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AMD's Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition processor

An old horse gallops a few steps faster

AMD has taken to doing these 100MHz "speed bumps" lately, and frankly, it doesn't exactly make for compelling theater. When a processor clocked north of 3GHz gains 100MHz and replaces the prior model at the same price, pretty much nada shows up on the ol' seismograph we have hooked up to the CPU landscape. Yes, AMD just grew little more competitive—or, perhaps more aptly, a little less uncompetitive—versus the Intel juggernaut.

And yes, AMD needs to claw out every inch of space it can muster in this competitive environment, so adding another 100MHz whenever possible arguably makes sense.

Forgive us for not being more excited about watching a two-year-old, 45-nm quad-core adding a few percentage points worth of clock ticks each second. We're just pretty sure we know what will happen when that puppy steps into the ring with the Sandy Bridge buzz saw: small chunks of Deneb silicon will be flying in every direction in a fine, black mist.

With that illustrious introduction, we give you the Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition CPU. With four cores clocked at 3.7GHz, 6MB of L3 cache, and a 125W TDP rating, the X4 980 is a direct successor to the Phenom II X4 975 Black Edition. The X4 980 deviates slightly from the blueprint by adding 100MHz and coming in at $185, or $10 less than the prior top-end Phenom II X4. AMD tells us the X4 980's debut will push the the X4 975 down to $175, the X4 970 down to $155, and the X4 965 down to $135. We presume the senior member of the group, the X4 955, will have its case heard before an ObamaCare cost-reduction panel. Say your goodbyes now.

All of those members of the Phenom II X4 900 series, including the 980, are Black Editions, which means you get to picture them wearing trendy, black turtlenecks like Steve Jobs. Really, that's the major perk. The other, more minor perk? An unlocked multiplier, intended to make overclocking as free and easy as a circa-2005 home loan.

We've run the X4 980 through our CPU test suite—you can see the full setup documented right here in our Core i7-990X review—and we figure we might as well drop the performance summary on you immediately. In fact, we've compiled an overall performance index based on our test suite, and we've mashed it up with the latest pricing from AMD and Intel, for a single image that tells the value story for the current desktop CPU market. Behold:

The move from 3.6GHz to 3.7GHz grants the X4 980 about the sort of advantage you'd expect versus the X4 975—that is, not much. We'll refer you to our Sandy Bridge review for a full set of test results. Just imagine the X4 980 as a smidgen quicker than the X4 975 in any benchmark we ran.

Even among AMD's own CPU offerings, the X4 980's value proposition looks rather raw next to the Phenom II X6 1075T, which also participates in the price cuts today. The six-core 1075T has the same 125W TDP as the X4 980 and, thanks to the Turbo Core feature that the X4 980 lacks, the 1075T's peak clock speed is 3.5GHz. The 1075T will drop down to its base frequency of 3GHz when all six cores are busy, but its combination of more cores and flexible frequencies gives it a clear lead over the X4 980 in our overall performance index. That tells you something of the X4 980's flavor; products with lower core counts generally offer higher peak frequencies for the same price, but AMD's Turbo Core has rendered the X4 900-series' appeal suspect.

Meanwhile, the $184 Core i5-2400 offers substantially higher overall performance than the X4 980 or the X6 1075T—for the same money, and with a lower 95W power envelope. If you look beyond the overall summary, you'll find that the Core i5-2400 generally outperforms the X4 980 in workloads that are both lightly and heavily threaded.