Summary: Clocked at 3.2GHz and sporting an unlocked clock multiplier, the AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition is the most powerful processor yet that AMD has uncorked. AMD touts it as a competitor to Intel's quad-core Q9550 Penryn processor. But does it perform? How well does it OC? Let's find out!
The new process allows AMD to scale to dramatically higher clock frequencies than their original Phenom processor could achieve. The fastest Phenom II CPUs launched at 3.0GHz – this is a speed Phenom couldn’t hit until ACC was developed last summer, and even then you needed a little bit of luck to get speeds higher than 3.1GHz with air cooling. In comparison, we managed to hit 3.745GHz with our Phenom II 940 CPU on launch day; some users have managed to hit even higher speeds with newer retail chips.
But as great as Phenom II has been for AMD, there was one small flaw in their lineup: variety. We asked for a wider variety of Phenom II chips in our January article, and that’s exactly what AMD delivered in February with the launch of the AM3 platform. Not only did AMD address the 2.0GHz HyperTransport issue, they offered a wider variety of Phenom II parts at price points starting under $130 for triple-core CPUs, and $175 for the quad-core Phenom II 810 with 4MB of cache.
The only disappointment we had with the AM3 launch was clock speeds, as AMD’s fastest AM3-based quad-core offering was the 2.6GHz Phenom II 910; that’s 200MHz slower than the AM2+ Phenom II 920.
Fortunately AMD’s here today to address this final outstanding issue.
Launching today are two new Phenom II parts built for the AM3 socket. AMD’s new flagship CPU is the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition. Clocked at 3.2GHz, this is the fastest CPU AMD has produced in terms of raw clock speeds since the old 90-nm Windsor-based Athlon X2 6400+ Black Edition were floating around a few years ago.
As a “Black Edition” processor, the Phenom II X4 955 sports an unlocked clock multiplier, allowing enthusiasts to dial in whatever multiplier setting they wish for OC’ing. The chip is priced at just $245, $55 more than AMD’s previous high-end Phenom II offering, the socket AM2-based Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition, which currently sells for $190 on Newegg right now. Speaking of the 940 BE, AMD says that despite the introduction of the 955 Black, they won’t be locking down the multiplier on 940 Black Edition parts. The 940 will continue to be produced as a Black Edition part for “a period of time”. AMD won’t state how long the part will continue to remain in the pipeline, but considering that AM3 processors are backward-compatible with AM2+ motherboards, it has been rumored that the AM2-based Phenom II CPUs won’t be sticking around long beyond the first half of 2009. Essentially, today’s introduction of the Phenom II 955 BE and the second CPU AMD is launching today, the Phenom II X4 945, has just made AM2+ Phenom II obsolete.
The Phenom II X4 945 is clocked at the same 3.0GHz clock speed as the Phenom II X4 940, with the obvious additions being AM3/DDR3 support and 2.0GHz HyperTransport (the 940 is limited to HyperTransport speeds of 1.8GHz). The 945 is priced at $225.
But new processors aren’t all that AMD has on tap for today. The company is also launching new Overdrive 3.0 software that will appeal to all enthusiasts looking to tweak their system for maximum performance.
Of all the overclocking utilities that have been released from manufacturers over the years, AMD’s Overdrive suite is by far our favorite utility for CPU overclocking. With Overdrive 3.0, the best just got better, as AMD is adding Smart Profiles and Black Edition Memory profiles to Overdrive 3.0’s repertoire of features. We’ll start by discussing the latter feature first.
AMD Black Edition Memory Profiles
As NVIDIA and Intel have already done, AMD’s Black Edition Memory Profiles (BEMP) is a feature designed to make it easier for end users to run their DDR3 memory modules at speeds higher than the stock JEDEC standards allow. Rather than having to memorize and manually type in the clock speeds, command rate, tRAS, and other memory timings for your specific memory modules in BIOS, with BEMP all the work is done for you in Overdrive 3.0. AMD has worked with their motherboard partners and memory manufacturers to validate high-end DDR3 memory modules at qualified speeds and timings.
