AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition Quad Core CPU Page: 1
AMD have been playing catch-up with Intel ever since Intel's Core architecture reared it's not so ugly head. With the X2 range of processors lagging behind their Core2 counterparts and Intel releasing a Quad Core, AMD had to get a chip out and fast.
Unfortunately, they didn't manage fast, but they did manage to get one out. Phenom is a native Quad Core chip which is fantastic, but it's launch was marred by reactively low clock-speeds. The Phenom 9600 we have here today kicks us off at 2.3GHz and there is a 2.4GHz Phenom 9700, a 2.6GHz par - Phenom 9900 as well as a 2.22GHz Phenom 9300.
AMD quad core
What's new?
Well the thing is, not a whole lot is actually new with the new CPU. AMD "enthusiasts" will point out the fact that pipeline can cope with about 33% more traffic and that some of the SSE4 (AMD call it the SSE4a), instruction set is now able to be handled by Phenom.
AMD have gone with a three tiered cache level for their Phnom processors with the L3 being labelled "Smartcache", with 512K per core adding up to a total of 2MB L3 cache. This would be hunky-dory, except for the fact that (in very extreme circumstances), there is a bug called the L3 cache Translation Lookup Buffer (TLB) erratum which can cause a system crash. There's a BIOS fix for this, but this means a 10-15% performance drop. Seeing as we didn't use the BIOS fix in this review and during use of the CPU and never once experienced the error I think your fairly safe not worrying about it....unless you need 100% total stability all of the time.
AMD have also pumped up their HyperTransport bus to 2.0GHz from 1.0GHz seen in their previous CPU's.
Some pretty cool new virtualisation features have also been added, which we went through in our Barcelona Article.
Pretty in...Black...
The Phenom AMD supplied us with was the "Black Edition" 9600 with an unlocked multiplier. By all accounts it's a good thing too as rumours are circulating that Phenom's don't overclock too well.
phenom  Phenom
I think really what you all want to know is: how does Phenom get on in our testing?
Some official specs:
The industry's first true Quad core x86 processor

* True quad-core designed from the ground up for better communication between cores.
o BENEFIT : Cores can communicate on die rather than on package for better performance

AMD64 with Direct Connect Architecture

* Helps improve system performance and efficiency by directly connecting the memory controller and I/O to the CPU.
* Designed to enable simultaneous 32- and 64-bit computing
* Integrated DDR2 Memory Controller
o Increases application performance by reducing memory latency
o Scales memory bandwidth and performance to match compute needs
o HyperTransport™ Technology provides up to 14.4GB/s peak bandwidth per processor—reducing I/O bottlenecks
o Up to 27.2GB/s total delivered processor-to-system bandwidth (HyperTransport bus + memory bus)

AMD Balanced Smart Cache

* Shared L3 cache
* In addition to the 512K L2 cache per core, up to 2MB of L3 cache shared by up to 4 cores.
o BENEFIT : Shortened access times to highly accessed data for better performance.

AMD Wide Floating Point Accelerator

* 128-bit floating point unit (FPU)
* High performance (128bit internal data path) floating point unit per core.
o BENEFIT : Larger data paths for quicker floating point calculations and better performance.

HyperTransport™ technology

* One 16-bit link up to 3600MT/s
* Up to 8 .0 GB/s HyperTransport™ I/O bandwidth; Up to 14.4GB/s in HyperTransport Generation 3.0 mode
* Up to 27.2GB/s total delivered processor-to-system bandwidth (HyperTransport bus + memory bus)
o BENEFIT : Quick access times to system resources for better performance.

Integrated DDR2 DRAM Controller with AMD Memory Optimizer Technology

* A high-bandwidth, low-latency integrated DDR2 memory controller
* Supports PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066*); PC2-6400 (DDR2-800), PC2-5300 (DDR2-667), PC2-4200 (DDR2-533) or PC2-3200 (DDR2-400) SDRAM unbuffered DIMMs
* Support for 64-bit DDR2 SDRAM memory
* Up to 12.8GB/s memory bandwidth
o BENEFIT : Quick access to system memory for better performance.

