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AMD Phenom X4 9600 Performance Preview

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AMD Phenom X4 9600 Performance Preview


Product: AMD Phenom X4 9600
Price: 294.99 @ NCIX
Availability: 2-3 Weeks
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Introduction

It's finally here. It's quite possibly the biggest launch ever. Today marks the official release of AMD's Spider platform. We've had the privelege of taking an early look at the performance of a Phenom X4 9600, along with a Gigabyte premium motherboard featuring AMD's new high end chipset, and we've partnered them up with an HD 3850 graphics card. With a CPU, a chipset, and a GPU all launching at the same time, it's no wonder it's been one of the most speculated-about events over the past year.

Last time AMD launched a new platform, its reception was lukewarm. AM2 offered no performance advantage over S939, and indeed many S939 users felt they were being left out in the cold because any upgrade paths were taken away from them by AMD's move to quickly phase out DDR-compatible CPUs. This time we're hoping things will be a little different. A big helping factor is the fact that AMD has promised that Phenom processors will work both in AM2+ (790FX) sockets, as well as AM2 sockets. This will however be dependent on the board's VRM design and the vendor providing a BIOS update.

 
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Gav

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No Hand Holding Here

No Hand Holding Here.
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At Hardware Canucks we’ve found ourselves in a bit of a unique position for the launch of the Phenom. Everything that we’ve done to produce this preview has been without AMD’s help. Our board is a retail board with the latest bios that we were able to obtain on our own (BIOS F2h was downloaded from the Gigabyte website just like an end-user would have to do). We also used AMD's HD 3850 graphics card with the only drivers we were able to find, the ones on the included disc, just like an end-user would have to do.

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Another part of the reason that this is a “preview” rather than a “review” is that we haven't had much time with the chip before the embargo date. Also we are lacking all of the AMD marketing slides that go along with this launch outlining the architecture changes that have been made since the K8. For this reason, we’re going to focus on benchmarks rather than one long-winded descriptions of how well it ought to work based on what AMD’s marketing people told us.

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So what does all of this mean? It means that our results were obtained with no one looking over our shoulder. We ran whatever benchmarks we saw fit with whatever settings we saw fit on whatever platform we saw fit. It also means that our results should accurately represent the experience an end-user will have if they run out and buy a Spider-based system today. Spider Platform = Phenom + 790FX motherboard + 1-4 HD3800 series video cards.
 

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What Else is Launching Today - Spider and Other Things

What Else is Launching Today - Spider and Other Things

The first "true" quad core CPU is soon to be available, but what else comes along with it? For the first time, desktop users get a platform designed around interoperability, performance and stability. Spider is a combination of the recently launched 3800 series video cards, a Phenom CPU, and a 790 series chipset. The ATi acquisition is finally beginning to look like a good move because AMD has secured the formidable graphics and chipset experience at ATi.

By using the Spider platform in a system, the end-user gets certain benefits that are otherwise not present, such as UVD support, Hypertransport 3.0 support, excellent tweaking capabilities with AMD’s new Windows-based overclocking utility, CrossfireX support, “true” quad core, and a variety of other benefits.
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Our testing CPU, a Phenom X4 9600

As mentioned before, although we’ve seen the AMD slides, we don’t have them so there are many other benefits, but we have to rely on our memories to recall the most important ones.
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A couple of other important points to note about the Spider launch today is that the motherboards are already available (our 790FX motherboard is a retail one off the shelf), and CPU availability should be nearly immediate. That said, the Phenom X4 9500 (2.2GHz) is the only one that will be in plentiful supply. The Phenom X4 9600 (2.3GHz) will be available but in limited quantities, and the Phenom X4 9700 (2.4GHz) has been delayed.
 

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology<o:p></o:p>
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All tests were run using patched games (including a nearly 2GB patch for Company of Heroes….), and a fully-updated install of Microsoft Windows Vista x64. 64-bit and DirectX 10 versions of each test were used wherever possible.

All games were run at 1280x1024 with settings at “high” or “DX10” wherever available, except Crysis, which used “medium” settings.
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The following tests were run for this preview:
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Synthetics

3Dmark 2006
SiSoft Sandra Arithmetic
SiSoft Sandra Memory Bandwidth
SiSoft Sandra Memory Latency
Super Pi 1M
Cinebench 1CPU
Cinebench xCPU
Lightsmark
Valve Software Particle benchmark
PC Mark Vantage
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Games

Call of <st1:place>Juarez</st1:place> DX10
F.E.A.R. in-game benchmark
Supreme Commander “ /perf” test
Crysis 64-bit CPU benchmark
Crysis 64-bit GPU benchmark
Company of Heroes in-game benchmark
Half Life 2 Lost Coast in-game benchmark
Lost Planet Extreme Condition DX10
Counter Strike Source in-game benchmark
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our test beds in all of their glory - The green sleeving on the PSU is aftermarket and contrary to what I thought when I was putting it there, it did not make the PC go faster. Along those lines, it also did not affect performance...

