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Phenom II Versus Core i7-920: Competing System Cost Analysis

Phenom II 955 Versus Core i7 920: Gaming Value Compared
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With these potential issues in mind, how do we set up a fair comparison between similarly priced Phenom II and Core i7 systems?

To truly realize the cost difference, we need to list and price the PC components that are linked to either the Phenom II or Core i7 CPU.

For instance, the case, power supply, hard drives, optical drives, etc. are generic and can be used for any kind of CPU. The components that are specific to an AMD or Intel platform would be the CPU, motherboard, RAM, and CPU cooler.

Let's start with our Core i7 build. In this case, we will use the same one we set up for the last SBM:

Core i7: Core System Components
Motherboard

DFI LANParty Jr X58-T3H6 Micro-ATX
Intel X58/ICH10R, LGA1366

$199.99

Processor

Intel Core i7-920
Four Cores, 2.66 GHz, 8 MB Cache

$279.99

Memory

G.Skill 10666CL7T 6GBPK
Triple-channel memory kit, 3 x 2 GB

$94.99

CPU Cooler

Xigmatek Dark Knight S1283

$39.98

 

Total Cost

$614.95


Why did we choose these parts for the i7 system? For starters, the Core i7-920, which retails for less than $300, is the cheapest Core i7 CPU by far. The next step up, the Core i7-940, costs about twice that for only a couple hundred more megahertz. Intel's Core i7-920 is also known to be a fantastic overclocker, so it's an easy choice.

The motherboard we chose is DFI's X58-T3H6 because we needed a MicroATX board to fit in our previous SBM system, but any quality X58-based motherboard--a requirement of the Core i7 CPU--will be in this price range. The cheapest Core i7 board we could find was the MSI X58 for $170, which is $30 cheaper than the DFI board we chose.

For RAM, we chose the most cost-effective module we could find with CAS 7 timings, G.Skill's PC3-10666. Because the Core i7 benefits from running in triple-channel mode, we needed a triple-channel kit to squeeze the most performance out of it. For under $100, the kit isn't a huge expense.

Finally, a good Core i7 build needs a solid cooler, and Xigmatek's Dark Knight will do the job for $40.

So, the base cost of our Core i7 build comes to about $615. Let's see how much a Phenom II build will run us:

Phenom II: Core System Components
Motherboard

ASUS M4A79T Deluxe
AMD 790FX, AM3

$199.99

Processor

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
Four Cores, 3.2 GHz, 6 MB Cache

$245.00

Memory

G.Skill 10666CL7T 6GBPK
Dual-channel memory kit, 2 x 2 GB

$64.99

CPU Cooler

Zerotherm NV120

$49.99

 

Total Cost

$539.97


A little more thought went into the AMD system. Why didn't we go with a cheaper DDR2 motherboard, less expensive RAM, and a lower-end Phenom II processor? We'll tell you, but first we have to consider the price of the components we've chosen.

At $540, the Phenom II X4 955 system's core components cost about $75 less than the Core i7 system's core components. This represents the price difference between a pair of Radeon HD 4870 and Radeon HD 4890 cards. With this in mind, let's consider what we could've done differently.

First of all, the processor we chose was the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition. There are a number of good Phenom II processors from which to choose, ranging from the cheaper AM2+ models that use DDR2 to the triple-core X3 models that can use either DDR2 or DDR3. These CPUs offer a low price and reasonable performance (especially for games, since many game engines tend not to use more than three CPU cores, anyway).

If that is the case, why did we go with the most expensive Phenom II CPU for this build? The decision hinged on this: what could we get with the extra cost savings? We already have enough money left over in our budget  to upgrade from a pair of Radeon HD 4870s to two Radeon HD 4890 cards in the Phenom II system. If we go for a cheaper CPU, saving another $100 or even $200 doesn't allow us to upgrade to a more powerful graphics solution because the next step up is a pair of Radeon HD 4870 X2 cards. These would cost $400 more, which is impossible with our budget.

The rest of the components fall into place from there. The Asus M4A79T Deluxe motherboard is certainly not the cheapest model, but it does sport the 790FX chipset and dual full-speed PCIe x16 slots for the CrossFire graphics cards. Cheaper motherboards with the 790FX chipset can be found for as low as $135, such as the DFI LANParty DK 790FX-M2RS, which is about $45 less expensive than our test setup. Since the cheapest X58 motherboards are about $30 less expensive than the one we selected, we're still in the same range here.

