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Appeared on: Monday, October 20, 2008
AMD Phenom X4 9950BE

1. The AMD Phenom X4 Quad-Core Processors

AMD recently dropped the price of the Phenom series dramatically. You can now buy an AMD Phenom Quad Core for less than what you need for an Intel C2Q processor. What we need to find out later on in this review is whether an AMD Phenom Quad core processor performs in various applications and 3D graphic games.

AMD Phenom processors represent the next generation of AMD’s multi-core Direct Connect Architecture with AMD64 technology enabling greater memory throughput, lower latency and faster connections to system resources including graphics processors and accelerators.

Featuring what AMD calls "true quad-core technology", AMD Phenom are designed for performance and energy efficiency.

The latest versions of the AMD Phenom X4 series 9x50 are free from the "famous" TLB bug so you don't have to worry about this anymore. The X4 9x50 series include several models such as 9550, 9650, 9750, 9850 and 9950 Black Edition. A comparison table follows as found over AMD's web site:

AMD Phenom™ X4 Quad-Core Processor
Model Number


Total L2 Cache

L3 Cache
Packaging Thermal Design Power CMOS Technology
socket AM2+
65nm SOI
2.5 GHz
socket AM2+
65nm SOI
2.4 GHz
socket AM2+
65nm SOI
2.3 GHz
socket AM2+
65nm SOI
2.2 GHz
socket AM2+
65nm SOI
2.0 GHz
socket AM2+
65nm SOI
1.8 GHz
socket AM2+
65nm SOI

We see that the majority of the of 9x50 series have the same amount of L2/L3 cache, while their frequency varies. Also notice that the power requirements (TDP) of the 9950 are different so you make sure your motherboard is designed for 140Watt before buying the CPU. The HT 3.0 but speed is at 2.0GHz, while the stock voltage is set at 1.30V. Hopefully later this year, AMD will move to the 45nm manufacturing process and it will offer increased frequencies overall overclocking capabilities.

In this review we will have a look at the AMD Phenom X4 9950 that features 2MB of L2 cache or 512KB per core. The available L3 cache is also 2MB and as it is works as a buffer between the four cores, it should help the performance.

The AMD Phenom X4 9950 also comes with the "BE" letters, which represent the "Black Edition" naming. This means that the CPU multiplier is unlocked and as such, it can be overclocked without much hassle and extra knowledge.

- Compatibility

While the Phenom X4 processors should be paired with AM2+ motherboards, it is possible that even the earlier AM2 motherboards could support them with a BIOS update. However we are not very sure that the X4 9950 BE can be installed on an AM2 motherboard since it it requires 140Watt design. In fact, using an AM2+ motherboard should give you the highest possible speeds, effectively boosted by the use of the faster DDR2-1067MHz and not the previous clocking of 800MHz.

- Specifications

AMD64 Technology
Simultaneous 32- & 64-bit computing
L1 Cache (Instruction + Data) per core
128KB (64KB + 64KB)
L2 Cache (512KB per core)
2MB or 1.5MB
L3 Cache
HyperTransport™ Technology
HyperTransport™ technology up to 4000MT/s full duplex, or up to 16.0GB/s I/O Bandwidth
Integrated DDR2 Memory Controller
Memory Controller Width
Type of Memory Supported
PC2-8500(DDR2-1066) PC2 6400(DDR2-800), PC2 5300(DDR2-667), PC2 4200(DDR2-533), and PC2 3200(DDR2-400) unbuffered memory
Memory Bandwidth
up to 17.1 GB/s dual channel memory bandwidth
Total Processor-to-system Bandwidth (HyperTransport plus memory bandwidth)
up to 33.1 GB/s
Process Technology
65 nanometer, SOI (silicon-on-insulator) Technology
socket AM2+ (940-pin) organic micro PGA
Thermal Design Power
140W, 125W, 95W, 65W
Die Size
65nm: 285mm2
Number of Transistors
65nm: ~450 million
Manufacturing Sites
Fab 36 in Dresden , Germany

2. Retail package, installation

The AMD Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition retails for €149.

The black box comes with the "AMD Phenom X4" logo and includes the basic product information and logos.

Inside the box there is the CPU and AMD's CPU cooler.

The cooler is made by Foxconn as you can see in the picture below:

- Installation

It is obvious that although installing a processor is a typical procedure, you should always pay the appropriate attention and be gentle.

After connecting all the necessary power cables, you can power up your system.

The CPU multiplier is unlocked and this should give us many overclocking options. CPU-Z provides more information as you can see in the screenshots below. By default the core voltage is set at 1.280V:

For our tests we used a Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H motherboard and the 2GB OCZ PC2-8500 SLI certified DDR2 memory modules.

