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Phenom II 955 Versus Core i7 920: Gaming Value Compared

Introduction: A Little Background

We recently published a review of Cyberpower's Gamer Dragon, a Phenom II 955-based gaming PC equipped with DDR3 RAM and a pair of Radeon HD 4890s in CrossFire. The Cyberpower Gamer Dragon was delivered to us with a nice 3.6 GHz overclock, and when we considered what we should compare this system to, our first thought was our recent $1,300 System Builder Marathon (SBM) machine. With an Intel Core i7-920 and two GeForce GTX 260s in SLI, the cost of the components for the two builds was similar.

The comparison also addressed one of the primary complaints we received when we chose the i7 over the Phenom II for our SBM build: that the Phenom II would have been a better choice for a gaming rig, because its lower price tag would have enabled us to add better graphics cards with the budget available. Since the graphics subsystem is often the limiting factor for game performance, a cheaper AMD processor coupled with a higher-powered graphics card would have offered a better fit for gaming, according to the reader feedback.

On paper, two Radeon HD 4890s best a pair of GeForce GTX 260s, so I was satisfied that the scenario would make for a great comparison of Phenom II versus Core i7 gaming value. I merrily proceeded to take benchmarks, record the findings, and form conclusions based on the data. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to investigate the matter, and after all was said and done, my conclusion was that the Core i7-920 beat the Phenom II by a fairly substantial margin. When a budget allows for a powerful dual-graphics card setup, the Core i7 appeared to be the ideal choice, while the Phenom II was a better pick for machines in a lower price range, which the Core i7 can't touch. 

Well, the Cyberpower Gamer Dragon article probably generated more forum feedback than any other piece I've written. Normally this would be a good thing, but this time my testing and subsequent conclusion left a lot of people upset. According to a number of folks, there were three main sins I committed in my review of the Phenom II machine:

1. Different Graphics Card Manufacturers

This ties in directly with concern number two below. As both of the test systems used different brands of graphics cards (one sporting Radeon GPUs and the other with GeForce GPUs), the results depended on games that demonstrated a performance preference for one of these architectures.

2. Selection of Game Benchmarks

We use four game benchmarks in our SBM series, which we selected using a number of factors, including popularity, significance, and variety. Those games are Crysis, Far Cry 2, World in Conflict, and Stalker: Clear Sky. Keep in mind, games are only a small part of the PC performance that we test in our SBMs, so up until this point we haven't noticed any problems with this selection of titles.

However, as mentioned, we pit Radeons against GeForces, opening ourselves up to any preference a specific game title might have for either architecture. It has also been suggested that our game selections are overly CPU-dependent, thus giving the Core i7 an edge.

3. The Cyberpower Gamer Dragon May Not Represent Ideal Phenom II Performance

It has also been suggested that our Cyberpower Gamer Dragon test sample wasn't working up to snuff. Concerns have been raised that the memory performance results as tested by the SiSoft Sandra benchmark were lower than they should have been. The Gamer Dragon also uses the Gigabyte GA-MA790XT-U4DP motherboard, which is equipped with AMD's 790X chipset limited to one x16 and one x8 PCI Express (PCIe) 2.0 slot. The AMD 790FX would better represent ideal Phenom II performance, as it has two full PCIe x16 slots--one for each of the graphics cards in CrossFire.

I do believe these three points cover most people's concerns with the Cyberpower article, and since these issues deserve to be investigated further, we came up with a more even-handed plan to use in this follow-up review. Instead of looking at the Cyberpower Gamer Dragon, we'll concentrate specifically on Intel Core i7 versus AMD Phenom II gaming value using our own builds.

  • cruiseoveride
    As expected.
    Reply
  • chaohsiangchen
    Very good article. Too bad that it wan't done with nvidia cards. We need to see how GTX260-216 SLI with Core i7 920 can beat Phenom II 955 with two GTX 275.
    Reply
  • ahslan
    good article...happy to see the phenom hangs in there
    Reply
  • frozenlead
    Why weren't the graphics cards included in the price breakdowns for both systems? Especially considering the cards were different...they should be in there, no?

    Adding in nvidia cards would be interesting to see, yes, but then we're moving more into engine optimizations and such, and things get less exact. Maybe the effect of software preferences on hardware architecture can be a future writeup? Nice article, here, though.
    Reply
  • twisted politiks
    how about all the AMD Fanboys stop complaining about Intel. so what if people say they are better. who FREAKIN cares. you should expect them to perform better, they are pricier. you buy AMD BECAUSE of the price, so therefor, you should expect less performance. AMD is awesome, and so is Intel, its like complaining about a Honda Vs. a BMW or something along those lines, they are different, and because of price, you should expect one to out perform the other. so if you want to save money, by the damned AMD, but dont complain when other people favor Intel whether they are right or not, you end up looking like imature Fanboy's who are jealous they cant afford the Intel (which is just a generalization). BTW, without Intel, AMD wouldnt be cheaper, nor would it be as powerful as it is without competition to keep the company improving it.
    Reply
  • Proximon
    Currently there is a huge newegg discount on a 955/790FX combo making it quite attractive, but of course that kind of thing has to be left out of an article like this.
    As I expected on the numbers, but I now want to see if the 790X chipset is to blame, or the Gigabyte board itself, or perhaps the memory controller onboard the CPU is to blame?
    Reply
  • lashton
    its annoying to see that toms hardware seems to be very pro intel
    Reply
  • frozenlead
    lashtonits annoying to see that toms hardware seems to be very pro intel
    Did you read the conclusion at all? AMD lost by the numbers. That's not pro-intel, it's pro-logic. It's pro-science. That's the way the world works.
    Reply
  • wisdom_learner
    twisted politikshow about all the AMD Fanboys stop complaining about Intel. so what if people say they are better. who FREAKIN cares. you should expect them to perform better, they are pricier. you buy AMD BECAUSE of the price, so therefor, you should expect less performance. AMD is awesome, and so is Intel, its like complaining about a Honda Vs. a BMW or something along those lines, they are different, and because of price, you should expect one to out perform the other. so if you want to save money, by the damned AMD, but dont complain when other people favor Intel whether they are right or not, you end up looking like imature Fanboy's who are jealous they cant afford the Intel (which is just a generalization). BTW, without Intel, AMD wouldnt be cheaper, nor would it be as powerful as it is without competition to keep the company improving it.

    Wow. You take things way too seriously.
    Reply
  • sohei
    only at toms site are such performances
    Ahslan .... buy your own pc ...not your daddy
    Reply