Skip to main content

Phenom II X4 955: AMD's Dragon Platform Evolves

Conclusion

It only took two months, but AMD finally has a flagship to lead its march forward with Socket AM3.

We’re still not looking at a Core i7-killer (or even competitor) here. After all, AMD’s fastest offering isn’t able to match even the slowest i7 chip, unless you count gaming, where most of these quad-core chips perform so similarly that it isn’t worth factoring in the tenths of a frame.

Rather, AMD was gunning for Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q9550. That actually turns out to be a significant target, too. Aside from the DP-capable Core 2 Extreme QX9775—a $1,500 part—there is only one other Core 2 Quad left for AMD to usurp: the 3 GHz Core 2 Quad Q9650. Performance-wise, this means the Phenom II X4 955 is still an upper mid-range processor, dolled up with an unlocked clock multiplier and a platform message that bests the Core 2 Quad lineup (thanks to a strong software infrastructure supporting tweak-happy enthusiasts), yet falls short of Core i7 and its superior CrossFire/SLI ecosystem.

At the end of the day, this comes down to price for most folks. If a Phenom II X4 955 plus 790FX/GX-based motherboard plus 4 GB DDR3-1333 memory kit are the upper end of your budget (let’s call that about $500), you won’t go wrong here. We were only able to get 3.6 GHz out of the processor using AMD’s PIB heatsink/fan solution before peaking over 60 degrees C and losing Prime95 threads. Overclocking past that is going to take a more substantial cooler…and ideally not the first near-37 degree C day of the year in southern California. Conversely, AMD has a compelling collection of software to complement its hardware package—and with Overdrive 3.0 and Fusion, those apps have evolved beyond glorified BIOS modification to include a combination of extras you can use to save power, increase performance, and really take more granular control over how your PC operates.

But a Core i7 920 plus X58-based motherboard plus 6 GB DDR3-1333 kit costs about $100 more—that’s tantalizingly close, and frankly still the route we’d go given the many instances where even the 2.66 GHz processor simply walks the rest of the pack. You might not get Overdrive or Fusion, but the addition of CrossFire and SLI support is fairly significant, especially for the gamers who’ve stuck with Nvidia GPUs.

There’s no doubt that AMD is showing signs of life. The progression of its hardware plods along with the launch of this Phenom II X4 955 and the Radeon HD 4890 earlier this month.  The company’s in-house software folks are making a strong appeal to enthusiasts with a couple of interesting tuning utilities. And although we aren’t expecting changes to AMD’s chipset lineup until 2010, the 790GX/FX amply addresses discrete graphics connectivity. Until then, a shift to Socket AM3/DDR3 adds single-digit percent increases to an already-efficient memory subsystem.

  • 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 ...
    Reply
  • lanestew
    Fingers crossed for AMD. Intel needs a competitor!
    Reply
  • 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,
    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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?
    Reply
  • 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!
    Reply
  • hmph... -1. i said FOR GAMERS. nerd.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    Yup--any of these games will be fine with a 720 BE and more graphics muscle.
    Reply
  • lanestew
    If only those AM3 boards had SLI.....
    Reply