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AMD’s venture into 45 nanometer technology has resulted in the next
generation of Phenom, called Phenom II. With Phenom II, AMD aims to get
back into speeds and feeds, hoping to offer a price/performance ratio
that is just too hard for solution providers and end users to ignore.
Initially, AMD will be shipping two versions of the Phenom II, a
quad-core Phenom II X4 920 and Phenom II X4 940 due in January, offered at 2.8GHz and 3.0GHz, respectively.

Phenom II offers innovation beyond its 45nm design and higher clock
speeds. This processor class offers increased L2/L3 cache, now
measuring 8 Mbytes (L2+L3) along with AMD’s latest iteration of its proprietary “Cool ’n’ Quiet” technology, which promises additional
energy savings by reducing power consumption by 40 percent when the CPU
is idle. Other enhancements include the microcode and chip design that
improve speed and reduce power consumption even further.

We put a 3.0Ghz Phenom II X4 940 through its paces to measure just
how well this new $275 processor will perform. Our test platform
consisted of  an ASUS M3A78-T with 4 Gbytes of DDR2 RAM, and a
CoolIT Systems Domino Liquid Cooling unit (liquid cooling is a must
for our over clocking tests).

From a cost perspective, the Phenom II beats Intel’s Nehalem on two
fronts. First, the X4 940 is priced at $275, while the Intel Core
i7-965 EE (Nehalem) is priced at $999. Second, Nehalem requires more
expensive DDR3 RAM over the Phenom II’s DDR2 RAM.

We used Passmark’s Performance Test V6.1 to collect CPU and memory
scores. The X4 940 achieved a CPUMark score of 3348.6 and a MemoryMark
score of 593.6. That is a significant improvement over the first
generation Phenom 9950 (2.6Ghz), which only scored a CPUMark and Memory
of 2811 and 470.9, respectively.

Yet the Phenom II can’t hold a candle to the top-of-the-line Intel
Core I7 -965 EE, which scored a CPUMark of 7610.5 and a MemoryMark of
1179.8. But, one does have to consider that the Intel Core I7 -965 EE
is almost four times the cost of the Phenom II. A more fair comparison
would be between the $275 Phenom II and a comparably priced
Nehalem, such as the $284 Intel Core i7-920. The i7-920 is a 2.66Ghz
processor and scored a CPUMark of 5907, which is a significant step up
from the Phenom II’s score of 3348.6. The i7-920’s MemoryMark score is
680.2, which still outpaced the Phenom II’s score of 593.6.

By all indications, Intel’s Core i7 CPUs can outperform anything in
AMD’s Phenom II lineup, but AMD does have a trick up its sleeve:
overclocking. Although AMD warns that overclocking may void the
warranty, overclocking has become a somewhat common practice. The
top-of-the-line Phenom II X4 940 is available as a “black edition,”
which means that the clock multiplier is unlocked. That allows the CPU
to be overclocked using AMD’s OverDrive utility. The Intel Core i7-920
is a locked CPU and cannot be overclocked. If someone wants to
experiment with overclocking on a Nehalem CPU, only the top-of-the-line
$999 Extreme Edition offers an unlocked multiplier.

How fast can the Phenom II perform? Surprisingly, if the proper
cooling is used, the Phenom II can be overclocked by a significant
amount. Some have reported that the Phenom II can be overclocked to as
much as 6Ghz, when using liquid nitrogen cooling. But, liquid nitrogen
and other advanced cooling methodologies are not practical in the real
world, where the typical system builder relies on traditional air

We were able to test the Phenom II at speeds up to 3.9Ghz, but after
hours of running CPU-intensive applications, we did encounter some
instability, such as random system lockups and blue screens. However,
at 3.6Ghz we had no stability problems whatsoever and ran the system
for 16 hours under constant stability testing using the AMD Overdrive
Utility. For our particular setup, 3.6Ghz seemed to be the sweet spot.
At 3.6Ghz, the Phenom II offered a CPUMark score of 4800.6 and a
MemoryMark Score of 820.2, a significant improvement over the
performance found at 3Ghz. With better cooling and additional tweaking,
higher performance should be attainable and prove to be reliable.

AMD’s Phenom II is a step in the right direction for the company and
is a viable, low-cost alternative to Intel’s entry-level Nehalem