AMD Phenom II CPU (X4 940 3.0Ghz with Dragon Platform) Review - www.impulsegamer.com -

Applications 9.0
Gaming 9.4
Multimedia 9.1
Value 9.5
Distributor: AMD
Reviewer:
Howard Bourke

9.3


AMD Phenom II Processor
(
X4 940 3.0Ghz)

AMD have finally released the next generation of Phenom processors, with the Phenom II that ups the ante of this powerful series and is now finally available for the wider community. AMD are also targeting this CPU towards gamers and best of all, the processors are still quite affordable when compared to competitor Intel.

For now, AMD are releasing two Phenom II processors which include the AMD Phenom II X4 920 (2.8Ghz) and the AMD Phenom II X4 940 (3.0Ghz), both two powerful CPU's and equally quite affordably priced. The AMD Phenom II is also a quad core processor that works in conjunction and independently that when not used, powers down, ensuring better power utilization though the use of Hyper Transport technology. If something requires more power, it simply activates the relevant cores that is ideal for number crunching, photo manipulation and of course high-end gaming.

The Dragon Platform

With two of the world's leading CPU (AMD) and graphic (ATI) card designers now joined, a new platform for users is available called "Dragon" which provides a linked solution with the AMD CPU (Phenom II), the AMD mother chipsets (790 Series) plus the ATI/AMD graphics cards (AMD ATI Radeon 4800 Series). This unity will allow for improved performance under the one banner and is definitely an interesting premise as it reduces the issues of compatibility problems. Best of all, it's quite affordably priced compared to the competition and in turn very powerful which I'm sure gamers will embrace.

Although the original Phenom processors did have some issues, AMD have addressed these issues and have created an all-round CPU that is ideal for home users, designers and of course gamers. 

Briefly in terms of changes, AMD have revised the core architecture of the Phenom II and uses 45nm architecture (the original Phenom used 65nm) which allows for improved performance, heat dissipation and higher frequencies but the largest improvement is the jump from 2MB L3 cache to 6MB.

Also, with the 45nm architecture incorporated into the Phenom II, it has a peak of 125 Watts when all four cores of the processor are utilized that is a slight improvement over the pervious Phenom processors. Needless to say, the incorporation of 45nm architecture plus 6MB of L3 cache ensures for higher computing performance without the risk of overheating.



Handling memory by the processor has been dramatically improved with the Phenom II which means improved bandwidth, faster processing and better optimization. Cool 'N' Quiet returns to the Phenom II with "Cool 'n' Quiet 3.0" that assists in power saving which basically disables certain parts of the CPU when not in use.

With that said, Cool 'N' quiet 3.0 is definitely an interesting feature as it switches between a variety of MHz frequencies and power voltages, ensuring some decent power savings. Gamers or those using CPU grunt can rest assured that this is enabled for gaming or number crunching.

Phenom II Features / Specifications

  • Processor Frequency: X4 940 (Black Edition) = 3.0GHz / X4 920 = 2.8GHz

  • L1 Cache Sizes: 64K of L1 instruction and 64K of L1 data cache per core (512KB total L1 per processor)

  • L2 Cache Sizes: 512KB of L2 data cache per core (2MB total L2 per processor)
    L3 Cache Size: 6MB (shared)

  • Memory Controller Type: Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller *

  • Memory Controller Speed: Up to 1.8GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management

  • Types of Memory Supported: Support for unregistered DIMMs up to PC2 8500 (DDR2-1066MHz)

  • Memory Bandwidth: Up to 17.1GB

  • HyperTransport 3.0 Link: One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 3.6GHz full duplex (1.8GHz x2)

  • HyperTransport 3.0 Bandwidth: Up to 14.4GB/s

  • Total Processor Bandwidth: Up to 31.5 GB/s total bandwidth

  • Packaging: Socket AM2+ 940-pin organic micro pin grid array (micro-PGA)

  • Fab location: Fab 36 wafer fabrication facilities in Dresden, Germany

  • Process Technology: 45-nanometer DSL SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology

