AMD Phenom II X4 965BE Rev C3 Page: 1
Introduction
 
 
It was in December 2008 that AMD recommenced their retailiation against Intel with their 45nm Phenom II X4 Quad Core line up of processors. With similar clock for clock performance to it’s Core 2 Quad competition as well as it’s higher frequencies at the same or lower price points, the processors have proven very successful indeed. This does of course also hold true for it’s Triple and Dual core variants that shortly followed. Over the course of the year, we also saw the incorporation of a DDR3 Memory Controller and clock speed increments across the entire Phenom II line, with the current flagship standing at a rather meaty 3.40GHz.
 
In the grand scheme of things, has AMD’s 45nm progress been that great over the last year? The brand’s aggressive pricing and ramping of clock speeds have helped maintain a level of competition for pretty much all but the enthusiast. Put it this way. This year we have seen three “flagship” Quad Core processors, clocked in at 3.00GHz, 3.20GHz and 3.40GHz of which all were of the Black Edition variant with upwards unlocked CPU multipliers. We’re also going to be honest by saying that over the course of the year, Overclocking Headroom has remained as good as stagnant and would hover anywhere between 3.60 to 3.80GHz for a 24/7 overclock that will run stability tests until the cows go home. This is pretty detrimental to AMD’s (albeit small proportion) of sales to enthusiasts and overclockers as many will surely flock to the new Intel Core i5 750 and an affordable motherboard as it’s yields have allowed for comparatively effortless overclocks towards and beyond the 4.00GHz mark. Despite the Phenom II’s higher tolerances towards high voltages, it always seems as though a brick wall is struck at which point you can expect a further 100-250MHz from playing with different CPU Multi + Base HTT Frequency combinations, HT Link Voltages and NB Voltages. Shamefully so, this always occurs below 4.00GHz.
 
All may not be lost however, as we are happy to present an updated revision of the Deneb Core, dubbed C3. A new revision of a processor regardless of it being an Intel or AMD is music to all enthusiasts ears as it implements small but crucial changes to the core and generally tend to benefit greatly from the lessons learnt from the previous generation in terms of yields. Most notable examples of this was the release of Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q6600 “G0” revision processor, which saw temperature drops and as much as 200-400MHz increased overclock yields. From the AMD camp, the last revision change was the “B3” 65nm Phenom X4 processors that removed a bug in the processor’s Table Look-Aside Buffer and other minor tweaks that made overclocks of 3.00GHz and over a lot more common.
 
So what does Revision C3 bring to the flagship AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition processor? First and foremost, the processor’s TDP has been lowered from 140W to a lower 125W envelope, most likely thanks to a lower operating Voltage. Minor adjustments have also been made to it’s internal memory controller and finally, a change has been made to improve clock speed transitions from low power C1E states. The easiest way to distinguish between the two processors is by it's product code.
 
C2 (OLD) - HDZ965FBGIBOX
C3 (NEW) - HDZ965FBGMBOX
 
All in all, the improvements should indicate a clear cut potential for an improvement in overclocking headroom.
 
 
 
 


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Test Bed
 
AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition "C3" 
Gigabyte MA770T UD3P Motherboard
4GB Corsair XMS3-1333 C9 RAM
Asus Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
Samsung Spinpoint F1 320GB SATA II HDD
LG 22x SATA DVD+/-RW
OCZ StealthXStream 500W ATX 2.0 PSU
Arctic Freezer 7 Pro CPU Cooler
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64bit
 
The system had been prepared such to simulate a typical configuration that may include a Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition. This includes a set of mid to upper midrange components. No unconventional components that may skew the results have been used.
 
The Gigabyte MA770T UD3P was flashed to the latest "F4" BIOS for formal C3 Microcode CPU support. While most (if not all) motherboards that support the previous Deneb Core CPU's will boot straight out of the box, formal support is essential to ensure optimal stability and the highest overclock possible.
 
Temperatures
 
 
We were pleasantly surprised by the CPU's Temperatures. With ambients of 22*c the CPU topped at 54*c during the OCCT LinPack test which is notorious for being unnaturally hard on the CPU. The Arctic Freezer 64 Pro was not operating at full fan duty speed. It would seem as though Overclocking Headroom has the potential to be pretty good. There's only one way to find out for sure...


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Overclocking - The road to 4.00GHz
 
Our journey commences with the following variables:
 
 
HTT Base Frequency: 200MHz
CPU Multiplier: 17x
CPU Voltage: 1.4000V
Northbridge Multiplier: 10x (2000MHz)
HT Link Frequency: 2000MHz
DRAM Frequency: 1333MHz
Overall Clockspeed: 3400MHz
 
Our particular AMD Phenom II X4 965BE had defaulted to 1.400V. We were a little perplexed by this given that the processor is meant to have a TDP of 125W, which typically means a CPU voltage of 1.3500V to 1.3750V with an AMD Phenom II processor. For our own interest we "undervolted" the processor to 1.3500V and was able to run stability tests all day long. To make things a little more juicy we kept the processor at this voltage while overclocking.
 
