AMD Phenom launches at 2.2, 2.3Ghz

Today AMD launched its sucessor to the Athlon 64 line, named Phenom, at 2.2 and 2.3Ghz.

Phenom is an evolution of the K8 architecture, which itself was an evolution of the K7, the original Athlon. This is not neccesarily a bad thing, if you can evolve a processor to acceptable performance then its definately the better option than a redesign from the ground up.

Having said that the competition, Intel's Core2 architecture, is pretty much a redesign (they started from a Pentium 3, but it is fundamentally different in a lot of places) which is still easily advancing in frequency. AMD is struggling.

Anyway, back to the Phenom. The server line, Barcelona, was released a little while ago. It is produced on AMD's relatively new 65nm process, and has some improvements over the Athlon 64 intended to make performance closer, clock per clock, to Intel's offerings.

There will be several Phenom lines: the 9000 line, signifying quad core, have been released today. The 8000 line has three cores. The Athlon 6000 line will be two core processors. Todays processors are the 9500 and 9600 respectively.

Sounds good so far. But it seems AMD have some problems getting enough speed out of their chips. The inital plan was to launch at 2.7-2.9 Ghz. As you can see from the title, they fell short. A long way short.

To make a long story short (too late) Phenoms are, at best, as good clock per clock as Intel's quad cores. At worst, they're about 70% as fast.

The slowest quad core Intel sells is 2.4Ghz. These sell for about £160 today. From a quick search of sites doing Phenom preorders, they look to be falling around £150-£180.

Not good news. But wait, there's more. The best stable overclock Anandtech managed with their (admittedly engineering sample) Phenom 2.4 was 2.6Ghz. Conversely, Intel's 2.4Ghz quad core 6600 SLACR stepping is ridiculously overclockable, generally hitting upwards of 3.4Ghz.

I try not to be biased in purely technological decisions. I have never bought an Intel processor, initially due to cost, and more recently due to performance of AMD being better. That said, if I were buying now, I would be buying Intel.

Unless AMD manage to scale their processors fast to be competitive next year, there are only two reasons I can see to buy a Phenom:

1. Very tight budget. This assumes the street price will drop to below Intel's slowest Quad cores.
2. Upgrade. If you have a relatively recent Socet AM2 motherboard, you may be able to upgrade to a Phenom.


Thanks for the info, mate. I tend to read through the stuff on El Reg and Anandtech and look at the pretty graphs to come to the conclusion that I really should understand all this stuff a bit better.

Generally speaking from a group point of view, those of us that will be doing their next upgrades will being doing something of a big jump again.

brainwipe's picture

No probs mate, I've been following CPU tech at the unneccesary level of detail since I was at uni ;)

Indeed. A large chunk of us are on Athlon 64, with some on Core2 already. I'd imagine unless something big changes we'll all be on Core2 before long...

byrn's picture

Can you foresee that happening? Is this just a mid-release before a big storm of new processors or are they idling a little too far behind now? It seems that Core2 has been around for ages and if AMD are only catching up now, it seems like they're a bit late to the party.

brainwipe's picture

What's even worse is that the current core 2s (the ones it can't beat) are 65nm. Intel is now releasing 45nm chips which look to be that bit faster and overclock more.

Their reponse to the Phenom launch was to sample a 3.2Ghz quad core that won't be out till next year...

AMD are definately on the ropes now. The ATi acquisition drained a fair bit of their capital. While I don't think they'll go under, they need something impressive in the mid term.

If you want a (I think) Intel centric viewpoint of AMD's financial state, editorials are a rich, but distateful, source...

[Edit] They seem to have an issue involving the TLB which has apparently caused them to delay the release of the 2.4Ghz and 3Ghz FX (F*cking eXpensive) parts...

[Edit 2]Its also worth bearing in mind that the quad core parts are the hardest to get to run fast... in a single core, you have to find one that runs at a given speed. In a single chip (die) two core, you have to find two that run that fast. In AMD's much vaunted (by them) single die four core, all four have to run that fast. In comparison, Intel's quads are two dual dies in one package, which makes faster speeds easier to achieve, although at a higher cost of manufacture.

