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For all its architectural improvements, though, the main feature of Phenom, which is supposed to make it better than Intel's CPUs, is the fact it uses a native quad-core design rather than two dual-core CPUs bolted together on the same package. The advantage of this is that cores can communicate directly, without having to go via the slow front side bus (FSB), as is the case with Intel's CPUs. So, where inter-core communication is required, Phenom should be faster. Conversely, the disadvantages are that each piece of silicon is considerably more complicated and the design is less scaleable - the complications of controlling communication between memory controllers means you couldn't just slap two Phenom chips on the same package.
So on paper, Phenom has a lot going for it and, though it goes about things in very different ways, it should have proved to be a worthy adversary for the Intel Core 2 Quad chips. However, AMD has hit a few snags with its first raft of CPUs based on this architecture.
First was the TLB erratum that if unfixed could cause calculation errors in certain scenarios and if fixed resulted in a significant drop in performance. Then there was the fact AMD simply couldn't seem to get the chips running fast enough. While Intel's chips will happily run at upwards of 4GHz, AMD is still struggling to break 3GHz and most people are reporting that even 2.6GHz is a milestone. So, no matter what the architectural differences, Intel is able to hold a lead in performance due to sheer brute force speed.
To try and counter this, AMD has now released the AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition. It features an unlocked CPU/FSB multiplier which means you can overclock your CPU not just by bumping up the FSB speeds but by increasing the multiplier.
Now, multiplier unlocked CPUs are nothing new but they've normally demanded a hefty premium over locked CPUs so that the manufacturers can squeeze more money out of the enthusiasts that will pay for such privileges. However, because it's trying so desperately to compete with Intel, AMD has offered up the 9600 Black Edition at a premium of only £10 over the standard 9600, which is really great to see. However, this really does highlight the problems AMD is having in getting its chips to consistently clock faster, as there's no way they'd offer the 9600 Black Edition at such a low price if they could reliably squeeze more speed out of it.
Still, free performance increases are good and there's always a chance you could get a good sample that overclocks to 3GHz or more - we've certainly heard of a few that have - so without further ado, let's take a look at how our sample performs.