Can AMD hit back with Phenom II?

Recent benchmarks of AMD's new 45nm Phenom II desktop CPUs reveal them to be very competitive when compared with Intel chips at similar prices, but is it enough to bring AMD back from the brink?

Recent benchmarks of AMD's new 45nm Phenom II desktop CPUs reveal them to be very competitive when compared with Intel chips at similar prices, but is it enough to bring AMD back from the brink?

First, a bit of history. AMD's Phenom II chips were released in January this year, and are AMD's first CPUs to be based on a 45nm lithography. While Intel's latest offering is the muscular Core i7 chips, AMD claims its new Phenom II chips are designed to compete with Intel's previous Core 2 Duo series. Particularly, the Phenom II go head-to-head with Intel's Core 2 Quad Q9xxx series chips.

Vendor Chip Clock speed Lithography Thermal envelope Approx. street price
AMD Phenom II X4 940 3.0GHz 45nm 125W AU$420
Phenom II X4 920 2.8GHz 45nm 125W AU$380
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83GHz 45nm 95W AU$447
Core 2 Quad Q9450 2.66GHz 45nm 95W AU$372

Note: all chips listed here are quad-core chips.

My colleagues at ZDNet Germany performed a comprehensive set of benchmarks that make for interesting reading. Alternatively, you can read even more exhaustive testing on AnandTech. In these benchmarks, the AMD Phenom IIs go neck and neck with Intel's similarly priced CPUs.

Despite significant improvements, the Phenom II CPU is still soundly beaten by Intel's latest Core i7 architecture and is still just behind the best Intel Core 2 Duo chips.

That's great for Intel — except when first released in Australia, Intel's Core i7 chips retailed for between AU$600 and AU$2,900. Ouch. Intel's Core i7 also required a new socket, meaning those wishing to upgrade from Core 2 Duo needed to fork out extra cash for a new motherboard and possibly new RAM if they didn't previously have DDR3.

Once we leave this enthusiast price bracket, AMD's Phenom IIs start to look better and better — AMD hasn't implemented a new socket as Phenom IIs are compatible with the same motherboards as the original Phenom processors.

If you need more convincing, check out Phenom II's huge over-clocking potential.

When shopping at the AU$400 price point, AMD is offering a very competitive product. Given this, I expect AMD to sell a few Phenom II CPUs.

There is one caveat in an AMD comeback though; Intel has the option of simply dropping prices on its Core 2 Quad chips. This is not only possible but likely, and would wipe out any advantage that AMD has over Intel who currently have the superior technology.

Of course, I'm biased in all of this; I want to see AMD make a strong comeback. The company has been copping a terrible beating from rival Intel in the last 24 months, virtually disappearing from the mainstream business desktop and notebook market.

If this hiding continues, it opens the possibility of a future Intel monopoly. That means higher prices, and nobody pushing Intel to bring new technologies to market.