  • Approximate Transistor count: ~ 758 million (45nm)

  • Approximate Die Size: 258 mm2 (45nm)

  • Max Ambient Case Temp: 62 Celsius

  • Nominal Voltage: 0.875 - 1.5 Volts

  • Max TDP: 125 Watts
     
    *NOTE: MC configurable for dual 64-bit channels for simultaneous read/writes

As you can see from the above specification from AMD, the Phenom II is no slouch when it comes to design and offers a variety of powerful features. The most noticeable changes to the Phenom II processors is the move from 65nm to 45nm which has also increased the transistor count to an insane 758 million and of course the jump from 2MB to 6MB which adds to the performance of your system.

For users of existing AM2+ motherboards or Phenom processors, they can easily upgrade their CPU without the need for purchasing a new and expensive motherboard which is definitely a powerful edge when compared to Intel. Of course owners of AM2+ motherboards should check with their manufacturers whether the Phenom II is supported or if a BIOS update will be made available. (A list is available at the end of this review)

The only real issues for owners of AM2+ motherboards is that they will need to upgrade their motherboard if they are to use DD3 memory. Needless to say, AMD continues its ideology of backward compatibility which in our eyes is a very powerful feature that Intel do not offer.
 
In order to test AMD's most powerful CPU, AMD organized a Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition processor and 
a Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H. To complete the Dragon platform, we used a AMD/ATI Radeon 4870X2 to hear the dragon roar. Our system also has 4GB of RAM (Corsair), 500GB SATA Hard Drive and the operating system installed was Microsoft Vista Ultimate (64-bit) with Service Pack 1. The 4870 X 2 card also boasted the latest drivers from ATI, ensuring that our system was up to date.


The first program we used to test the Phenom II was Sisoft SANDRA 2009 which stands for the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) and is a system diagnostic utility and gives the user detailed information about their hardware, software and other devices.

It's definitely one of the preferred benchmarking programs for reviewers and system testers as it allows the user to test a variety of system features such as CPU calculations and other memory tests. The best aspect of SiSoft's SANDRA 2009 is that it is compliant with the latest processors and means quad core processors can finally be tested without any limitations.

As you can see from the below results, the Phenom II is quite powerful when all cores are in use. The Dhrystone and Whetstone results are very impressive as this uses the mathematical calculations of the CPU and shows how powerful it is at crunching numbers.

Sisoft Sandra 2009 - Dhrystone ALU (GIPS)

Core i7 920 (70.2)
Amd Phenom II (49.1)
Intel Q6600 (39.2)

Sisoft Sandra 2009 - Whetstone iSSE3 (GFLOPS)

Core i7 920 (63.1)
Amd Phenom II (50.1)
Intel Q6600 (38.8)

Considering the price between Intel's Core i7 920, the Phenom II performed exceptionally well, however where the CPU did shine is through it's graphical calculations that of course makes up the Dragon platform.

Although not the latest version, 3DMark 2006 is still a popular choice when it comes to benchmarking and testing your system and is designed to test the DirectX9 performance of your graphics card. A 3DMark score is an overall measure of your systems 3D gaming capabilities, based on comprehensive real-time 3D graphics and processor tests. [www.futuremark.com] Needless to say, the tests speak for themselves and shows that the CPU functionality, although less than the i7 is still up there with the greats.

3DMark 2006 (CPU Test)

 

Core i7 920 (4839)
Amd Phenom II (4199)
Intel Q6600 (3729)

The last of our testing programs was 3DMark Vantage (the latest version of 3DMark) and another program from Futuremark that allows users to test the graphical capabilities of their system. We also set 3DMark Vantage to the default settings and once again, the results mirrored 3DMark06, indicating a rather powerful CPU, considering it's price range and features.

