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AMD Phenom II X4 955: Finally, A Flagship

Phenom II X4 955: AMD's Dragon Platform Evolves
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The last top-end processor we saw from AMD was launched in January of this year. Running at 3 GHz, it leveraged a brand-new-to-AMD 45nm manufacturing process and a number of notable micro-architecture enhancements, including a larger (and faster) L3 cache, Cool’n’Quiet 3.0 technology, and better branch prediction.

But, as mentioned, the subsequent introduction of Socket AM3 the month after saw a brand new platform flanked by more mainstream CPUs, taking a lot of the shine off of what we assumed would be a faster hardware combination.

At long last, AMD is unveiling a new flagship to go along with AM3: its Phenom II X4 955 running at 3.2 GHz and equipped with the same 6 MB shared L3 cache.

There's really not much to add that hasn't already been said about the Phenom II family, but to recap, the chip is armed with 64 KB each of L1 data and instruction cache per core, 512 KB of L2 cache per core, and again, that 6 MB shared L3.

An integrated 128-bit DDR2/DDR3 memory controller (running at 2 GHz by default) interfaces with a pair of 64-bit channels. If you're using the X4 955 on an AM2+ motherboard, speeds of up to DDR2-1066 are officially available. If you're using it on an AM3 platform, you can install DDR3-1333, though it should be noted that only one module per channel works at that frequency. And whereas AMD shipped its Phenom II X4 940 with a 1,800 MHz HyperTransport link, the X4 955 accelerates that to 2 GHz--just like the other AM3 processors. 

The chip's nominal voltage range is .875V-1.5V, similar to the Phenom II X4 940, so we won't be surprised if power consumption falls within the previous flagship's ballpark. In fact, this new processor also sports a 125W TDP.

Socket AM3/AM2+ Processors
Model

Frequency

L3 Cache

Voltage

Model #’s

Socket

Phenom II X4 955 BE
3.2 GHz
6 MB
0.875-1.5V
Tray: HDZ955FBK4DGI;
PIB: HDZ955FBGIBOX
AM3, AM2+, AM2
Phenom II X4 945
3.0 GHz
6 MB
0.875-1.5V
Tray: HDX945FBK4DGI;
PIB: HDX945FBGIBOX
AM3, AM2+, AM2
Phenom II X4 910

2.6 GHz

6 MB

0.875-1.425V 

Tray: HDX910WFK4DGI

AM3, AM2+, AM2

Phenom II X4 810

2.6 GHz

4 MB

0.875-1.425V 

Tray: HDX810WFK4FGI; PIB: HDX810WFGIBOX

AM3, AM2+, AM2

Phenom II X4 805

2.5 GHz

4 MB

0.875-1.425V 

Tray: HDX805WFK4FGI

AM3, AM2+, AM2

Phenom II X3 720 BE

2.8 GHz

6 MB

0.850-1.425V 

Tray: HDZ720WFK3DGI; PIB: HDZ720WFGIBOX

AM3, AM2+, AM2

Phenom II X3 710

2.6 GHz

6 MB

0.875-1.425V 

Tray: HDX710WFK3DGI; PIB: HDX710WFGIBOX

AM3, AM2+, AM2

Phenom II X4 940 BE

3.0 GHz

6 MB

0.875-1.5V

Tray: HDZ940XCJ4DGI; PIB: HDZ940XCGIBOX

AM2+, AM2

Phenom II X4 920

2.8 GHz

6 MB

0.875-1.5V

Tray: HDX920XCJ4DGI; PIB: HDX920XCGIBOX

AM2+, AM2


The New Dragon: Pictures, Prices, And Comparisons

I’ve mentioned this before, but there was a time when AMD shunned the platform concept, preferring to focus on processors alone. I was critical of that approach back then and recognized the value of Intel’s CPU, chipset, motherboard, networking, storage, etc. approach, especially in the workplace. System builders favored it, and for good reason given centralized support.

Now AMD is fully on the platform bandwagon and we think the decision is a good one. In fact, the company is thumping its platform drum so hard that it’s difficult to believe it ever wanted anything different. First, it was Spider. Then AMD wanted to talk Dragon. And now the company is fawning over this “Dragon Update.”

Do what you will with the marketing terminology—it all boils down to a hardware combination. Dragon 1.0 consisted of a Phenom II, a Radeon HD 4800-series GPU, and a 7-series chipset. All of those components are still in play.