We started by raising the CPU Mutiplier in 0.5x increments and for each clock speed increase, OCCT's CPU Test was ran for 5 minutes to detect any horrific levels of instability. The process was smooth until our system restarted after a more extensive stability testing session at 3.80GHz. A 400MHz overclock at less than stock speeds? Not too shabby. A voltage of 1.400V was required to run the OCCT Linpack test stable for the whole hour duration.
 
After a 0.0500V increase to 1.4000V, we had successfully met the 4.00GHz barrier. Sadly, it took less than 30 seconds of OCCT's Linpack test for the system to reboot.
 
 
 
After minor adjustments to the CPU Multiplier, Base HTT Frequency and CPU Voltage, we attained a maximum frequency of 3.940GHz with an effective 1.5250V applied in BIOS. All in all, a 60MHz decrement and a 0.1000V Voltage increase from 4.00GHz was commanded for a stable overclock. This may well be a new stepping but the typical Overclock Wall strikes again. The overclock however was completely stable and following an hour of OCCT Linpack, it was able to run Prime95's Blend test for a further three hours before we halted the test. This by all intents and purposes is a stable setup for the typical user however it's open to debate as to how much stability testing is truly required as it'll depend on the system's usage. If for example, the processor is working flat out running distributed computing projects such as Folding@Home then one would want to be running stability tests for a far longer period of time, but then again this doesn't constitute normal system activity.
 
Further increases in CPU Voltages would raise it's temperatures past sensible margins and so it was decided to open a window, taking ambient temperatures to a chillier 15c. After trying different combinations of CPU HTT and CPU Multi, incremented Northbridge and HT Link Voltages as well as adjusted Advanced Clock Calibration (which shouldn't even help for this processor), this particular Deneb had no more to offer. We were however also able to increase the processor's memory controller frequency from it's default 2000MHz to 2424MHz.
 
So all in all our final Overclock stands at
 
HTT Base Frequency: 202MHz
CPU Multiplier: 19.5x
CPU Voltage: 1.5250V (1.504V Effective)
Northbridge Multiplier: 12x (2424MHz)
HT Link Frequency: 2020MHz
DRAM Frequency: 1333MHz
Overall Clockspeed: 3939MHz
 
 
It remains to be seen whether the Rev C3's memory controller is less irritable when overclocking on a 32bit operating system, like the previous Rev C2 processors but it's quite possible that we could have clinched 4.00GHz stable in Windows XP or Vista 32bit. That being said, we care more for overall system stability .
 
Let's continue to the testing phase to see how speedy this processor is and how much of an impact the overclock makes.
 
 


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Synthetic Benchmarks
 
CinebenchR10
 
CinebenchR10 analyses the speed at which a processor renders a high resolution image and outputs a score accordingly. The test was carried out in singlethreaded and multithreaded mode.
 
 
Substantial performance increases were noted from the overall overclock, forcing the multithreaded rendering time under one minute. The processor's lack of Hyperthreading Technology does hurt it's performance in this particular benchmark as a Core i7 of a considerably lower frequency could match this score.
 
WinRAR
 
WinRAR's embedded Benchmark focuses on the processor's File Compression capability.
 
 
The results of the overclock did not translate to a particularly significant increase in compression rate but the results overall are very good.
 
SiSoft Sandra
 
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC.
 
CPU Arithmetic 
 
 
Again, the performance increase is notable and the scores themselves pitch the Phenom II against the lower end of Core i7 processors according to SANDRA's generic list of scores.

CPU Multimedia
 
 


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Everest Ultimate

CPU Queen
 
CPU Queen is based on branch prediction and the misprediction penalties that are involved.
 
 
Our Overclock has certainly allowed for substantial score increases indicating that these particular operations like high frequencies.
 
CPU PhotoWorxx
 
PhotoWorxx as the name may suggest tests processors by means of invoking functions that are common to Photo Manipulation including Fill, Flip, Crop, Rotate, Difference and Colour to B&W conversion.
 
 
Surprisingly the performance benefits weren't too great in this field.
 
CPU ZLib
 
This is an integer based benchmark that will test the CPU and Memory by means of the CPU ZLib compression library.
 
 
These results weren't all that surprising as once again the gains are notable.
 
PCMark Vantage
 
Futuremark's PCMark Vantage is an all round benchmark that focuses on CPU, Memory and Video performance.
 
 
 
It seems to be quite clear that PCMark quite likes the higher CPU frequency, scoring just shy of 7,000 marks.


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3DMark06
 
Futuremark's 3DMark06 is a means of testing a system's capability as a gaming machine. It has aged a little however and as such is no longer all that GPU bound with the likes of the Radeon HD 5850.
 
 
Interestingly, along with the rise in CPU score, the SM2.0 and SM3.0 score increased by a considerable margin.
 
3DMark Vantage
 
3DMark Vantage is Futuremark's flagship gaming oriented benchmark at present and is considered to be a demanding one at that.
 
 
 The overclock results in a much more well rounded set of results under the "Performance (P)" prefix, pulling the CPU score up towards the rest of the scores. This of course has a knock on effect on the overall score as well.
 
