AMD Phenom II 970 X4 Black Edition Processor Review

NVIDIA GeForce-Shield Gaming Bundle

While AMD does not currently have the fastest processors on the block, their offerings have always proven to be excellent value purchases over the years.  They have been much more accommodating  when it comes to upgrades, allowing backwards compatibility between their latest AM3 processors and older AM2+ motherboards.  AMD was also responsible for bringing quad-core to the masses with their Athlon II processors, which come at a sub $100 USD price point, a value unmatched by their rival Intel.  They also offer unlocked "Black Edition" processors for enthusiasts who want to squeeze out more performance from their systems via overclocking.

 

AMD's Black Edition processors have unlocked multipliers and voltages.  This means that enthusiasts who want to overclock can simply adjust those values to increase performance without touching the HT reference clock.  Just like enthusiasts, AMD felt that more performance can be gained by improving the process used to fabricate these chips.  The "c3" refresh of the Phenom II processors was the result and the Phenom II X4 970 is the latest quad-core processor from this lineup.

 

The Phenom II X4 970 comes at a default clock speed of 3.5GHz using a 17.5 multiplier.  Aside from this 100 MHz bump in performance over the X4 965, the Phenom II X4 970 has improved TDP, memory handling and power management features.  Between the price, backwards compatibility and improved performance, the Phenom II X4 970 is a quad-core powerhouse unmatched in its value.

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Technologies" class="system-pagebreak" title="Technologies" />

Technologies

Technologies

AMD Phenom II X4 "C3"

Earlier in 2010, AMD released a "C3" variant of their top of the line quad-core Phenom II X4 965 processor as part of an effort to continually improve yields. This, of course, also means advantages passed on to the consumers in the form of improved performance and better thermal design.  The TDP has been lowered from 140 watts to a cooler 125 watts.  Improvements in handling 4 DIMMS at DDR3-1333 were also made, where previously, the DDR3 speeds would drop to 1066 if all 4 DIMM slots were populated.  Another big improvement brought on by the C3 revision is the hardware implementation of C1E power saving technology.  With C1E, the CPU frequency and core voltage are lowered in idle mode.  Previously, C1E was emulated through Cool N' Quiet but resulted in performance drops whenever it was turned on.  Since it is now hardware implemented, transitioning into C1E and back is now much faster and much more efficient than in previous "C2" revisions.

AMD64 with Direct Connect Architecture

  • Helps improve system performance and efficiency by directly connecting the processors, the memory controller, and the I/O to the CPU.
  • Designed to enable simultaneous 32- and 64-bit computing
  • Integrated Memory Controller
    • Benefits: Increases application performance by dramatically reducing memory latency
    • Scales memory bandwidth and performance to match compute needs
    • HyperTransport™ Technology provides up to 16.0GB/s peak bandwidth per processor—reducing I/O bottlenecks
    • Up to 37GB/s total delivered processor-to-system bandwidth (HyperTransport bus + memory bus)

AMD Balanced Smart Cache

  • Shared L3 cache (either 6MB or 4MB)
  • 512K L2 cache per core
    • Benefit: Shortened access times to the highly accessed data for better performance.

AMD Wide Floating Point Accelerator

  • 128-bit floating point unit (FPU)
  • High performance (128bit internal data path) floating point unit per core.
    • Benefit: Larger data paths and quicker floating point calculations for better performance.

HyperTransport™ Technology

  • One 16-bit link at up to 4000MT/s
  • Up to 8.0GB/s HyperTransport™ I/O bandwidth; Up to 16GB/s in HyperTransport Generation 3.0 mode
  • Up to 37GB/s total delivered processor-to-system bandwidth (HyperTransport bus + memory bus)
    • Benefit: Quick access times to system I/O for better performance.

Integrated DRAM Controller with AMD Memory Optimizer Technology

  • A high-bandwidth, low-latency integrated memory controller
  • Supports PC2-8500 (DDR2-1066); PC2-6400 (DDR2-800), PC2-5300 (DDR2-667), PC2-4200 (DDR2-533) or PC2-3200 (DDR2-400) SDRAM unbuffered DIMMs – AM2+
  • Support for unregistered DIMMs up to PC2 8500(DDR2-1066MHz) and PC3 10600 (DDR3-1333MHz) – AM3
  • Up to 17.1GB/s memory bandwidth for DDR2 and up to 21GB/s memory bandwidth for DDR3
    • Benefit: Quick access to system memory for better performance.

