have the lack of SSE4, which by all counts appears to be a huge boon for video encoding. Can’t optimize for AMD there.

    • lyc
    • 12 years ago

    great review, thanks.

    now, let’s all toast to amd… they had a good run :'(

    • FubbHead
    • 12 years ago

    Great review.

    Now I wonder if the subpar sample from ASUS could’ve affected the performance, it seems to be a really crappy board.

    • EduardoS
    • 12 years ago

    Phenom does not support Suplemental SSE3, just SSE4a, also it does not execute any SSE instruction in a single clock, just have doubled throughput compared to K-8 (About the information on the first page, source: K-10 optimization manual).

    BTW, good job, that was an excellent review.

      • Kef
      • 12 years ago

      Which page?

    • TakkiM
    • 12 years ago

    You all read the results from other sites, techreport has almost identical results!

    clearly disappointing!

    the best quote i’ve read was on page 9:

    “Here’s a case where the K10 looks for all the world like a quad-core K8.”

    • Lianna
    • 12 years ago

    Big thanks to Damage for all the hard work. Your jokes and comments show that the text is written by a living person, and make me read all the review and not skip to charts, like I do on other sites.
    Thanks for stressing both strengths and weaknesses of 9600. Other sites forgot about the former, and while comparing to Q6600, commented like comparing with paper QX9770, which, according to quite a few sites, is not as stable (power, stability) silicon as Intel would like us to believe.
    I have both Core2 and X2 at home and while I would not buy a new system with Phenom, I probably will upgrade my AM2, if only the price is at the projected range _AND_ my MB gets the BIOS update.
    A follow-up article comparing at least a few benchmarks of AM2+ vs. AM2 would be great for all of us upgrading people; not only because of lower NB&L3 speed, but maybe other proven chipsets have better IO and would show Phenom in better light at least in WorldBench. A short check of AM2 mainboards as to BIOS update availability would be great, too; it could mobilize the makers to issue them faster.
    Once again, the article was definitely worth the wait. Thank you.

    • Jigar
    • 12 years ago

    Looking at the review i think, AMD now has a chance to fight back. The only thing they need to do is to ramp up the clock speed. Although it’s going to be a tough battle as Intel is already on 45nm technology and Intel can ramp up C2D’s clock speed at crazy heights, but now AMD has some chance with Phenom.

    • provoko
    • 12 years ago

    Disappointing. These cpus are only good for AM2 users for a convenient upgrade path to quad cores. But thats it. They aren’t good in price, wattage and performance.

    Competition ends today, no more Intel price cuts. DAMMIT!

      • DrDillyBar
      • 12 years ago

      That’s DAAMIT. 😉

    • Spotpuff
    • 12 years ago

    This is terrible. It’s reminding me of the P4: worse than the last generation, the competition, etc. Oh and don’t forget, you will have to buy a new motherboard to use these pieces of crap. Oh, and they’re going to introduce a NEW socket, so don’t buy these pieces of crap just now because your motherboard won’t be future proof either (AM3+). Seriously, what the hell.

    I am speechless at how AMD could manage to screw up so badly.

      • danny e.
      • 12 years ago

      you obviously didnt read the review. you dont need a new motherboard for these.

    • Nitrodist
    • 12 years ago

    “In fact, our 2.6GHz engineering sample wasn’t 100% stable, which is why you won’t find any overclocking results in this review.”

    Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!

    • Jypster
    • 12 years ago

    All down to price for me. If I can pick one up for under the price of a new systemboard and Q6600 ( about $470aus ) I will grab one to drop into my AM2 platform even if there is a slight performance loss.

    • matnath1
    • 12 years ago

    SCOTT:

    The X2 5600+ Runs at 2.8 ghz not 2.6!