This update nudges us up 200 MHz with a flagship running at 3.2 GHz. It gives us the option of adopting DDR3 memory and a Socket AM3 interface. It’s available alongside ATI’s new Radeon HD 4890 graphics card. And it includes a new processor-in-box reference cooling solution, which is just a tad smaller than its predecessor.

Old PIB 'sink on the left, new heatsink on the right.Old PIB 'sink on the left, new heatsink on the right.

Do all of those “upgrades” emerge at comparable prices to hardware at the time of AMD’s Dragon launch in January? It’s a close match-up. We originally calculated a processor/motherboard/DDR2 memory package at roughly $450 ($275 for the X4 940, $130 for an inexpensive 790GX motherboard, and $50 for 4 GB of DDR2). Today’s update can be done for roughly the same price. The X4 955 is launching at $245, but the cost savings is consumed by the 4 GB of DDR3.

We just so happen to be using a pricier motherboard in our evaluation here: Asus’ $190 M4A79T Deluxe, based on the 790FX, rather than the 790GX chipset.

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Top Comments
  • 29 Hide
    gsacks , April 23, 2009 5:33 AM
    inmytaxiHell, you can knock seventy off the hundred dollar price diff. with an open box motherboard for one thirty instead of twoo hundred.Nice processor, but until the price drop comes the only reason to buy it is if you're upgrading. If you're doing a clean sweep it's the i7 all the way.


    Not fair. Don't compare open box prices to new prices. If you want to buy used/refurb/reconditioned/open box, then compare the prices against the same used/refurb/reconditioned/open box equivalent for the other platform. Otherwise, you are fudging your numbers.
  • 26 Hide
    lanestew , April 23, 2009 4:38 AM
    Fingers crossed for AMD. Intel needs a competitor!
  • 25 Hide
    Anonymous , April 23, 2009 5:53 AM
    for gamers: seriously, get the 720BE and oc it to death. then spend your money on VIDEO CARD(S)... that's what's important here!
Other Comments
  • 22 Hide
    inmytaxi , April 23, 2009 4:35 AM
    Why call a 955 $255 plus 790GX mb $110 plus 4 gb ram $41 is $500, when it's actually $410 before shipping and rebates, which about cancel out? And that's just picking off the cheapest at newegg and not price shopping, which might knock it below $400.

    Not to mention the six months on the market the other set up has had to drop in price ...
  • 26 Hide
    lanestew , April 23, 2009 4:38 AM
    Fingers crossed for AMD. Intel needs a competitor!
  • -8 Hide
    inmytaxi , April 23, 2009 4:43 AM
    Of course, even at NewEgg, the i7 is still just a benny more, at $280 for the i7, $84 for 1600 6gb ram and $200 for a MB. What's, $564 before ship and rebates, knock $50 if you get the i7 at microcenter, and another $20 on real cost after nit picking out shipping and rebates ... and settle for 1333 ram ... you're within fifty bucks!!!

    If it wasn't for that Nvidia issue with the i7 ...
    Hell,
  • 29 Hide
    gsacks , April 23, 2009 5:33 AM
    inmytaxiHell, you can knock seventy off the hundred dollar price diff. with an open box motherboard for one thirty instead of twoo hundred.Nice processor, but until the price drop comes the only reason to buy it is if you're upgrading. If you're doing a clean sweep it's the i7 all the way.


    Not fair. Don't compare open box prices to new prices. If you want to buy used/refurb/reconditioned/open box, then compare the prices against the same used/refurb/reconditioned/open box equivalent for the other platform. Otherwise, you are fudging your numbers.
  • 13 Hide
    trevorvdw , April 23, 2009 5:33 AM
    "The only standout in this clumsy console port is AMD’s Phenom II X3 720, which lags at both 1680x1050 and 1920x1200. The rest of the processors serve up reasonably close performance, per what we’ve come to expect from Grand Theft Auto 4."

    Yeah that whole less than 10% behind the i7 920 is totally lagging and not close in performance... who writes this drivel?
  • 25 Hide
    Anonymous , April 23, 2009 5:53 AM
    for gamers: seriously, get the 720BE and oc it to death. then spend your money on VIDEO CARD(S)... that's what's important here!
  • -5 Hide
    Anonymous , April 23, 2009 6:17 AM
    hmph... -1. i said FOR GAMERS. nerd.
  • 21 Hide
    cangelini , April 23, 2009 6:19 AM
    Yup--any of these games will be fine with a 720 BE and more graphics muscle.
  • -6 Hide
    lanestew , April 23, 2009 6:34 AM
    If only those AM3 boards had SLI.....
  • 1 Hide
    boudy , April 23, 2009 7:51 AM
    pacefor gamers: seriously, get the 720BE and oc it to death. then spend your money on VIDEO CARD(S)... that's what's important here!


