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Phenom II at over 5 GHz on LN2! - Press Preview

Date: November 21, 2008
Company: AMD
Author: Jason Rabel

Yesterday AMD gave a presentation at their offices in Austin, Texas on the upcoming 45nm Deneb processor, officially named the Phenom II. This processor makes up the missing component in the new Dragon platform (the other two parts being their existing 7 series motherboards and Radeon HD 4000 series graphic cards). AMD's mastery of immersion lithography and 4th generation of strained-silicon are just some of the technologies that went into engineering their new 45nm processor. The Phenom II processors are manufactured at Fab 36 on 300mm wafers in Dresden, Germany.

AMD showcased several demo PCs using different cooling technologies with their new Phenom II X4 processor's on Gigabyte 790GX motherboards. The air cooling setup used a Cooler Master Hyper Z600 heatsink (running pretty quiet), the water/tec cooling had a CoolIT Freezone Elite, the phase change I *think* was a VapoChill, and best of all, an aluminum block for LN2... mmmm.... Since these first Phenom II processors will be socket AM2+ only, at most a simple BIOS update should be all that is required to ensure full support / compatibility with existing boards.

After the initial launch of the AM2+ Phenom II X4 processors, the next step will be to eventually release AM3 models (planned 1H09). AM3 CPUs will be pin / backwards compatible with existing AM2+ motherboards. However, current AM2+ CPUs will NOT work in an AM3 board (because the AM2+ CPU doesn't have a DDR3 memory controller). The memory controller only takes up a trivial amount of space in the overall core die, so AMD made the decision to keep the DDR2 controller in addition to the new DDR3 one. This gives the user flexibility to upgrade to DDR3 when they want (and can afford) to, and also allows AMD's processors to continue working on a LOT of existing systems / inventory. AMD also confirmed that they will continue with the 3 core chips (no specifics on when it will happen) as they fill the gap (in price and performance) between dual-core and the quads.

Now, back to the presentation... During the LN2 demo, one of the first questions asked from the crowd was, "Is there a cold bug?"... Everyone got a good chuckle from that. Unlike the current 65nm Phenom's which don't seem to like extreme cold, there seems to be no issues with the Phenom II (booting or running) at very low temperatures. The probe temperature actually got lower than what is in the picture (that's the only picture AMD provided with a temp reading).

We are not allowed to give specifics on speeds at this time, but as a generalization one can expect the following stable performance without too much tweaking effort:

  • Air: Around 4GHz is a safe area to target with decent aftermarket cooling & mild voltage increase. When I say "around" that means above and below, so don't gripe at me if your CPU won't hit 4GHz, there is no guarantee with overclocking. Also there aren't exactly huge amounts of CPUs out in the wild yet, so observations are somewhat limited.
  • LN2: If you were thinking 5GHz, guess again (and guess higher)... It was like the Energizer Bunny commercials... they just keep going, and going, and going. To say in excess of 5GHz is an understatement, but that's about as detailed as I'm allowed. There was another large leap too between what was "stable" and what you could get a CPU-Z screenshot of, so that shows even more promise in the long term as yields will undoubtedly improve.
  • Water & Phase Change: Obviously somewhere between Air & LN2. This is really going to vary based on what you are using and your temps.

While I can't give exact numbers in terms of GHz, I can give you some of the voltages and temps seen while running the Crysis demo. Keep in mind these temps are not anywhere near 100% CPU usage, but they aren't exactly idle either.

  • Air: Cooler Master Hyper Z600 - Around 1.5-1.55V / 33C
  • Water/Tec: CoolIT Freezone Elite - Around 1.6V / 38C
  • Phase Change: VapoChill - 1.7V / Below 0C (software / MB wouldn't report negative numbers)
  • LN2: 1.75V (at least during the Crysis demo... *grin*)

The extra headroom that these new 45nm processors have give AMD the opportunity to really explore and expand their software overclocking tools. Around the launch of the Phenom II, look for updates to the AMD Overdrive utility and AMD's Fusion for Gaming application. These tools (along with the ATI Overdrive utility) really cater to PC Enthusiasts and Gamers of all skill sets. AMD has worked hard to make the interface as simple and automated as possible (for people that just want to game), while still featuring advanced menus for fine tuning (for people that really love to tweak every last bit).

Below are some screenshots of the Fusion for Gaming app, but if you want to see it in action AMD has a video demo on their page. With Fusion, you simply press a button and it will disable a lot of the extra "stuff" that is usually running in the background, you can also have it overclock your CPU & GPU. All this is predicated on that you are running all AMD hardware (CPU, Motherboard, Video).

 

One might be wondering why AMD doesn't just release faster clocked CPUs if there is so much headroom. The simple answer to that is: it's technical. Many people will say that Intel's new Core i7 will remain the fastest CPU available, that may or may not be true (since the Phenom II X4 has not launched yet). I have to make the argument, at what premium is that person willing to pay for that minute amount of overall system performance difference? Sure AMD could clock their chips higher and charge a boatload more, but then they probably wouldn't get as many sales. AMD's new dragon platform is looking strong (much stronger than the spider platform) and the aggressive pricing makes it very attractive when compared to an Intel system of similar performance. With the global economic market in a delicate state right now, many people are cutting back on big spending and taking a hard look before they buy anything to make sure they are getting the most for their dollar. There's always going to be a select few that go out and blow $5,000 on a new system, but more people these days are really looking to stretch their dollar and in that area I think AMD will come out on top.

 

After I killed one of the demo systems, the AMD employees wouldn't let me near another..... JUST KIDDING! (err.. lets just say it wasn't running when I left, I didn't do it, I deny everything, you'll never get me to talk!) Below you can see the air cooled & water/tec cooled systems running the Crysis CPU test.

 

So what can you take away from reading this article? Expect good things to come from AMD very, very, soon (well, technically first half of '09)... The Phenom II looks to be a very solid product.

 





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