Overclocking: Core i7 Vs. Phenom II

Test Systems And Benchmarks

Here are our two overclocked configurations, side by side:

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CPUCore i7 920 @ 3.8 GHz (190 MHz x 20)Phenom II X4 940 @ 3.64 GHz (202 MHz x 18)
CoolerThermalright Ultra 120 ExtremeAjigo MF091
MotherboardAsus Rampage II ExtremeAsus M3A78-T
RAMCorsair 6 GB Dominator DDR3-1600 CAS 8Corsair 4 GB Dominator DDR2-1066 CAS 5
GraphicsAMD Radeon HD 4870 X2 (8.12 special)AMD Radeon HD 4870 X2 (8.12 special)
Hard DrivesSeagate Barracuda 7200.11 250 GBIntel 80 GB MLC SSDSeagate Barracuda 7200.11 250 GBIntel 80 GB MLC SSD
PowerCooler Master UCP 1100WCooler Master UCP 1100W
OpticalLite-On DH-4O1SLite-On DH-4O1S

Naturally, there are going to be points of contention here. First of all, there are the memory capacities: 4 GB versus 6 GB. That’s a system architecture detail, and both capacities are what we’d consider sweet spots for each respective platform. Then there are the motherboard discrepancies for testing: a high-end Asus board versus a mid-range Asus board with more than $150 separating them. We settled on a 3.8 GHz overclock with our Core i7, although Thomas was able to take his retail sample to 4 GHz. The more conservative clock speed chosen here should reflect our less-expensive recommendation. And although our German team was able to get its Phenom II running at 3.8 GHz, ours topped out just under 3.65, despite some extremely aggressive settings. We got most of the numbers run at 3.7 GHz, but the handful that won’t complete forced us to drop just a bit.

All of these tests were run under Windows Vista x64. It's also worth noting that AMD supplied special drivers for Phenom II testing, although this shouldn't emerge as statistically significant, since we aren't comparing any Nvidia cards in this particular situation.

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Benchmarks and Settings
3D Games
CrysisVersion: 1.2.1, Video Quality: Very High Details, Demo: CPU-Benchmark + Tom’s Hardware Tool
Far Cry 2Quality settings set to max, 2560x1600/1920x1200, latest Steam version, in-game benchmark (Ranch medium).
Left 4 DeadQuality settings set to max, 2560x1600/1920x1200, latest Steam version, timed demo.
Call of Duty: World at WarQuality settings set to max, 2560x1600/1920x1200, Patch v1.1, 60s FRAPS run through Semper Fi campaign.
Audio Encoding
iTunesVersion:, Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 min., Default format AAC
Lame MP3Version: 3.98 Beta 3 (05-22-2007), Audio CD ""Terminator II" SE, 53 min, wave to MP3, 160 Kb/s
Video Encoding
TMPEG 4.5Version:, Import File: Terminator 2 SE DVD (5 Minutes), Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
DivX 6.8.3Encoding mode: Insane Quality, Enhanced Multi-threading, Enabled using SSE4, Quarter-pixel search
XviD 1.1.3Display encoding status=off
Mainconcept Reference 1.5.1 Reference H.264 Plugin Pro 1.5.1MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 KHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kbp/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS), Profile: Tom’s Hardware Settings for Qct-Core
Autodesk 3D Studio Max 9Version: 9.0, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus 8Version: 8.0.134, Virus base: 270.4.5/1533, Benchmark: Scan 334 MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
Winrar 3.80Version 3.70 BETA 8, WinZIP Commandline Version 2.3, Compression= Best, Dictionary= 4,096 KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
Winzip 11Version 11.2, Compression=Best, Benchmark: THG-Workload (139 MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark VantageVersion: 1.02, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark VantageVersion: 1.00, System, Memory, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks, Windows Media Player
SiSoftware Sandra XII SP2Version 2008.5.14.24, CPU Test=CPU Arithmetic/MultiMedia, Memory Test=Bandwidth Benchmark
Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • Roffey123
    At last a P2/i7 comparison to shut the people whining for one up. In all I think its a fair comparison - although I am disappointed that AMD's OC potential wasn't as good as they made it out to be. But as all overclockers know - not all chips are the same or have the same OC potential.

    The 3DS Max benchmark was puzzling as well, considering that i7 has 8 threads at its disposal. Do you guys have any idea as to why the AMD beat the i7 in that test; despite having only half as many threads?
  • unclefester
    I thought it funny they use an ATI card on the Intel board (not that it makes a difference).
    Would have liked to see what the PII can gain or not gain by using the FSB not just the multiplier.
    Didn't see anything about memory timings either. As most PII OC's have been done at @880MHz.
    Overall a decent review.
    So Ford vs Chevy goes on.
  • apache_lives
    I would love to see a high end overclocked Core 2 Quad 9 series in the tests here to see a price comparison - cheaper and already established platform etc.

    Also note that i7 platform should also feel more alive and responsive (un-benchmarkable) thanks to high memory bandwidths and more threads to balance things out like the P4C's and CL2 Dual Channel DDR1 - reguardless if it performed lower then the AMD A64's at the time it felt more responsive!

    Intel also has that more solid platform to back that CPU and options for Crossfire AND SLi so its more the premium option, but that cheaper AMD setup is too close to the i7 for my liking - a few shifts in prices and models should show an interesting result in the new few weeks.

    AM3 should be interesting, higher headroom + lower power etc (like 939 to AM2).
  • cangelini
    With the Black Edition, that's really the value there. You want to use the multiplier for a clean, easy overclock. Once you've found your ceiling, use the reference clock to fine-tune the setup.
  • vekere
    I hear AMD is going to hire Sylar to look at the new Core i7 processor so this year we will have an answer.
  • kschoche
    The WINRAR tests are so close to exactly half the time on the Intel chip compared to the AMD chip that I'd love to see how the results show up if you turn off hyperthreading, not that its a particularly meaningful result, but would be cool to look at still.
  • jtnstnt
    I'm curious about the heatsink selection on the Phenom II. I looked up the Ajigo MF091 and it didn't look too impressive. While the Intel system gets the Thermalright 120mm True extreme. Whats up with that?
  • jtnstnt
    Please explain.
  • apache_lives
    jtnstntI'm curious about the heatsink selection on the Phenom II. I looked up the Ajigo MF091 and it didn't look too impressive. While the Intel system gets the Thermalright 120mm True extreme. Whats up with that?
    Heh very good point there, although it depends on wether the limits of the OC was architectural or thermal
  • jtnstnt
    I was wondering because i didn't see an explanation in the article.