[Edit 3]Of course, there is a theoretical advantage of a quad core single die processor - all four cores share a level 3 cache. In theory, if all four cores are working on the same data, that data can go into the L3 cache on a Barcelona with one memory access. On a core 2 quad, it would take 2 memory accesses. How often this situation comes about is debatable however.

byrn's picture

Yeah - it's been a one-horse race for a while now. I haven't considered an AMD cpu since I saw the first conroe engineering sample reviews nearly two years ago. Apparently the new 3.0GHz 45nm core2 quad is stable up to 4.0GHz on air - or at least a couple of the engineering samples have been. They had to dangerously overvolt them to manage that, but it suggests 3.8 is a realistic target for overclocking. In that context, Intel announcing a 3.2 is probably not a big deal for them. I'd imagine they're pretty happy right now.

It was always going to happen - there's no reason why a company with Intel's resources and market share should stay behind AMD if they don't want to. The whole P4 line was an extended and costly but valuable lesson for them, but they seem to have learned it. I'd be surprised if AMD can catch up now, at least in this generation of chips. In fact I took the ATI acquisition as a pointer that AMD were considering re-prioritising towards more integrated low cost units where a combined processing/graphics package would be appealing; media PCs, set-top boxes, maybe even mobile phones. That's just a guess though, they might just be planning to come at the enthusiast market from two angles.

AggroBoy's picture

Indeed. The Athlon 64 was, initially, a fair choice at the lower cost end. This has been less and less the case, and now AMD are almost back to where they were in the K6-2 days, cheaper than intel. Phenom is a last chance to keep competitive performance without a major redesign IMO. I can only hope they've got a second team working on a new design in the background somewhere....

They'll keep a higher share than their performance would indicate initially through a combination of fanboys and underdog-supporters. This will evaporate over time though...

I'd love to see a rebuilt K11 released late next year, but I don't think its very realistic.

byrn's picture

For games and performance Amd used to have the advantage of being the only viable nforce platform since the intel one took ages to arrive and initially it was shit. So the amd solution looked more viable for longer since it offered the best package. Course as soon as core2duo started tipping up that all changed. Now well you'd have to have a damn good reason for buying amd.

Still who knows these things can suddenly change, the whole athlon thing was from out of practically nowhere. Up until then Amd were just the people you went to if you couldn't afford intels prices and didn't mind a lower performance machine.

I've owned mostly amd stuff a few intels here and there mostly due to price than some weird brand loyalty. I had one of the original celeron 400a's which was cheap and over clocked like a bastard. I guess when the time comes to upgrade I'll do what I normally do and look at who is offering the best bang per buck. I think it's going to be a price full upgrade this time as I'm at least a socket and a memory technology behind the times ;)

Evilmatt's picture

Nah, the Athlon thing was well and truly foreshadowed. It was released August '99... here's an article from November '98 about it. I was looking forward to it for half a year, and it is still the only processor I bought at a launch speed (600Mhz Slot A ftw!).

The K6 was a pretty good evolution of the clone-486, but was delayed enough that Intel got the MMX line out, making it incompetitive. The K6-2 was a damn good upgrade path for Socket 7 platformers. The K6-3 was the right idea (L2 cache on the CPU die? madness!) but too early to scale against the P3 (yes, Intel beat them to the cache-on-die with the Pentium Pro...)

byrn's picture

It seems a shame for AMD, I will like most of you base my purchasing choice on whats the best at my price level as and when I upgrade. I don't see myself going away from a laptop anytime soon though and as Intel have more representation within the laptop market I would assume my next machine will have an Intel processor.

Dwain's picture

Hexus has a review of AMD's "Spider" platform up (Phenom, 7 series mobo, 3870) here

Their conclusion?
"We reserve absolute judgement until we review a full-production processor and motherboard. Right now, pressed for buying advice, we'd recommend our readers opt for the competition's processor, chipset, and graphics cards. "


byrn's picture

I will like most of you base my purchasing choice on whats the best at my price level as and when I upgrade - Dwain

LOL, like most of us. Are you trying to say that some of us just upgrade without any kind of reason of what is best or what is reasonable to buy? LOL!

Actually, you might have a point there. ;)

brainwipe's picture

I maybe suggested that there are people on this site that enjoy having a peice of technology simply to have it. I would if I had the expendable income.

Dwain's picture