"Here Be Dragons" - AMD Phenom II

Rise of the Dragon

Rise of the Dragon

Here's a pop quiz for everyone: "What comes after Spider?"

The answer from AMD: Dragon. Nope, this is not our idea of an alternate zodiac but rather, it is part of AMD's branding for its successor to the original Phenom processor and the companion Spider platform. Yes, the next version of the Phenom, dubbed the Phenom II (naturally) is at the heart of the new Dragon platform, which also counts AMD's latest 790GX chipset and a Radeon HD 4800 series GPU.

Taking the individual components separately (which we had reviewed last year, check the related links below), the new Dragon platform is an upgrade over the 790FX and Radeon HD 3800 series GPU that formed the basis of the Spider platform. As for the processor in the spotlight today, it had better be a significant improvement. Given the woes that have plagued the company for most of 2008, the new year has not gotten any better, with AMD announcing another round of job cuts along with a recent goodwill impairment charge related to its ATI acquisition (basically an admission that AMD overpaid for ATI). To start the new year with another disappointing CPU launch would be nothing short of disastrous.

The usual 'cleaned-up' die shot of the Phenom II.

Therefore, there's much riding on the new Phenom II, which is codenamed Deneb but it is essentially similar to what we have seen late last year in the refresh of AMD's server-based Opteron lineup. The Phenom II is simply the consumer version, with the main highlight once again being the move to a 45nm manufacturing process. It's a die shrink that should bring about the usual benefits of such a move, from lower production cost to lower heat output and subsequently, energy savings. Hopefully, it would make AMD processors more competitive against rival Intel, who has already made a similar transition more than a year ago.

This die shrink has enabled AMD to squeeze even more transistors (758 million compared to 450 million) onto the new Phenom II, which also has a slightly smaller die size than the first Phenom. More importantly, the die shrink allows the new CPU to break through the issues of clock scaling on the original Phenom. To illustrate this, AMD gave a demonstration of its overclocking ability, with overclocked Phenom II systems using liquid nitrogen cooling easily hitting more than 5GHz. There's even a YouTube video of the Phenom II at more than 6.0GHz. For hardcore overclockers, knowing that AMD has solved the cold bug that prevented going to sub-zero temperatures on the Phenom is promising.

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