Summary: With its 3.4GHz clock speed, the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition is AMD's fastest processor ever. It's also priced to move at just $245. But does it deliver enough performance to finally unseat Core 2? Find out in today's article!
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.
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.
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.
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650
Intel Core 2 Duo E8600
ASUS P5E3 Premium
4GB (4x1GB) OCZ DDR3 PC3-16000 Platinum
Intel Core i7-920
Gigabyte GA-EX58 Extreme
6GB (3x2GB) OCZ Reaper HPC DDR3-1600
AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition
4GB (2x2GB) Corsair CM3X2G1600C9DHX
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 295
500GB Western Digital Caviar SE16
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit w/Service Pack 2
Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
ARMA II Ė Direct3D
Far Cry 2 Ė Direct3D
Crysis Ė Direct3D
Lost Planet Ė Direct3D
The 965ís closest competitor in terms of price is probably Intelís Core 2 Quad Q9550, which currently sells for $220 on Newegg (the Q9650 sells for $320). In head-to-head performance testing, the two CPUs are pretty competitive with each other. The Phenom II 965 outruns the Q9550 in games like Lost Planet and Crysis, but the Q9550 pulled ahead in our testing with ARMA II and Far Cry 2. Our media encoding and rendering tests tend to favor the Core 2 Quad though, with only Cinebench giving the performance nod to AMD Phenom II.
If we had to purchase a new CPU in this price bracket though, weíd point you in an entirely different direction and recommend the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition. Sure, itís 200MHz slower than the 965, but itís based on the exact same silicon and can easily be OCíed to speeds of 3.4GHz and well beyond. We actually managed to OC our 955 CPU sample slightly further than our 965 chip.
The best part is that the 955 sells for $200 right now, making it a bargain considering the overall performance it delivers and its unlocked clock multiplier. You could then take the money you saved and get a better GPU, which is going to have a bigger impact on your gaming performance anyway.
In all honesty though, if you can wait another month or so, that may be an even better option than the Phenom II 955. With the introduction of Lynnfield, the CPU landscape could be vastly different than it is today. Rumor has it that Intel plans to offer 3 Lynnfield SKUs at launch next month, with two of them selling for less than $300. At the very least, that could put pressure on Intel to lower their prices for high-end Core 2 CPUs like the Q9550 and Q9650, which in turn could force AMD to further trim Phenom II prices.
We just have to wait and see where all the chips stack up against each other in terms of performance and price.
If you simply canít wait until September to upgrade your CPU, the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition is a solid performer and shouldnít disappoint most gamers. Just donít complain if itís selling for $200 a month from now.
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