AMD Phenom II 965 Processor Review

ajmatson - 2009-08-10 08:12:26 in CPU's
Category: CPU's
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: August 12, 2009
Price: $245


AMD has been releasing different types of processors since last year's CES like hot cakes. We have seen the new Athlon X2 series along with the Phenom II DDR2 series. Then came the Athlon II and Phenom II series with DDR3 support. As of lately the flagship AMD processor has been the AMD Phenom II X4 955, which while a very strong and cost effective processor, has been leaving enthusiasts wanting more. To help bridge the gap between the Phenom II X4 955 and the ever popular Core i7 series processors, AMD has again released another processor on its quest for the best processing power for the money. AMD has been on a stand wanting to give its consumers a powerful platform on which their hard earned cash can yield them a top of the line system without having to take out a second mortgage on the house. They see the market as the average user or enthusiast that does not have thousands of dollars to toss out for their systems. Today, AMD brings us the new flagship processor, the AMD Phenom II X4 965. The Phenom II X4 965 comes dialed in at 3.4GHz with a 6MB shared L3 cache and a 2MB split L2 cache (512KB per core). Take that with HyperTransport 3.0 support and you have a fast true multi-core platform.


Closer Look:

For this review we received an engineering package processor, which comes OEM in a hard anti static box. The retail versions will come in a more secure package, along with the heatsink fan for cooling.






The Phenom II X4 965 is an AM3 processor, which sports a 938 micro-pin grid array (micro-PGA) configuration. This processor, as with all of the Phenom II X4 line, is manufactured using a 45nm process and has 758 million transistors. One difference between this and the Phenom II X4 955 is that the X4 965 has maximum TDP of 140 watts, using a voltage of 0.875 - 1.5v with a maximum operating temperature of 62C degrees. The Phenom II X4 965 does support HyperTransport 3.0 for up to 37.3GB/s when paired with DDR3 1333MHz memory, and 33.1GB/s when paired with DDR2 1066MHz memory. The cache breakdown for L2 is 2MB, which translates to 512KB per core, and the L3 is 6MB shared between each of the cores. The Phenom II X4 965 is clocked at 3.4GHz (200MHz x 17), and is a "Black Edition" processor - meaning that the multiplier is unlocked, so higher overclocks can be attained with the right tweaking.



Now that this baby is out let's get her installed and see what she has to offer.




Model Number:
Phenom II X4 965
Clock Frequency:


Max TDP:
140 watts
Cache Size:
L1 Cache 64K (each for Instruction + Data)
L2 Cache: 512KB per core
L3 Cache: 6MB Shared L3
Process Technology:
45-nanometer SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology
HyperTransport Technology Links:
One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4.0GHz full duplex (2.0GHz x2)
Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller with speeds: Up to 2.0GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management
Types of Memory:
support unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) -AND- PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333MHz)
Die Size:
45nm = 258mm2
45nm = 758million
Socket AM3 - 938-pin organic micro Pin Grid Array (micro-PGA) (Backwards compatable with AM2+ 940-pin)







To test the power and speed of the new Phenom II X4 965 processor, I will put it through a series of benchmarks that test the scientific and video processing capabilities. To give you a nice comparison to other top end processors being used currently, I included the AMD Phenom II X4 955 and the Intel Core i7 920 and 965 processor scores so we get a clear idea of where the Phenom II X4 965 sits. All hardware used was set to its native operating speeds, timings, and voltages to keep any variables from interfering with the scores. Because of time constraints and hardware availability, the video testing phase will have some of the newer chips included, however not all of them will be shown.


Testing Setup AMD AM3 CPU's:


Testing Setup I7 CPU's:


Comparison CPUs:



Overclocked settings:

When it came to the multiplier, anything over 18.5x and the computer would not boot at all. Even pushing the voltage on the CPU, NB and the HT just as I did with the Phenom II X4 955, I could not get any more out of it without getting too hot and blue screening. When it came to pushing the reference clock, I hit the wall at 211MHz. Just as with the multiplier any more would make the system unstable. During the overclocking I really had to watch the temps because they sat in the low 60C range; the maximum specified temperature for the Phenom II X4 965 is 65C, which made me nervous. It did remain stable so the final settings I ran for the overclock were 3.913GHz at 1.5v and memory speeds of 1689MHz at 7-7-7-20 timings.