AMD Virtualization™ (AMD-V™) Technology With Rapid Virtualization Indexing

  • Silicon feature-set enhancements designed to improve the performance, reliability, and securityof existing and future virtualization environments by allowing virtualized applications with direct and rapid access to their allocated memory.
    • Benefit: Helps virtualization software to run more securely and efficiently enabling a better experience when dealing with virtual systems

AMD PowerNow!™ Technology (Cool’n’Quiet™ Technology)

  • Enhanced power management features which automatically and instantaneously adjusts performance states and features based on processor performance requirements
  • For quieter operation and reduced power requirements
    • Benefit: Enables cooler and quieter platform designs by providing extremely efficient performance and energy usage.

AMD CoolCore™ Technology

  • Reduces processor energy consumption by turning off unused parts of the processor. For example, the memory controller can turn off the write logic when reading from memory, helping reduce system power.
  • Works automatically without the need for drivers or BIOS enablement.
  • Power can be switched on or off within a single clock cycle, saving energy with no impact to performance.
    • Benefit: Helps users get more efficient performance by dynamically activating or turning off parts of the processor.

Dual Dynamic Power Management™

  • Enables more granular power management capabilities to reduce processor energy consumption.
  • Separate power planes for cores and memory controller, for optimum power consumption and performance, creating more opportunities for power savings within the cores and memory controller.
    • Benefit: Helps improve platform efficiency by providing on demand memory performance while still allowing for decreased system power consumption

 

The AMD 800-Series Chipset

The new 8- Series of AMD Motherboard chipsets introduce both USB and SATA 3.0. USB 3.0 draws its power from the NEC host controller; this is a Dual Simplex link that is bi-directional and, unlike USB 2.0 which is Half Duplex (one –way), it transfers data more efficiently.

AMD Athlon II X4 640 Processor

 

Unlike SATA 3, which was first seen on Intel motherboards (Marvell chipset/3rd party), the AMD 800 Series motherboards run native SATA 3 via the 850 Southbridge chipset, which is a direct link to 6 SATA ports, alleviating the middle man. (Marvell)

AMD Athlon II X4 640 Processor

 

The 890GX chipset contains an ATI HD 4290 integrated video, which is DirectX 10.1, has a 700MHz core, 40 unified shaders and with added SidePort memory is the most powerful integrated video card produced by AMD to date. The HD 4290 is also capable of Picture in Picture Blu-Ray Playback and upscaling to 720p.

AMD Athlon II X4 640 Processor AMD Athlon II X4 640 Processor

 

Other features include Hyper-Transport 3.0 (5.2 GT/s), HDMI, VGA and DVI video outputs, two PCI-e 2.0 (1 x 16/1x8) for discrete video, support for DDR3 1333 MHz memory and onboard HD audio.

AMD Athlon II X4 640 Processor

 

 

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Review Philosophy" class="system-pagebreak" title="Review Philosophy" />

Review Philosophy

For this review we will focus on two areas:

  • Cost of building a new system using the Phenom II 970 + 890 chipset AM3 motherboard compared to a system built last year on a Phenom II 965 + 790 chipset AM3
  • Performance and Overclocking

 

First let's take a look at pricing* of the current components compared to the ones used last year on our test system:

 

Price Last Year: Current Price:
AMD PhenomTM II X4 965 BE $245.00 
AMD PhenomTM II X4 955 BE $225.00
AMD PhenomTM II X4 970 BE $185.00
ATI Radeon HD 4890 1024 GDDR5 $200.00

Sapphire HD 5830 1GB $204.99

EVGA GTX 465 1GB $204.99

AM3 Motherboard 790FX $175.00
AM3 Motherboard 790GX $120.00

BIOSTAR TA890FX $139.99

BIOSTAR TA890GXB $94.99

DDR3 Memory 1600 MHz $80.00  2x2GB Mushkin Enhanced Blackline 1600 MHz $81.99

Total Cost:
Phenom II 965+790FX build = ~$700
Phenom II 965+790GX build = ~$645

Total Cost:
Phenom II 970+890FX build = $621.97
Phenom II 970+890GX build = $570.97

*all prices are in USD and were the lowest price in NewEgg.com at the time of data collection with the exception of the Phenom II 970 

 

The price of a new build is not only cheaper, you also get faster, better components and all the latest features including SATA6, DirectX 11, etc.  As you can see, most of the component pricing remained relatively unchanged with the exception of the top of the line AMD Phenom II X4 processor, which had a $60 price drop while having a 100MHz bump and a supposedly improved overclocking and power management potential, which we will look at later on in the review.

Since the Phenom II 970 X4 is also backwards compatible with DDR2 AM2+ motherboards, you can simply install the new processor on an old AM2+ system and save money on upgrading to DDR3 and AM3, further lowering the cost of upgrades. Less money spent on the processor, memory and motherboard means you can spend it on other components that will improve performance significantly, like a high-end GPU or an SSD drive.

