I was quite interested in AMD's Phenom quad-core CPU, that is, until I read some early reviews of the processor. Now I've come to the conclusion that you'd have to be a sucker to be an early adopter of AMD's new quad-core line.
First off, four cores aren't always better than two. Tom's Hardware puts the Phenom 9500 and 9600 against an Athlon X2 64 6400+ and discovers that the processors are overall 8.4% and 4.3% slower than the 6400+. AMD have put time, effort and truck loads of dollars into developing a quad-core processor that really isn't that goodNow OK, the 6400+ runs at 3.2GHz while the Phenom 9500 is only 2.2GHz and the Phenom 9600 is 2.3GHz but this goes to show how low AMD have aimed with the Phenom processors. Applications that can take advantage of the four cores (such as Pinnacle Studio 11, DivX and Adobe Premiere Pro) do show a gain, but if you're gaming, overall performance sucks. Performance of audio and office applications is also very poor.
OK, but isn't this the case for all quad-core CPUs? No. If instead of giving your money to AMD, you instead buy an Intel Q6600 (Intel's smallest quad-core) you see an overall performance gain of 13.5% against the Phenom 9600 and an 18% performance gain compared to the Phenom 9500. Given this data alone, AMD might as well have not bothered with 9500 and 9600 and just jumped straight to the 9700, which manages to close the gap against the Q6600 down to 9.8%.
The one feature that is interesting is AMD's new OverDrive utility that allows the system (not just the processor but also the RAM and GPU) to be overclocked through Windows on-the-fly. The Tom's Hardware reviewer managed to get the Phenom 9700 to 3GHz which means that it might be able to hold its own against a Q6600 running at stock (but remember that you can push a Q6600, especially a G0 stepping model, way beyond the stock 2.4GHz). It's good to see AMD officially supporting overclocking, but it's a shame that the hardware isn't really all that impressive. And anyway, Soon a whole generation of AMD fans will be back using abacusesI'm not too sure that the ability to overclock should be available to everyone because it's so easy to trash the hardware. If you're not up to tweaking the BIOS or don't know where to find tools on the web that allow you to do crazy things with the hardware, you probably shouldn't be doing it in the first place.
So really, what's the bottom line? AMD have put time, effort and truck loads of dollars into developing a quad-core processor that really isn't that good. It really saddens me to say that because there was a time when almost all my systems ran on AMD processors and they had Intel comprehensively thrashed. Times have changed and now AMD just can't deliver the power or price point to be able to compete against Intel on anything but the cheapest silicon. In fact, all the Phenom does for me is make me realize just how good Intel's processors have become and how much catching up AMD has to do. If you really have to give your money to AMD, unless you have video or 3D rendering to carry out, you're better off going with the 6400+. AMD, instead of going forwards, seems to be going back. Soon a whole generation of AMD fans will be back using abacuses.
If you're looking for bang for the buck, Intel still has AMD beat hands down.
Here's how other websites are covering the Phenom:
AnandTech: "Inevitably some of these Phenoms will sell, even though Intel is currently faster and offers better overall price-performance (does anyone else feel weird reading that?). Honestly the only reason we can see to purchase a Phenom is if you currently own a Socket-AM2 motherboard; you may not get the same performance as a Core 2 Quad, but it won't cost as much since you should be able to just drop in a Phenom if you have BIOS support."
HEXUS.net: "Irrespective of whether you think that Intel's glue-dual-cores-together approach is architecturally inelegant, the fact remains that Core 2 Quad - in both its Kentsfield and new-and-improved Penryn flavours - is a fast and efficient processor in practically every way."
Extremetech: "The question used to be—will AMD's new CPUs help them regain the performance crown they lost after Intel's launch of the Core 2 Duo? The answer is clearly 'no.'"
PC Perspective: "I have no doubts that many readers of this review fill find it disappointing that AMD's Phenom processors were not competitive with Intel's high-end quad-core processors. It's hard to hide my own disappointment as I personally really wanted AMD to do well - competition makes the world go 'round and prices go down; always good things in my book. The Phenom launch isn't a total loss though thanks to the aggressive pricing that AMD is pinning on these initial CPUs; that will appeal to many enthusiasts. "
AMD is hoping that customer loyalty and marketing hype will sell the Phenom. It probably will.