    ” Both our representative from the happy future, the Phenom 9900, and the Athlon 64 X2 5600+ run at 2.6GHz, and the Phenom does gain a little per-clock performance. Not much, though, and surely less than initially expected from the K10 design. ”

      • Damage
      • 12 years ago

      Ack, you’re right. I’ve corrected the text. Thanks.

    • wingless
    • 12 years ago

    Time to wait and see what this B3 revision will fix. If that TLB problem kills performance then hopefully a fix will lessen the pure suckage.

      • flip-mode
      • 12 years ago

      l[

    • IamSpazzy
    • 12 years ago

    Why are some of the multi-core CPU utilizations under 100%? Is that the case for all of the processors? It seems strange to compare scores when percentage of core utilization isn’t 100%

      • Peldor
      • 12 years ago

      Because that’s how the real world operates. Few applications can keep four cores pegged at 100%.

      It’s not a trick. Put down the ax.

        • IamSpazzy
        • 12 years ago

        I didn’t mean to chop anything. =)

        But, if the core2 duo’s show better CPU utilization on the benchmarks say 95% vs 80% for the Phenom, then the benchmarks would be skewed. Now, that would still mean that the Intels were better platforms, but it would mean that there is some other bottleneck in the AMD processors such as memory subsystems or I/O, and I was merely asking whether the Intel processors showed the same trends meaning that the bottlenecks were universal across platform, or whether the new AMD processors had different bottlenecks that needed to be addressed

          • Mr Bill
          • 12 years ago

          Or, maybe the duos need to run at 100% to keep up? LOL, just sayin.

            • tfp
            • 12 years ago

            If Phenom aren’t isn’t running full out, Core2s are, and Phenom is behind in the benchmark that means there is a bottle neck some where in the CPU itself or the platform Phenom is running on.

    • Krogoth
    • 12 years ago

    Excellent Review, confirming what other reviews found.

    Phenom simply does not stand a chance against Penyrn-based C2Ds. Penyrns offer superior IPC performance, have a far larger celling and unequal in anything where SSE is king.

    • ludi
    • 12 years ago

    That was a LOT of work. Nice job.

    • eitje
    • 12 years ago

    q[

      • Choralone42
      • 12 years ago

      Great review! The manamana just made my evening. Too bad the CPU’s themselves leave a lot to be desired.

      COME ON AMD! GET IT TOGETHER! They’re beginning to remind me of the K6 days. The K6 was a good chip, but it just wasn’t good enough unless price was your ONLY concern. And even if price is your only concern now, Intel has several Core chips (none quad core) in the sub $150 price range.

      • Firestarter
      • 12 years ago

      Just a nitpick: I wouldn’t have known of that review if it weren’t for that plug. I browse Tech Report from the scrolly blue news as I have for years, and with the current design there is always just one featured article above it. Often I don’t even see that.

        • eitje
        • 12 years ago

        it was the presentation, not the content, that was funny. 🙂

        • indeego
        • 12 years ago

        I find the layout a tad confusing as well. I find I have missed a few of the articles and only got to them through the rotation of the pictureg{<.<}g

          • Firestarter
          • 12 years ago

          I like it how the Arstechnica layout is like a crossbreed between the main page and the scrolly blue news of Tech Report

    • VirulentShadow
    • 12 years ago

    Why does Intel’s 9650 seem to always beat its bigger cousin, the 9770?

      • Flying Fox
      • 12 years ago

      If you read past the gaming benchmarks the QX9770 does beat its little cousin in other things like LAME MT Encoding, image processing and others.

      The gaming scores are so close that I’m not sure if it is just statistical error?

        • VirulentShadow
        • 12 years ago

        ya true… but I expect the multithreaded stuff… but shouldn’t the 9770 single threaded performance outmatch it too, with a 3.2 GHZ? by more than just a point or two…

    • Sargent Duck
    • 12 years ago

    So, if a 2.6Ghz part is called the Phenom 9900, what are they going to call a 2.7Ghz chip? Phenom 10,000?

    And now I must go and read past the first 2 pages…

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