AMD Phenom II x4 965 Black Edition Processor Review

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Overview

  • Pros

    • Fastest AMD chip
    • Socket AM2+ compatible
    • Cheaper than most i7 chips
  • Cons

    • Slower than Intel's top CPUs
    • Core i5 launches soon

AMD and Intel have been trading blows since AMD decided to become a major competitor in the x86 market. Since that time, the two companies have traded the performance crown back and forth, but for the last few CPU revisions, it’s been sitting securely on Intel’s head. With the Phenom II X4 965 has AMD finally managed to wrest it back, or is it just another case of too little too late? Read on for our full review.

Intel originally took the lead in the current performance war with the introduction of their Core/Core 2 microarchitectures. AMD’s been struggling to keep up in the consumer space and hold on to their roughly 20% marketshare. Since AMD hasn’t been able to claim victory in terms of engineering the most computationally powerful processor, they’ve branched out into other areas: idle power usage, value in a package and selling the platform as a whole. The platform in this instance would be the new PII 965, AMD’s 790 series chipset, and their most powerful single-GPU card, the ATI Radeon HD4890.

Specifications

CPU Model Frequency L2 Cache L3 Cache CPU Socket TDP Process
Phenom II x4 945 3.0Ghz 2MB 6MB AM3 (AM2+ compatible) 95W 45nm
Phenom II x4 955 3.2Ghz 2MB 6MB AM3 (AM2+ compatible) 125W 45nm
Phenom II x4 965 3.4Ghz 2MB 6MB AM3 (AM2+ compatible) 140W 45nm

The new model cements AMD’s pricing strategy by being introduced at the same price as was held by the previous performance champ: $245. That makes it an interesting option compared to Intel’s offerings: the two Core 2 Quad processors that bracket the Phenom II 965 are the Core 2 Quad 9550 and the Core 2 Quad 9650. The C2Q 9550 comes in a bit under the $249 asking price of the 965 at $219.99 while the C2Q 9650 is far on the other side at $319.99 (which makes one wonder: even if you do prefer Intel, the 9650 isn’t going to be worth the high premium over the 9550).

AMD’s pricing structure may have stayed the same, but their offerings certainly haven’t. With the introduction of recent CPUs, they’ve tightened up their processor lineup, with twelve processors now comprising the Phenom II lineup; there’s really only three at the high end: the 945, 955 and 965. There are two 9XXe CPUs, the low-power chips, the 8XX series is now completely gone, and the 7XX series is down to four options: two high performers and two energy efficient processors. The relatively new dual-core Phenom IIs round out the microarchitecture’s lineup.

Up until now
The Phenom II x4 965 is the fastest CPU AMD has ever offered. It’s also the highest clocked; it’s important to note that the two are not the same thing. Before we dig into some of the raw benchmark numbers, let’s look a little further at the niche strategy AMD has carved out for itself in the consumer market. It’s clear that Intel’s Core i7 has been beating AMD’s Phenom II up until now, but that performance comes at a price. While the cost of the new technology has come down very slightly, it’s still very expensive to buy into, with the cheapest of the i7 chips, the Core i7 920, coming in at $279.99. It’s also incompatible with all but the newest high-end motherboards and requires DDR3 memory (although the prices of DDR3 of come down dramatically recently, and will soon surpass DDR2 in terms of value). Moreover, the upcoming mainstream-minded Core i5 CPUs will use yet another socket, putting the future upgrade paths for Core i7 users if not in jeopardy, then at least in doubt.

AMD looked at that and saw an opportunity in providing better performance for the dollar for computer users checking out the platform as a whole. Even this new 965, despite being a Socket AM3 chip, can be put into an older AM2+ motherboard and use all the same components users already have. Then they can upgrade the motherboard and RAM and keep the chip, finally upgrading the chip a second time later on down the path. That’s definitely an attractive option for users who are willing to put the time and effort into maintaining and upgrading their desktops — which is really the most attractive thing about these bigger computers. At the same time, value will only take you so far: at some point certain users will always opt for the best performance rather than what may be a better value, and there are some manufacturers seeing that trend and modifying their product lines accordingly.


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