AMD's Phenom - For suckers only

AMD's Phenom - For suckers only

Summary: 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.

SHARE:
45

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.

Only suckers will buy AMDÂ’s PhenomFirst 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.

Topics: Intel, Hardware, Processors

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

45 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I guess you dont like AMD for some reason...

    Lets see if you compare it with a processor that runs 33% faster (since most applications dont support Multiple processors yet) you cant understand why it would be slower, however your benchmark with apps that do show it to be faster ????
    mrOSX
    • Perhaps you didn't read...

      ...the bit where Adrian stated [i]there was a time when almost all my systems ran on AMD processors and they had Intel comprehensively thrashed[/i]

      I am also an AMD fan, all of my machines have run AMD for at least 7 years until now. I have two desktops still running AMDs and two laptops running Intel.

      Unfortunately AMD are currently behind the curve and if they don't catch up within the next 12 months my desktops will probably be running Intel as well.
      nmh
      • Indeed

        [i]Unfortunately AMD are currently behind the curve and if they don't catch up within the next 12 months my desktops will probably be running Intel as well.[/i]

        It's been a very long time since I've had an Intel chip in any of my systems at home, but I think 2008 will be the next time one invades my home.
        Badgered
        • Well it has been along time since I had either

          AMD or INTEL in any of my systems, I have been running PowerPC chips for the last 5 years or more. As far as the current level of performance from either, until there is enough software there that can take full advantage of multicore's then there is not much use in purchasing anything more than a dual core at most.
          mrOSX
          • re: Well it has been along time

            [i]As far as the current level of performance from either, until there is enough software there that can take full advantage of multicore's then there is not much use in purchasing anything more than a dual core at most.[/i]

            Perhaps.. but since I only buy a new PC once every 3 years or so, buying a dual core CPU now may mean that it is under powered in 1 - 2 years. So if I can eek out an extra year by buying a Quad, that may make more sense for me.
            Badgered
  • I notice that you did not include Tom's Hardware in your list of reviewers.

    Here's what they had to say.

    "AMD seems to have done its homework when the company set the price for its Phenom processors. The Phenom 9600 is about 13.5% slower than Intel's Q6600 in our benchmarks. On the other hand, its price is also 13.6% lower than that of its direct competitor. Thus, the two products offer practically the same performance for your money."

    "Looking into the future with the Spider platform, AMD seems to be the less expensive than Intel, since the chip giant has already announced that its current high-end platform X38 will be incompatible to the next generation of high-end CPUs at the beginning of next year. In the end, if you're looking to make the most of a long-term investment, AMD is without a doubt the better platform choice."

    They readily acknowledge that Intel still holds the performance crown. They also note that AMD is not competing for that market right now.

    That's a far cry from saying that AMD's Phenom is for suckers only.
    Letophoro
    • Yep, bang for the buck is where AMD is aiming

      There are people out there with limitless bank accounts...but then there's the rest of us who work for a living. From the pricing and performance figures that I have seen, it looks like AMD and Intel are very competitive dollar for dollar.

      Knowing how few software titles benefit from running on 4 cores (especially if you're running Microsoft Windows) I would say spending much extra on any quad core CPU may be for suckers.
      WiredGuy
    • And we all know CPUs run all by themselves right?

      And we all know CPUs run all by themselves right? You just plug in a CPU to the wall and that's your computer. Hmm, something doesn't sound right about that. How about you compare the cost of at least the motherboard + CPU + RAM + GPU + PSU + Chassis and then compare that to the overall performance.
      georgeou
      • re: And we all know

        If you're considering buying a whole new setup, you're probably right. But if you already have a MB with an AM2 socket that will run the Phenom, cost-wise it would be better to just stick with the AMD until you're ready to replace the whole system IMO.
        Badgered
        • Good point, unless you want an intact hand-me-down

          Good point, unless you want an intact hand-me-down system. I generally prefer to keep my old computers intact and just hand them down to others who have lesser computers. To me personally, this is far more effective than upgrading the CPU. Furthermore, you need a well matched system so you'll probably have to upgrade the GPU too and now you've got a spare CPU and graphics card so why not upgrade the motherboard too? I've always viewed the motherboard as an accessory to the CPU anyways.
          georgeou
          • That's true

            I generally hand mine down as complete systems. I do know several people who use their systems, and upgrade pieces until it can't be upgraded anymore. They then hand that complete unit to someone else, and start the cyle all over again.

            It's all preference. I'm just noting that it is possible for someone to find value in upgrading just a CPU, and in some instances an AMD Phenom would make sense.
            Badgered
      • Why so snarky?

        Yes, the CPU is only part of a system. But let's say you buy a brand-new top of the line Intel mobo along with a decent Intel quad or dual core CPU system today. When Intel comes out with a new quad-core CPU three or four months from now, you'll absolutely have to buy a new mobo along with it instead of just upgrading the CPU. If you're buying a new CPU and mobo, you might as well buy the case, PSU and RAM since they add so little to the overall price. Unless you're playing games or running Vista, the mobo's graphics are good enough, so you don't need a new GPU. So you might as well just buy a new Intel system instead of upgrading just the CPU.

        Me, I'll replace an older AM2 CPU with a new quad-core Phenom instead. That way I can take advantage of four cores without having to buy a new system. It won't be a speed king, but it will be an improvement.
        Letophoro
  • Intel isn't quad core

    They're still two dual-cores stuck on a die.

    Now, with the current state-of-the-art that doesn't hurt them but in the HPC world where quad-cores can actually be used the design is limiting and Intel's efforts to get to a real quad-core and a non-shared memory bus are critical.
    Robert Crocker
    • Thats the Theory anyway, but...