    For budget gamers? If someone is a addict to gaming (aka Gamer), they would probably spend a little more on the CPU and still get a good video card. Of course, on these games, you really dont need anything more than a 720 and a good video card, but there are more hardware intensive games than these.
  • -1 Hide
    Why_Me , April 23, 2009 7:55 AM
    Why is it that Crysis wasn't on there ?
  • 8 Hide
    cangelini , April 23, 2009 8:14 AM
    Why_MeWhy is it that Crysis wasn't on there ?


    Why,

    Crysis is crazy GPU-bound. It doesn't add much useful data to a CPU review--expect to see it back in the graphics story I'm writing right now, though!
  • 5 Hide
    RazberyBandit , April 23, 2009 8:52 AM
    While the 955 was not the whopping jump in performance over the 940 I had hoped it might be, nor is it showing any signs of latching onto the i7's coattails in many regards, it shows a step in the right direction for AMD by finally offering a solid X4 AM3 option to the X3 710 & 720, and the underwhelming X4 810. With AM2+ users able to use any of these processors (mind you, BIOS update usually required), AMD has shown it's continued ability to offer solutions that ease users into another new platform. While that's nice, some may argue they'd rather see huge leaps in performance that require hardware change, rather than smaller performance gains that do not. I find myself on the fence with that one...

    PI think I'll wait to take my AM2+ board into the realm of AM3 CPUs, specifically the 720 or 955, just a little while longer. Mind you, this is despite my X2 5000+ CPU bottleneck and knowing that any of these CPU's would offer a major performance increase. My biggest concern being whether or not the 920 and 940 are the final kings of AM2+, and that the 955 might be the king of AM3 for quite a long time, as well as what else a complete change to AM3 would bring (aside from DDR3).

    I'm also concerned that perhaps in order to catch those i7 coattails (hopefully even surpass) I mentioned earlier, AMD has to give up on their easy transition from socket to socket approach and make a more significant change. Since you can only squeeze so much water out of a sponge before it's dry, I'm curious to know how much more water is left in AMD's AM2/2+/3 easy transition platform(s?) before it goes dry.
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , April 23, 2009 8:56 AM
    Raz,

    You'd be safe at least through the second half of 2010 (that's as far as the roadmaps shown to Tom's Hardware extend). At least into Q3, you're still looking at AM3.
  • 2 Hide
    spearhead , April 23, 2009 9:19 AM
    phenom 955 Shows its theeth. more importment all 2m+ cpu's are now aproaching bargain prices. 178 euro for 940 here in the netherlands now this was the old 920 price point. hell ye you can build an awsome system with 940 and the radeon 4980 and the samsung t220 for around just below 900 euro now :D  forget about i7 you can easily have xfire for the premium on the amd setup. perhaps 2x 4830 might even outweights a sinlge radeon 4890 that should roughly save you about 30-40 euro still need to see some benchmarks tough but AMD provides good competition now and most of all these cpu's might get along wiht I5 as well since I5 is meant to be slower then i7. the diffrence between ph II and i7 920 is just a bare few % now so ph II should be very compatitive with core i5 as well .
  • -4 Hide
    grayskunk , April 23, 2009 9:58 AM
    You refer to the Q9550's retail price when comparing but tested the Q9550S
  • 0 Hide
    EQPlayer , April 23, 2009 10:00 AM
    From the way AMD's looking, if you're worried about a quick socket jump, it ought not be much of a concern... it seems their next major leap in performance, Bulldozer (which I would assume will come with a new socket / platform) won't be out for some time (early 2011 at best), and until then AM3 will likely remain king. Then again, perhaps we'll find ourselves with a consumer version of the 6-core Istanbul that will require a new socket before Bulldozer. Who knows, really.
  • 4 Hide
    EQPlayer , April 23, 2009 10:01 AM
    Gray - The Q9550 is identical to the Q9550s, save for power consumption. ;) 
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , April 23, 2009 10:02 AM
    Pleaseeeeeeeeee, evolve and drop those ancient WINZIP and WINRAR. Use free open source 7-zip in your benchmark, which is more advanced, multi-threaded, has higher compression ratio.
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