3DMark Vantage - CPU Test
 

Core i7 920 (17021)
Amd Phenom II (13291)
Intel Q6600 (9012)

Gaming

Where the card did shine was in conjunction with the "Dragon Platform" that performed almost as good as Intel latest Core i7 920. With games, the baine of all CPU's and graphic cards is still Crysis which was developed by EA Games and follows the story of aliens, viruses and of course the end of humanity.

Although Crysis is visually one of the most impressive games on the PC, the amount of hardware power needed is actually quite ridiculous and as of yet, I've never seen a system run this game flawlessly.

Crysis also supports the latest DirectX from Microsoft, version 10 and needless to say, the game performed rather well on the Phenom II, although I was hoping that the processor would finally blow this game out of the water. We tested the game on a variety of resolution settings with the "benchmark cpu timedemo" plus medium to high levels of detail. The difference between the Core i7 920 was quite minimal. The Phenom II also beat the Core i7 920 on it's highest resolution.

Crysis (1024 x 768 resolution, medium IQ)
 

Core i7 920 (71)
Amd Phenom II (70)
Intel Q6600 (49)

Crysis (1680x1050, High IQ, DX10)
 

Amd Phenom II (32)
Core i7 920 (30)
Intel Q6600 (18)

Without getting down to too many statistics, we tested the game with Brothers in Arms, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Fifa 09 and BioShock and the game had quite similar results to Crysis, with the CPU giving Intel's Core i7 920 a real run for its money, proving that this CPU is definitely a contender for gaming when hooked up with the Dragon platform.

Overclocking

When it comes to overclocking, the Phenom II offers a variety of options for those wishing to push the boundaries of their CPU. The Cool 'N' Quiet technology is ideal for overclocking, however I do suggest that users arrange appropriate cooling for their systems.

Unlike Intel, AMD have noted that their CPU's can be overclocked, of course at the users discretion. By increasing the clock speed and the CPU multiplier, overclocking is actually quite simple, however you need to find a common ground to ensure the stability of your system.

In relation to overlocking, it is advisable to have the Black Edition CPU which does have the CPU multiplier unlocked and easily allows you to tweak your processor thanks to the AMD OverDrive Utility. With the right cooling inside your case and for the CPU, you should be able to push your CPU to around 3.6Ghz and with water-cooling based units, this may be even higher. We did successfully push the CPU to around 3.6Ghz, however this was with standard cooling only.

Conclusion

In conclusion, AMD have created a worthy successor for the Phenom processor that continues with backward compatibility and finally breaks the 3Ghz barrier and offers users a truly sturdy cooling system with the Cool 'N' Quiet technology.

The movie from 65 to 45nm technology is definitely a impressive improvement over its predecessor that does allow for more computing power that gamers will appreciate. Matched with the Dragon platform, this is very workable platform which ensures for a smoother computing experience that of course is targeted towards gamers.

When compared to Intel's Core i7, Intel still does have an edge in terms of standard applications and number crunching, however with gaming, the Phenom II is a worthy competitor. Cost wise, I would be inclined towards AMD as Intel are notorious for over pricing their CPU's when they are first released. Definitely recommended for gamers or those wishing to upgrade their CPU from existing AM2 motherboards. Brilliant!

Motherboard compatibility - Source AMD

Below is a short list of motherboards that I recommend you consider first when testing the Phenom II. These new 45nm CPUs *do* require a BIOS update to run properly in AM2+ motherboards. So while the motherboard manufacturers are working on BIOS updates for their motherboards, I want to ensure you have a short list of known-good boards. Please note that the Asus motherboard requires that you do NOT use the in-BIOS flash utility, but rather you must use the provided, separate AFUDOS flash utility. Failure to do so could result in an unstable board. Please check AMDs recommended motherboards list after launch for additional board suggestions (http://products.amd.com/en-us/RecommendedMBFilter.aspx). Just a reminder that board vendors are continuously updating their BIOSes, so this list is always in flux and gets updated frequently.

Current motherboard recommendations for Phenom II:

Gigabyte MA790GP DS4H

MSI DKA790GX Platinum

Asus M3A78-T

 






 
 



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