Crysis Warhead
 
Crysis Warhead is without a doubt one hard nut to crack, especially at higher resolutions and a dash of Anti Aliasing and Anisotrophic Filtering. Given it's level of GPU dependancy, we had our doubts as to how much of a difference our 540MHz overclock will make.
 
 
 
Our doubts were not unfounded as the framerates remained nigh on identical regardless of operating at Stock speeds or Overclocked.
 
Far Cry 2
 
Far Cry 2, a slightly older hit but based on a fairly demanding engine also has a fair level of GPU dependancy at least particularly so at higher resolutions. This particular game features a fabulous benchmarking tool, which loops an intensive Far Cry 2 scene and gatherers minimum, maximum and average framerates accordingly. This allows for a more accurate comparison from one test item to another. As mentioned, we have set all Quality Settings to the highest possible within the tool.
 
 
 Far Cry 2 seems to have a considerable amount to gain from the higher 3.940GHz frequency.
 
Microsoft Flight Simulator X
 
Microsoft Flight Simulator X is part of a handful of games that are heavily CPU reliant, even at resolutions such as 1920x1080. 
 
With this in mind, it comes to no surprise that the performance increases as a result of CPU overclocking are considerable to say the least.
 
Call of Duty 4
 
 Call of Duty 4 is another popular hit however even with all of the eye candy set to full and the image quality raised up high, it doesn't particularly hurt today's latest and greatest. Regardless, let's see how it fares.
 
 
 
The performance gains are there but in the grand scheme of things do not mean a lot given the high frame rates in the first place. This one goes down as somewhat negligible.


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Conclusion
 
In mid August, we reviewed the original AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition processor. Aside slight updates that have been made to the processor, it is essentially the same and it's performance at default frequencies certainly reflects this. Not a lot has changed aside it's price which has seen a steady decline from it's original £185 to a much more reasonable £145, allowing it to compete with the Core i5 750 processor for Performance/£. While the performance is naturally the same as the Rev C2 version, this is not a complaint as without a doubt the Phenom II X4 965 is a well rounded product with performance that should tick the boxes of most individuals.
 
We were impressed by the Revision C3's improved Overclocking Headroom and it's ability to have reached as high as 3.80GHz on stock voltage (1.400V) though it is a shame that our sample could not cross the 4.00GHz barrier for stable operation. From a temperature point of view, we were impressed with the processor's thermal characteristics but there is still no denying that like most other Quad Core processors, it is a warm runner and an aftermarket CPU cooler is necessary for overclocking.
 
Availability of the updated processor remains to be somewhat scarce although Scan seems to have the updated version in stock for £147. It would seem that there isn't any price premium over the outgoing version and so if you were given the choice between the Rev C2 and C3, then there really isn't anything in it. Get the C3. Our question from the previous review still stands when considering the 965BE's lower clocked predecessor (Phenom II X4 955 BE) which is still available in large quantities for just £125. Would you pay the additional £20 for 200MHz and the potential for a higher overclock? Typical AMD Phenom II X4 overclocks prior to the C3 stepping ranged from 3.60GHz to 3.90GHz, while our particular sample cut out at 3.94GHz. From our point of view, we don't believe that it's worth paying considerably more for the sake of 50MHz, 100MHz or in some cases even 200MHz in overclocking headroom. We have proven that for the gamer (with the exception of FSX), a 540MHz difference in frequency doesn't really make a notable difference in the grand scheme of things particularly at the resolutions which we ran our tests in. This of course may not hold true at resolutions such as 1280x1024 but when monitors in excess of 1440x900 have become so much more affordable, it seems a little peculiar for anyone to spend this sort of money on a Phenom II X4 965 based machine to then scrounge on a vital peripheral. On the other hand, £20 is nothing in proportion to the overall cost of a brand new gaming computer and perhaps it's a small premium to pay for the sake of raising your chances of finding a better overclocker.
 
It should be noted also that while the pricing of the existing Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition has dropped, so has the Core i5 750, which can be purchased for £135. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the Core i5 750 and Phenom II X4 965 are very comparable CPU's when they are both at their default frequencies but it's a completely different kettle of fish when it comes to overclocking. When the Core i5 750 is paired with the right CPU cooler (this is also a relatively warm processor to say the least) and a respectable P55 based motherboard, 4.00GHz is a common achievement and given that the Intel is faster in terms of "work per clock cycle", the AMD vs Intel decision remains to be a particularly easy one for the overclocker.
 
All in all, it is great to see that AMD have made incremental improvements to their processors and one can hope that as batch yields improve, we can expect to see even lower prices as time progress and 4.00GHz+ being a more common sight. Once (and assuming) the prices of the Revision C3 units match the outgoing model, it still represents excellent value for the performance that it offers and this holds particularly true thanks to cheaper motherboards resulting in lower overall ownership costs. Good work AMD.
 
The Good
 
- Directly replaces previous 965BE at the same price point
- Improved Overclocking Headroom
- Consistent performance all round
 
The Mediocre
 
- Still not enough to keep overclockers away from Core i5
 
The Bad
 
- None
 
 
 
We would like to thank AMD for supplying the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition "C3" for review. You can discuss your thoughts about this system in our forums.