3. Test configuration

We tested the AMD Phenom X4 9950 on a Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H motherboard with the latest available BIOS (F2A) installed and of course DDR2 memory. In the performance graphs we have included the results of some Intel processors, which were also tested under the same components, except the memory. But for real life this should be a direct comparison between AMD vs Intel CPU proposals.

We also used the following benchmark software under both Windows XP and Vista platforms:

- Office/Benchmarks (WinXP)

- Gaming/Benchmarks (VISTA 32bit)

4. Benchmarks - Everest Ultimate Edition, SiSoftware Sandra

Click for official website!EVEREST Ultimate Edition is a system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the EVEREST Technology.

During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems. Furthermore, complete software, operating system and security information makes EVEREST Ultimate Edition a comprehensive system diagnostics tool. The software also includes several tests for memory and CPU/FPU.

Although the memory performance was always a strong point for AMD processors, this time we had mixed results. The memory copy performance was very good with 8.6MB/sec, but both memory read/write results were lower than the other Intel processors.

At the CPU tests, the Phenom X4 9950BE performed well getting the first place in several tests:

The FPU tests showed that AMD has learned from the past and now it is catching up with the Intel processors.

Summing all above results we can say that the Phenom X4 9950BE performed pretty well, but the Intel Q9300 was faster. Let's proceed to Sisof Sandra benchmarking software.


SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. It should provide most of the information you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software. It works along the lines of other Windows utilities, however it tries to go beyond them and show you more of what's really going on. You can get information about the CPU, chipset, video adapter, ports, printers, sound card, memory, network, Windows internals, AGP, PCI, PCIe, ODBC Connections, USB2, 1394/Firewire, etc. Sisoft Sandra offers a variety of tests for Memory and CPU.

The Sisoft Sandra CPU/FPU/Memory tests gave different results than the Everest Ultimate Edition. In the majority of the CPU tests, we had much lower numbers, except the memory tests. While the AMD Phenom X4 9950 performed well in cpu tests, the Multimedia scores were very low.

5. Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage, SYSmark 2007 Preview

Click for homepage!PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. The software is suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and hi-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware.

Looking at the individual scores, we see that the AMD Phenom X4 9950BE scores were pretty much close to those reported for the Intel Q9300.

BAPCo's SYSmark 2007 Preview builds upon its predecessors and is the next generation of benchmark utilities that utilize real life applications like: Adobe After Effects 7, Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, AutoDesk 3ds Max 8, Macromedia Flash 8, Microsoft Excel 2003, Microsoft Outlook 2003, Microsoft PowerPoint 2003, Microsoft Word 2003, Microsoft Project 2003, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9 series, Sony Vegas 7, SketchUp 5 and WinZip 10.0.

SYSmark 2007 Preview is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of Video creation, E-learning, 3D Modeling and Office Productivity.

The SysMark 2007 Preview benchmark was generally not very AMD-friendly, since the processor didn't have the performance we expected. The AMD CPU was competitive in the 3D and Video Creation benchmarks, but it was less efficient in the rest. The lower scores had an effect in the overall rating of 127 points versus the 169 and the 139 points of the Intel E8600 and Q300, respectively.


6. Benchmarks - MAXON CINEBENCH, x264 HD Benchmark, TMPGEnc 4 Xpress

MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation.

MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such and Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more. The software runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based). The resulting values among different operating systems are 100% comparable.

Since the CineBench R10 benchmark utilizes all the cores of the tested CPUs, it is obvious that the multi-core processors of this test have an advantage here.

The AMD 9950BE performed equaly with the Intel Q300 in the single-core test, but it was slower when all four cores were used.

- x264 HD Benchmark

x264 Benchmark utilizes the next generation of Video Encoding benchmarks with support for x264 codec that is considered to be one of the most demanding for Video applications. Simply put, it is a reproducible measure of fast your machine can encode a short, HD video clip to a high quality x264 video file. It's nice because everyone running it will use the identical video clip and software. The video encoder (x264.exe) reports a fairly accurate internal benchmark (frames per second) for each pass of the video encode and it also uses multi-core processors very efficiently. All these factors make this an ideal benchmark to compare different processors and systems to each other.

The benchmark procedure is very simple. You should ran a batch file that encodes the same file four times. The sotware provides the results for both the single pass and the second pass of encoding. The average performance for each processor is available in the graph below:

During the test, the x264 HD benchmark uses the 100% of the resources of each CPU.

The AMD Phenom X4 9950BE was very fast with 58.13FPS and it encoded 4FPS more than the Intel Q9300.

