AMD Phenom 9900 Review
Reviewed by: Admin
Reviewed on: December 23, 2007
What is the definition of Phenom? Well Phenom is actually slang for Phenomenal, which has a definition of being “astounding, exceptional”. A Spider spins webs made of silk that become stronger as it grows. By now you may be wondering what I’m referring to. On the 17th of November, AMD launched its latest line of processors, which would be the Phenom and its first line is called Spider. Many of us have been waiting a long time for this launch to see if AMD may be back on track in the processor wars and to see if they can win back the hearts of the computer enthusiast. With this launch, AMD also introduced the 790 and 790FX chipset (motherboard), which when used in combination should enhance the architecture of the processor, maximizing its potential.
The AMD Phenom, which is part of AMDs Spider platform, is the first of AMD's series of one-chip Quad Core processors. The Phenom comes in 4 flavors; 9500, 9600, 9700 and 9900, ranging from 2.2 to 2.6 GHz, and is a 940-pin AM2+ processor. The AMD 790 and 790 FX chipsets are also reverse compatible with the older AM2 processors, but are enhanced to work in combination with the Phenom processor (its architecture contains added pipelines to utilize each core individually).
Just like everyone else, I’m curious to see how well the AMD Phenom pairs with the 790FX Chipset. The Spider that will be reviewed is the Phenom 9900, which has a stock operating speed of 2.6 GHz.
In 2008 you will notice many changes here at OCC, and some may take a little getting use to. By now you are aware that the review staff of OCC publishes five hardware reviews a week, some of which are at times fairly short, and some that can actually consist of twenty pages or more. In order for us to keep this pace, we will no longer have an installation section that many of you have become familiar with. Instead of having an installation page, we will actually be publishing how-to guides on installing many products, such as CPUs (Intel and AMD), video cards (ATI and nVidia), external USB devices (Mice, Keyboards, etc.), and hard drives (SATA and IDE). The reason for the change is simple; to take pictures, edit them and post them is time consuming, so to save time and publish reviews of new and innovative products more quickly, the decision has been made to publish these guides and link to the guide specific to each review. This will also provide someone who does not have the knowledge on installing a component a step-by-step medium to learn. Let's face it, how many times have you seen a cpu on a motherboard?
As for our configuration section, there will be no changes; we will still show the installation of the software and its features. Software changes, but once you have seen a PCI-e slot and have installed hardware into that PCI-e slot, it's like riding a bike and just becomes second nature.
The review staff of OCC thanks you.
If you would like to see what a socket 940 processor looks like on a motherboard, you may do so here.
Since these are the newest AMD Processors, we will show the specifications on all four.
AMD PHENOM PROCESSOR TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS:
- Model / Processor Frequency: AMD Phenom Processor Model 9900 / 2.6GHz ***
- Model / Processor Frequency: AMD Phenom Processor Model 9700 / 2.4GHz **
- Model / Processor Frequency: AMD Phenom Processor Model 9600 / 2.3GHz (Normal and Black Edition)
- Model / Processor Frequency: AMD Phenom Processor Model 9500 / 2.2GHz
- 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: 2MB
- Memory Controller Type: Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller *Note: configurable for dual 64-bit channels for simultaneous read/writes
- Memory Controller Frequency: Up to 1.8GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management
- Types of Memory: Support for unregistered DIMMs up to PC2 8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) *Note: future 45nm processors versions to include support for DDR3 memory
- HyperTransport 3.0: One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 3.6GHz full duplex
- Total Processor Bandwidth: Up to 31.5 GB/s bandwidth
- Packaging: Socket AM2+ 940-pin organic micro pin grid array (micro-PGA) *Note: Phenom processors are backward-compatible with Socket AM2 motherboards
- Fab location: AMD's Fab 36 wafer fabrication facilities in Dresden, Germany
- Process Technology: 65nm (.065-micron) Silicon on Insulator (SOI)
- Approximate Transistor count: ~ 450 million (65nm)
- Approximate Die Size: 285 mm2 (65nm)
- Nominal Voltage: 1.1-1.25 Volts