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Specifications" class="system-pagebreak" title="Specifications" />

Specifications

Model Number & Core Frequency

X4 970 / 3.5GHz

Tray OPNs

HDZ970FBK4DGM

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 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 (DDR2-1066MHz) -AND- PC3-10600 (DDR3-1333MHz)

HyperTransport 3.0 Specification

One 16-bit/16-bit link @ up to 4.0GHz full duplex (2.0GHz x2)

Total Processor-to-System Bandwidth

Up to 37.3GB/s total bandwidth [Up to 21.3 GB/s memory bandwidth (DDR3-1333) + 16.0GB/s (HT3)]

Up to 33.1GB/s total bandwidth [Up to 17.1 GB/s memory bandwidth (DDR2-1066) + 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 (formerly AMD Fab 36)

Process Technology

45-nanometer DSL SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology

Approximate Die Size

258 mm2

Approximate Transistor count

~758 million

Max TDP

125 Watts

AMD Codename

"Deneb"

 

*Note: configurable for dual 64-bit channels for simultaneous read/writes

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Testing Methods" class="system-pagebreak" title="Testing Methods" />

Testing Methods

Benchmarking

To test all systems, processors, and motherboards, Hi Tech Legion has compiled a list of popular programs to test performance; these benchmarks are taken from programs that are available to the public. We have compiled these to create the Hi Tech Legion Benchmark Suite, which includes system, graphics, processor, rendering, compression, and word processing. All scores will be graphed for each specific test under its category: video benchmarks (gaming will be rated in FPS: Frames per second), system scores will be graded by numbers which are given as results by their respective programs, higher will be better unless otherwise specified. If file compression is chosen, then all times will be in seconds. All temperatures will be measured in Celsius and the room temperature kept at a constant 23 degrees.

 

Test System

  • Processor: AMD Phenom II 970 X4 BE
  • Motherboard: BIOSTAR TA890GXBHD
  • Memory: 2x2 GB Patriot Viper II 1600 MHz DDR3
  • Video Card(s): EVGA GeForce GTX 465
  • Power Supply: InWin Commander 750w 80plus
  • Hard Drive: Seagate 500GB 7200.12
  • Thermal Paste: Noctua NT-H1
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master V6GT
  • Case: NZXT Hades
  • Media: Samsung SH203-N
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate

 

We will also compare how it does with last year's "Dragon" platform from our previous AMD Phenom II X4 965 Review:

Systems

Test System

  • Processor: AMD Phenom II 965 X4 BE 
  • Motherboard: ASUS M4A79T Deluxe
  • Memory: 2x2 Corsair XMS DDR3 1600 MHz
  • Video Card(s): Diamond ATI Radeon HD 4890
  • Power Supply: Thermaltake Realpower 750W 80plus
  • Hard Drive: Maxtor Diamond Max 10 SATA 1.5 100GB
  • Thermal Paste: Noctua NT-H1
  • Media:  Asus DVD-RW Drive
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate

 

Benchmarks

System Benchmarks

  • World Bench
  • PCMark Vantage
  • SiSandra (CPU)
  • Everest (Cache and Memory)
  • Cinebench 10 and R11 (CPU Rendering)

 

Gaming Benchmarks

  • 3DMark Vantage
  • Battle Forge
  • Resident Evil 5
  • World in Conflict

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Benchmarks (World Bench)" class="system-pagebreak" title="Benchmarks (World Bench)" />

Benchmarks (World Bench)

World Bench is a system benchmark that tests the rendering, DirectX, video encoding, file compression, data entry, and overall performance of your system. World Bench 6 Beta (stable) gives a base score of 100 for a baseline comparison when different systems are chosen. For our tests, these scores will not be valid; all benchmarks are run individually and will reflect times in seconds as given by the program. If you would like more information here is a link. World Bench 6

 

        

         

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Benchmarks (PC Mark Vantage)" class="system-pagebreak" title="Benchmarks (PC Mark Vantage)" />

Benchmarks (PC Mark Vantage)

Designed for Windows Vista, PCMark Vantage benchmarks your system with a variety of tests including video, photo editing, gaming, and communications. For results, a total PCMark score will be given (default setting) and individual scores for the tasks that are tested. To learn more about PCMark Vantage visit Futuremarks website.

