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AMD Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition CPU Review
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Date: May 03, 2011
Section:Processors
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

Although much of the scuttlebutt lately has revolved around AMD’s upcoming Llano and Bulldozer-based APUs, the company isn’t done pushing the envelope with their existing processor designs. In case you haven’t noticed, over the last few months AMD has continued to ramp up frequencies on their current bread-and-butter Phenom II processor line-up to the point where they’re now flirting with the 4GHz mark. We should also point out that AMD has done so with little disruption to their relatively low pricing structure; as a newer, faster processor is released in a given product family, it occupies the historic top spot while the existing products have simply been pushed down the stack to lower price points.

Maybe we’re being a bit optimistic, but today’s launch of the Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition marks the release of AMD’s highest clocked processor yet, technically speaking. While the six-core Phenom II X6 1100T can Turbo up to 3.7GHz on half of its cores under certain conditions, the new quad-core Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition’s default clock on all four of its cores is 3.7GHz, a mere 8.1% frequency boost away from the mythical 4GHz.

We’ve got a new Phenom II X4 Black Edition in house and have put it through its paces with a variety of benchmarks. Take a peek at the full specifications below and then read on for the full scoop on AMD’s highest-clocked processor released to date...


The Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition...

AMD Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition
Specifications & Features
Phenom II X4 980 'Black Edition' Processor:
Model Number & Frequency: X4 980 / 3.7GHz
OPN: HDZ980FBK4DGM
L1 Cache Sizes: 64K of L1 instruction and 64K of L1 data cache per core (512KB total)
L2 Cache Sizes: 512KB of L2 data cache per core (2MB total L2 per processor)
L3 Cache Size: 6MB (shared)
Total Cache (L2+L3): 8MB
Memory Controller Type: Integrated 128-bit wide memory controller *
Memory Controller Speed: Up to 2.0GHz with Dual Dynamic Power Management
Types of Memory Supported: Unregistered DIMMs up to PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066) and PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333)
HyperTransport 3.0 Specification: One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4.0GHz full duplex (2.0GHz x2)
Processor-to-System Bandwidth: Up to 37.3GB/s total bandwidth [21.3 GB/s memory bandwidth + 16.0GB/s (HT3)]
Up to 33.1GB/s total bandwidth [17.1 GB/s memory bandwidth + 16.0GB/s (HT3)]
Packaging: Socket AM3 938-pin organic micro pin grid array (micro-PGA)
Fab location: GLOBALFOUNDARIES Fab 1 module 1 in Dresden, Germany
Process Technology: 45-nanometer DSL SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology
Approximate Die Size: 258mm2
Approximate Transistor count: ~758 million
Max TDP: 125 Watts
AMD Codename: "Deneb"
* Note: configurable for dual 64-bit channels for simultaneous read/writes

 

Looking at the specifications above, those of you familiar with AMD’s Phenom II X4 processors will immediately notice that the new Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition is a speed-bump of the tried-and-true Deneb core. Like previous Deneb-based Phenom II processors, the X4 980 BE sports a total of 512K of L1 cache (64K instruction and 64K data L1 cache per core), with 2MB of L2 cache (512K per core), and 6MB of shared L3 cache. The chips are produced on GlobalFoundries 45nm DSL SOI process node and are comprised of roughly 758 million transistors. As we’ve mentioned, the default clock speed of the Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition is 3.7GHz, but the max TDP remains within the traditional 125W envelope of its Black Edition predecessors. All of the other features and specifications of the X4 980 BE also remain unchanged from previous Deneb-based processors.

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Test Systems and Vantage

Test System Configuration Notes: 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 frequency to DDR3-1333. The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, performed a disk clean-up, defragged the hard drives, and ran the tests.

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

System 1:
Core i5 661
(3.33GHz - Dual-Core)

Asus P7H57D-V EVO
(H57 Express Chipset) 

2x2GB Kingston DDR3-1600
(@ 1333MHz, CAS 8)

Intel GMA IGP 
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows 7 x64

System 2: 
Core i5 750
(2.66GHz - Quad-Core)

Asus Maximus III Formula 
(P55 Express Chipset) 

2x2GB Kingston DDR3-1600
(@ 1333MHz, CAS 8)

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows 7 x64

System 3: 
Core 2 Q9650
(3GHz - Quad-Core)
Core 2 Quad Q9400
(2.66GHz - Quad-Core)

Gigabyte X48T-DQ6
(X48 Express Chipset)

2x2GB Kingston DDR3-1600
(@ 1333MHz, CAS 8)

