AMD faithful and bargain hunters alike have a pair of new toys to play with starting today, as AMD launches two new processors for its socket AM3 platform, the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition and 945. Both parts boast compatibility with AM2+ (DDR2) and AM3 (DDR3) motherboards, while the Phenom II X4 955 BE supplants the AM2-based 940 as AMD's new flagship entry in its Phenom line.
Coinciding with the launch, AMD has also overhauled its Dragon Platform Technology, saying "every aspect of the platform has been improved and the overall value is impressive." And we'd have to agree, considering both new chips are being priced below $250. Let's take a closer look at the whole kit-and-kaboodle.
Starting with the lower model number, AMD's Phenom II X4 945 might conjure up a sense of déjà vu when glancing at the spec sheet, and that's because it's essentially the same chip as AMD's Phenom II X4 940, only in AM3 trim. What this means is that the 945 also comes clocked at 3.0GHz and packed with 8MB of L2+L3 cache (4x512KB L2 cache per core + 6MB L3 cache), but unlike its predecessor, the 945 supports DDR3 memory when used with an AM3-based motherboard. For those not yet ready to upgrade their existing board and buy new RAM, the 945 also works with AM2+ mobos.
Ranking as the more exciting release, at 3.2GHz AMD's Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition comes clocked faster than any other Phenom processor to date. And like the 945, the 955BE works with both AM2+ and AM3 motherboards, the latter of which brings support for DDR3-1333MHz memory. When paired with DDR3, AMD says to expect up to 37.3GB/s of total processor-to-system bandwidth, or up to 33.1GB/s when paired with DDR2-1066 memory and an AM2+ board.
No changes in cache separate the 955BE from the 945 or 940BE, but like all of AMD's Black Edition processors, the 955BE sports an unlocked multiplier, and AMD tells us its new chip "should demonstrate substancial overclocking headroom."
In part keeping with the company's aggressive pricing strategy, and out of necessity given the pressure being applied by Intel, the 955BE should see street pricing set to around $245. According to AMD, this makes the new chip a better buy than Intel's $270 Core 2 Quad Q9550, not only in price, but performance too, where a suddenly spunky AMD tells us the 955BE "definitively bests quad-cores within its price range."
New processors aren't the only thing on tap over at AMD. The chip maker has given its Dragon Platform a face lift of sorts, which consists of the following combination of parts and technologies:
AMD's 955BE requires an updated BIOS to run properly, and so far, the company says a handful of motherboards are prepared for the release. These include:
AM3 / 790FX
AM3 / 790GX
AM2+ / 790FX
AM2+ / 790GX
Continuing its marketing blitz, AMD appears to be flying high over its new OverDrive 3.0 software. New to version 3.0 are AMD Smart Profiles, which gives end-users fine-tune control over the processor's individual cores on a per appliation basis. So say you fire up a game optimized for dual-core processors - with OverDrive, you can ramp up the clockspeed on the two cores that will be utilized, while clocking down the other two cores.
Also new to version 3.0 are Black Edition Memory Profiles (B.E.M.P.). Similar to Nvidia's EPP profiles and Intel's XMP profiles, expect to see memory makers release modules desiged specifically for AM3-based systems. When enabled, B.E.M.P. will set more aggressive frequency and latency settings based on pre-tuned memory profiles.
Other enhancements to include a customizable autoclock, better hardware monitoring support, and Windows 7 compatibility.
No doubt it's been a rocky couple of years for AMD, who fell from atop its perch as the performance leader to now struggling just to keep pace with Intel's last-gen silicon. The good news is AMD seems to finally be in a groove with its Phenom line, and this latest launch provides AMD with a DDR3 foundation to build upon, while also offering AM2+ motherboard owners a drop-in replacement without the need for new RAM. And at less than $250 for the CPU and several sub-$200 AM3 motherboards to choose from, the 955BE offers a compelling alternative to that Core i7 rig you may have been considering, at least on paper.