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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.