- Max TDP: 95 Watts *ACP: *to be announced (see next section below)
- ***NOTE: The Phenom 9900 has a higher 2.0GHz memory controller frequency
- ***NOTE: The Phenom 9900 has a higher HT frequency of up to 4.0GHz (full duplex)
- ***NOTE: The Phenom 9900 has a higher 140W max TDP
- **NOTE: The Phenom 9700 has a higher 125W max TDP
NEW ACP POWER MEASUREMENT:
- In answer to our customers who have asked for a more accurate and fair way to market their system power consumption, AMD has introduced ACP (average CPU power) wattage ratings. You can expect AMD to release these ACP power specifications for the Phenom processors in the near future. The ACP ratings will be significantly lower than the maximum wattage TDP ratings as our TDP has historically conveyed a theoretical power threshold that is practically impossible to see on even the “hottest” batch of chips under 100% loads. ACP will be useful to our customers who wish to convey a realistic estimate of power-draw based on the components in their system. Please see the following links (created for the "Barcelona" native quad-core Opteron launch) for more information about ACP: http://www.amd.com/us-en/Processors/ProductInformation/0,,30_118_8796_12353,00.html www.amd.com/us-en/assets/content_type/DownloadableAssets/43761A_ACP_WPv7.pdf
- Though HyperTransport 3.0 is capable of higher frequencies than the northbridge/memory controller runs at, for best operation and performance, the HT speed should always be set to the SAME FREQUENCY as the memory controller specification for the particular CPU being tested. This can be done in the BIOS or in AMD Overdrive.
Example: the HT frequency for systems with the Phenom 9600 or 9500 processors should be set to run at 1.8GHz, the same frequency as the memory controller in those processors for best performance
Example: the HT frequency for the 2.0GHz engineering sample should be set to run at 2.0GHz, the same frequency as the memory controller for best performance
PHENOM MEMORY CONTROLLER FREQUENCIES:
- The memory controller in Phenom has its own power/voltage control *AND* its own clock (independent of the CPU frequency). This is quite different than past variants of Athlon 64 processors, which run the memory controller at a divisor based on the CPU frequency. This has two significant implications:
- The memory controller maximum frequency specification is a constant and separate specification apart from the CPU max specification (see below spec), and…
- All Phenom processors, regardless of the CPU frequency, run DDR2 memory at the proper specified frequency.
- Example: an Athlon 64 X2 processor running at 2.3GHz does NOT run DDR2-800 at 800MHz, but rather only at ~766MHz because the memory controller gets its frequency as a result of a divisor acting off of the CPU freqency… with Phenom, this is no longer a concern as memory controllers get their own independent, dedicated clock)
AMD COOL’n’QUIET ON WINDOWS VISTA:
- Update your motherboard to the latest BIOS
- C’n’Q must be “enabled” in the motherboard’s BIOS (Note that many motherboards have that setting disabled by default)
- The power management scheme/setting must be "balanced" or "power-saver" in the Vista OS control panel
- Do NOT Select “Performance” as Vista’s power management scheme/setting as it will disable C’n’Q functionality
- Do NOT manually set the CPU frequency or multiplier in the BIOS. Doing so will lock the processor speed and disable C’n’Q functionality
- There is NO need to install a separate AMD CPU driver… Vista has a built-in AMD CPU driver
- You can make verify C’n’Q is working with a utility tool such as “CPU-Z” or one from AMD like the Clock or the Dashboard: http://www.amd.com/us-en/Processors/TechnicalResources/0,,30_182_871_13118,00.html
OverclockersClub will be running the AMD Phenom 9900 through our benchmarking suite to see how the processor performs. The OverclockersClub series of benchmarks include both system tests and gaming benchmarks to verify the performance of this product. If you would like to see how other processors performed in an XP platform, please check our CPU Section under reviews. We will show comparisons to other video cards using the Vista Platform, which can be found below. All video card settings were left at setup defaults, again to eliminate any variables. The video benchmarks in this review were run under two different platforms, The Phenom and HD3870 video cards were run as one platform while the remaining video cards were tested under an intel platform. This was done to show how the latest and greatest from AMD/ATI perform together.
