The Dragon got new fangs

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition reviewed

With the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition AMD introduces a new flagship. PC Games Hardware tested the AM3 processors against several AMD and Intel CPUs.
Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition
Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition [Source: view picture gallery]
Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition reviewed
The Phenom II is produced in 45 nanometer architecture and thus the circuits can deal with much higher frequencies. The up to now fastest Phenom II, the X4 955 Black Edition, already reached 3.2 GHz. Now AMD introduces the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition which has a higher multiplier and thus runs at 3.4 GHz. This might not be a big difference, but it is nevertheless the highest clock speed any AMD processor has been shipped with - and not only that: Currently Intel doesn't offer a desktop CPU that runs on similarly high frequencies, if you don't take the automatic overclocking of the Core i7 Turbo Mode into account. Apparently AMD's chip manufacturer Globalfoundries has the 45 nanometer production under control.

In comparison to the "old” 955 BE, which was launched in April, the Phenom II X4 965 BE doesn't introduce many changes besides the increased clock speed. The C2 stepping is the same and the size of the cache is not altered anyway. The 965er is compatible to the sockets AM2+ and AM3 , so it is a suitable option for upgrading an older Phenom I system with DDR2 memory or for building a new system with DDR3 RAM.

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition reviewed: 140W TDP
Besides the frequency the Thermal Design Power (TDP) of the 965er was increased, too: Istead of the 125 watt of the 955 it grew to 140 watt. The VID was increased from 1.35 volt to 1.40 volt. But only recently AMD lowered the TDP of the Phenom II X4 945 from 125 to 95 watt - something similar might also be possible for the 965 although this could require a new stepping.

In our practical stress tests with identical systems the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition needed 20 watt more than the 955: The whole system consumed 197 watt with the 955 and 219 with the new 965. In idle mode and activated Cool'n'quiet the difference is almost unrecognizable. The temperatures didn't reveal any problems either and the new flagship was only a few degrees Celsius warmer than the 955. But there are some motherboards that can't deal with the higher power requirements. For our benchmarks and overclocking tests we used the AM3 board MSI 790FX-GD70 (BIOS Rev. 7577v14) - one of the board recommended for testing by AMD.

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition - CPU-Z
Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition - CPU-Z [Source: view picture gallery]
Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition reviewed
We compared the performance of AMD's new top dog with several other AMD and Intel processors, among them are the fastest AM2+ CPU, the Phenom II X4 940 BE, Intel's Q9650, which is the best Core 2 Quad (the phased out Extreme versions are not taken into account), and the Core i7-920 from the Nehalem family. For our tests we used four popular games and four applications.

The Core i7 enters the competition with a slight advantage: so that the processor can make use of its Triple channel interface it is equipped with 3x 2 GiByte instead of 2x 2GiByte DDR3 RAM, which additionally runs with not officially supported DDR3-1333 mode. Thus the uncore area, and thus the L3 cache, of the CPU is also overclocked slightly. But the benefit isn't very big. In games the difference is only 1 to 2 fps big. Nevertheless the results of the Core i7-920 have to be regarded as approximated values.

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition reviewed: Benchmarks
For our benchmarks we run the games at a resolution of 1680 x 1050 pixels and deactivate Anti aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering in order to prevent that the graphics card becomes the limiting factor. The in-game details are nevertheless set to high.

In Far Cry 2 the Phenom II X4 965 is on par with the Core 2 quad Q9650. As expected the AMD CPU is able to beat the Phenom II X4 955 BE (not listed) and the 940. In Race Driver: GRID the 965 is even able to beat the Q9650 noticeably and in the CPU limited GTA 4 the distance gets even bigger: in this case the Phenom II is about 20 percent faster and that can make the difference between lagging and smooth gameplay. In the three games the Phenom is also able to beat the Core i7, which looses about 17 percent performance because of the activated SMT. In Anno 1404 thins look different because the game is one of the few that benefits from SMT and thus the i7 is clearly in front while the Q9650 and the 965 are on par again.

The Cinebench R10 is based on the professional rendering program Cinema 4D and likes the Nehalem architecture plus Hyper-threading. Therefore the i7-920 is taking the lead, but the Phenom II X4 965 BE is slightly behind and thus beats the Q9650. In Paint.Net on the other hand the Q9650 beats the Phenom II, while both processors are on par again in the x264 video transcoding. Data encryption in Truecrypt is a good field for the 965 and the AMD CPU can even beat the Core i7.

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition reviewed
Ex-factory the Phenom II X4 965 BE is running with 3.4 GHz. Without changing the core voltage we reached 3.65 GHz. Increasing the core voltage from 1.4 to 1.55 volt 3.9 GHz were possible on air cooling with an Zalman CNPS 10x Extreme. 4 GHz weren't possible, but of course it is possible that other sample reach higher frequencies. Increasing the voltage slightly also makes it possible to reach a noticeably higher reference clock speed: 330 MHz were stable and 390 MHz possible but not stable.

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition reviewed: Conclusion
The new Phenom II X4 965 BE is the fastest AMD processor for desktop systems. But that's not all: The Phenom II offers a slightly better performance and thus a noticeably better price-performance-ratio than the Q9650, which is about 50 to 60 Euros more expensive at the moment. Furthermore the AMD chip has an open multiplier, even if this doesn't make it an overclocking miracle. The comparatively high workload power consumption practically doesn't matter since a processor usually isn't challenged to its imits.

Therefore the AMD Phenom II X4 965, which currently costs about 225 Euros, is a good offer, as long as your motherboard can deal with the 140W power requirement. Nevertheless and absolute recommendation is hard to give since the Phenom II X4 955 BE is only slightly slower and is available for about 160 Euros already.

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Author: Henner Schröder (Aug 13, 2009)

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