Phenom II 955 Versus Core i7 920: Gaming Value Compared


Well, I'll start off by apologizing to AMD and our readers for some of the conclusions I drew from the Cyberpower Gamer Dragon review.

I deserve a good measure of blame for rationalizing the difference that we saw when comparing a machine with Radeon HD 4890s against a machine with GeForce GTX 260s. While I had considered this when I was benchmarking, I had also convinced myself that the power of the Radeon HD 4890s would compensate for any game engine preferences. I was also mistaken about the dramatic extent that Crysis favored the GeForce GTX 260 over the Radeon HD 4890. This represents one quarter of the games in in our condensed gaming benchmark suite used in the SBM series, and I will definitely push to have the benchmark suite revised to better handle this disparity.

It also appears that our overclocked Cyberpower Gamer Dragon sample was not performing as well as it should have been, with our Phenom II test system routinely outperforming it at stock speeds. It was odd that the synthetic CPU benchmarks demonstrated that the processor was working as expected, but the synthetic memory benchmark showed an anomalously low result for the Gamer Dragon. While it's true that our Phenom II test system had the advantage of slightly faster RAM and the 790FX chipset with its dual PCIe x16 slots, the game performance results were notably below what our Phenom II system demonstrated.

In any case, I am more than happy to revise my previous conclusion and say that a Phenom II can make a fine gaming rig at the same price as a Core i7 system. The money saved by choosing the Phenom II setup instead of a Core i7 system can be applied to the graphics subsystem, helping the Phenom II stay competitive in gaming environments. Across all of the games and all of the resolutions we tested, the Phenom II system delivered frame rates just as playable as the Core i7 system.

However, at the end of the day, I'd go with the Core i7 system if someone were to hand me enough money for one of these builds. Why? Primarily because I do a lot more than game on my PC. AMD's got game, for sure, but if I have to make a choice between gaming and everything including gaming, I find it difficult to rationalize going with the Phenom II. In all of the game benchmarks we took, the Core i7 rarely lost by a notable margin, but there were quite a few instances where it pulled ahead, especially when overclocked. On the other hand, in our application testing as demonstrated in previous articles, the Core i7 leads the Phenom II by a more substantial margin. And there are secondary factors as well. Note that our Core i7 overclock was conservative compared to the Phenom II overclock, giving us more potential with which to play. Also, the Core i7 offers the flexibility to use both Nvidia and AMD GPUs in multi-card configurations, wheres AMD CPUs are either limited to Radeons in CrossFire for multi-card setups or GeForces in SLI if you go with an Nvidia chipset--but never both.

Does this mean we recommend staying away from AMD CPUs? Not at all. But AMD's offerings shine below the Core i7's price segment, especially when budgetary constraints mean that buying a Core i7 requires sacrificing a balanced graphics card. We can build a killer Phenom II system for hundreds of dollars less than a Core i7 if we go with an AM2+/DDR2 Phenom II or the Phenom II X3. Also, even more money can be saved if you're willing to settle for a motherboard with one of AMD's more value-oriented chipsets. If this kind of low-cost system is overclocked, we should see gaming results very similar to the ones we saw in our Phenom II X4 955 tests today.

This is where the AMD option makes the most sense: not by going toe-to-toe against the Core i7 at higher prices, but by offering similar gaming utility at a much lower cost. This is also where AMD pulls a rabbit out of its hat, by serving up an alternative for budget gamers who want to build a cost-effective gaming rig.