- Processor: AMD Phenom 9900 200 x 13
- Motherboard: Asus M3A32-MVP DELUXE
- Memory: 4 x 1GB Mushkin DDR2 XP2 8500 at 1066 5-5-5-15 2t
- Video Card(s): ATI HD 3870 512MB
- Power Supply: Mushkin 650watt Modular Power Supply
- Hard Drive: Seagate 320GB SATA
- Opticals: NEC DV5700
- O/S: Windows Vista Ultimate Edition
- Processor: Intel Q6600 Core 2 Quad 266x9
- Motherboard: Asus Maximus Formula Special Edition
- Memory: 2 x 2 GB Kingston DDR2 at 667fsb 5-5-5-15 2t
- Video Card(s): ASUS 8800 GT 512 MB, Asus 2900 XT
Sapphire HD2900 XT Crossfire
- Power Supply: Thermaltake Toughpower 1000 watt Modular Power Supply
- Hard Drive: Seagate 320GB SATA
- Opticals: LG DVD-ROM
- O/S : Windows Vista Ultimate Edition
Well I can't say that I didn't try. The sample that I received from AMD is an engineering sample and it is also unlocked. Since the retail version is locked, I decided to overclock the 9900 the traditional way, which is through the BIOS of the motherboard and the "new way" with AMD Overdrive. Unfortunately, both ways failed. Even with a 200 MHz overclock, I could not get this Phenom stable. My theory is that it may not be the processor itself, but rather the new 790FX chipset. The concept is new, as well as the theory, and it needs some time to mature. I had originally tried the chip on the MSI K9A2 Platimum and found out that with its current BIOS, it does not support 1066 DDR2 RAM. As a matter of fact, when the BIOS is set to 1066, the board will not even POST. My next try was with the Asus M3A32-MVP DELUXE; this time I achieved a successful boot with its settings at 1066 and timings of 5-5-5-15, 2t. I did not even have an option to set the timings to what my RAM will run at. I have spoken to both Asus and MSI about these problems I was experiencing with its boards and was told that since I have boards that are from the first product lot, these boards have older BIOS's and revisions to the motherboards have already been made in their second iteration. I did flash both boards with the newest BIOS, but was still having problems. Both the MSI and Asus revision boards are on its way to me and I will try to overclock this processor again when I have a moment of free time.
- Scientific & Data:
- SpecviewPerf 10
- PCMark Vantage Professional
- Sandra XII
- ScienceMark 2.02 Final
- Cinebench 10
- HD Tune 2.54
- Crysis (CPU and GPU)
- Knights of the Sea
- Call of Duty 4
- World in Conflict
- Call of Jaurez
- 3DMark 06 Professional
The processor will be tested with our benchmarking suite to show what kind of performance this chip delivers. The benchmarking suite used includes both system tests, as well as gaming benchmarks. All chips will be run at default setting to eliminate any variables. All video card settings were left at setup defaults as well, also to eliminate any variables.
We will start with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:
- Resolution: 2750x2048
- Quality: 500
- Limit Memory use: 512MB
The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.
Lower is Better
WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB and 500MB files and test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds, and once again, lower is better.
In the first round of tests, the Phenom is doing quite well against the Intel Q6600.
Specview is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.
PCMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running the default suite to gauge the performance of each individual processor to see which, if any, rises above the others.
Higher is Better
PCMark Vantage is the newest in the line of Futuremark benchmarks, so scores may not be as familiar. Although the Phenom did not do as well in the Specview tests, it has outscored its opponent in its second benchmark.
SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key areas of the motherboards.
Cache and Memory
Power Management Efficiency
As in all other AMD 940 processors, due to the smaller L2 cache, processor arithmetic and multi-core seem to fall short again, but due to its onboard memory controllers and each cores' individual pipelines, the Phenom is stronger in memory.
Sciencemark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.
Higher is Better
Cinebench is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.
Higher is Better
HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.
Higher is Better
Lower is Better
NOTE: We are now benchmarking with Cinebench 10, where values are marked higher than Cinebench 9, due to changes in how it reads the multicore CPUs.
Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games to be released to the gaming community. The Crysis single player demo includes both a CPU and GPU benchmark to test the performance of the processor and video card installed in the system.
Note*- Graphics testing may be confusing. So I will clarify why it is different from past reviews. The Phenom is part of a platform which is called Spider. In order to show how the Platform works as a whole I will show the Phenom using the ATI 3870 (Single and Crossfire), comparing it to the Q6600 with the HD 2900XT (Single and Crossfire) and as an extra bonus throw in the 8800 GT as a sneek peek for an upcoming review. Sorry for the confusion.
