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AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition CPU Review
Date: Aug 13, 2009
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Introduction and Specifications


AMD is launching a brand new flagship desktop processor today, dubbed the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition. As you can probably surmise from its name--if you're familiar with AMD's naming convention--the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition is virtually identical to the 955 it supplants at the top of AMD's desktop processor line-up, save for the 965's higher default clock speed. Whereas the 955 clocked in at a speedy 3.2GHz, the new 965 arrives at a lofty 3.4GHz, making it the highest clocked CPU to come from AMD to date.

The Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition is based on the same core as all current socket AM3, quad-core Phenom II processors and it as the same cache configuration and overall feature set. There are some slight differences to its specifications, however, which we have listed for you below. The 965 BE's differentiating features are, as we've mentioned, it's higher frequency of 3.4GHz and also its higher maximum TDP of 140W. Please take note of the higher TDP, as not all socket AM2+/AM3 motherboards will support it.

Once you're done taking a gander at the specifications below, check out some related articles and hunker down for some testing and benchmarks as we find out what
AMD's new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition is made of...

AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition Processor

AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition Processors 
Specifications and Features

Model / Processor Frequency: AMD Phenom II Processor Model X4 965 (3.4GHz)
L1 Cache Sizes: 64K of L1 instruction and 64K of L1 data cache per core (512KB total L1 per processor)
L2 Cache Sizes: 512KB of L2 data cache per core (2MB total L2 per X4 processor)
L3 Cache Size (shared): 6MB
Total Cache (L2+L3): 8MB
Memory Controller Type: Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller, capable of being configured for dual 64-bit channels for simultaneous read/writes
Memory Controller Frequency: Up to 2.0GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management
Types of Memory: Unreg. DIMMs up to PC2 8500 (DDR2-1066MHz) and PC3 1333 (DDR3-1333MHz)
HyperTransport 3.0: One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4000MHz full duplex
Total Processor Bandwidth: Up to 37.3 GB/s bandwidth (Up to 21.3GB/s memory bandwidth)
Packaging: Socket AM3 938-pin organic micro pin grid array (micro-PGA) (backward compatible with Socket AM2)
Fab location: GLOBALFOUNDARIES Fab 1 module 1 Dresden, Germany
Process Technology: 45nm (.045-micron) DSL Silicon on Insulator (SOI)
Approximate Transistor count: approx. ~758 million (65nm)
Approximate Die Size: 258 mm2 (45nm)
Nominal Voltage: .0825-1.5 Volts
Max Ambient Case Temp: 65 degress Celsius
Max TDP: 140 Watts
*Note: MC configurable for dual 64-bit channels for simultaneous read/writes
**Note: for DDR3-1333, AM3 boards will support 1-DIMM-per-channel @ 1333MHz

The new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition is an update to AMD's Dragon Platform. The Dragon Platform itself is not new, however. In fact, most of its core components have already been available for quite some time now. As such, we have already covered them in-depth here on HotHardware in previous articles, so we won't do the same again here. We will, however, recommend that you take a look at a few recent articles to get familiar with the underlying technology and components that comprise AMD's Dragon platform.

All of the various 7-series chipset, Phenom, Phenom II, Athlon, and Spider related articles listed above cover the gamut of features that make up the majority of the Dragon the platform--with the exception of the new Phenom II 965 Black Edition featured here, of course.

Vital Signs and Overclocking

Like its predecessors, the AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition looks just like the original Phenoms, due to its use of similar packaging and the same heat spreader design. The chip utilizes AMD's Socket AM3 938-pin organic micro pin grid array (micro-PGA) packaging, which is backward compatible with Socket AM2+. Here's what the processor looks like, from both sides...

Socket AM3 Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition

Like all previous socket AM3-compatible processors that have been introduced over the last few months, the Socket AM3 Phenom II X4 965 is designed to work with both DDR2 and DDR3 memory types, and with Socket AM3 or AM2+ motherboards.  Socket AM2+ processors do not have the ability to work with DDR3 memory though, so AMD made some changes to the Socket AM3 pin configuration to prevent AM2+ processors from being plugged into AM3 sockets.  Socket AM3 processors like the 965 BE pictured above have 938 pins, whereas socket AM2 processors have 940; two pins have been removed.  If you look close at the shot of the processor's underside above, you'll notice that there are two groups of three and two groups of two pins missing on the underside of the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition--on AM2+ processors, four groups of two pins are removed.  Keying the processors and sockets in this way prevents AM2+ processors from being installed on AM3 motherboards, but allows AM3 processors to be installed on either type of motherboard.

AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition CPU-Z Details

To get glimpse into the Phenom II 965 Black Edition's inner workings, we fired up CPU-Z to take a peek at its core and cache configurations. CPU-Z correctly identifies the processor as Phenom II X4 based on the core codenamed "Deneb", but incorrectly identifies it as an AM2+ CPU (we had it installed in an AM3 motherboard). As the information shows, the chips are manufactured using GlobalFoundries' 45nm process technology and our particular sample has a stepping designation of 2 and core revision of RB-C2. The Phenom II X4 965 BE chip is clocked at 3.4GHz, due to its 17x multiplier and 200MHz base clock, the HT link is running at 2.0GHz, and there is 512K of L1 Data / Instruction cache, 2MB of L2 cache (512K per core), and 6MB of shared L3 cache available, for a total of 8MB combined L2 and L3 cache.

Overclocking The Phenom II X4 965
Pedal To The Metal

AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition Overclocked to 3.82GHz

Phenom II's have earned a reputation for being highly overclockable processors. In a previous article, we were able to achieve a clock speed increase of about 800MHz over stock with the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition; other Phenom IIs we tested didn't fare quite as well, but 600MHz to 700MHz increases were not uncommon using nothing but the stock air cooler. 

With that in mind, we set out to overclock the new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition using the stock AMD PIB cooler and an Asus 790FX based motherboard. With a bump in CPU core voltage to 1.5v, we were able to take the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition to just over 3.8GHz with complete stability--only a ~400MHz increase. 3.9GHz - 4GHz would load Windows, but no amount of voltage allowed us to maintain stability during testing. Remember, Black Edition processors are unlocked, so we were able to achieve this overclock by merely altering the CPU multiplier and voltage in the system BIOS or via AMD's OverDrive utility. As you can see in the screencap above, while overclocked, the 965 BE zipped along at a toasty 65'C+. That's a bit warm, but keep in mind we were using the stock cooler and it's the middle of the summer. While idling, the chip barely broke the 35'C barrier.

Our Test Systems and SANDRA


How We Configured Our Test Systems: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set the memory timings for each platform manually. The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we fully updated the OS, and installed the of the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran the tests.

 HotHardware's Test Systems
 Intel and AMD - Head To Head 

System 1: 
AMD Phenom II X4 965
(3.40GHz Quad-Core)
AMD Phenom II X4 955
(3.20GHz Quad-Core)

AMD Phenom II X3 720BE
(2.8GHz Tri-Core)

AMD Phenom II X4 940
(3.0GHz Quad-Core)

Asus M4A79T Deluxe
(AMD 790FX Chipset)

2x2GB Corsair DDR3-1600

CL 7-7-7-20 - DDR3-1333

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate

NVIDIA Forceware v180.43
DirectX Redist (August 2008)

System 2:
Core 2 Duo E6850
(3.0GHz - Quad-Core)

Core 2 Quad Q9400
(2.66GHz - Quad-Core)

Asus P5E3 Premium
(X48 Express Chipset)

4x1GB Corsair DDR3-1600
CL 7-7-7-20 - DDR3-1333

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v180.43
DirectX Redist (August 2008)

System 3:
Core i7 920
(2.66GHz - Quad-Core)

Intel DX58SO
(X58 Express Chipset)

3x1GB Qimonda DDR3-1066
CL 7-7-7-20 - DDR3-1066

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v180.43
DirectX Redist (August 2008)

 Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
 Synthetic Benchmarks

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA XII, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2009 suite with AMD's new Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition processor (CPU Arithmetic, CPU Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, and Cache and Memory).  All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speed of 3.2GHz, with 4GB of DDR3-1333 RAM running in unganged mode.

Phenom II X4 965 BE
CPU Arithmetic

Phenom II X4 965 BE

Phenom II X4 965 BE
Mem. Bandwidth:

Phenom II X4 965 BE
Cache & Mem: DDR3-1333

The Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition performed very well in the sampling of synthetic SiSoft SANDRA tests that we ran. Due to its relatively high frequency, the 965 obviously outran every other AMD-built CPU by a fair margin and it hung in there with similarly clocked Penryn-based Core 2 processors, although Intel did have the edge overall. Core i7 processors held onto sizable leads in most tests, except for the integer portion of the Multimedia benchmark where AMD's new flagship was very strong.

PCMark Vantage Performance

We ran a handful of processors and platforms, including the new Phenom II X4 955 BE and 945, through Futuremark‚Äôs latest system performance metric built especially for Windows Vista, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity.  Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by a quad-core CPU.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance


In PCMark Vantage's Productivity, Communications, and Music tests, and in overall PCMarks, the Phenom II X4 965 BE performed very well, and was able to outpace the more expensive Core i7 920. In the remaining tests, however, the quad-core Intel processors we tested, with the exception of the Q9400, had the edge. And in the gaming test, the Core i7 was simply in a league of its own.

LAME MT Encoding and KribiBench

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.

Audio Encoding

In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenically-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

LAME MT can support of maximum of only two threads, hence the X3's strong performance versus the lower-clocked quad-cores here. Once again, the new Phenom II processors perform well, albeit just a bit shy of the Intel-based competition.

