AMD Phenom 9900 Review

Author: William Henning
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/phenom_9900/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Phenom 9900: 2.6GHz quad core from AMD - can it take on Core 2 Quad's head to head?

We published our Phenom 9600 review at the end of November; but in this industry, nothing stands still. Since then, AMD has been kind enough to send us a Phenom 9900 reviewer's kit, and today, we will see how it stacks up.

The kit included:

For our stock speed testing, we used the kit as it was sent to us, however for our overclocking tests, we switched to a Noctua NH-U 12, one of our favorite CPU coolers.

If you've read our Phenom 9600 Review, you will remember that I reviewed it from the perspective of someone who might want to upgrade an existing AM2 dual core system - and I found it to be a decent upgrade.

With the speed increase to 2.6GHz I decided to compare the Phenom 9900 to the previously reviewed Phenom 9600, and to two Intel quad core processors at their stock speeds.

  1. The Core 2 Quad QX6700 runs at 2.66GHz at stock speed, and I suspect that AMD will price the Phenom 9900 below the QX6700's current $949 price tag.
  2. The Xeon X3210 runs at 2.13GHz at stock speed, and is an excellent performer, currently selling for $247
  3. update: A reader pointed out that the Core 2 Quad E6700 running at 2.66GHz is available for $560

According to the rumour mill, the Phenom 9900 may be priced around the $350 mark - which while above the Xeon X3210's price, is WELL below the price of the QX6700.

As everyone knows, AMD has had difficulties with launcing the Phenom; it launched about six months after it was supposed to, at well below the originally announced 2.8GHz - 3GHz launch speeds.

On top of that, shortly after release news of the TLB erratum was spread far and wide. AMD was able to issue a microcode update that works around the problem, albeit with a reported 10%-20% performance hit, and AMD also released a patch to the Linux kernel that allows it to work around the problem while reportedly taking only a roughly 1% performance hit - one hopes that Microsoft will release a similar hotfix for XP and Vista.

Now that we have a B2 stepping of the Phenom 9900 to test (yes, it has the TLB bug) let's see how it compares to both a less expensive 2.13GHz Xeon X3210 and a more expensive, basically same clock rate, Core 2 Quad Extreme QX6700!

 

The Asus M3A32-MVP is one of the latest Socket AM2 boards from Asus, and it features the new AMD 790FX chipset, however as this review is a processor review, we will only take a look at this fine board.

As you can see the board has heatpipe cooling of the chipset, and a total of FOUR GPU slots!

If you have two GPU's, you can give each one full PCIe 2.0 16x capability, however if you have four GPU's - which would be somewhat excessive for 99.99% of users - you need to drop to merely PCIe 2.0 8x speeds... but you should remember that a PCIe 2.0 8x slot has the same bandwidth as an earlier PCIe 16x slot, so you are hardly short changed.

Plenty of solid state capacitors, 8+2 phase power, support for Hypertransport 3.0, DDR2-1066 support, CrossFire support and HD Audio round out this board.

Here is the full spec sheet on the board, straight from asus.com:

CPU
AMD® Socket AM2+ Phenom™ FX / Phenom X4 / Phenom X2 / Athlon™ X2 / Sempron™
AMD® Socket AM2 Athlon 64 X2 / Athlon 64 FX / Athlon 64 / Sempron
AMD Cool'n'Quiet™ Technology
Chipset
AMD 790FX / SB600
test
Up to 5200 MT/s; HyperTransport™ 3.0 interface for AM2+ CPU
2000 / 1600 MT/s for AM2 CPU
Memory
4 x DIMM, max. 8GB, DDR2 1066 / 800 / 667 / 533, ECC and non-ECC, un-buffered memory
Dual channel memory architecture
* DDR2 1066 is supported by AM2+ CPU only
* Refer to www.asus.com or user manual for Memory QVL (Qualify Vendor List)
Expansion Slots
4 x PCIe x16 with ATI CrossFireX™ support, @ dual x16; tripple x16 / x8 / x8; or quad x8 modes
2 x PCI 2.2
Support PCIe 2.0 / 1.0 Architecture
Storage
Southbridge
- 4 x SATA 3Gb/s ports with RAID 0, 1, and 0+1support
- 1 x UltraDMA 133 / 100 / 66
Marvell® 6121 and 6111 SATA controller
- 2 x SATA 3Gb/s ports with RAID 0, and 1 support
- 1 x External SATA 3Gb/s port (SATA On-the-Go)
LAN

