AMD launches new AM3 Phenom II processors / Phenom II 720 and 810 Review

by Reads (11,112)

Even though AMD just launched their new Phenom II processors, they’re not wasting any time in rolling out the rest of their platform.  Following the recent price drops on their 940 and 920 processors comes the launch of AMD’s socket AM3 CPUs as well as their first tri-core Phenom IIs.  All of the processors manage to clock in at less than $200, and we’ve got a couple in for review.  Is AMD’s strategy of competing on price worthwhile?  Read on to find out.

As I mentioned in our review looking at the first chips in the Phenom II series, AMD isn’t competing on top of the line performance this time around.  To be frank, they simply can’t.  Instead, they’re focusing on competing with Intel in the mid to low end of the desktop market, and it looks like they’re finding their place. Today AMD showed off more of that strategy by releasing a handful of new socket AM3 chips:

  • Phenom II x3 710 @ 2.6 GHz, 1.5MB L2 cache, 6MB L3 cache
  • Phenom II x3 720 BE @ 2.8 GHz, 1.5MB L2 cache, 6MB L3 cache
  • Phenom II x4 805 @ 2.5 GHz, 2MB L2 cache, 4MB L3 cache (OEM only)
  • Phenom II x4 810 @ 2.6 GHz, 2MB L2 cache, 4MB L3 cache
  • Phenom II x4 910 @ 2.6 GHz, 2MB L2 cache, 6MB L3 cache (OEM only)

In quantities of 1,000 chips, the 710 will go for $125, the 720 for $145 and the 810 for $175.

Already we’ve seen AMD lower the prices on the Phenom II 940 and 920, both to make them more attractive versus Intel’s competing Core i7 and Core 2 Quad lineups and in preparation for the entry of their follow-up chips.  The 940 and 920 both launched as AM2+ processors, able to be dropped into current AM2+ motherboards, making the upgrade an easy option for users who wanted to upgrade to the newest platform.  The new processors AMD launched today are actually socket AM3 chips; in an interesting move, however, AMD has made them compatible with both AM2+ and AM3 boards.  This means that upgrading your system isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, and this is the point that AMD really wants to win mindshare in their struggle against Intel. 

The Phenom II lineup, as our earlier review discussed, is designed to provide a multi-tier upgrade path to the end user.  You can buy a new processor to work with your current setup, then a new motherboard, and then new RAM.  While you’ll still likely end up spending between two and four hundred dollars at a minimum, it doesn’t have to happen all at once, and it’s still a good bit less than the six or seven hundred dollars you’d need to pay for Intel’s faster platform.

Benchmarks

Our benchmarking system was a custom built computer featuring AMD processors, an ASUS M3A78-T 790GX motherboard, 4 GB DDR2-1066 Kingston RAM (special thanks to Kingston for supplying that), an 80GB 7200RPM SATA hard drive and an ATI HD4870X2 running at stock speeds. For the video benchmarks, we encoded a roughly 22 minute 1080p MPEG-2 video file to 1080p x.264. The audio compression used 14 tracks (a total of 560MB) in uncompressed WAV format taken to 320kbps MP3 files using the LAME encoder.

wPrime benchmark comparison results (lower numbers mean better performance)

CPU wPrime 32 time
Core i7 920 @ 2.66 GHz 9.1s

Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.6 GHz (OC)

10.593s
Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.0 GHz

12.361s

Phenom II x3 720 BE @ 3.8 GHz (OC) 13.183s
Core 2 Extreme QX6850 @ 3GHz 13.869s
Phenom II x4 810 @ 2.6 GHz 14.397s
Core 2 Quad Q9450 @ 2.66 GHz 14.625s
Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33 GHz 16.301s
Phenom II x3 720 BE @ 2.8 GHz 17.592s

PCMark05 and 3DMark06 CPU test performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance)

CPU PCMark05 CPU Test
3DMark06 CPU Test

Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.6 GHz (OC)

10576 PCMarks 4745 3DMarks
Phenom II x3 720 BE @ 3.8 GHz (OC)
9899 PCMarks 4120 3DMarks
Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.0 GHz 9020 PCMarks 4241 3DMarks
Phenom x4 9850 BE @ 2.9 GHz (OC) 8498 PCMarks 3875 3DMarks
Phenom II x4 810 @ 2.6 GHz 7750 PCMarks 3684 3DMarks
Phenom x4 9950 BE @ 2.6 GHz 7682 PCMarks 3551 3DMarks
Phenom II x3 720 BE @ 2.8 GHz 7286 PCMarks 3197 3DMarks
Phenom x3 8750 BE @ 2.4 GHz 6195 PCMarks 2684 3DMarks