In order to take full advantage of the feature, you’ll need a motherboard with proper BIOS support, and qualified memory modules. So far motherboards supported include the ASUS M4A79-T Deluxe, Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P, and the MSI 790FX-GD70 v1.0. Qualified memory modules include Corsair’s CM3X2G1600C9DHX, OCZ’s OCZ3AMD18002G, Kingston KHX11000D3LLK2/2G and KHX12800D3K2/2G as well as Mushkin’s 991629. Right now motherboard support for BEMP is limited to 790FX boards, but AMD is working to get the technology validated with more products, obviously since its oriented towards enthusiasts, AMD opted to get the tech up and running with 790FX chipset first, which makes sense to us.
To further optimize performance (and prevent the faster DDR3 memory modules from getting bottlenecked) BEMP will also bump up the North Bridge speed to 2.2GHz in the case of 1333MHz DDR3 modules, and 2.4GHz if 1600MHz DDR3 is detected. North Bridge voltage is also automatically increased by BEMP as well.
Don’t let the name fool you, you don’t need a Black Edition CPU to unlock BEMP, but the feature is limited to the AM3 platform with DDR3 memory. Also keep in mind that you can only run one DDR3-1333MHz (or better) DIMM per channel with AM3. If you max out all four DIMM slots you’re limited to speeds of just 1066MHz officially supported.
The other new feature AMD has added to Overdrive 3.0 is Smart Profiles. With this feature, AMD provides custom profiles that will automatically adjust the number of active CPU cores and their clock speeds for optimal performance or power efficiency. You can also use this feature to setup your own custom profiles for games or HTPC applications (say for instance you want to OC your CPU to run Crysis, but underclock the processor to save power/noise when watching a movie).
Considering our previous OC’ing success with the Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition, we had high hopes for the 955 Black. Fortunately our sample didn’t disappoint.
Ultimately we had to dial the CPU all the way back down to 3.86GHz (19.0x203.2) in order to gain full 100% stability. We used 1.55V of juice to hit that speed.
We wouldn’t be surprised if we could’ve hit 4.0GHz with a 32-bit OS. We tried to coax the system into running all of our tests at speeds higher than 3.86GHz, but we just couldn’t get all of them to run stable.
All our OC results were run with a Zalman CNPS9700-Cu cooler.
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
ASUS P5E3 Premium
4GB (4x1GB) OCZ DDR3 PC3-16000 Platinum
Intel Core i7-920
6GB (3x2GB) OCZ Reaper HPC DDR3-1600
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
AMD Phenom II X4 945
ASUS M4A79T Deluxe (790FX)
4GB (2x2GB) Corsair CM3X2G1600C9DHX
AMD Athlon X2 6000+
AMD Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition
AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
ASUS M3A78T (790GX)
4GB (4x1GB) OCZ DDR2 PC2-8500 Platinum
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 295
500GB Western Digital Caviar SE16
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 1
Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
World In Conflict – Direct3D
Far Cry 2 – Direct3D
Crysis – Direct3D
Lost Planet – Direct3D
Considering that the Q9400 sells for about $220, and the Q9550 for $270, AMD’s $225 price tag for the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition is actually a very good value. That $225 buys you an AMD processor that’s quite competitive with the Q9550 in performance, with the two trading wins depending on the application, but the AMD processor sells for nearly $50 less and sports an unlocked clock multiplier. Those are two very important pluses for hardware enthusiasts in this economy in our opinion.
Intel’s Core i7-920 is still the world’s best sub-$300 processor. Today’s introduction of the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition doesn’t change that. But the Core i7-920 is still reliant on pricey X58 motherboards and DDR3 memory. Intel’s motherboard partners are closing the gap with cheaper X58 options; some X58 boards are now hovering as low as $180 after rebate, but the AMD platform is still a little cheaper, particularly if you opt for the 790GX platform with DDR2 memory.
If you’ve got the money to splurge on a Core i7 upgrade, that’s still the best path available. But if saving money is important to you, AMD’s latest Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition is an incredibly tempting alternative for gamers on a budget. This is definitely the most competitive AMD has been with Intel since Core 2’s arrival in the summer of 2006.
So far the arrival of Phenom II’s been just what the doctor ordered for AMD.
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