Marvel® PCIe Gigabit LAN controller featuring AI NET 2

Wireless LAN
54 Mbps IEEE 802.11g and backwards compatible with 11 Mbps IEEE 802.11b
- Software Access Point mode
- Station mode : Infrastruceure mode and Ad-Hoc mode
Audio
ADI® AD1988 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
- Coaxial / Optical S/PDIF out ports at back I/O
IEEE 1394
Agere® FW322 supports 2 x IEEE 1394a ports
USB
10 x USB 2.0 ports (4 ports at mid-board, 6 ports at back panel)
ASUS AI Lifestyle Features
ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution:
- ASUS Fanless Design: Cool Mempipe solution
- ASUS 8+2 Phase Power Design
- ASUS AI Gear 2
- ASUS AI Nap
- ASUS Fanless Design: Heat-pipe solution
- ASUS Fanless Design: Stack Cool 2
- ASUS Q-Fan 2
- ASUS Optional Fan for Water-cooling or Passive-Cooling only
ASUS Crystal Sound:
- ASUS AI Audio2
- ASUS Noise Filter
ASUS EZ DIY:
- ASUS Q-Shield
- ASUS Q-Connector
- ASUS O.C. Profile
- ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
- ASUS EZ Flash 2
ASUS WiFi@Home:
- ASUS WiFi-AP Solo
Special Features
Uses 100% All High-quality Conductive Polymer Capacitors!
ASUS MyLogo 2
Multi-language BIOS
Overclocking Features
Intelligent overclocking tools:
- AI NOS™ (Non-delay Overclocking System)
- AI Overclocking (Intelligent CPU Frequency Tuner)
- ASUS AI Booster Utility
Precision Tweaker 2:
- vCore: Adjustable CPU voltage at 0.0125V increment
- vDIMM: 35-step DRAM voltage control
- vChipset: 16-step Chipset voltage control
SFS (Stepless Frequency Selection)
- FSB tuning from 200MHz up to 600MHz at 1MHz increment
- Memory tuning from 533MHz up to 1066MHz
- PCIe frequency tuning from 100MHz up to 150MHz at 1MHz increment
Overclocking Protection:
- ASUS C.P.R. (CPU Parameter Recall)
Back Panel I/O Ports
1 x PS/2 Keyboard
1 x S/PDIF Out (Coaxial + Optical)
1 x External SATA
1 x IEEE1394a
1 x RJ45 port
6 x USB 2.0/1.1
1 x WiFi-AP Solo antenna jack
8-Channel Audio I/O
Internal I/O Connectors
2 x USB connectors support additional 4 USB ports
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
1 x IDE connector
1 x COM connector
6 x SATA connectors
1 x CPU Fan connector
2 x Chassis Fan connector
1 x Power Fan connector
1 x IEEE1394a connector
Front panel audio connector
1 x S/PDIF Out Header
Chassis Intrusion connector
CD audio in
24-pin ATX Power connector
8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
System Panel
BIOS
8 Mb Flash ROM, AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 2.0a, ASUS EZ Flash 2, ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
Accessories
ASUS Cool Mempipe
ASUS CrossFire Bridge Cable
UltraDMA 133/100/66 cable
FDD cable
SATA cables
SATA power cables
Q-Shield
User's manual
1 x Multi-function module (IEEE 1394 + USB2.0)
3 in 1 Q-connector
Optional Fan for Water-Cooling or Passive-Cooling only
ASUS WiFi-AP Solo omni-directional antenna
Support CD
Drivers
ASUS PC Probe II
ASUS Update
ASUS AI Suite
ASUS WiFi-AP Solo Wizard
Anti-virus software (OEM version)
Form Factor
ATX Form Factor, 12" x 9.6" (30.5cm x 24.4cm)

In order to keep the testing as fair as possible, we will use the following test platforms:

Socket AM2:

LGA 775: (please read the processor review to see which exact board it was tested on)

 ASUS' M2N32-SLI motherboard is an excellent performer, and allows us to try very high FSB speeds.

