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Phenom II 955 Versus Core i7 920: Gaming Value Compared

Phenom II 955 Versus Core i7 920: Gaming Value Compared
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We recently published a review of Cyberpower's Gamer Dragon, a Phenom II 955-based gaming PC equipped with DDR3 RAM and a pair of Radeon HD 4890s in CrossFire. The Cyberpower Gamer Dragon was delivered to us with a nice 3.6 GHz overclock, and when we considered what we should compare this system to, our first thought was our recent $1,300 System Builder Marathon (SBM) machine. With an Intel Core i7-920 and two GeForce GTX 260s in SLI, the cost of the components for the two builds was similar.

The comparison also addressed one of the primary complaints we received when we chose the i7 over the Phenom II for our SBM build: that the Phenom II would have been a better choice for a gaming rig, because its lower price tag would have enabled us to add better graphics cards with the budget available. Since the graphics subsystem is often the limiting factor for game performance, a cheaper AMD processor coupled with a higher-powered graphics card would have offered a better fit for gaming, according to the reader feedback.

On paper, two Radeon HD 4890s best a pair of GeForce GTX 260s, so I was satisfied that the scenario would make for a great comparison of Phenom II versus Core i7 gaming value. I merrily proceeded to take benchmarks, record the findings, and form conclusions based on the data. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to investigate the matter, and after all was said and done, my conclusion was that the Core i7-920 beat the Phenom II by a fairly substantial margin. When a budget allows for a powerful dual-graphics card setup, the Core i7 appeared to be the ideal choice, while the Phenom II was a better pick for machines in a lower price range, which the Core i7 can't touch. 

Well, the Cyberpower Gamer Dragon article probably generated more forum feedback than any other piece I've written. Normally this would be a good thing, but this time my testing and subsequent conclusion left a lot of people upset. According to a number of folks, there were three main sins I committed in my review of the Phenom II machine:

1. Different Graphics Card Manufacturers

This ties in directly with concern number two below. As both of the test systems used different brands of graphics cards (one sporting Radeon GPUs and the other with GeForce GPUs), the results depended on games that demonstrated a performance preference for one of these architectures.

2. Selection of Game Benchmarks

We use four game benchmarks in our SBM series, which we selected using a number of factors, including popularity, significance, and variety. Those games are Crysis, Far Cry 2, World in Conflict, and Stalker: Clear Sky. Keep in mind, games are only a small part of the PC performance that we test in our SBMs, so up until this point we haven't noticed any problems with this selection of titles.

However, as mentioned, we pit Radeons against GeForces, opening ourselves up to any preference a specific game title might have for either architecture. It has also been suggested that our game selections are overly CPU-dependent, thus giving the Core i7 an edge.

3. The Cyberpower Gamer Dragon May Not Represent Ideal Phenom II Performance

It has also been suggested that our Cyberpower Gamer Dragon test sample wasn't working up to snuff. Concerns have been raised that the memory performance results as tested by the SiSoft Sandra benchmark were lower than they should have been. The Gamer Dragon also uses the Gigabyte GA-MA790XT-U4DP motherboard, which is equipped with AMD's 790X chipset limited to one x16 and one x8 PCI Express (PCIe) 2.0 slot. The AMD 790FX would better represent ideal Phenom II performance, as it has two full PCIe x16 slots--one for each of the graphics cards in CrossFire.

I do believe these three points cover most people's concerns with the Cyberpower article, and since these issues deserve to be investigated further, we came up with a more even-handed plan to use in this follow-up review. Instead of looking at the Cyberpower Gamer Dragon, we'll concentrate specifically on Intel Core i7 versus AMD Phenom II gaming value using our own builds.

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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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