Thanks to its higher frequncy, the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition outperforms all of the other AMD-built processors in our custom LAME MT encoding benchmark, but it can't quite keep pace with the Core i7 920 or even the lower clocked Core 2 Quad.

Kribibench v1.1
CPU-Bound 3D Rendering

For this next batch of tests, we ran Kribibench v1.1, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development.  Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer in which a 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU and the average frame rate is reported.  We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and the test suite's "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys.


Like the LAME MT scores above, the Phenom II X4 965 BE easily oupaces all other AMD processors, but it can't match the performance of the lower-clocked QX9770 nor the Core i7 920.

Cinebench R10 and 3DMark06

Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others.  It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.

Cinebench R10
3D Rendering

This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system could render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.

Once again we see the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition outrun all of the other AMD processors, but its performance falls somwhere inbetween the Core 2 Quad Q9400 and the Core 2 Extreme QX9770.

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded DirectX gaming metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance.  Calculations that are normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering.  The frame-rate generated in each test is used to determine the final score.

As expected, the new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition pulls ahead of the other AMD processors here, and is only outpaced by the Core i7 920 and Core 2 Extreme QX9770.

Gaming: Crysis and F.E.A.R.

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Crysis and F.E.A.R. When testing processors with Crysis or F.E.A.R., we drop the resolution to 800x600, and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible.  However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU rather than GPU.

Low-Resolution Gaming: Crysis and F.E.A.R.
Taking the GPU out of the Equation

In our Crysis testing, the Intel processors maintain a sizable and obvious performance advantage, where the Core 2 Quads and Core i7 hold on to solid leads. But in the F.E.A.R. benchmark the tables are turned and AMD's Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition takes the pole position.

Power Consumption

We'd like to cover a few final data points before bringing this article to a close. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power our test systems consumed using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the processors alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet



The new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition  has a 140 watt TDP--15 watts higher than the 955. As such, you would expect it to consume more power than the previous flagship, and you would be correct. The Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition consumed slightly more power at idle and 15 more watts under load.

Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: AMD's new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition processor proved to be a solid performer throughout our entire battery of benchmarks. In a handful of the tests that partially make up the PCMark Vantage suite, the 965 BE was even able to pull ahead of Intel's Core i7 920 processor. In the vast majority of our remaining tests, however, with the exception of a few synthetic SiSoft SANDRA benchmarks, the Phenom II X4 965 BE generally trailed the lower clocked, Penryn-based Core 2 Extreme QX9770 and the Nehalem-based Core i7 920. Due to its higher frequency though, the new Phenom II X4 965 BE was clearly the fastest of the AMD-built processors.

In the conclusion of our review of the AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition and the Phenom II X4 945 processors which launched on the same day a few months back, we had this to say: "The Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition and the X4 945 will be available immediately for $245 and $225, respectively. Pair one of these processors with an enthusiast-class 790FX or GX-based socket AM3 motherboard and 4GB of DDR3-1333 memory and you've got the makings of a powerful desktop platform for about $450. That's not exactly cheap, but considering the performance and overclockability of the platform, it certainly represents a good value. Yes, Intel's similarly clocked Core 2 Quads and Core i7 processors still maintain a performance advantage, but there is no denying that AMD's Dragon platform is an attractive option that has only been enhanced by the introduction of these new CPUs."

For the most part, everything we stated in that previous article remains true today, save for the fact that DDR3-1333 memory prices are somewhat higher. The Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition debuts at the very same $245 of the 955 BE that it is supplanting at the top of AMD's desktop CPU line-up. That makes the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition an even better value than the 955 in our book. With the Phenom II X4 965, users get even higher performance for the same initial investment. At 3.4GHz with a 140W TDP though, we get the sense that the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition is creeping ever closer to the limits of GlobalFoundries' 45nm process, at least in its current form.  To release higher-clocked Phenom II processors, either higher TDPs will be necessary or new core revision will have to be implemented that is equally frequency-friendly but brings power consumption down. We have already seen that AMD's Agena core is capable of extremely high frequencies, but the exotic cooling necessary to hit those frequencies makes them obviously impractical.  Finally, when you consider a 3.33GHz Intel Core i7 975 Extreme Edition has a TDP of 130W, the picture comes even more clearly into focus.

Regardless, the release of the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition is a good thing for AMD. They've managed to release their fastest processor yet, and at a price point that's sure to please many budget-minded consumers. In addition, the fact that it's unlocked should make the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition all the more appealing to overclockers looking to get the most from their hardware budgets.



  • Strong Performance
  • Good Power Consumption
  • Great Upgrade Path
  • DDR2 or DDR3 Compatible
  • Overclockable
  • Competitive Pricing
  • Fastest AMD CPUs to Date


  • Still Can't Quite Catch Intel's Similarly Clocked Processors

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