- 2x Anti-Aliasing
- Advanced settings to medium
You will notice that there is only one score for each CPU; the CPU test is not affected by a video card as it renders the same numbers for the processor no matter what video card is used.
PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of real time strategy and simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies and prove your mettle on the open seas.
The settings we will use are below:
- AA: x0
- Image Quality: High
- Direct X Version: 10
- All resolutions 60Hz
BioShock is one of the newest games on the market. It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This first-person shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played.
- All settings to Maximum
- V-Sync off
Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots, with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a U.S. Marine or British S.A.S. trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.
The settings used are listed below:
- Anti-aliasing: x4
- Anistropic Filtering : Max
- Texture Quality: Extra
- All settings Max
World In Conflict is a newly released DX10 real time strategy game that simulated the all out war that the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not your typical generate-wealth-and-build type of game. You advance by conquering your foe.
The settings we will use are listed below:
- 0X AA
- 16X AF
- Graphic Detail :Very High
Call of Juarez is a DirectX10 first person shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired in part by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.
The settings we will use are listed below.
- Details: High
- Shadowmap size 2048x2048
- Shadow Quality: Normal
- Anti Aliasing: MSAA 4X
3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest begins. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.
- SM2.0 Graphics Tests: GT1- Return to Proxycon, GT2- Firefly Forest
- CPU Tests: Cpu1- Red Valley, CPU2- Red Valley
- HDR/SM3.0 Graphics Tests: HDR1- Canyon Flight, HDR2- Deep Freeze
By now everyone must be wondering if OCC really did attend the launch of the Phenom/Spider/3800. Yes we did. What are our thoughts about a private launch? Personally we appreciated it; it was a chance to get to see the CPU, components and video card first hand and not have to surf the internet and read press releases to get a feel for the new products. I feel that experiencing something first hand gives OCC a leg up on what to expect or not to expect when we are running our series of benchmarks. You may be wondering why we didn't write a review immediately after attending the launch. Well all things aside, of course all the systems set up at the launch had been optimized to run well and make the CPU excel in its performance, as per what AMD might feel works best with its system. So what good would it have been to write a review that used benchmarks that AMD chose, even though they did choose to use one of our benchmarks which was our Winrar files.
What we do at OCC is review a product in our environment using our suite of benchmarks that we have tested, so there is familiarity for our readers and other reviews to compare. As a matter of fact, AMD even encouraged us to wait until we received the Phenom to conduct our review. In no way do we feel that AMD invited us to the launch to persuade us into writing a good review.
Below are some pictures of the PowerPoint presentation we were shown at the launch. They are self explanatory.
Here are some of the vendors that attended the show.
Well who said you can't mix business with pleasure?
Even ccokeman got into the action.
Well maybe too much pleasure is not so good. I think?
Everyone knows new products have problems. Many have heard about Erratum 298. Below find a link to AMDs forums which go over Erratum 298.
Would you like to see some info on AMD Overdrive?
Well all the benchmarks have been run and the results should speak for themselves. I am impressed with some aspects and disappointed with others. I'm very disappointed that I could not overclock the Phenom 9900 and both motherboards that I have in my possession are not working as well as they should. I am going to have to revisit this CPU when all the bugs are worked out. What I am impressed with is how well the Phenom did compared to the Q6600 in the scientific benchmarks; remember the Phenom has half the shared cache, at 2MB, but is clocked 200 MHz higher than the Q6600.
So is the Phemon phenomenal? No, not by a long shot. But as I eluded to earlier, it is a Spider and a Spider's web does get stronger as it gets nearer to completion. This concept has promise and at this time we will have to patiently wait and see if its web will get stronger as it develops. As the 790 chipset matures I would hope to see the Phenom start living up to its name. Let's hope that this is a step in the right direction for AMD. My personal thought is that it's a start.
I hope to have both the MSI and Asus motherboards back right after the holidays. In the mean time, I was just informed that MSI has a new beta BIOS for its board, which should fix its memory problems. Hopefully this BIOS will allow me to achieve some decent overclocks in my next review, which will be of the Phenom 9600 (Black Box Edition).
- True Quad-Core
- Optimized to work in conjunction with 790FX chipset (see cons)
- The 790FX chipset needs work in order to complete optimization
- Will not overclock due to immature chipset features