Phenom II X4 955: AMD's Dragon Platform Evolves

We were frankly a little surprised when AMD introduced its Socket AM3 interface two months ago next to a handful of lower-end CPUs, especially with the Phenom II X4 940 already available on AM2+ platforms. Not that the triple-core Phenom II X3 700- and cache-hacked X4 800-series chips were snoozers or anything, but…alright, actually, they were a little dry--especially in benchmark charts comparing them to quick quad-core CPUs with all of their cache intact.

Of course, AMD’s big story back then was interoperability. You could buy any of those newer, cheaper processors and plug them right into Socket AM3 boards or older Socket AM2+ platforms employing DDR2 memory technology. Pricier DDR3 modules didn’t fit AMD’s value message as well, so the company understandably de-emphasized the importance of AM3—at least right out of the gate.

But the story has changed a little bit for AMD since then. To begin, it has a new flagship processor able to drop into the AM3 socket. It also has a new graphics solution in the Radeon HD 4890, ready to help bolster the Dragon platform’s overall performance. And there’s also an updated version of AMD Overdrive in development, now at version 3.0 and purportedly able to enhance setups employing DDR3 memory.

A Little History: Dragon, Then And Now

When AMD launched the Dragon platform in January of this year, it consisted of a Phenom II X4 processor, ATI’s Radeon HD 4800-series graphics cards, and AMD’s 7-series chipsets. More commonly, a model Dragon setup described by AMD included a Phenom II X4 940, a Radeon HD 4870, and a 790GX-based motherboard.

AMD says that every single component of Dragon has changed in the few short months since then. It’s partly correct. After all, the company’s chipset lineup hasn’t been altered and, if the component roadmap we have on hand is correct, it won’t evolve until the beginning of 2010 when 790FX gives way to RD890/SB850. Believe it or not, 790GX will march into the sunset at that point, leaving 790X/SB850 to tend to the performance market. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

There are new Phenom II X4s to discuss—now up to model 955 and 945 (the xx5 representing Socket AM3 compatibility and differentiating from the even-numbered 920/940). Socket AM3 support, as you know, shifts the platform from DDR2 to DDR3 memory. Moreover, the Radeon HD 4890 adds what we consider to be a fairly significant price premium (although prices after rebate are down to $229 online) in the interest of boosting game performance roughly 10% versus the 4870 1GB. Perhaps a little less significant, AMD recently started shipping a new PIB heatsink that is both narrower and shorter than the previous model.

And of course, there’s the new Overdrive application. We’ll get into that shortly. First, a little more detail on these new Phenom II X4 processors.

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  • gsacks
    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
  • lanestew
    Fingers crossed for AMD. Intel needs a competitor!
    26
  • Anonymous
    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
  • inmytaxi
    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
  • lanestew
    Fingers crossed for AMD. Intel needs a competitor!
    26
  • inmytaxi
    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
  • inmytaxi
    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
  • gsacks
    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
  • trevorvdw
    "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
  • Anonymous
    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
  • Anonymous
    hmph... -1. i said FOR GAMERS. nerd.
    -5
  • cangelini
    Yup--any of these games will be fine with a 720 BE and more graphics muscle.
    21
  • lanestew
    If only those AM3 boards had SLI.....
    -6
  • boudy
    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_Me
    Why is it that Crysis wasn't on there ?
    -1
  • cangelini
    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
  • RazberyBandit
    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
  • cangelini
    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
  • spearhead
    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
  • grayskunk
    You refer to the Q9550's retail price when comparing but tested the Q9550S
    -4
  • EQPlayer
    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
  • EQPlayer
    Gray - The Q9550 is identical to the Q9550s, save for power consumption. ;)
    4
  • Anonymous
    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