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA 

Windows 7 x64

System 4:
AMD Phenom II X4 980
(3.7GHz Quad-Core) 
AMD Phenom II X4 965
(3.4GHz Quad-Core) 

AMD Athlon II X4 645
(3.1GHz Quad-Core)

AMD Pehnom II X4 970
(3.5GHz Quad-Core)

AMD Phenom II X6 1090T
(3.2GHz Six-Core)

AMD Phenom II X6 1100T
(3.3GHz Six-Core)


MSI 890FXA-GD70
(AMD 890FX Chipset) 

2x2GB Corsair DDR3-1600
(@ 1333MHz, CAS 8)

Radeon IGP
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD150 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA 

Windows 7 x64

 Preliminary Testing with PCMark Vantage
 Synthetic Benchmarks

First up, we ran our test systems through Futuremark’s latest system performance evaluation tool, 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 or six-core CPU.

 

The Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition was the fastest of the AMD-built quad-core processors by a small margin, which is to be expected considering this processor is clocked higher than it's Phenom II X4 counterparts, but the Core i5-750 is faster overall, as are the six-core processors, of course.

 

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3DMark Vantage and '06

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.

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark06 had the Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition finishing ahead of the other AMD-made quad-cores and the Core i5-750, but it couldn't touch any of the six-core processors, especially Intel's much more expensive Core i7-970 nor could it match the performance of Sandy Bridge.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark Vantage tells the same story. The Phenom II X4 980 BE outpaces all of the other quad-cores we tested, with the exception of the Sandy Bridge-based Core i5-2500. All of the six-core processors were also faster than the X4 980 BE.

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Cinebench and LAME MT

Cinebench R11.5 is a 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 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 R11.5
3D Rendering

This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a photorealistic 3D scene (from the viral "No Keyframes" animation by AixSponza). This scene makes use of various algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.

 

We saw more of the same with the Cinebench R11.5 benchmark. The Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition was the fastest quad-core we tested, save for the Core i5-2500. The six-cores once again led the pack.

LAME MT
Audio Encoding

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.

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. Shorter times equate to better performance.

 

Intel's processors own the LAME MT benchmark. The Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition put up some very respectable numbers in light of the other AMD processors, but Intel's chips were fastest overall.

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Low-Res Gaming: Crysis and ETQW

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Crysis and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. When testing processors with Crysis or ET:QW, 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 ET: Quake Wars
Taking the GPU out of the Equation

The new Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition was marginally faster than the lower-clocked AMD-built processors, but our game tests were all about Intel. Even the Lynnfield-based Core i5-750 finished ahead of AMD's fastest quad-core, nevermind Sandy Bridge or Gulftown.

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Total System 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 Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition consumed slightly more power than its lower-clocked counterparts in the Phenom II X4 family, and even nudged ahead of the much lower-clocked six-core Phenom II X6 1090T. Intel's quad-core processors, however, used much less power under idle and load conditions. The Sandy Bridge-based Core i5-2500K in particular was far more power efficient--not only is the chip faster than the 980 BE, it's more power friendly too.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The AMD Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition performed as expected throughout our entire battery of tests. AMD’s latest quad-core proved to be marginally faster than its lower-clocked Phenom II X4 counterparts in single and multi-threaded workloads, and due to its relatively high frequency, it matched and even occasionally exceeded the performance of AMD’s six-core processors in single-threaded workloads. Intel’s processors, however, continue to outperform their AMD-built competitors. The Sandy Bridge-based Core i5-2500 in particular offered strong performance, and it’s available for only a few dollars more.

Current owners of a socket AM2+ or AM3-based systems looking for an easy upgrade that won’t require a complete system tear-down can take solice in the fact that the Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition is AMD’s fastest quad-core processor to date. Although its performance can't match that of Intel's, the X4 980 BE isn't a poor performer by any means. Toss that older CPU up on eBay to make a few bucks and slap the Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition in its place and you’ll be tooling along at a cool 3.7GHz, with the same unlocked multipliers of previous Black Editions for some quick and easy overclocking.


Another Look At The AMD Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition

The AMD Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition will be available almost immediately for just under $200 ($195 to be exact), occupying the spot previously held by the Phenom II X4 975 BE. Prices on the other members of the Phenom II X4 900 family will drop accordingly. Newer processors and platforms are on the horizon, however, from both AMD and Intel. So for those users contemplating a completely new system build, the Phenom II X4 980 BE might not be the right choice.

  • Good Performance
  • Fastest AMD quad-core To Date
  • Priced Under $200
  • Easy Upgrade For AM2+/AM3 Owners

 

  • Can't Compete With Sandy Bridge
  • The Last Of A Dying Breed?

 



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