- TMPGEnc 4 Xpress

TMPGEnc converts *.AVI files to MPEG1, the format which is used in VideoCDs. The application takes advantage of all the CPU resources and actually the encoding time automatically gets faster as CPU speed gets faster.

For our test we encoded a 350MB AVI file with the Xvid (Mpeg4 ASP) codec using the the built- in Mpeg4 ASP/AVC MediaEncoder profile. The average FPS encoding speed for each processor are available below:

At the ASP encoding test the AMD Phenom X4 was as fast as the Intel E6750, while at the AVC encoding mode, it was six (6) FPS slower.

7. Benchmarks - SuperPI, wPrime

SuperPI calculates the pi number. The software was written by D.Takahashi and it was used for the successful the calculation of the pi up to 4,294,960,000 decimal digits in the university of Tokyo in 2005. This record-breaking program was also ported to personal computer environment such as Windows and it has become an utility to benchmark modern systems.

The software offers up to 32M calculations of PI numbers. For all our CPUs we tested up to 8M calculations:

We expected the AMD Phenom X4 9950BE to perform much better than the numbers we witnessed.

- wPrime

wPrime is a benchmarking application designed to use a highly multithreaded approach to calculating the square-roots of large amounts of numbers (up to 32 billion at this stage!)

wPrime uses all four cores of quad processors, therefore it can finish the task much faster than an Intel C2D.

The AMD Phenom X4 9950BE had the lowest calculation time, even better than the Intel Q9300.

8. Benchmarks - 3DMark 06, Crysis v1.2, Unreal Tournament 3 Demo

Click for homepage!3DMark 06 is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking. The software uses advanced real-time 3D game workloads to measure PC performance using a suite of DirectX 9 3D graphics tests, CPU tests, and 3D feature tests. 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests.

The AMD Phenom X4 9950BE performed well in the CPU test, while it took the second place on the overall 3DMark 06 score.

Getting to actual games we will find out if the above results are confirmed. The Crysis game title running at 1024x768 will give us an overall overview of the processor's power:

The AMD Phenom X4 9950BE didn't perform as we expected and gave an average of 11.46 FPS. Although the AMD's solution gave a higher FPS in specific parts of the game (19FPS), it seems that it was slower at the most part of the game play. The intel processors were somewhat faster.

The Unreal Tournament 3 Demo could give us another idea of the CPUs' gaming performance. Again the AMD Phenom X4 9950BE didn't manage to get the first place, although the differences with the intel processors are not important.

9. Overclocking

After seeing so many benchmarks and numbers, we proceed to interesting overclocking tests. The AMD Phenom Black Edition series promise extreme overclocking with not much hassle, provided you have the proper motherboard.

Partially that's true. The unlocked CPU multiplier allows you to increase the processor speed without making any special adjustments to other components.

AMD offers a free overclocking/tweaking utility for Windows users called "AMD Overdrive". The latest version allows you to adjust the settings of the motherboard, memory and CPU.

(Click To Enlarge)

Since the CPU multiplier can be adjusted, we managed to get 200 x15.5 = 3.10GHz. However, you will need to increase the Vcore voltage in order to get a stable system. In our case we pumped it at ~1.47V, which produces enough heat (~55 degrees Celsius) to be handled from the stock fan. You should probably need to get a bigger cooling solution like the Scythe Mugen (with two 120mm fans).

Enabling the Advanced Clock Calibration also helps you get higher clocks and stability. We had to manually adjust the Vcore since the Gigabyte motherboard didn't offer that option under Windows. No further manual adjustments were needed to get the system stable.

Compared with the Intel processors, the AMD's overclocking margin was somewhat lower (+500MHz) than the Intel Q9300's. An overclocked Intel CPU can reach the 900MHz+, which actually has a positive impact on the performance.

10. Final words

After spending several days testing the AMD Phenom X4 9950BE, I still haven't decided whether this processor is good for me. In most benchmarks we had a mixed feeling, with good memory performance but lower numbers in most cases. In applications that utilized all four available cores, the performance was somewhat close to what the the Intel Q9300 provides, as it was expected.

Pricewise, the Phenom X4 9950BE would cost you around €149 that makes it an attractive purchase if you ask me. But still,for that same amount of money you can buy an Intel E8500 that really smokes the benchmarks and can overclocked very high.

So again it comes to if you are using applications that are designed and optimized for multi-core processors. If you are addicted to gaming or office use, then perhaps a much lower priced AMD Phenom triple core could be more interesting. In our eyes, the AMD Phenom X4 9950 is a good solution when paired with an AMD 790GX motherboard. However there are questions when it comes to both overclocking margins and raw performance when compared with what Intel offerings at the same price range.

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