The choice of RAM is a notable deviation from the Core i7 components as well. Consider that a Phenom II system requires paired modules to operate in dual-channel mode, while the Core i7 requires one more module for triple-channel mode. While two 2 GB sticks of DDR3 RAM will leave us 2 GB short in comparison to the Core i7 system, we know from experience and testing that the real-world difference between 4 GB and 6 GB is almost negligible in most situations. Additionally, the cost savings from less RAM allows us to allocate more cash toward the Phenom II-based system's graphics cards.

Finally, the CPU cooler. Zerotherm's NV 120 is a nice unit, but most CPU coolers worth their salt will be in the same price range, so insert your favorite flavor of cooler if you disagree with the model selected.

We did have some forum users mention that we might want to spec out an even cheaper AM2+ Phenom II system and use the savings toward a solid state drive (SSD) instead of a graphics upgrade, but we're not sure that would provide enough of a tangible performance benefit to offset losing the 790FX chipset and its dual PCIe x16 graphics slots, the faster Phenom II X4 955 processor, and the speedy DDR3 RAM. It's certainly an option, though, and if you're simply looking to build an even cheaper gaming system, the AM2+ Phenom IIs are a very good choice.

Now that we understand what we're building, let's have a final look at all of the components in our test systems.

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Top Comments
  • 30 Hide
    xthekidx , July 13, 2009 8:06 AM
    soheireally tom ...with the money remain is not necessary to buy another pairs of gpu's you can buy a nice case or video camera or a phone or 200-300 condoms...the pc is not everything ...ooo let's put all our money in intel 920 to play prototype ...and after 6 months you loose 40% from pc value ... 10x toms for a good advice ....you realize that with this kind of articles you play with peoples money?

    Umm have you taken any time to read any Tom's articles? This is their bread and butter, the reason the site exists. People read these articles because they want to know what to do with their money, the THG authors know what they are doing. The reason for these articles is to show performance differences, and this article does that very well.

  • 25 Hide
    ahslan , July 13, 2009 6:31 AM
    good article...happy to see the phenom hangs in there
  • 21 Hide
    JAYDEEJOHN , July 13, 2009 9:12 AM
    Once again Cleeve, youve earned your money. It took guts to first call out AMD, but even more to come back, as you did, and show that your first impressions were not only wrong, but apologized as well. Thus somewhat putting the blame on the boutiqye system, as I suspected was the case.
    I grew tired of defending your findings in the forums, and I was looking forwards to this, and its paid off.
    Great read, and Toms should be thankful for having you
Other Comments
  • 8 Hide
    cruiseoveride , July 13, 2009 6:21 AM
    As expected.
  • 25 Hide
    ahslan , July 13, 2009 6:31 AM
    good article...happy to see the phenom hangs in there
  • 1 Hide
    frozenlead , July 13, 2009 6:32 AM
    Why weren't the graphics cards included in the price breakdowns for both systems? Especially considering the cards were different...they should be in there, no?

    Adding in nvidia cards would be interesting to see, yes, but then we're moving more into engine optimizations and such, and things get less exact. Maybe the effect of software preferences on hardware architecture can be a future writeup? Nice article, here, though.
  • 7 Hide
    Proximon , July 13, 2009 6:48 AM
    Currently there is a huge newegg discount on a 955/790FX combo making it quite attractive, but of course that kind of thing has to be left out of an article like this.
    As I expected on the numbers, but I now want to see if the 790X chipset is to blame, or the Gigabyte board itself, or perhaps the memory controller onboard the CPU is to blame?
  • 19 Hide
    frozenlead , July 13, 2009 6:57 AM
    lashtonits annoying to see that toms hardware seems to be very pro intel


    Did you read the conclusion at all? AMD lost by the numbers. That's not pro-intel, it's pro-logic. It's pro-science. That's the way the world works.
  • 20 Hide
    wisdom_learner , July 13, 2009 6:59 AM
    twisted politikshow about all the AMD Fanboys stop complaining about Intel. so what if people say they are better. who FREAKIN cares. you should expect them to perform better, they are pricier. you buy AMD BECAUSE of the price, so therefor, you should expect less performance. AMD is awesome, and so is Intel, its like complaining about a Honda Vs. a BMW or something along those lines, they are different, and because of price, you should expect one to out perform the other. so if you want to save money, by the damned AMD, but dont complain when other people favor Intel whether they are right or not, you end up looking like imature Fanboy's who are jealous they cant afford the Intel (which is just a generalization). BTW, without Intel, AMD wouldnt be cheaper, nor would it be as powerful as it is without competition to keep the company improving it.