 

        

        

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Benchmarks (SiSandra)" class="system-pagebreak" title="Benchmarks (SiSandra)" />

Benchmarks (SiSandra)

One of our favorites, Sandra from SiSoftware is a system benchmark that individually tests all components of your system. For our benchmarking purpose, we will use the processor section, which includes Processor Arithmetic, Multicore Efficiency, and Multimedia. All scores will be listed as given by benchmark, higher will be better unless otherwise stated. SiSandra

        

        

        

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Benchmarks (Everest)" class="system-pagebreak" title="Benchmarks (Everest)" />

Benchmarks (Everest)

Everest is a diagnostic and benchmarking tool. Everest will be used for its Cache and Memory benchmark. System memory, L1 cache, and L2 cache will be benchmarked for latency, read, write, and copy. Lavalys is the producer of this software.

        

        

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Benchmarks (Cinebench R10 and R11)" class="system-pagebreak" title="Benchmarks (Cinebench R10 and R11)" />

Benchmarks (Cinebench R10 and R11)

 

Created by Maxon, Cinebench R10 and R11 tests rendering of your CPU and GPU and scores their performance individually. We will be using the CPU rendering portion of the program and benchmark single CPU and multiple CPU performance.

 

        

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Benchmarks (3D Mark)" class="system-pagebreak" title="Benchmarks (3D Mark)" />

Benchmarks (3D Mark)

3DMark Vantage is a gaming benchmark used to test the DirectX performance of your graphics card. There are four tests plus a custom setting that can be run: Entry (1024x768), Performance (1280x1024), which is the default setting, High (1680x1050), and Extreme (1920x1200). In each resolution, a total score, a CPU, and GPU are generated. Futuremark

The settings that we will be using are Entry, Performance, and High.

 

         

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Gaming Benchmark (Battle Forge)" class="system-pagebreak" title="Gaming Benchmark (Battle Forge)" />

Gaming Benchmark (Battle Forge)

Battle Forge is an MMORPG that is free to play with its download. You choose from mythical characters and battle until your opponents are conquered. Battle Forge is the first game to support Direct X 11.

 

Settings

  • AA: x4
  • Default High
  • MTS Rendering: AUTO-DETECT

 

 

Comparison

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Gaming Benchmark (World in Conflict)" class="system-pagebreak" title="Gaming Benchmark (World in Conflict)" />

Gaming Benchmark (World in Conflict)

Do you have what it takes to conquer your opponent? World in Conflict is a DX10 game where, if you don't defeat your opponent, you don't gain. This is an all out, winner-take-all, modern war scenario.

 

Settings

  • Default High
  • AF: 16x

 

 

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Gaming Benchmark (Resident Evil 5)" class="system-pagebreak" title="Gaming Benchmark (Resident Evil 5)" />

Gaming Benchmark (Resident Evil 5)

The fifth installation of the Resident Evil Series, which is a first person shooter. You are a member of the World Bioterrorism Team and are sent out to stop a new infestation of the virus created by the Umbrella Corporation.

 

Settings

  • AA: x8
  • Levels: High

 

Comparison

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Overclocking" class="system-pagebreak" title="Overclocking" />

Overclocking

Since the Phenom II 970 is a "Black Edition" AMD Processor, the multiplier and voltages are unlocked. Overclocking these Black Edition processors simply requires adjusting the multiplier in the BIOS or through AMD's Overdrive Overclocking software.  The default clock speed of the Phenom II 970 is 3.5GHz, resulting from a 200MHz bus speed and a 17.5 multiplier, to reach 4.1GHz, the multiplier was changed to 20.5 and given a core voltage bump of 1.425.  In the BIOS, power saving features were disabled to help with stability but all other voltages except for  core CPU voltage and DRAM voltage (as specified by the memory manufacturer in order to run at the rated 1600MHz speed) remained on their default voltages.

Often times, even if an overclocked system passes stability tests, weaknesses can be revealed by running it through a gauntlet of benchmarks.  For example, at 1.425v core voltage, the system survived all other benchmarks and stress tests and only failed in World Bench's 3DS MAX Rendering test.  Although it did not BSOD or freeze, the program failed to render one test.  The Phenom II 970 could definitely take more, so it was bumped to 1.475v and all benchmarks and stress tests were re-run to make sure the system is 100% stable for 24/7 use and those results are used in this review.

 

Even at 4.1GHz and 1.475v core voltage, the temperatures remained well below the thermal threshold specified by AMD at 65 degrees Celsius, clocking in at 50C load and 32.8C at idle during the OCCT test.  The overclocked temperature is only 7 degrees hotter than the default 3.5GHz's 43C.

