How We Tested
We used Phenom to upgrade nine mature socket AM2 motherboards. It didn't work in most cases, though.
We grabbed nine different socket AM2 motherboards to check whether or not the new Phenom quad core processor can be used as an upgrade. Here is the list:
- Asus Crosshair (Nvidia nForce 590 SLI chipset)
- Asus M2A-VM HDMI (AMD690G chipset)
- Biostar TForce 590 SLI Deluxe (Nvidia nForce 590 SLI chipset)
- Epox MF570 SLI (Nvidia nForce 570 SLI chipset)
- Foxconn C51XEM2AA (Nvidia nForce 590 SLI chipset)
- Foxconn/Winfast K8M890M2MA-RS2H (VIA K8M890 chipset)
- Gigabyte GA-M57SLI-S4 (Nvidia nForce 570 SLI chipset)
- Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5 (Nvidia nForce 590 SLI chipset)
- MSI K9A Platinum (ATI Crossfire Xpress 3200 chipset)
- MSI K9NU Neo-V (ULi/Nvidia M1697 chipset)
As you can see, the list includes high-end, mainstream and entry-level motherboards. We wanted to be sure that different market segments are represented in this test. All of these motherboards are based on socket AM2 and officially support all current Athlon 64 X2 processors. The brands, Asus, Biostar, Epox, Foxconn, Gigabyte, MSI and Winfast (Foxconn) usually provide updates for their platforms when new processors are released. Phenom has been available for one month now, which we consider sufficient lead time to implement support for the new processors.
We wanted to see how close together the Athlon 64 X2 and the Phenom really are, so our first step was to take the motherboard and install the Phenom 9600. For this first attempt we did not bother about the installed BIOS version, as we wanted to check whether or not the system would boot. As expected, this wasn't the case with any of the nine motherboards. Obviously, an updated BIOS version is imperative, while some new Athlon 64 X2 revisions would still at least boot (though not offering full support for processor features such as Cool'n'Quiet or updated micro codes).
In a second step, we installed an Athlon 64 X2 4600+ processor, which is based on the Windsor F3 core. This CPU worked fine in all of the motherboards. We looked at the installed BIOS version (see table at the end of the motherboard evaluations) and downloaded the most recent update if available. We found BIOS updates for each of the nine motherboards, which shows that the motherboard makers do care a lot about supporting the latest processors. However, only few BIOS descriptions actually mentioned Phenom, although at least four of them were dated November 2007 and later. Let's see which boards support Phenom and which don't.