    Wow. You take things way too seriously.
  • 12 Hide
    tacoslave , July 13, 2009 7:19 AM
    right now newegg has a combo for 189 it consists of a phenom 940 with a free yes thats right free motherboard. i couldn't resist.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?ItemList=Combo.209473
  • 20 Hide
    wisdom_learner , July 13, 2009 7:21 AM
    I think this is a great review. You can't ignore the numbers. Intel's Core i7 is better. But I think we all expected that.

    I still love AMD, though. I don't need the extra muscle that Intel gives. I'm happy with what AMD's processors give me, in terms of gaming.

    I love supporting the underdog! I just can't help it. =] Intel might make great processors, but I just don't like their arrogance. That's why I support AMD. =]
  • 7 Hide
    tacoslave , July 13, 2009 7:48 AM
    let assume the same case, hardrives,psu, and dvd drives, for a 1100 dollar build which would be about 70+70+70+20=230 (these where just average guesses) then lets move on with the guts for the i7 system i7 920 = 279
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813130227 mobo= 169
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820220378 ram = 85
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814121291 4870 1gb times 2 =320 total =1083
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?ItemList=Combo.209473 phenom 2 940+mobo =204
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820227289 ram =65
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814102809 4850x2 times two = 420
    total=919 so thats the truth but if you want you could switch out the graphics for two gtx 285 or a 4870x2 or a gtx295 its up to you.
  • 11 Hide
    tacoslave , July 13, 2009 7:54 AM
    sorry for double post (damn thing doesnt look neat) but the total for the i7 system is 1083 and i used the cheapest ram and mobo. As for the phenom II 940 i used the combo deal, good ram, and a pair of 4850x2s for a total of 919. note:i didnt include the mail in rebates for the systems (lets assume thats tax. PS you have 181 dollars left for the phenom II build (beer money).
  • 3 Hide
    erdinger , July 13, 2009 8:02 AM
    Very nice Review. You take a Core I7 and equip it with everything it needs and compare to a PhenomII.

    VERY MANY people buying I7 only pair it with one graphics card and save money everywhere in the system to be able to buy the I7 (talking about gaming systems).

    Of course if you put in 2 great Gpu's, you need a very strong Cpu to handle them. Most people throw the I7 at 1 4890.

    It would be very intresting to compare a PhenomII x3 720 system with Two 4890's to an I7 build with only one. (same price or amd even cheaper^^)

    You compare the most expensive and not much overclockable 955 to the cheapest I7 with most overclocking headroom. Why don't you compare it to the cheaper PhenomII which also reach the 3.6 Ghz the 955 reached? Maybe even the x4 810.

    After that Article I agree that If you have the money for two 4890 and still can afford an I7 it's the best choise.

    But what if you dont have the money for an I7 and Two high end cards? Whats if you have to make compromises in you I7 build just for the sake of having an I7?

    I think that's were the Phenom II shows its strength.

    You Take the I7 best price/perfomance point and give the same budget to an Amd system. It's clear that Amd can't compete that well. It seems that you first build the I7 system you think is best and then take the money to build an Phenom II system.

    Please try it the other way round once! Build a Phenom II gaming system (720/810/940 with two graphics)and THEN take the money you used and build an I7 system (maybe sacrificing the second card? or just Xfiring two lower end cards? I don't know where but you then will have to save some money)

    Most benchmarks show that the X3 720 overclocked shows performance numbers on par with the 955 (oc) so why spend all the money for the 955?
  • 30 Hide
    xthekidx , July 13, 2009 8:06 AM
    soheireally tom ...with the money remain is not necessary to buy another pairs of gpu's you can buy a nice case or video camera or a phone or 200-300 condoms...the pc is not everything ...ooo let's put all our money in intel 920 to play prototype ...and after 6 months you loose 40% from pc value ... 10x toms for a good advice ....you realize that with this kind of articles you play with peoples money?

    Umm have you taken any time to read any Tom's articles? This is their bread and butter, the reason the site exists. People read these articles because they want to know what to do with their money, the THG authors know what they are doing. The reason for these articles is to show performance differences, and this article does that very well.

  • 12 Hide
    erdinger , July 13, 2009 8:21 AM
    soheifor me is simple ...the guys from tom are a software witch make random articles .... no brain just fill the blanks with the component name and press enter


    WOW thats rude.

    They made a great article comparing two cpus. Its good to know which one performs better in gaming.

    Again the article was very helpful good work
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