In January, AMD launched their new quad-core Phenom II processors that were compatible with existing AM2+ motherboards and DDR2 memory. The new Phenom II processors were the first truly competitive AMD CPUs since Intel's introduction of the Core 2. The Phenom II 940 and 920, priced at $275 and $235, performed better than the equivalently priced Intel Q9400 and the Q8200. Now AMD has filled out the Phenom II line with five new models with integrated DDR3 and DDR2 support.

Intel responded quickly with Core 2 price cuts as we discussed, and AMD countered quickly with price adjustments that placed the Phenom II processors at price points where they compete very well with similarly priced Intel Core 2 processors. With the new Phenom II models just recently introduced, we now have a complete line of AMD Phenom II processors.

AMD Phenom Processors
Model Clock Speed HT Speed L2 Cache L3 Cache TDP Price
AMD Phenom II X4 940 BE 3.0GHz 1.8GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $225
AMD Phenom II X4 920 2.8GHz 1.8GHz 2MB 6MB 125W $195
AMD Phenom II X4 910 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 6MB 95W OEM
AMD Phenom II X4 810 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 4MB 95W $175
AMD Phenom II X4 805 2.5GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 4MB 95W OEM
AMD Phenom II X3 720 BE 2.8GHz 2.0GHz 1.5MB 6MB 95W $145
AMD Phenom II X3 710 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 1.5MB 6MB 95W $125
AMD Phenom 9950 2.6GHz 2.0GHz 2MB 2MB 140W $149

The new Phenom II processors are truly important introductions for AMD. In testing the new 45nm CPUs are competitive with the latest Intel Core II Quad (Penryn) processors. They are also the first AMD processors in over two years that can also compete with Intel processors in overclocking. In our own tests we were able to overclock to the 3.8GHz range with some Phenom II samples. The new Phenom II does exactly what AMD needs it to do to compete through the midrange.

The first Phenom II processors, the 940 and 920, feature a DDR2-only controller and an uncore bus of 1.8GHz. These two models will be phased out over time and replaced with the 945 and 925, which should begin shipping in April. The 945/925 will run a 2GHz uncore speed and will feature the dual DDR2/DDR3 controller used on the rest of the newest Phenom II processors. This will matter to some but it is a moot point from a performance perspective, since we have not found any real performance difference in DDR2 and DDR3 on Phenom IIs that support both memories.

Intel's latest Core i7 is still as much as 30% faster in some applications than the Core 2 Quad/Phenom II processors, so AMD did not reclaim the ultimate performance crown. However, Core i7 is at present a high-end CPU, with prices starting at $300 and extending to over $1000 just for the CPU.

With AMD competitive again through the midrange of the CPU space, it is time to take a closer look at putting together systems with the new Phenom II processors. With a broad CPU price range of around $120 to $230, there are quite a few choices in processors for a Phenom II system.

This Phenom II Buyers' Guide looks at three different builds that you might be considering. For builders who want a Phenom II system for as little money as possible we put together a Phenom II Entry system. The goal was simple - build a competent and balanced Phenom II system for as little money as possible.

Another typical buyer is attracted to the Phenom II because of the tremendous overclocking potential of the processor - something AMD fans have really missed for the last two years or so. As discussed in our overclocking analysis of the latest Phenom II, AnandTech reached 3.31GHz at stock voltage on the 2.8Ghz Phenom II 720 BE and 3.81GHz on the same CPU by increasing voltage and tweaking BIOS settings. That 36% overclock is something we often see with Intel Core 2 processors, but it is the best overclocking we have seen with an AMD CPU in a very long time.

Finally, there is the full-blown or performance Phenom II system. We hesitate to call this a High-End System, since the most expensive Phenom II is just $225. This is a very midrange CPU price. Our system components for the full-blown Phenom II are more upper midrange than high-end. That means we will not be pairing the Phenom II with a $1200 30" LCD monitor for 2560x1600 gaming. However, the CPU power is there if you aspire for more. You could definitely use a high-end graphics card and 30" monitor on a Phenom II 940 or 945 if you choose, and you would achieve superb performance.

Phenom II Entry
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  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, March 4, 2009 - link

    1080p monitor? Fail. We need to discourage 16:9 monitors.
  • v12v12 - Wednesday, March 4, 2009 - link

    HAHA completely agreed on that point... When will people get that 16:9 offers LESS viewable area than the (forced) antiquated 4:3 resolution? Nothing worse than seeing some over priced, LCD on a desk that's as wide as the desk but not even as tall as my old POS (still superior to any LCD out there) 20" CRT!
  • letsgetsilly - Monday, March 2, 2009 - link

    Just thinking about going down the Phenom route because of its value. Thanks so much for this article, great timing!
  • ET - Monday, March 2, 2009 - link

    The entry level was what I considered getting when I first read about the new Phenoms. Plug in my Radeon 3870 and it's a pretty decent system, and considerably better than my current Athlon X2 3800+ one.
  • ilkhan - Monday, March 2, 2009 - link

    $150 for DDR2? Are you insane? You can get 6GB of DDR3 for the same price, and it'll be just as good.
    The whole performance machine is screwy, who wants to build that when you can build an i7-920 for the same exact price, with 50% more RAM and at least 20% more performance?
  • strikeback03 - Monday, March 2, 2009 - link

    Notice that $154 is for 8GB, 2 4GB (2x2GB) kits. So the i7 system would be down 2GB.

    But yes, at $2000 for a complete new build, I would be looking at i7, not Phenom II.
  • Kiijibari - Wednesday, March 4, 2009 - link

    >But yes, at $2000 for a complete new build, I would be looking at i7, >not Phenom II.

    Depends, as long as you are not using the i7's HTh advantages (i.e. lots of rendering & encoding), I would choose the Phenom2.

    It is fast enough and cheaper, thus you can buy a better video card, monitor, maybe even a SSD ...


  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, March 4, 2009 - link

    The i7 overclocking system in their guide is $47 (2.2%) more expensive than the Phenom II Performance system. Both use the 4870 1GB, the i7 does factor in a discount on the speakers but given the falling prices of DDR3 you could probably jump to 6GB for about the same overall system cost today as when that guide was published. Unless you are quite sure of what your CPU usage needs will be over the life of the system, I don't see much reason to go with the CPU which is significantly slower in most tests.
  • The0ne - Monday, March 2, 2009 - link

    It's strange for me to see the part of the community be excited about AMDs CPUs. It wasn't long ago so many out there didn't even want to give AMD the chance. In any case, it's great to see AMD back in competition again. :)
  • just4U - Monday, March 2, 2009 - link

    Well, you have to remember that while Amd was selling fine in the budget area there wasn't much to be had in (what I believe) the real money making arena.. 9X, 8X, 7X Intel cpu's are pretty damn good and while Amd had competing products it was really hard to justify those purchases. Out of their whole last years line-up I only grabbed 3-4 X2's (4800-5200s) and one X3 8650. Now they've cracked that wide open and are only really shut out from the highest end. (not a big deal for many of us as i7 is still out of many of our wallets reach)

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