As the day draws to a close, the never ending battle of the processing titans take a short break for us to have a little chat. It seems to be quite clear that as an architecture, Intel have really hit the nail on the head as despite a near 700MHz frequency deficit, it matches and occasionally outpaces it's AMD based competition. By the looks of it, Intel are on the right tracks thanks to their aggressive "tick-tock" product update strategy whereby in a two to three year period we see a new architecture and a midlife update. The next update will entail a die shrink to 32nm and the addition of hex-core CPU's for the LGA1366 platform, surely enough to keep AMD on their toes.
For our smaller underdog however, our final result seems to be that their flagship Phenom II X4 965 processor can just about keep up with Intel's high end line up. With only minor frequency increments, the release of hex-core CPU's at least half a year away and no new architecture any time soon, the prognosis doesn't sound too good. But is AMD's weakened presence in the ultra high end such a bad thing? Actually if you think about it, the wide majority of processors in the world that go into prebuilt machines have retail prices of under £150. So long as AMD are making money out of their processors, then surely it's not such a bad thing from a business point of view. It does remain to be a problem for the computing enthusiasts as if you want anything faster than a Phenom II X4 965, you have no choice but to buy a Core i7 940 and higher. It's not so great for the overclockers either as from our previous testing, ramping a current production Phenom II towards the region of 4.00GHz can be very tedious and often not possible. Realistically, one can expect around 3.6-3.90GHz with a Phenom II X4 and this is not likely to change drastically until we see a dieshrink or a reworked memory controller that isn't so problematic with upper end overclocks on a 64bit operating system. An Intel Core i7 machine however is not so likely to be as fussy when overclocking towards 4.00GHz and beyond, so long as you've treated it with a substantial CPU heatsink.
Out of the box performance seems to be a different kettle of fish. For a moment, just forget about processor overclocking as we're talking about performance without any further tweaking on a blank operating system install. From our testing, we find the AMD Phenom II X4 965 to perform within 10% of the Core i7 965 (often less) and at a lower price. For emphasis, please examine the graph below, outlining
Our particular choice of components includes the Core i7 920, Gigabyte EX58 UD3R and 6GB Corsair PC3-12800 DDR3 RAM. From AMD, we picked the AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition, Gigabyte 790XTD Evo Motherboard (for CrossfireX support) and either 4GB or 8GB Corsair PC3-12800 DDR3 RAM. Upon examining these figures, it became apparent that the Intel configuration was 43.6% more expensive than the 4GB configuration and 16.5% quicker than the 8GB configuration. So let's talk value for money. Is opting for a Intel Core i7 920 based system the way to go? Yes and no. Alright, so is opting for the AMD Phenom II X4 965 based system the way to go? Erm, yes and no...
Quite annoyingly, there is no straight forward answer to this as ultimately it comes down to personal needs. If you're an overclocker, then perhaps you might appreciate what the additional outlay gives you, more so if you do a lot of media/encoding based work as this is where Core i7 shines. You're also set if you're after a hexa core processor next year. What if you don't have any interest in overclocking though? AMD Phenom II it is then, thanks to it's excellent pricing, gaming performance that is very much on Core i7 levels and also the scope to upgrade to hexa core CPU's when they eventually turn up.
Returning to our initial analogy, referring the violent clashes of two opposites featuring Cyborgs that want to anihilate all humans and the Resistance who are fighting back to prevent their demise. Based on our conclusion, it would appear as though we reached a slight anticlimax where just when both sides were face to face ready to fire at will, they stopped, agreed that they both have their own merits, called a truce and walked into the sunset hand in hand. At any rate, I do apologise for the tame outcome but this is it I guess. Thankfully in a business context, there will never be a ceasefire between these two titans and so the consumer can always count on continuous product development and competitive pricing.
AMD has surely enough got it right from a value for money point of view but would it suit you? Feel free to dicuss which platform suits you best on our forums