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AMD Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition Review: Last of the Breed

Author: Josh Walrath
Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: AMD

More on the AMD Phenom II X4 980

While the X4 980 is not a huge jump over the X4 975, it is significant as it seems to be the last speed bump we will ever see from the Phenom II family.  From here on forward, we will see another Athlon II bump in the mainstream and budget market, but in the performance desktop realm it is all going to be Bulldozer for the next several years.

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Note the 2010 week 41 date.

The processor itself is clocked at 3.7 GHz, which matches the Turbo Mode of the Phenom II X6 1100T.  It is a 125 watt TDP part, and it fits in current AM3 motherboards, as well as AM3+ parts in the near future.  The memory controller, Hypertransport controller, and L3 cache still run at the rather anemic 2 GHz that it has sat at seemingly forever (since Phenom I days).  Unfortunately for the architecture, the L3 cache eats up a lot of power, and clocking a memory controller up to 3.7 GHz while retaining standard JDEC speeds is a headache all its own.

AMD, and now GLOBALFOUNDRIES, have pursued a fabrication strategy of continual improvement in their process technology.  This has allowed AMD to keep up (mostly) with Intel without spending billions at once for a single, significant node jump.  This likely has been complicated by the actual spinning off of GLOBALFOUNDRIES, and certainly when we look at the timeline between Intel’s first 32 nm part, and AMD’s, it seems that GF is much farther behind than expected.  Still, improvements have been made, and we are now seeing a Phenom II clocked at 3.7 GHz at standard TDPs being delivered in mass quantities.  When I first reviewed the X4 940 BE two years ago, it would barely go over 3.8 GHz on a lot of extra voltage and aggressive cooling.  Now we see the X4 980 sitting fat and happy at 3.7 GHz with standard voltages and cooling.

In terms of performance what can we expect?  Well, I guess that is the purpose of this review.  Do not expect miracles.  This processor will compete against older generation i5-7x0 and i7-8x0 series processors, as well as the latest Sandy Bridge processors.  In most workloads, the higher end Phenom II X6 1090T and 1100T processors compete well against the i7 920 and i7 860+ processors.  The new Sandy Bridge processors are essentially in a league of their own.

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Dusty but trusty.

The Phenom II X4 980 will retail around $195, and it should be available immediately.  This of course will push down the previous processor price points.  The X4 975 will be $175, the X4 970 goes to $155, and the X4 965 will be at the bargain basement price of $135.  I am guessing that the days of the X4 955 are limited.  Hear those helicopters again?

Test Setup

I used the standard test benches for both AMD and Intel processors that I have on hand at this time.  I still do not have any Sandy Bridge based samples, and instead have used the i7-860 processor from Intel.  The i5-760 is very close in performance to the i7-860, and it sits around $210 US.  The Phenom II X4 980 BE is expected to retail around $195 US.  The Phenom II X6 1090T is at $199, while the 1100T is around $220.

AMD HD 5870 Reference Video Card
MSI 890FXA-GD65 Motherboard (AMD)
Asus P55 Motherboard
OCZ Platinum 2 x 2GB DDR-3 1600 @ 1333 latencies
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6G Hard Drive
Lite-On DVD-R/RW
Corsair TX750W Power Supply
Windows 7 Ultimate, SP1
AMD Catalyst 11.4 Drivers

May 4, 2011 | 07:16 AM - Posted by undersea

Josh, you just have to get a new CLEAN case for these reviews moving forward :)

May 4, 2011 | 09:31 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

A clean case is a sign of a dirty mind.

May 5, 2011 | 04:23 PM - Posted by AParsh335i (not verified)

This has to be the worst product I have seen released recently. It was easily beaten overall for the testing done against the i7-860 and the i7-860 is A LOT slower than the new sandybridge i5s. When comparing price/performance AMD has terrible timing with this part - Microcenter is selling the i5-2500k for $180 and the i5-2400 for $150. This 980 could only overclock to 4.3ghz overall (8.6% increase) and people are easily overclocking i5-2500k to 5.0ghz (66% increase!).

May 5, 2011 | 04:39 PM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Yeah, this was a strange release from AMD. Just so hard to compete with those Sandy Bridge parts. Sweet deals from Microcenter though! The i5-2500K is a steal at $180. Makes you wonder what the internal thinking at AMD was. Perhaps they felt that with recent price changes they had to have something exist at their upper end so their ASPs didn't suffer as badly?

May 6, 2011 | 06:02 AM - Posted by tellis006

I am done with AMD cpu's till bulldozer, I had a couple of Phenom 2 build's and the were "alright" then I found the i7 and never looked back moved to sandy-bridge, still not looking back. I am dying to give AMD my money , I am begging to give them my money but, I want performance, I think if they were even equal at the dollar per performance I would go with AMD just because they are the underdogs and I really want to see them grow.I am hearing good things I hope the bulldozer processors are not Phenom 2's in disguise, if they are it could be the end of AMD, on a better note they make awesome GPU's that is their saving grace.

May 6, 2011 | 10:34 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Well, I think at least AMD will be at parity with Intel for the most part. Though if the top end Bulldozer only matches the i7 2500K in performance, then AMD will certainly not be making boatloads of money per chip. I also think AMD had originally planned to have Bulldozer out sooner, but it looks like a few delays have hit it. We are now looking at (hopefully) July availability.

The one bright spot for AMD is that they are shipping Llano based processors, and we will likely see a glut of them come July/August. Should be a popular "back to school" product. CPU performance will not be anything fantastic, but the integrated GPU should be class leading for a long, long time.

May 10, 2011 | 03:16 PM - Posted by ZoneAndroid (not verified)

I don't think you were clear with the warranty information for the Asrock. As far as I can tell any p67/h67 board you buy today until June 30th will automatically have a 2 year warranty.

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