Audio/Video Compression Test (lower scores mean better performance)

CPU Video Test (HH:MM:SS)
Audio Test (HH:MM:SS)

Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.6 GHz (OC)

00:12:43 00:00:30
Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.0 GHz 00:13:44 00:00:36
Phenom x4 9850 BE @ 2.9 GHz (OC) 00:14:18 00:01:20
Phenom II x3 720 BE @ 3.8 GHz (OC) 00:14:25 00:01:20
Phenom II x4 810 @ 2.6 GHz 00:14:50 00:00:41
Phenom x4 9950 BE @ 2.6 GHz 00:14:52 00:01:24
Phenom II x3 720 BE @ 2.8 GHz 00:18:30 00:01:22
Phenom x3 8750 BE @ 2.4 GHz 00:21:22 00:01:57

Because of both the price and performance capacity of the new Phenom II processors, AMD isn’t really targeting them against Intel’s Core i7; that’s really a market all to itself at the moment.  Instead, they’re gunning more for the high-end Core 2 Quad chips, which are still very popular sellers.  It’s actually a pretty good spot to be in, as AMD manages to be very competitive in this segment of the market for the price, and in some instances edges Intel out in terms of value for the dollar.  According to their press materials, AMD is putting the new x4 810 (locked multiplier) at $175 against Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q8200 at $170.  In this case, it looks like AMD is coming out on top, as the 810 looks to be a very capable midrange quad-core processor.  As Intel doesn’t produce tri-core processors (which are actually AMD’s quad-core processors with one core disabled), AMD is targeting the $145 x3 720 Black Edition (unlocked multiplied) against a couple of Intel’s dual-core chips: the $165 E8400 and the $140 E7500.

Price of new Phenom II CPUs vs selected Intel models

CPU Price ($US)

Phenom x3 8750 BE

$119
Phenom II x3 710 $125
Phenom x4 9850 BE  $145
Phenom II x3 720 BE
$145
Phenom x4 9950 BE  $163

Core 2 Quad Q8200

$170
Phenom II x4 810 $175
Phenom II x4 920 $189

Phenom II x4 940

$229
Core i7 920 $295

In terms of gaming performance, unless you’re going to be gaming at very low resolutions, any modern game is almost certainly going to be GPU-bound.  What that means for you is that almost any of these processors will give you equivalent gaming performance when paired with a high-end discrete graphics card.  Moreover, it’s worth pointing out that very few games have yet to support multiple cores in any meaningful capacity.  Steam’s January 2009 hardware survey shows that less than twelve percent of their users (which are likely a fairly accurate cross-section of gamers as a whole) have four cores in their system.  Until this number rises in large amounts, we’re not likely to see game publishers change their direction.  That means that a very fast (stock or overclocked) dual-core processor could very likely beat out tri- or quad-core CPU in terms of gaming performance.

Conclusion

The new AM3 CPUs are a logical extension of AMD’s piecemeal upgrade plan and fill in a gap in their lineup.  The x4 920 and x4 940 processors take care of their high-end chips and the x3 710, x3 720 and x4 810 solve the blank space in the mid to mid-high range.  We’ve yet to see any dual-core Phenom IIs, which should be a very interesting product indeed.  Given how well the quad-core Phenom IIs have been overclocking, and the fact that the tri-core chips seem to be even easier to OC with one less core to push (the 720 I had easily went up to 4 GHz on air, but it wasn’t very stable.  I’m betting with a better cooler and more patience you can get some pretty stunning results with this chip), the dual-core Phenom IIs should compete rather well with Intel’s own two core units. 

For now, it looks like AMD has the capacity to carve out a few very comfortable niches in the general processor spectrum.  Against their chosen competitors on the Intel side of things, the new Phenom II chips seem to be worthwhile choices.  It will be interesting to see if consumers agree as the year progresses; Intel won’t be sitting still, and they don’t take the thought of giving up marketshare lightly.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • x3 720 BE yields excellent overclocking potential
  • AM3 CPUs can be used in AM2+/AM3 boards

Cons

  • Pre-built systems containing Phenom II processors have been inexplicably priced higher than they should be


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