It’s been a pretty lousy six months in AMD fan boy land. Even the most vocal of fan boys have found themselves ducking for cover as AMD was hit with delays, production problems and errata bugs.
With the release of the Phenom X4 9850, AMD hopes to finally put some of those problems behind it. Dubbed “B3” chips, the new CPU no longer features the infamous TLB bug that hobbled performance of the original Phenom chips. If it isn’t already obvious to you, AMD is also reverting back to the X4 nomenclature that it had toyed around with before Phenom launched. New Phenom’s will now carry the X4 designation for quad cores and X3 for tri-cores (of if you want to be snide, quad cores with one bad core).
We tested the new 2.5GHz Phenom X4 9850 using an Asus M3A32-MVP board with 2GB of Corsair Dominator RAM at 1066MHz data rates, a 150GB WD Raptor, Windows XP SP2, and the new Nvidia GeForce 9800GX2 GPU. For a comparison, we populated a new 45nm Penryn Core 2 Quad Q9300 and a Core 2 Quad Q6600 in an EVGA nForce 790i Ultra motherboard. For those who don’t know, the Q9300 doesn’t have the same relationship that the Q6600 has to the top-end procs. Intel has cut the cache in half from the 12MB in a Core 2 Extreme QX9650 to 6MB in the Q9300. This makes it sort of a “Penryn-lite” chip. Why? There’s probably two explanations: Intel has either decided to do something with its Penryn CPUs with some bad cache (ala AMD) or it has decided to hobble the chip intentionally to give its top quad cores more of an edge. We set the pair of 1GB Crucial DDR3 modules at 1333 and installed Windows XP SP2 on a WD Raptor 150GB drive. Finally, the same reference GeForce 9800GX2 card was used in the same machine and the same public drivers were used for both tests. Is it fair to pit a DDR3 platform against a DDR2 platform? We think so. Afterall, we would have tested Phenom on DDR3 but there’s just no support for it yet. Even though the DIMMs in our Core 2 platform cost more than the CPUs, we think it would be unfair to not put the Core 2’s best foot forward. If anything, Intel is probably grumbling that the test should be conducted on X48 which, we’re sure, the company thinks is a better and faster platform.
For the most part, the Q9300 owned the night. It generally outpaced the old Q6600 quad core and the new Phenom quad core in most of our tests. In a clock-for-clock test between the Phenom and Penryn, we would declare the Q9300.
AMD fans shouldn’t hand their heads in shame though. The Phenom numbers weren’t so far behind as to be dead in the water. Certainly, it doesn’t go quite head-to-head with the Penryn-lite but it is still fastest AM2 chip available today for most apps. That makes it a pretty good upgrade for those with AM2 boards that are capable of supporting Phenom. If you had to start afresh though and you weren’t opposed to Intel for anything other than religious reasons, Core 2 is still the champ in the cheap quad core category.
AMD’s big problem is expectations. When Phenom first launched late last year, the company had built up wild expectations that Phenom would level the playing field with Intel’s quad core. In truth, all it could do was barely compete with Intel’s lowest of the low quad cores – a chip that was a year old. AMD still has no response to Intel’s 3GHz Core 2 Quad QX9650 and the soon to be released 3.2 Core 2 Quad QX9770 chip and it doesn’t look like the company will for several more months. Meanwhile, Intel is already demonstrating fully functional Nehalem CPUs and says they’re on track to launch later this year.