AMD Virtualization™ (AMD-V™) With Rapid Virtualization Indexing

* Silicon feature-set enhancements designed to improve the performance, reliability, and security of existing and future virtualization environments by allowing virtualized applications with direct and rapid access to their allocated memory.
o BENEFIT : Helps virtualization software to run more securely and efficiently enabling a better experience when dealing with virtual systems

AMD Cool'n'Quiet™ 2.0 technology

* Enhanced power management features which automatically and instantaneously adjusts performance states and features based on processor performance requirements
* For quieter operation and reduced power requirements
o BENEFIT : Enables platform designs providing less heat and noise efficient performance and energy usage.

AMD CoolCore™ Technology

* Reduces processor energy consumption by turning off unused parts of the processor. For example, the memory controller can turn off the write logic when reading from memory, helping reduce system power.
* Works automatically without the need for drivers or BIOS enablement.
* Power can be switched on or off within a single clock cycle, saving energy without comprimised performance.
o BENEFIT: Helps users get more efficient performance by dynamically activating or turning off parts of the processor.

Dual Dynamic Power Management™

* Enables more granular power management capabilities to reduce processor energy consumption.
* Separate power planes for cores and memory controller, for optimum power consumption and performance, creating more opportunities for power savings within the cores and memory controller.
o BENEFIT Helps improve platform efficiency by providing on demand memory performance while still allowing for decreased system power consumption
AMD Phenom page

AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition Quad Core CPU Page: 2
Test Setup
We debated for quite some time as to how to test AMD's Phenom and in the end decided that we would compare it to Intel's Q6600 due to the comparative price of both the processors.
I also debated about whether I wanted to use the TLB BIOS fix in the review and after running through a whole set of benchmarks and 48 hours of stress testing without a crash and without the fix, I decided to feature this review without the fix. Some may agree with this decision, some may not, I hope either way you find the results interesting!
Intel Setup
Asus Maximus Formula (X38)
• Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 "G0" 2.4GHz
Memory Modules
• Cellshock PC2-6400 DDR2-800 (4-4-4-12)
Graphics Card
• Sapphire Ultimate X1950 Pro 256mb PCI-E
Hard Disk
• Hitachi Deskstar 80GB 7K80 SATA2 7200RPM 8mb
Operating System
• Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate (Latest Updates)
AMD Setup
• Asus M3A32-MVP Deluxe

• AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition (B2 stepping) 2.3GHz

Memory Modules
• Cellshock PC2-6400 DDR2-800 (4-4-4-12)

Graphics Card
• Sapphire Ultimate X1950 Pro 256mb PCI-E

Hard Disk
• Hitachi Deskstar 80GB 7K80 SATA2 7200RPM 8mb

Operating System
• Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate (Latest Updates)
Benchmark Suite
Synthetic CPU & Memory Subsystem
• Sisoft Sandra XII 2008c
• Lavalys Everest 4.0

File Compression & Encoding
• 7-Zip File Compression
• River Past ViMark

3D / Rendering Benchmarks
• Cinebench 10
• 3DMark05
• 3DMark06

3D Games
• Quake 4
• Bioshock
• F.E.A.R

Overclocking was almost a totally non-familiar experience to begin with, until I remembered my socket 939 overclocking days! The BIOS of the Asus board we used was thorough and had a lot of options so I decided to get in there and see how this unlocked Black edition could do.
I haven't included a Max FSB graph here as they don't compare very well, but the Max FSB I could attain on the Phenom was 210MHz using the BIOS and 220MHz using AMD's overdrive tool, pretty disappointing considering I used to be able to get speeds in excess of 300FSB out of my old X2 and AMD 64 CPU's.
Max OC
Unfortunately I only managed a measly 200MHz from this B2 stepping Black Edition Phenom CPU. Anything else froze the system up. I did try using AMD's Overdrive Tool (which is a handy little gadget for information about the CPU), but this also topped out at 2500Mhz. Compare this to the Intel and, well, there's no comparison.

AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition Quad Core CPU Page: 3
SiSoftware Sandra (the System Analyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
The results show that the Core 2 Quad CPU has the run of the benchmarks in pure power but, as usual, the AMD CPU has a whole shed-load of memory bandwidth.
Everest is in many ways similar to Sisoft Sandra. Focusing mainly on Software and Hardware information reporting, Everest also comes with a benchmark utility suitable for testing the read, write and latency performance of the memory subsystem. Each of these benchmarks were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average calculated from the remaining 3.
Everest shows that the AMD CPU has very decent memory bandwidth and here the latency is more in line with what we would expect.

AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition Quad Core CPU Page: 4
ViMark is the latest addition to the OC3D motherboard testing process and a relatively new benchmarking application in general. Designed to take the inaccuracies and guesswork out of measuring the time taken to encode video files, ViMark produces easily comparable and consistent results for encoding raw video into Windows Media, Quicktime, AVI and Gif formats. As always, a total of 5 benchmark runs were performed with the highest and lowest scores removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 scores.
ViMark - wm
vimark - qt
vimark - avi
ViMark - GIF
ViMark shows us that the Core2Quad generally beats out the slower Phenom CPU and often by a margin.
7-Zip is an open source winzip-style file compression utility that has the ability to compress and decompress many file formats including it's own .7z compression scheme. 7-Zip also comes complete with its own benchmarking utility for gauging the compression and decompression speed of the system that it is installed on.
 7-zip compression
7-zip decompression
Again 7-Zip shows that the horsepower and architectural differences mean that the Core 2 Quad CPU gives us considerably higher benchmark scores.

AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition Quad Core CPU Page: 5
Cinebench 10 is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. The suite uses complex renders to guage the performance of the entire PC system in both single-core and multi-core modes. Testing was performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average created from the remaining 3 results.
cinebench multi cpu
cinebench opengl
Cinebench shows that whilst the Phenom does fairly well in multi-threaded applications, the pure speed of the Intel chip prevails.
3dm05  3dmark06
3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
In a strangely reversed situation, the Core 2 Quad is beaten in the 3DMark tests by a few points. I'm not quite sure exactly why this is the case, although 3Dmark06 saw the CPU utilization up to 100% across all four cores

AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition Quad Core CPU Page: 6
quake 4
Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. Benchmarking was performed using Quake4Bench and a custom timedemo recording along with 0xAA, 0xAF settings at a resolution of 1024x768. The benchmark was set to run a total of 5 times, with Quake4Bench automatically calculating an average result at the end of the run.
quakee 4 bench
Quake 4 benchmarking showed that during real life gaming situations, the Phenom is a little off the pace of the Intel Quad.
F.E.A.R. is a game based on the Lithtech Jupiter EX engine. It has volumetric lighting, soft shadows, parallax mapping and particle effects. Included in the game is a benchmark facility that taxes the entire PC system. This benchmark was run a total of 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being excluded and an average being calculated on the remaining 3 results.
F.E.A.R. ran a little slower again than the Q6600.
Bioshock is a recent FPS shooter by 2K games. Based on the UT3 engine it has a large amount of advanced DirectX techniques including excellent water rendering and superb lighting and smoke techniques. All results were recorded using F.R.A.P.S with a total of 5 identical runs through the same area of the game. The highest and lowest results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
Bioshock showed the least difference between the games, with the Phenom 9600 keeping up pretty well with the Q6600.
For fairness I have to say that once the games are turned up to full, with all details enabled and the resolution at 1920 x 1200, there is a much less marked difference between the two Quad Core processors.

AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition Quad Core CPU Page: 7
AMD Phenom is a good attempt at making a Quad Core CPU and had it been out before Intel brought out their Quads perhaps we would have seen a high takeup of those CPU's.
However, in the current climate, armed with Intel Core 2 Quads that compete in price as well as dominating in performance it's tough for AMD to make a mark. The Phenom Black Edition is a special edition unlocked multiplier CPU, but in all honesty this doesn't make the slightest bit of difference when overclocking so it's almost a moot point. Gone are the days when the FX series offered hardcore overclockers real unlocked overclocking potential.
Priced at around £150, the Phenom's are competing with the Q6600 in real monetary terms, not good for AMD.
I will say that those of you with AM2 boards need look no further, drop a Phenom into the system and you'll be smiling at the performance increase. However, for those building a new system we can't rightly say "go and buy it" - rather that you should probably look at a Q6600 which seem to do 3.6GHz all day long on low volts.
I hope AMD build on the Phenom and tweak and improve and release a non-bugged, improved B3 stepping Phenom that really gives us something to be hopeful about.
Of course, I haven't even mentioned Nehalem yet....
The Good
+ Excellent upgrade path for socket AM2 users
+ Fantastic bandwidth
The Mediocre
* Gaming performance not too bad
* Multi-tasking is responsive
The Bad
- Loses out badly to Intel on performance
- Awful overclocking potential
- Needs a price drop
Thanks to AMD for the review sample
Getting Phenom for that AM2 board you've got tucked away? Or simply going Blue? Tell us here