  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SPECviewPerf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty World At War
  5. Dead Space 
  6. Fallout 3 
  7. Left 4 Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage


The first part of our testing will be the system specific benchmarks.


Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:



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.










For Apophysis where CPU speed plays a major part the the Phenom II X4 965 was slightly ahead of the i7 965. For the WinRAR tests the Phenom II X4 965 was faster than the Phenom II X4 955 but slower than the i7 processors.


SPECviewperf 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure the performance when run in this mode. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

















Higher is Better


PCMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual CPU to see which CPU, if any, rises above the others.


For Specview, the Phenom II X4 965 was closest to the i7 920 processor. For the PCMark Vantage, the Phenom II X4 965 beat out the Phenom II X4 955 and the i7 920 only coming in second to the i7 965.


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 functions of the CPUs.












Processor Arithmetic


Multi-Core Efficiency


Memory Bandwidth


Memory Latency


Cache and Memory


File System


Physical Disks


Power Management Efficiency


Throughout the Sandra tests the Phenom II X4 965 ran better than its predecessor but slower than the Intel offerings.


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


For the Sciencemark test the Phenom II X4 965 came in second behind the i7 965. For Cinebench the Phenom II X4 965 was better than the X4 955 but trailed to the i7 processors. With HD Tune the results were mixed for the two Phenom processors; however, they both could not keep up with the Intel CPUs.


Far Cry 2:

Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built especially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation First Person Shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km squared of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality.







The Phenom II X4 955 tied the X4 955 and beat out the Intel i7 processors.


Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the island. Along the way ,there are EMP blasts and aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the CryEngine 2.













In Crysis Warhead while close the i7s had a bit of advantage.


BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. The building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong. Its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddies". 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. The environment, as well as the story line, will wrap you up for hours on end.


Video Settings:










The Phenom II X4 965 was a bit in front of the X4 955 but behind the i7s.


Activision's Call Of Duty World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought COD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a large resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare performance of these video cards.












At the highest resolution the Phenom II comes to shine.


In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion, you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse as starting with the crash landing and seemingly silent and "Dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional over the shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.












It was neck and neck as the resolution grew, however at the beginning the Phenom II X4 965 was trailing the i7 processors.


Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the vault has been sealed for 200 years and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks, since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.











The Phenom II X4 965 was dead on with the X4 965 but still behind the i7s.


Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters, and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival!














Again, the Phenom II was a bit behind the i7s.


3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is started. 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.



















The Phenom II X4 965 was in the middle of the X4 955 and the i7 920 until the end where it came in second to the i7 965.


Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.













The Phenom II X4 965 was faster than the X4 955 but still trailed the i7s.


The Phenom II X4 965 processor is a nice contender if you are in the market for an AMD based processor. Apples to apples, when compared to the Phenom II X4 955, the X4 965 performed marginally better. Does that mean you should go out and upgrade to the latest right away? Not necessarily; as I stated, the performance gain was marginal and not enough to justify paying a premium for slightly better performance. When you compare apples to oranges, with the Core i7 920 being the orange, the Phenom II X4 965 is close in some aspects but overall it was slower than the Intel chip. Factor in only the CPU price, the I7 920 can be had for anywhere from $200 to $265 (depending on where you shop) vs the Phenom II X4 965 at $245 and price to performance the Phenom II X4 965 falls behind. Where the Phenom II X4 965 takes the lead is when you factor in the platform as a whole. Most premium X58 motherboards cost $200 or more when a 790FX motherboard can be had for as little as $90.

When it came to overclocking the Phenom II X4 965, I aimed high trying to get over 4.0GHz on air. For this I used a Thermaltake ISGC-400 CPU cooler with the fan speed set on high. Even with this the temperatures soared over the 62C threshold for the CPU. With the voltage at 1.52v, which is a bit over the specified maximum, I was only able to push the processor to 3.914GHz before the system became too unstable to run benchmarks. Overall, the Phenom II X4 965 is a nice CPU for AMD, however I would not consider it a "flagship" until it can provide a step closer to Intel's i7 920 speeds considering they are selling for almost the same price or less now. If you are looking to build an AMD based Dragon system, then by all means I would recommend the X4 965 processor if you have the money to spend. If not, for under $200 you can grab the X4 955 that offers similar performance for less money.