What Steps Have Been Taken to Ensure Accuracy?<o:p></o:p>
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As you’ll see below, some of the scores are disappointingly low, particularly the memory bandwidth and latency as measured by Sandra. This caused us to think that there may be something wrong with our Phenom because traditionally K8 scored very well on these tests due to its on-board memory controller.
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That said, it’s hard to believe there’s something critically wrong with a CPU that completed this entire testing routine (twice with averaging rather than 3x due to time constraints) without any crashing or other issues.
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I’m sure if there’s a problem with our chip AMD will get in touch with us and let us know how we can correct the results, so PLEASE stay tuned for updates. This is a preview, not a review, so things could definitely change.
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We’ve eliminated the motherboard and the memory as weak points by trying 3 boards (2 separate Gigabyte MA790FX-DQ6, and one MSI 790X board), and 3 separate memory kits from 3 different vendors. None of these changes affected our results dramatically.
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We were also able to get our memory working in dual channel mode (as read by both the BIOS and by the new AMD Overdrive utility) by using the "ganged" setting. It boosted benchmark scores in some cases by about 5-10%.


Test Systems<o:p></o:p>
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Due to the time limits in place for this preview(our sample showed up Friday), we did not have the luxury of running all of the tests on one platform, reformatting the hard drive, then running all of the tests on the other platform. Instead we built two full test beds, one for a Q6600, and one for the Phenom 9600. The configurations are as follows:
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Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
Gigabyte X38-DQ6 (no BIOS update required for stability at these settings)
Crucial Ballistix Tracer PC2-8500 @ 1066 5-5-5-18 2T 2.1V (everything else auto)
ATi Radeon 3850 256MB (out of the box drivers)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 500GB SATA2
OCZ GameXStream 600W
Generic DVD-ROM
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AMD Phenom X4 9600
Gigabyte MA790FX-DQ6 (BIOS updated to BETA F2i for stability at DDR2-1066)
Crucial Ballistix Tracer PC2-8500 @ 1066 5-5-5-18 2T 2.1V *Using "ganged" memory mode shows 128-bit bus in the BIOS and in AMD Overdrive, and gave better benchmark scores for gaming tests, so we used it*
ATi Radeon 3850 256MB (out of the box drivers)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 500GB SATA2
OCZ GameXStream 600W
Generic DVD-ROM
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Performance Tests

Performance Tests<o:p></o:p>
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It should be quite clear to you by now that our Performance Tests segment lacks the usual insightful comments about the percentage by which "part a" triumphs over "part b" with each graph. Due to time constraints our readers have been left to their own devices somewhat to interpret the performance graphs above, but sshould you have any specific questions about any of them, please post in our forum discussion thread and I would be happy to help you.
 

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Parting Thoughts

Parting Thoughts

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<o:p></o:p>It’s hard to draw any solid conclusions based on what we’ve observed today. As mentioned before, some of our results have been…. Odd. The results achieved by the Phenom X4 9600 showed a tendency to sea-saw between extremely promising and extremely disappointing. There have been many people waiting for this chip and we all hope this is not as good as it gets. Whether performance (or lack thereof) can be attributed to the immature state of our board BIOS or some other factor is yet to be determined, but we were expecting so much more out of the Phenom...<o:p></o:p>
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The Cinebench scaling (greater than 400% from 1 to 4 cores) seemed like it couldn’t possibly be right, but it was run 5x to ensure consistency. Also, the memory bandwidth and latency seems very low for AMD’s onboard memory controller. As mentioned, we’re using only equipment that is available at retail for our testing, but we also had access to an MSI 790X board that was briefly tested to ensure that the memory bandwidth and latency results on our Gigabyte 790FX board were not out of the ordinary. Results on the MSI board were slightly worse, so the Gigabyte 790FX board can be ruled out as a weak point.<o:p></o:p>
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The Gigabyte MA790FX-DQ6 was tested with 2GB kits of Corsair Dominator PC2-8500 5-5-5-15, and Crucial Ballistix Tracer PC2-8500, as well as a 4GB kit of OCZ PC2-6400 5-5-5-15 while we were finalizing test bed specifications, and all performed within margin of error of each other, so we can safely say that the memory is also not a weak point in our test setup.

We attempted some overclocking and were able to reach 2.7GHz benchmark stable with water cooling. 2.6 was possible with air. More voltage didn't seem to help things much and we gave up in favor of running more benchmarks to present in this review.

Armed with all of this information we're not much closer to determining the long-term impact Phenom will have on the market, but until AMD can tweak things and ramp up clock speeds it's not all that impressive, losing to the (less expensive) Q6600 in nearly every test and being only capable of a 2.7GHz overclock.
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[FONT=&quot]Please stay tuned for updated results in case AMD wants us to try another Phenom CPU.


[/FONT] To post any questions or comments you may have, you can go here: Comment Thread for Phenom Preview
 
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