      "They're still two dual-cores stuck on a die."

      But what counts is real world performance and right now Intel still holds the lead.
      cornpie
      • Yes, that's what counts...

        but the "real world" does not follow a single-use pattern so while Intel's solution works well for many tasks, AMD's solution shines for many of the HPC applications.
        Robert Crocker
        • For memory bandwidth intensive HPC apps, absolutely

          For memory bandwidth intensive HPC apps, absolutely, until Intel Nehalem arrives. However, HPC isn't all memory BW intensive. SPECfp_rate2006 is a geometric mean of about a dozen HPC applications. AMD does very well on some of those HPC apps, Intel does very well on the others. On geometric average, the new Intel Stoakley platform with DDR2-800 and 3.2 GHz wins on SPECfp_rate2006 even against the unreleased AMD Barcelona 2360SE 2.5 GHz processor.
          georgeou
    • Yes Intel Still Only 2X2 Cores

      Yes Intel is Still Only 2X2 Cores stuck on a die that?s Why They Have Effectively called it an "Intel Core 2 Duo 4 Core". And "Intel Core 2 Duo Quad".

      "Its Called Marketing My Friends"

      In the end we all know that its all about clock speed isn?t it.

      ?Well it used to be?. Apparently not any more. BUT Intel Still seems to think so.

      Intel Better wakes up.

      They better start reading more about PER Core floating-point and integer performance
      And not just feeding its consumers BS about Clock Speeds.
      Overall Performance per core

      Lets just see how well in the real world AMD's True 3.2GHz Quad Core Phenom Wipes The Floor With Intel?s 3.2 GHz Wedded Beast 2 dual cores married onto a single die to create the monstrous split sister core 2 butted together dual core sisters that?s right sisters because they have no balls. In the very distant past Intel couldn?t make its mind up and build a real quad core. They had to race a mock up to market.

      Now who is really behind in their technology? All AMD have to do is increase their clock speeds and we know how good they are at doing that we have all been here before. The war has not even begun.

      Notice in there how Intel never says "Intel Core 2 Quad Core". There are many ways of evading the trueness of a native quad Core Chip. But AMD is still the only one who have Built a true to the cores Native 4 Single core chip with new architecture from the ground up.
      Intel Is still messing around with Pentium 3 architecture FSB and the like.

      It?s their way of saying we are not really a quad core but we are a 2X2 Core. And if you can find an Intel spokesperson to say we are a true Core 2 Quad Quad core Processor well they are lying.

      The AMD Phenom True Quad Core Will be more utilised and of much better use to the industry and enthusiast in time to come its still very early days.
      Watch and see.

      That?s another reason they decided in early days that they were going to make AM2 Phenom True Quad Core socket Back To Back Compatibility availability right through to AM2+ and AM3.
      neophius
  • RE: AMD's Phenom - For suckers only

    What ridiculous fan-boy blog is this? ZDNet is going downhill bigtime.

    I like where AMD is sitting vs. Intel. You can see a momentum swing is possible. AMD is ahead on processor and chipset design, ahead on HD graphics.

    Intel is squeezing everything it can out of an architecture it is about to abandon, and I'm NOT hearing good things about Nehalem.

    AMD meanwhile has native-quad core, has better graphics IP to integrate or do fusion with, and has much better platforms. The 790FX is so far ahead of X38 it's a joke.

    Yeah, AMD didn't roll-out high-end quad-core CPUs yet, but I hear they will over the next several months.

    What do you get when you pair a 45nm Penryn with a crappy 90nm Intel X38 chipset? One of these with a V8 in it: http://www.stationwagon.com/gallery/pictures/1979_AMC_Pacer.jpg
    WarEagle
  • Software is the key

    Unless you can push the limits of the chip then you basically have a Ferrari with a speed limiter. Graphics can push processor limits, but really it is a small portion of the overall market.

    What's needed is an engine that runs behind the scenes that drives a fundamental shift in how people interact. This will happen over the next several years.

    The algorithms are coming!
    THEE WOLF
  • Hardly for suckers only

    AMD has lost the performance crown. That doesn't mean that the consumer is taking a step backward.

    [i]"Soon a whole generation of AMD fans will be back using abacuses"[/i]

    With about a 30% clock speed reduction it was averaging about 8.4% slower. Much like the times Intel's new chips were slower than they last generation of chips (First generation Pentium 4's benched slower than Pentium III's, Pentiums benched slower than fast 486's). Then the applications were written for the new architecture and Intel ramped up the speeds.

    We have a history of slower benching of new generation of chips versus the old.

    Yet, the price performance of the new chip is at the right point.

    "AMD is offering the most affordable quad-core processor in the market today" - Tomshardware

    It is the most affordable quad-core on the market today. Yeah, you must be a sucker for buying the most affordable quad-core.

    "The Phenom processor as well as all of the remaining AM2 CPUs can be used on either the new AM2+ boards or the older AM2 platform." - Tomshardware

    This will make for a nice upgrade path for many. I would suggest waiting 6 months for the faster parts to come out.

    The question is what does 4 cores do for us? Anything?

    There are only a few applications that we are going to see much advantage of 4 cores over 2. This chips shows that it does provide that performance gain for those applications.

    Why shouldn't Intel have better processors than AMD? Intel can put far more money into R&D than AMD can dream. Many of the benefits AMD has in their processors comes from IBM.

    Why did Intel allow AMD to catch up to begin with?

    What Core 2 showed me was just how stagnated Intel had become. They can really innovate when they actually have some competition.

    Everyone may be disappointed in AMD right now. This is a "David and Goliath" market battle. It does not even come close to the disappointment that high costs of Intel parts would be without AMD's competition.
    dragosani