As the main competitors to the Black Edition are not the slower, cheaper Phenoms but rather Intel's top-end CPUs, we've not included any scores for the phenom 9500. However, we have included one of AMDs previous best, the Athlon64 6000+. It's not quite the fastest Athlon that AMD ever produced - that honour goes to the Athlon64 6400+ Black Edition - but it is the next step down and will provide a good reference point.
On the Intel side we've included its previous generation top-dog, the QX6700, which is the multiplier unlocked 65nm version of the Kentsfield quad-core range. We've also included the current champion, the 45nm Penryn based QX9770, which is also multiplier unlocked. We've left both running at standard speeds for a baseline comparison but the QX6700 can run at well over 3GHz and the QX9770 can push 4GHz so be aware that there's plenty more head room in these CPUs.
For a price comparison we've also included the Q6600, which runs at 2.4GHz (but again can easily overclock to 3GHz) and can be had for £150. Lastly we've thrown in an Intel dual-core CPU in the form of the E6750, to give an overall picture of where the Phenom sits in terms of performance.
*nVidia 8800 GTS 320MB
*400GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.9
*Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
Intel Specific Components:
*2GB Corsair TWIN3X2048-1333C9 DDR3
AMD Specific Components:
*2GB Corsair Dominator TWIN2X2048-8500C5DF DDR2
*MSI K9A2 Platinum
*AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition (4x2.3GHz)
*AMD Athlon X2 6000+ (2x3.00GHz)
*Intel Core 2 Quad QX9770 (4x3.2GHz)
*Intel Core 2 Quad QX6700 (4x2.66GHz)
*Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (4x2.4GHz)
*Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 (2x2.66GHz)
Testing started with our usual quartet of Photoshop batch processing, VirtualDub video encoding, WinRAR file compression, and LAME mp3 encoding. These tests are all single-threaded versions of the programs so they are only using one core at a time. Next we tested the multithreaded versions of WinRAR and LAME as well as the animation benchmark, Cinebench, to see how effectively the CPUs distribute the computing load across multiple cores. Finally, we did a spot of game testing using Counter-Strike: Source, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, and Crysis.
As always we tried to create as even a playing field as possible so the only limiting factor for each setup is the CPU itself. Both test systems used Seagate Barracuda hard drives and nVidia 8800 GTS 320 graphics cards. However, we used DDR2 memory with the AMD CPUs, while the Intel chips were accompanied by DDR3 and of course the two motherboards for each platform were different. Each test was repeated until a consistent score was achieved so the results we're showing are truly representative of the performance our test beds gave under our tests.
Following these initial tests we set about overclocking the Black Edition. We started by upping the FSB and were pleased to find we could get 220MHz running stable without too many problems. This gave us an overall clock speed of 2,530MHz, which wasn't a bad start.
So, next we tried to increase the multiplier but we very quickly hit a brick wall - any increase was completely unstable, no matter how much we upped the voltages. So, we started clocking back the FSB to see if we could find an optimum balance between FSB and multipler. Unfortunately, we had to go all the way back to the standard FSB of 200MHz before we could up the multiplier and eventually we ended up with a best overclock of 13x200MHz, or 2,600MHz. This actually isn't too bad considering we've heard of CPUs not playing ball at anything above standard clocks, but it's still a long way off the competition from Intel.
The unfortunate thing for AMD, and annoying thing for the consumer, is our tests show there's obvious potential for good performance scaling as clock speed increases. If only the chips would actually run faster. Hopefully in the near future AMD can turn out a tweaked version of Phenom that can push up to and beyond 3GHz. Otherwise it may have a real struggle on its hands.
The Phenom line of CPUs has the potential for great performance. Unfortunately, problems with getting the chips to run at a high enough clock speed means they can't compete with Intel at the top end. So, if you're planning on a full system upgrade, we'd recommend going with an Intel chip.
If you've already got an AM2 motherboard and some decent DDR2 RAM and you just want a CPU upgrade then dropping £150 for a Phenom 9600 Black Edition will get you a nice boost in performance. However, we'd probably still recommend you wait for the release of the next line of Phenoms, which should clock higher.