AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition Review
AMD's got a problem. As successful as Phenom II has been for them this year, their CPU margins have continued to decline.
Dropping from 65-nm Phenom and Athlon parts to 45-nm Phenom II and Athlon II was supposed to be the answer to this nagging issue. Both Phenom II and Athlon II families of CPUs deliver significantly improved performance over their predecessors, with lower power consumption and increased frequency headroom (read: overclocking); two issues which Phenom and Athlon never could overcome. In this regard, Phenom II and Athlon II have been unqualified success stories for AMD. The problem is, even with their newer 45-nm processors delivering improved performance, AMD has been forced to continually slash prices on their latest processors as the tit-for-tat price war between AMD and Intel dating all the way back to summer 2006 has continued: just when AMD begins to catch up to Intel in CPU performance, Intel responds with price cuts and cheaper dual and quad-core processors. AMD is then forced to respond to Intel with price cuts of their own.
This is slowly crippling AMDís bottom line. Last month the company reported losses of $330 million for Q2í09. Digging deeper in the numbers, AMD reported margins of 37%, a decline of 6% from Q1 of this year. As a result of the CPU price cuts, their ASPs (average selling price) continue to fall, while their CPU shipments were flat.
So basically AMD cut their prices, but they didnít manage to sell more CPUs than they did in the prior quarter. It doesnít take an MBA from Harvard to figure out thatís a hard way to make money.
Today's introduction of the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition is supposed to help AMD improve their margins, but with Intelís impending Lynnfield launch looming around the corner, AMD isnít using the introduction of the 965 BE to introduce a new $250+ price point. Instead the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition is selling for the 955ís old price, $245, and AMD cut prices
on several existing Phenom II CPUs and one Athlon II CPU earlier this week.
Thatís great news for consumers. You can now pick up AMDís former flagship processor, the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition, for $200 on Newegg, but itís bad news if youíre an AMD shareholder: unless AMD can phase out more 65-nm Athlon parts, donít expect ASPs to improve this quarter.
Under the hood of the 965
So what new features does the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition bring to the table? As the rumors have suggested for the past month or so, the 965 is indeed clocked at 3.4GHz -- 200MHz faster than the 955 -- but the CPU also boasts a higher 140W TDP (thermal design power). Previous Phenom II CPUs have maxed out at 125W TDP.
On one hand weíre happy to see that AMD isnít resorting to half multipliers and their incremental 100MHz speed bumps for their latest Phenom II BE CPU, but on the other, critics will point out this also contributes to the higher TDP figure.
Frankly as enthusiasts who crave max performance, we think the TDP comparisons are a bit overblown, as the incremental increase in power consumption is usually a tradeoff weíll happily take if that means improved performance. Just remember that with a higher TDP though, cooling will be more important. AMD has bumped the max temp up to 65 degrees Celsius (from 62) for the 965 Black Edition. Again, this isnít a big deal for enthusiasts running decent AM3 cooling in a midrange case, but could be a concern for those of you sticking with the stock AMD cooler in a smaller HTPC chassis.
The 965 chip is based on the exact same processor revision and stepping as the previous Phenom II 955, so the silicon itself carries over unchanged. As a result, AMDís essentially giving us a free 200MHz speed boost, with price cuts on slower Phenom II parts.
AMD also says select etailers including Newegg, TigerDirect, NCIX, Mwave, and ZipZoomFly will be offering CPU+mobo bundle deals where the Phenom II X4 965 is paired with an AM3 motherboard for $40 or more off the regular price. For even more savings, bundle deals adding Radeon GPUs and Corsair memory will also be offered.
Overclocking and new titles added to Smart Profiles
Since this is essentially the same hardware found in the 955, we werenít expecting the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition to overclock any further than our 955 did, and unfortunately, thatís exactly what we got.
The 965 CPU topped out at 3.849GHz (19.0x202.6), which is actually 11MHz shy of what we hit with our 955 sample. Like the 955, we could clock the 965 at speeds up to 4.0GHz and even run a couple of benchmarks at that speed, but in order to obtain full stability in all our CPU tests we had to dial the clocks down to 3.849GHz. We needed just over 1.5V of juice to obtain stability at that speed.
While weíre discussing OCíing, we should also mention that the latest build of AMD Overdrive adds Smart Profile support for nearly two dozen new games:
Call Of Duty 4 Ė Modern Warfare
Colin McRae: DIRT
Need For Speed: Carbon
Stalker: Shadow Of Chernobyl
Ghostbusters: The Video Game
Street Fighter IV
Resident Evil 5
TOCA: Race Driver 3
The Sims 3
FEAR 2: Project Origin
Gears of War
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
With Smart Profiles, Overdrive uses predefined game profiles to adjust the number of active CPU cores and their clock speeds for optimal performance or power efficiency. You can also use it to setup your own custom profiles.
Itís a new feature AMD introduced with Overdrive 3.0, which launched with support for 22 titles ranging from 3DMark 05 to newer games like Mirrorís Edge and Tom Clancyís HAWX. Overdrive 3.0 also shipped with support for Black Edition Memory Profiles, which brings officially sanctioned support for DDR3-1600MHz memory modules when paired with proper motherboard and BIOS support.
All of these features of course work perfectly with the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition. At most, youíll merely need a BIOS update for your motherboard to properly detect the new processor.