Naturally, we also used a high-end 975X-based motherboard for our LGA775 benchmarking. In this case it was the ASUS P5B-E Premium -- a favourite of ours here. 

Software used during testing consisted of the following:

Please note that we are showing overclocked results in all the charts - we are not holding you in suspense until the end of the article. :-) The chart labels incorporate a lot of information about the test configuration. The first line shows the socket type and the model of the processor. Since all the processors shown are dual-core devices, we did not specify that on the charts.

The second line shows the "FSB/HT clock rate" x "CPU multiplier" followed by the effective memory speed. All DDR2 tests were run at 4-4-4-12 timings unless otherwise specified.

Business Winstone

At stock speeds, the Phenom 9900 manages to slighly beath the Core 2 Quad QX6700, and the Xeon X3210 is clobbered.


Content Creation

At stock speed the Phenom 9900 beats the QX6700 and the X3210 by approx. 10%

Sandra CPU Benchmark

The Phenom 9900 is slightly slower than the Xeon X3210 for integer code, however it ends up noticably faster than the Xeon for floating point code!

The QX6700 results are unfortunately not directly comparable, as they were obtained with an earlier version of Sandra.

Sandra Memory Bandwidth

The Phenom 9900 clobbers both the Xeon X3210 and the QX6700 for memory bandwidth!

WinRAR MT

Once again, the Phenom 9900 beats both the X3210 and the QX6700.

 

RightMark Read

The AMD Phenom 9900 handily beats both quad core Intel chips for RightMark Read at stock speed.


RightMark Write

What can I say? The Phenom 9900 beats the QX6700 and X3210 again.

 

RightMark Latency

Well, we can hardly be surprised that the Phenom 9900's on-chip memory controller beats the Intel chip's off-chip memory controller when it comes to latency.

RightMark Bandwidth

Hmmm... a clear pattern is emerging. For memory bound tests, the Phenom 9900 beats the Xeon X3210 and the Core 2 Quad Extreme QX6700.

 

Lame

The Phenom 9900 is soundly beaten by the QX6700, however it beats the X3210.

TMPGEnc

The Phenom 9900 is slightly beaten by the X3210, and more so by the Core 2 Quad QX6700.

CineBench

At stock speeds, the QX6700 beats the Phenom 9900, which in turn beats the X3120.

Pov-Ray

At stock speeds, the AMD Phenom 9900 is beaten by both the QX6700 and the X3210 here

Call of Duty

The Phenom 9900 beats the Xeon X3210, but is handily beaten by the QX6700 for this test.

Commanche 4

The Phenom 9900 handily beats the Xeon X3210, and basically ties the QX6700!

 

Doom 3

The Phenom 9900 slightly beats the Xeon X3210, and is spanked by the QX6700 for Doom 3.

Halo

Once again, the Phenom 9900 slightly edges out the X3210, and is badly beaten by the QX6700 here.

 

Jedi Knight

The pattern continues. The Phenom 9900 edges out the X3210, and is soundly beaten by the QX6700.

UT2004

Same story as above.

 

World In Conflict

As you can see from both the chart and the table below, World In Conflict scales a bit - but only a bit - with processor speed at 800x600 very low detail only. The higher resolution results are within experimental error of each other, so that tells us that World In Conflict is VERY GPU limited.

Given a good enough GPU, the Phenom 9900 will run World In Conflict well enough.

  2.6Ghz Avg 2.6GHz Min 2.6GHz Max
wic 8vlo 139 74 303
wic 10h 30 17 53
wic 12h 23 13 37
  3Ghz Avg 3GHz Min 3GHz Max
wic 8vlo 143 82 312
wic 10h 28 15 51
wic 12h 21 11 36

Power Consumption

The Phenom 9900 is not exactly a miser when it comes to power consumption - the Xeon X3210 uses quite a bit less juice.

