Performance, Power and Conclusion

August 15, 2009 by J.R. Nelson Reads (5,855)

Performance
All of which brings us to the elephant in the room: performance. Just how well does this newest revision of AMD’s flagship offerings compete? Can it finally broach the club currently populated by Core i7 CPUs? Does that really matter in day-to-day tasks? Let’s take a look at some raw numbers.

Our AMD test system was built with the following components:

  • Motherboard: ASUS M4A79T Deluxe
  • Processor: AMD Phenom II X4 965 @ 3.2GHz
  • Memory: 4GB Corsair DDR3 1066 RAM
  • System drive: OCZ Vertex EX 128GB solid state drive

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

CPU PCMark05 CPU Test
3DMark06 CPU Test
Phenom II x4 965 @ 3.4GHz 10311 PCMarks 4755 3DMarks
Intel Core i7 920 @ 2.66GHz 9374 PCMarks 4852 3DMarks
Phenom II x4 955 @ 3.2GHz 9693 PCMarks 4242 3DMarks
Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.0GHz 9020 PCMarks 4241 3DMarks
Core 2 Quad Q8400 @ 2.66GHz 8459 PCMarks 3888 3DMarks
Phenom II x4 810 @ 2.6GHz 7750 PCMarks 3684 3DMarks
Phenom x4 9950 BE @ 2.6GHz 7682 PCMarks 3551 3DMarks

wPrime benchmark comparison results (lower numbers mean better performance)

CPU wPrime 32 time
Core i7 920 @ 2.66 GHz 9.1s
Phenom II x4 965 @ 3.4GHz 11.09s
Phenom II x4 955 @ 3.2 GHz 11.859s
Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.0 GHz

12.361s

Core 2 Extreme QX6850 @ 3GHz 13.869s
Phenom II x4 810 @ 2.6 GHz 14.397s
Core 2 Quad Q8400 @ 2.66 GHz 14.133s
Core 2 Quad Q9450 @ 2.66 GHz 14.625s

Audio Compression Test (lower scores mean better performance)

CPU Audio Test (HH:MM:SS)

Phenom II x4 965 @ 3.4GHz

00:00:34

Phenom II x4 955 @ 3.2 GHz

00:00:35
Phenom II x4 940 @ 3.0 GHz 00:00:35
Core 2 Quad Q8400 @ 2.66 GHz 00:00:36
Phenom II x4 810 @ 2.6 GHz 00:00:41
Phenom II x3 720 BE @ 2.8 GHz 00:01:22

It’s clear that AMD has turned up the power on the PII x4 965; it doesn’t have any real changes or quirks to the underlying chip architecture; it’s simply tuned a little bit faster. As a result it powers through benchmarks faster than any of AMD’s previous offerings. For the first time, it’s actually nipping at the heels of Intel’s Core i7 family. Granted, it’s the lower-end enthusiast Intel chip vs the high-end enthusiast AMD chip, but it’s still a decent feat. Especially when you consider, not to beat a dead horse, the cost involved between the two. The PII 965 can’t touch the higher end Core i7 CPUs, but it will definitely trade blows with the 920 in most situations: gaming, encoding, etc. In day-to-day use it’s essentially unnoticeable.

The real curiosity comes when it’s time to consider Intel’s upcoming release of the Core i5 series processors. Details are still pretty scarce as to what pricing will be like, and how each of those processors will stack up against both Intel’s own chips as well as their competitor’s. Rumors are floating around that the Core i7-570 chip will be running around $199: if that’s the case, we might be seeing AMD push down their prices a bit. That might be bad news for AMD, but it would certainly be great news for consumers.

Overclocking
When it comes to overclocking, the new 965 is actually easier to bump up than the previous AMD flagship CPU. On a simple air cooler, without much in the way of work or preparation, I managed to push it up to 3.8GHz easily. It was fairly stable at this point, even. Of course, the late Phenoms have a reputation for being good overclockers, so pressing on, we got it up to 4.1GHz, but it took some extra voltage and it wasn’t very stable. I suspect that with good cooling, patience and a great deal of trial and effort, consumers could reasonably expect 4GHz out of most chips, and 3.8GHz out of pretty much all of them.

Power consumption
AMD sort of took a step backwards when it came to the power draw of the new Phenom II x4 965. While all of the late efforts have come in with a TDP of 125 watts or less. the 965 comes with a labeled TDP of 140 watts. This is the first time AMD has put out a chip that hungry since the older Phenom I x4 9950 (the first revision). Still, AMD has put a lot of effort into power draw and idling, and they’ve done a respectable if not mindblowing job. At idle, our test system drew 164 watts of electricity. With all four CPU cores pegged at 100% for several minutes, that number goes up to right around 240 watts. Certainly less than the 140 than AMD might caution, but 80 watts is still a fair amount of power.

Conclusion
In the end, AMD has put out their fastest consumer chip to date. Tuned a little higher than its PII 955 predecessor, it manages to soundly beat out any of AMD’s previous processors, and actually nip at the heels of Intel’s enthusiast Core i7 CPU family. For the first time, performance junkies who would otherwise consider Intel’s Nehalem chips might be drawn to AMD’s Deneb-based CPUs. Like the rest of the Phenoms, it’s a decent overclocker without too much effort, and it will fly through pretty much any game or day-to-day task you can think of, including a passable effort at A/V encoding.

The real unknown is how Intel’s Core i5 processors are going to stack up. The 965 has done a good job of bumping up to the Core i7-920 for pretty cheap (unless you live near a Microcenter, which sells the 920 for $199); if Intel releases a mainstream-oriented Core i5 with close to the same performance for less than $200, AMD’s going to have a problem. They can still argue from a position of superior value thanks to their great backwards compatibility, but Intel has the strength of brand recognition and can force the chips down. Regardless, as of right now, the AMD PII 965 is a good buy for anyone who skipped some of the previous Phenom II chips, and if you thought your next build was Intel all the way, maybe it’s time to reconsider.

Pros

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

Cons

  • Slower than Intel’s top CPUs
  • Uncertain value with Core i5 launch imminent


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