AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition Review


There is nothing wrong with an incremental update—especially an update that adds performance without affecting pricing. Such is the case with AMD’s new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition, which arrived at our performance lab running at 3.4 GHz—200 MHz faster than its predecessor, the Phenom II X4 955 BE. Everything else is exactly the same as the Phenom II X4 955, reviewed back in April 2009.

So, if the latest Phenom II is predictably faster than AMD’s former flagship, why is today’s launch so significant? In short, it comes just a few weeks ahead of Intel’s upcoming LGA 1156-based P55 platform debut—an event that’ll almost certainly play a bigger role in the adoption of Nehalem-based machines than either the LGA 1366 Core i7 or Xeon 5500-series CPUs have thus far. After all, LGA 1156 is going to be the interface that purportedly makes Intel’s latest architecture accessible to the mainstream, supplanting the Core 2 family at a number of affordable price points.

No doubt, those new Core i5/i7 CPUs will be faster than the Core 2 Quads they replace, and at competitive prices. Just when AMD looked like it had achieved performance parity with the top end of Intel’s Core micro-architecture, LGA 1156-based platforms seem almost certain to set the bar higher.

Thus, today’s Phenom II X4 965 BE introduction is actually a fairly important one for AMD. On one hand, it could earn the company its mainstream performance crown—at least for a few weeks. On the other, it could be the last time Phenom II looks as competitive as it does now. Of course, that’s going to depend mightily on how the upcoming Intel chips perform.

Up Against Core i5

Of course, we’re not able to publish performance numbers with the pre-production Core i5 processors currently running in the lab, so it’s hard to officially quantify how Phenom II will size up. But we can make best guesses using today’s Core i7s as rough test subjects.

You’ll find all of our usual benchmarks on the pages that follow. First, however, we wanted to set up Phenom II X4 965 BE against a hypothetical Core i5-750—a processor expected to cost less than $200 when it launches. We simulated the 2.66 GHz offering with a Core i7-920, which runs at the same clock rate. Of course, we had to pull out a single channel of memory (yielding two channels of DDR3-1333) and disable Hyper-Threading, since Core i5 won’t have that feature. The one variable we couldn’t reproduce was Core i5’s enhanced Turbo Boost, which is expected to accelerate clocks to 3.2 GHz when a single core is active. Core i7-920 only benefits from a single bin of Turbo Boost, yielding 2.8 GHz instead.

The only other platform capability setting LGA 1156 apart from LGA 1366 is the use of on-die PCI Express 2.0, which we’ve tested extensively and can say that, in single-card configurations, has almost zero impact on performance versus the X58’s chipset-based connectivity.

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.
  • XD_dued
    Hmmm...i hope the rest of the OC better. I also hope that AMD won't have to price cut too much to compete with i5. Either way, AMD really needs something new and fast....Hopefully they'll do well with the dx11 cards.
  • AMDnoob
    ugh... i want to love AMD but I'm not sure this cuts it. I mean, if you get an AMD Phenom II 955 and the 965, they're completely identical except for multiplier. And you can get both processors to 3.8Ghz most of the time. So really whats new???? The 965 has just got a faster stock frequency. But anybody who buys a 955 or 965 is prolly an enthusiast that will end up OCing them to ~3.8Ghz. So just go for the cheaper 955. The 965 sounds like AMD is trying to make something "new", but it's just another Phenom II 45nm chip w/ the same 6mb cache, etc. They need to release a new line for these up coming Intel chips.
  • hunter315
    Excellent timing, i was just wondering when i was going to see a performance review for the new 965. Though i would like to see a benchmark comparing the overclocking potential of the 955 to the 965, im curious if its just a higher binned processor or the same one just clocked higher.
  • megamanx00
    I better pick up the 955 BE before they are all gone. Doesn't seem like the 965 has any advantage other than the stock clock, and of course I don't plan on leaving it at stock :D.
  • chaohsiangchen
    Good article! Judging from what AMD did with 65nm Phenom, they would perhaps release 125W version in early 2010. However, that's pure projection. I will probably get this one and wait for AMD 32nm. Somebody got to support the underdog. Unfortunately, this is the same situation AMD faced during mid 2006 all over again. Intel 32nm is going to be awesome, and it seems that AMD is going to be left without an answer in H1 2010 until they can upgrade production for 32nm.
  • anonymous x
    but that Q9550 can overclock well, to the level of the phenom II 965 here and beyond, and clock for clock it is faster than phenom II.
    Can't wait for a AM3 vs LGA 1156 battle soon!
  • Raidur
    AMD has a looong way to go. :(
  • steel_icon
    Will this run on an old AsuS Crosshair NV590A-SLI motherboard? I surely do hope so...
  • bk420
    Pleasant surprise. I love you AMD!
  • Nogard
    wow, those are some pretty ordinary results for AMD.