Summary: Earlier this week AMD slashed prices on their lineup of Phenom and Athlon CPUs to make room for the Phenom 9950 Black Edition and 9350e. See how these CPUs perform in this article!
For all their accomplishments though, one item has stubbornly remained on AMD’s To-Do list: release a 2.6GHz Phenom.
With Phenom originally launching at speeds up to 2.3GHz, you’d think that hitting an additional 300MHz in clock speed wouldn’t be much of a challenge for AMD. Obviously they felt the same way to, as their Phenom roadmap at launch called for a 2.6GHz part by the end of Q1’08.
Clearly we can now see how those projections turned out.
Introducing the Phenom 9950 Black Edition
With today’s arrival of the Phenom 9950 Black Edition, AMD has finally delivered a 2.6GHz part. And since it’s a Black Edition CPU, it features an unlocked multiplier. This particular feature makes it appealing for enthusiasts who like to dabble in overclocking.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the 140W Phenom 9950 Black Edition are AMD’s new Energy Efficient line of Phenom CPUs, the Phenom 9350e and 9150e. These CPUs boast a TDP of just 65W, making them the most energy efficient quad-core CPUs on the market today (in comparison, Intel’s most efficient 45-nm quad-core CPUs feature a TDP as low as 95W). Up to now, AMD had previously only offered one EE CPU, the Phenom 9100e, and AMD was selling it solely to OEMs, excluding the retail market entirely. By now offering these CPUs at retail, DIY’ers can purchase these chips at Fry’s, Newegg, or other retailers and drop them into custom built home theater PCs.
AMD has offered 65W dual-core X2 CPUs at speeds as high as 2.6GHz for some time now, and just added 2.9GHz 65W X2 parts to their lineup for under $100 as well, but if you’re someone who needs more than just two cores for video encoding, heavy multitasking, etc, and you’ve been wanting to build a small form factor or HTPC, these chips are intended for you.
Unfortunately, AMD doesn’t appear to be binning these CPUs, instead their TDPs are obtained solely by running these chips at lower clock speeds and voltages than previous Phenom processors. The Phenom 9150e for instance runs at 1.8GHz, with its memory controller topping out at 1.6GHz. With the HyperTransport interface running at the same 1.6GHz clock speed as the memory controller, this limits peak CPU bandwidth to 29.9GB/sec.
The Phenom 9350e runs at a core clock of 2.0GHz, with a 1.8GHz memory controller bringing peak bandwidth up to 31.5GB/sec. In comparison, other Phenom CPUs top out at 33.1GB/sec.
The nominal voltage of both processors ranges from 1.05-1.15V of juice.
Since they don’t appear to be specially sorted to consume less voltage than other Phenoms however, you could accomplish this yourself by simply undervolting a Phenom 9550 or 9650 CPU and save some money in the process: officially the Phenom 9550 is $20 cheaper than the Phenom 9350e if you go by AMD’s latest CPU list prices.
Unfortunately, our overclocking endeavors with these CPUs were mixed. While we achieved a nice 400MHz+ OC from our Phenom 9950 Black Edition sample, the 9350e topped out at just 2.23GHz at 1.2875V. Increasing the voltage beyond 1.3V didn’t improve stability within Windows, so we’re pretty confident we hit the ceiling of this particular CPU sample.
The max OC we were able to achieve with the Phenom 9950 was 3.055GHz (13.0x235MHz).Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get the CPU to run with stability any higher
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
ASUS P5E3 Premium
AMD Athlon X2 4850e
AMD Athlon X2 6000+
AMD Phenom 8750
AMD Phenom 9350e
AMD Phenom 9850
AMD Phenom 9950
ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe
4GB Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400C4
150GB Western Digital Raptor
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Company of Heroes 1.71 (running DX9)
World In Conflict – Direct3D
Company of Heroes – Direct3D
Crysis – Direct3D
Lost Planet – Direct3D
At the same time however, many of those same enthusiasts also like to dabble in overclocking, and here Intel’s Core 2 CPUs hold a significant advantage over Phenom. While the Black Edition’s unlocked clock multiplier certainly gives you more flexibility when it comes to overclocking, Phenom CPUs just don’t scale as far as Core 2.
In all honesty, while the Phenom 9950 Black Edition is AMD’s fastest processor to date, the CPU we’re even more excited about for enthusiasts is the 9850 Black Edition. Next week AMD is going to slash the price of this CPU from $235 today to $205 on July 7. The Phenom 9850 Black Edition gives up 100MHz to the 9950 Black; as a result the 9850 CPU ran about 4% slower than the 9950 in our testing. But this 100MHz can easily be made up with a little bit of overclocking, and with the money you save you can buy a better heatsink/fan or buy more RAM.
This is the route we suggest for any AMD enthusiast looking to get the most bang for the buck. Pair a $200 Phenom 9850 Black Edition CPU with a $200 Radeon HD 4850 and a $150-$200 AMD-790FX motherboard, and you’d have a very solid foundation for your next gaming rig.
Later this year AMD will end production of the 9850 Black Edition in favor of a regular multiplier-locked non-BE Phenom 9850, but we haven’t been given an exact date when this transition will begin. For now at least, AMD will continue to produce two Black Edition processors, the 9850 BE, and the 9950 BE.
On the energy efficient front, AMD’s also got a strong hand with the Phenom 9150e and 9350e. Right now these are the only 65W quad-core CPUs on the market, and they’re both being sold for less than $200, making them compelling choices for building an inexpensive HTPC, but only if you’re an OEM or system builder. The reason we say this is because AMD currently offers the Phenom 9550 for $20 less than the Phenom 9350 EE CPU. While the 9550 is a 95W part, it can be tweaked to deliver similar power consumption as the 9350e. Hardware enthusiasts would be better served by simply buying a Phenom 9550 and then downloading AMD Overdrive. With Overdrive installed you could then setup a custom HTPC profile where the CPU has been underclocked and undervolted to run like a 9350e, then setting up a second gaming profile where the CPU is running at its stock 2.2GHz clock frequency, or perhaps overclocked to run at 2.4GHz. This way you could get a system that combines the energy consumption of an EE processor with the performance of a higher-end Phenom all from one system and save a few bucks in the process.
Of course there are people who are leery of dabbling with clock speed and voltage settings in BIOS or AMD’s Overdrive utility, and for these end users the Phenom EE CPUs would certainly be a viable solution.
Slowly but surely AMD’s improved their position with subtle tweaks and additions to their Phenom lineup. The introduction of the Phenom 9950 BE, 9350e, and 9150e are the latest reflection of this. These chips aren’t the silver bullet AMD needs to crush Core 2, but AMD is remaining competitive by sticking to low pricing. If you’re someone with an antiquated Pentium 4 or Athlon XP system and you’re looking to upgrade on a budget, AMD’s certainly got a wide variety of dual and quad-core CPU offerings ranging from $60-$235 for you to consider. AMD’s Black Edition Phenom CPUs are their flagship cheap thrills CPUs, while the EEs are for energy misers who still need the power of having multiple processing cores.
If you fit into either one of these categories, this week’s launch of the new Phenoms was certainly welcome news to you.
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