Year Of The Dragon6:00 PM EST Fri. Jan. 23, 2009
The seemingly age-old processor war keeps movin' on. Advanced Micro Devices launched its first line of CPUs built with 45nm technology in early January. Dubbed the Phenom II, the pair of quad-core processors are the 3.0GHz X4 940 Black Edition and the 2.8GHz X4 920. The Test Center got a prerelease unit of the X4 940 and ran it through our standard tests.
The Phenom II is considered the heart of AMD's Dragon platform, which also consists of ATI Radeon HD 4800 series graphics, AMD 7-series chipsets and AMD software. Dragon's goal is to enable high-definition gaming, video processing and entertainment at an affordable price.
The X4 940 carries AMD's traditional Black Edition moniker, which signifies its unlocked multiplier. As such, this will likely make it popular among the overclocking community. Keeping the latest AM2+ form factor, the new processors will be backward-compatible with most current motherboards, although a BIOS update will most likely be needed.
Major feature enhancements include an 8-MB total cache (L2+L3) and additional power states that provide a lower power idle and consumption under moderate load when used with the company's Cool'n'Quiet 3.0 Technology (enabled via the BIOS).
Our test system consisted of an NZXT chassis and PSU, with the X4 940 installed into an MSI DKA790GX Platinum motherboard and 4 GB of Kingston Technologies ValueRAM memory. We stuck with the integrated Radeon HD 3300 GPU to focus on the processor's capabilities.
After installing Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 and all the necessary drivers, and updating the OS with the latest patches, we ran the latest version of Primate Labs' benchmarking program Geekbench2, which returned a respectable score of 5,477. Since this is a Black Edition processor, reviewers did some minor overclocking. Using only a heatsink and fan for cooling, we focused mainly on the FSB frequency, slowly increasing the setting, and rebooting to run Geekbench2 again.
As usual, the blue screens eventually appeared and we had to throttle back a little. In the end, we bumped the clock up to 3.50GHz, achieving a Geekbench2 score of 6,392. We saw a higher score only for Intel's latest Core i7 models built on Nehalem.
Of course, it really isn't fair to compare the Phenom II to the Core i7. Although their stock processor speeds are similar, the Core i7 is priced significantly higher. It also brings with it a list of necessities, such as a new motherboard and DDR3 memory with specific voltage requirements. This essentially means you need a whole new system.
What it basically comes down to is a balance between price and performance. Although a new system built around Nehalem will probably be the top performer, it will cost you. With the Phenom II and AMD's Dragon platform, a powerful system can be built for a relatively lower price.
At $235 and $275, respectively, the X4 920 and X4 940 are great for those with new AMD-based computers who want to upgrade. They also let system builders upgrade with only two new SKUs.