Phenom II X4 955: AMD's Dragon Platform Evolves

Overdrive 3.0 And Another Acronym

Part of AMD’s “Dragon Update” hype is centered on software. Intel already has the hardware end of the platform story locked down—it’s one of the company’s bastions. AMD is comparatively new to the platform scene, only recently adopting that processor, chipset, graphics hardware hat trick. Where Intel falls short, though, is software.

AMD’s Overdrive utility has already been embraced by the enthusiast community eager to lock down overclock settings through the BIOS. But how bothersome is it when you're forced to reboot in between stability tests of every little tweak? Overdrive is one more tool in the toolbox, getting the job done just as well and significantly faster. With that said, nearly everything you did in the early versions of Overdrive could have been done just as easily through the BIOS, making the application a mere convenience.

Overdrive was followed up by Fusion—an application that let gamers define system state profiles, which could then be turned on or off at the push of a button. For instance, if you wanted to run underclocked and undervolted on the Windows desktop with all of your OS services running, that could be your BIOS boot profile. If, however, you wanted to “lean” out for a bit of Dawn of War II, you’d hit the Fusion button, disable the unneeded software/services running in the background, and instantiate the most recent Overdrive settings to overclock. The only real disappointment here was the need to use AMD’s Auto-Tune feature, which doesn’t necessarily overclock the way an enthusiast would—especially if you own a Black Edition processor.

Overdrive 3.0: BEMP and Smart Profiles

There’s a new version of Overdrive currently in development, though, bearing version 3.0. The most notable addition to this beta update is BEMP—Black Edition Memory Profiles. Naming aside, BEMP doesn’t seem to have anything to do with AMD’s Black Edition processors. And, in truth, BEMP doesn’t do anything that an advanced user couldn’t do through the BIOS. However, it does simplify memory configuration, similar to what Intel’s XMP or Nvidia’s EPP try to accomplish.

The way it works is simple. In the Overdrive software (and with a compatible BIOS on a qualifying AM3 motherboard), you click Preference, then the Online Update tab. Click the Check button to search an online database for profiles matching your memory modules. If one is found, the Profile Information fields will populate and the Update button will become available, setting clock speed, timing, and voltage. Again, these are all parameters that most enthusiasts already know how to set. But BEMP can also apply an automatic northbridge overclock/voltage increase, further exacerbating the effect of a memory boost, according to AMD.

Of course, we weren’t going to let those claims go untested, so we loaded up a BEMP-enabled memory kit and took the technology for a spin.

As of this writing, there are five compatible memory kits from Corsair, Kingston, Mushkin, and OCZ. It’s a small sample. And BEMP, as a whole, is nowhere near as impactful as ACC was for the original Phenom (or Phenom II, if you own a board able to unlock one of the X3 700- or X4 800-series CPUs). Call it a convenience for the few folks who haven’t figured out how to set timings through the BIOS, if anything.

More important, though, is the little nugget that BEMP adds: if you’re running fast memory and not overclocking your northbridge in kind, then you’re not getting the full benefit of that DDR3 frequency. BEMP makes it a one-button affair to dial-in maxed-out memory settings and the appropriate northbridge frequency/voltage increase. That part, we admit, is pretty cool.

Also on the list of Overdrive 3.0 enhancements is a Smart Profiles feature, which takes some manual configuration, but in return offers granular control of your overclocks. On a per-application basis, you can set individual core clocks. So, if you fire up WinZip 12 knowing that it’s a single-threaded piece of software, you can create a corresponding profile, downclocking three of the Phenom II’s cores to give the fourth core additional thermal headroom—hopefully yielding an extra 200 or 300 MHz. The challenge here is going through your favorite apps one by one, setting core clocks, processor affinities, and so on. The functionality is interesting, though, and for the enthusiasts who take advantage of it, AMD demonstrates some modest performance gains (which mostly correspond to enabling additional frequency headroom).

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    Top Comments
  • 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.
    29
  • Fingers crossed for AMD. Intel needs a competitor!
    26
  • 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!
    25
  • Other Comments
  • 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 ...
    22
  • Fingers crossed for AMD. Intel needs a competitor!
    26
  • 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,
    -8
  • Hell, 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.
    -14
  • 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.
    29
  • "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?
    13
  • 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!
    25
  • hmph... -1. i said FOR GAMERS. nerd.
    -5
  • Yup--any of these games will be fine with a 720 BE and more graphics muscle.
    21
  • If only those AM3 boards had SLI.....
    -6
  • 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
  • Why is it that Crysis wasn't on there ?
    -1
  • 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!
    8
  • 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.
    5
  • 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
  • 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 .
    2
  • You refer to the Q9550's retail price when comparing but tested the Q9550S
    -4
  • 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.
    0
  • Gray - The Q9550 is identical to the Q9550s, save for power consumption. ;)
    4
  • 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.
    6