CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
In October, we gave this chip an honorable mention as one of the best gaming CPUs in the $100 to $200 range. Bang for the buck, Intel's Sandy Bridge-based Core i3-2100 may be better for gaming, but when you’ve got multiple apps to juggle, the Phenom II X4’s four cores are likely the better bet. The fact that we’re still considering this processor at the end of 2011—over two and a half years after its debut—should tell you something about its overall impact on the budget-oriented enthusiast market.
The 45 nm-based 955 was one of the first flagships for AMD's Socket AM3 interface. Clocking in at 3.2 GHz, the chip features 64 KB of L1 cache per core, 512 KB of L2 per core, and 6 MB of L3 shared across all four cores. All told, AMD crams this performance into a 125 W TDP envelope.
The historical significance of the 955 may turn out to be that, in the spring of 2009, this was one of AMD’s best shots at the high-performance market, though it didn’t even come close to the Core i7s of the day. Only now do we have the company officially acknowledging that it is no longer in a war with Intel for the CPU market’s high ground.
But that doesn’t mean that AMD lacks real value at the low- and mid-ranges. This 955 remains a compelling upgrade for those with AM2+ and AM3 platforms. The Black Edition chips (with unlocked clock multipliers) have always been a great way for those tight on funds to get into overclocking, and the 955 can easily reach into the 3.6 to 3.8 GHz range without so much as a pinch of voltage increase. So, if you’re holiday recipient has an aging AMD platform in need of a quick caffeine transfusion, the 955 remains a very accessible way to have a lot of fun.