Unfortunately we don't have power consumption figures for the QX6700.

  IDLE LOAD
Xeon X3210 2.13GHz 95 138
Phenom 9600 2.3GHz 127 168
Phenom 9600 2.6GHz 152 211
Phenom 9900 2.6GHz 176 230
Phenom 9900 3.0GHz 210 308

 

Overclocking

After the problems AMD has had in getting higher speed grades of the Phenom to market, I was initially worried about the overclockability of the Phenom 9900. It is less than three weeks since the release of the Phenom 9600, and I could only overclock our Phenom 9600 to 2.645GHz!

Fortunately it looks like the Phenom 9900 AMD sent us is a newer stepping - B2 to be precise - and even though it is not the fabled B3 stepping that will fix TLB erratum, it does seem to have opened up some extra "elbow" room.

How much?

How does a stable 3.0GHz strike you?

Mind you, I had to replace the stock AMD cooler with its sticky heatsink compound with a Noctua 12 and Arctic Silver - but that dropped the CPU temperature by a whopping 15'C when idling at 3GHz!

In order to run at 3GHz, I did the following:

I also tried to overclock with the HT speed, however I could not get even 233x13 stable on this Asus M3A32-MVP.

Conclusion

I was actually quite pleased with the performance of the Phenom 9900.

Given AMD's public commitment to fixing the TLB errata, and their move to 45nm with the "K10.5" architecture (Barcelona with some additional improvements) I suspect that AMD will be more competitive on the high end sometime next year.

But even until then... looking at the benchmarks, it did not seem like the Phenom 9900 was that far behind - if it was in fact behind.

The table below shows the relative rank of the three processors in the results for each benchmark - one means best result, two means second best, and third means last. These rankings are based purely on stock performance, as that is how the vast majority of people run their systems.

  Phenom 9900 QX6700 Xeon X3210
Business Winstone 1 2 3
Content Creation 1 2 3
Sandra CPU 3 1 2
Sandra Memory 1 2 3
WinRAR MT 1 2 3
RM Read 1 2 3
RM Write 1 3 2
RM Latency 1 2 3
RM Bandwidth 1 3 2
LAME MT 2 1 3
TMPGEnc 3 1 2
CineBench 2 1 3
POVRay 3 1 2
COD 2 1 3
Comanche 2 1 3
Doom 3 2 1 3
Halo 2 1 3
Jedi 2 1 3
UT2004 2 1 3
       
TOTAL 1st place results 8 11 0

That is a very interesting result.

The Phenom 9900 generally took first place in business applications and memory oriented benchmarks - sometime with quite a margin.

The Phenom consistently beat the Xeon X3210 for the gaming tests, and was generally trounced by the much more expensive QX6700 (DUH).

Now if we end up the rankings... we see that over the whole set of benchmarks the Phenom 9900 was not far behind the QX6700 in the number of first place finishes!

Moral of the story:

The Phenom 9900 running at 2.66GHz DEFINITELY outperforms a Xeon X3210 running at 2.13GHz - as it should.

For gaming, at unrealistically low resolutions for todays gamers, the QX6700 badly beats the Phenom 9900 - but no one really games at those resolutions, and as World In Conflict shows, modern games are GPU not CPU bound.

Frankly, the Phenom 9900 did much better against the QX6700 than I had expected. Now if the BIOS on the motherboard allowed finer grained control over memory speed settings, I might have been able to squeeze even more performance out of the chip at both stock and overclocked settings; but a future BIOS revision may well take care of that.

AMD needs the 45nm shrink badly. It will address the power consumption issue - there is no question that Intel quad core processors are "greener" right now - and when that is combined with the purported architectural enhancements, and the ability to ramp up the clock speed due to lower voltage 45nm designs generating less heat, Intel may again have some real competition for the high end next year.

But you know what?

The consumer wins already. If aggressively priced, the Phenom 9900 - and upcoming lower end "Black Edition" Phenom's - will present an excellent value proposition to consumers, and provide a very viable alternative in the low and mid-range markets.

 

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