AMD Launches New Flagship Phenom II CPU
Unlocked 3.2 GHz Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition supports overclocking
As was increasingly expected, AMD has officially updated its Phenom II processor line with two new, slightly faster CPUs. The unlocked 3.2 GHz Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (about US$245) supports overclocking and is the company's fastest yet, while the Phenom II X4 945 (about $225) is clock-locked at 3 GHz. AMD says the former flagship 3 GHz AM2+ Phenom II X4 940 BE (about $195) will "remain available as an overclockable Black Edition for a period of time."
The new chips again feature a total cache (L2+L3) of 8MB, and though geared for use with Socket AM3/DDR3-memory motherboards, are also backwards-compatible with AM2+/DDR2-memory systems; so the good news is that you needn't upgrade your entire PC to use them.
Dragon Breathes Hotter
Though AMD has trailed Intel in CPU performance at the absolute top end of town, it's continued to deliver an affordable and largely competitive computing platform that includes CPU, motherboard, and GPU. The current incarnation of this unified offering is dubbed Dragon, and the new CPUs top off a full refresh since its introduction at CES in January. New ATI Radeon HD 4890 graphics boards hit earlier this month, Socket AM3 motherboards are rolling out, and AMD's long awaited OverDrive 3.0 overclocking software is expected to make its appearance at today's launch, albeit in beta form.
OverDrive 3.0: An Overclocker's Dream
My tests of the pre-release OverDrive 3.0 software revealed a veritable tweaker's paradise. You can tweak processor, HyperTransport, and memory speed and voltages with unmatched granularity, or, simply move a slider in novice mode. Phenom II chips may not be able to catch top-flight Core i7's in performance, but AMD knows that when it comes to enthusiasts--sometimes it's not how fast you go, but how much fun you have getting there.
AMD touts the overclocking abilities of the Black Edition Phenom II's and indeed, the CPU can be cranked well beyond its stock clock speed. In my personal hands on I managed 3.6 GHz using only the rather tame stock cooling solution provided by AMD. The company claims speeds up to 3.8 GHz are safe, though it points out that the chip's warranty doesn't cover damage caused by overclocking. On the extreme side of things, hobbyists with early access to the X4 955 chip have apparently clocked it up to 6.5GHz. Intel's Core i7 965 Extreme Edition is also highly overclockable, but both it and the socket 1366 motherboards it runs on are far more expensive than AM3 products.
Stacking it Together
For our initial Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition benchmarks, we tested a stock-clocked AMD reference platform and a $2499 Maingear F131 mid-tower desktop that ships overclocked to 3.71 GHz. AMD supplied a Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P motherboard, 4GB of DDR3 memory, and a single 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4890 graphics board; we used our own pair of 7200-rpm Seagate Barracuda hard drives, striped in a RAID 0 array. The Maingear F131 features an Asus M4A79T Deluxe motherboard, 4GB of DDR3 memory, dual 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4890 graphic boards and a single 7200-rpm Western Digital Caviar Black hard disk.