 

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Putting It All Together" class="system-pagebreak" title="Putting It All Together" />

Putting It All Together

Installation was swift and required no BIOS updates for the motherboard to recognize the processor.  The only hiccup during the course of the review was with the Biostar motherboard used in the test setup, which had problems with some SATA ports failing mid-review and had to be replaced.  Once everything was set, it was smooth sailing from there on out, including overclocking.  While the Biostar TA890GXB HD used in the review was the cheapest 890GX motherboard available, overclocking was not a problem, thanks to the unlocked voltage and multiplier of the Black Edition Phenom II 970.

The Phenom II 970 outperformed the Phenom II 965 as expected.  There are tests where the 970 had a huge margin over the 965, namely in the Nero World Bench test, which can be attributed to the faster SATA3 drive used in this review compared to the SATA 1.5 drive used in last year's Phenom II X4 965 AMD Dragon Platform review.

 

As mentioned in the Overclocking section, since these are Black Edition processors, simply adjusting the multiplier (and voltages if need be) resulted in an overclock of over 4GHz.  Also, since these chips were made on an improved process, they overclock a lot easier than previous non-C3 processors, like the previously reviewed Phenom II X4 965 processor, which only overclocked up to 3.8GHz from 3.4GHz, compared to the Phenom II X4 970's 4.1GHz from 3.5GHz, and only required a little bit more CPU core voltage bump. The temperatures were also admirable, staying well below the thermal threshold and only jumped 7 degrees higher than the stock 3.5GHz. Initially, the small Noctua U9B-SE2 heatsink was going to be used for this review to complement the microATX Biostar motherboard, however the AM3 backplate that came with the motherboard proved to be incompatible and I was forced to use the only other AM3 compatible heatsink I have on hand. While the Cooler Master V6GT heatsink used in this review is rated up to 200w, smaller and cheaper heatsinks should also provide sufficient cooling when overclocking.  Unlike Intel systems, AMD processors do not reach those levels of heat (maxing out at 65C compared to Intel's 105C on the 1366 processors) and the heatsinks never become hot to the touch.

The 4.1GHz overclock provided massive gains, providing 10.6GIPS and 6.95GFLOPS more than the stock 3.5GHz in SiSoft Sandra Processor Arithmetic Benchmark.  Using real world benchmarks, 47 seconds was shaved off in the Nero testing, 23 seconds in MS Office and a staggering 72 seconds less in Photoshop.  Keep in mind, these are massive gains from a simple multiplier overclock with very little thermal penalty.  As if these numbers aren't incentive enough to overclock**, the ease of doing so should nudge those users who are reluctant, or inexperienced users, to try it out.  AMD provides an easy to use and free software called AMD Overdrive that allows for desktop overclocking without going through your motherboard's BIOS.

**note: Overclocking voids your warranty.  

 

<hrdata-mce-alt="Conclusion" class="system-pagebreak" title="Conclusion" />

Conclusion

Provided By: AMD

No compensation was received for review of this product.

Price Point

Price: $185 USD

Class: Mainstream

At a price point of $185, the AMD Phenom II X4 970 falls into the mainstream category for CPU processors.

Performance

Not only did the AMD Phenom II X4 970 performed as well as could be expected, it also overclocked quite handily and delivered impressive performance increase with negligible thermal penalty.

Reviewer's Opinion

While the Phenom II X4 970 replaces the Phenom II X4 965 as the best quad-core processor from AMD, the Phenom II 965 will not be discontinued and will remain available at a lower price.  For several months now, rumors of the upcoming Phenom II X4 970 being an unlockable Thuban hex-core have circled the internet and unfortunately this isn't the case. The Phenom II X4 970 is still definitely a Deneb processor, like the Phenom II X4 965 and 955.

Usually "more of the same" is bad news but if same means processors with the "best price-performance ratio bar-none" then it is in fact the opposite.  Although, looking at it even closer, it is definitely not even the exact same chip as it was last year. With AMD's process improvements, the latest Phenom II X4 chips are now leaner, cooler and, believe it or not, a lot cheaper than their former selves.  Add on top of that the value you saved if you are simply upgrading the processor and keeping your old AM2+ and DDR2 memory, then you have extra money to splurge on other components that will further improve your computing experience.

Granted, these processors will not beat Intel's current offerings in benchmarks, but if you factor in the price and value of savings in other components, it is unmatched.  Even with recent price drops, Intel doesn't offer any direct rival to the Phenom II 970 and the closest comparison in price would be the Core i5 650 (dual core), but doesn't perform as well as the older Deneb and is not backwards compatible with older Intel motherboards.

 

Pros:

  • Improved overclockability compared to previous Phenom II X4 processors.
  • Improved power management.
  • Backwards compatible with AM2+ boards (DDR2).
  • Increased performance at a lower price.

 

    Cons:

    • None

     

    editors_choice

     

     

     

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