AMD's latest quad-core Phenom CPU ups its game

Intel may still be fastest, but AMD one-ups on price-performance with Phenom II 965

Intel Corp. may still hold bragging rights for having the fastest desktop processors on the market, but Advanced Micro Devices Inc. believes its newest chips' value for money will prove more popular in these tough economic times.

AMD, which holds the No. 2 position among chipmakers, launched its latest quad-core Phenom II X4 Black Edition CPU, the 965, on Thursday.

The 965 is rated at 3.4 GHz, up from its prior fastest, the 3.2GHz 955.

By clock speed, that gives the 965 the edge against Intel's fastest quad-core desktop CPU today, the Core i7 975 Extreme Edition, which operates at 3.33GHz.

But seasoned buyers have long realized that comparing the clock speed of two CPUs with different architectures means little. AMD even blew up that myth earlier this decade when it marketed its lower-clocked Athlon and Sempron CPUs as offering the same performance as its ostensibly-faster Pentium 4 counterparts.

Intel's Core i7 975 scores 8,290 on PassMark Software's eponymous benchmark, crushing the Phenom II 955's 3,565 score.

Similarly, the overclocking world record, according to Ripping.org, is held by an 3.0 GHz Intel CPU revved up to 8.22GHz.

AMD's overclocking record is a Phenom II X4 955 running at 7GHz.

Hard times hit hard-core too?

But even hard-core gamers and performance addicts have budgets in this economy.

The Phenom II 965 will cost $US245, pushing its now-second fastest chip, the 955, to $US199, said AMD's desktop platform marketing manager, Adam Kozak.

By comparison, Intel's fastest, the i7 975, costs $US999 at NewEgg.com as of mid-August -- four times that of AMD's new 965.

Performance-wise, Kozak compares the new Phenom II with Intel's Core i7 920 and Quad Q9650.

Those two CPUs cost $US279 and $US319, respectively, at NewEgg.com, making them 15 per cent and 30 per cent more expensive than AMD's Phenom II 965.

Kozak said winning on the price-performance ratio is better than just performance alone. "As our CEO Dirk Meyer says, 90 per cent of users are mainstream," he said.

Game on

AMD timed its announcement with the start of QuakeCon, an annual convention that draws thousands of gamers, AMD's hoped-for audience with the Phenom II 965.

AMD's 965 is built with a 45-nanometer process. Intel uses 45nm with its fastest chips, but it will release CPUs early next year on the more-miniaturized 32nm process, which theoretically lets chips run faster and cooler.

AMD is not likely to move to 32nm until 2011, a spokesman acknowledged.

On the other hand, AMD has already started to sell graphics chips built at 40nm scale, which when paired with Phenom II chips, form the company's unified Dragon platform.

Those GPUs will support Microsoft Corp.'s DirectX 11 graphics technology by year's end.

Six-core chips loom

And six-core Phenom IIs may be around the corner. AMD introduced a six-core Opteron server CPU, the Istanbul, in April.

AMD has typically brought server technologies to desktop PCs 6 to 8 months later.

AMD would not say whether to expect a six-core Phenom II launch announcement by the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but the spokesman said, "You can certainly infer what you will."

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