Can AMD remain competitive if its latest high-end processor isn't much faster than a year-old Intel CPU? AMD's new CPU may well boast impressive technology, but it turns in disappointing performance.

AMD's Phenom processors and Spider platform for desktop systems incorporate some impressive steps forward for the chip maker. The chips, which are made using a 65-nanometer (nm) manufacturing process, feature both a native quad-core design and enhanced power-management technology. But when we ran a Phenom- and Spider-based computer through our lab, the results revealed that AMD still has a lot of work to do.

Problems already?

AMD sent unlocked versions of its 2.6GHz Phenom 9900 chip to reviewers, but that model likely won't be available on the market until well into the first quarter of 2008, at an expected cost below £200. Until then, the fastest Phenom chips that you'll be able to find are the 2.2GHz Phenom 9500 and the 2.3GHz Phenom 9600.

A sub-£150 2.4GHz 9700 chip is scheduled to ship in the first quarter as well, and an unlocked, overclockable Black Edition 2.3GHz Phenom should be available by the time you read this.

Although both the 9500 and the 9600 appear to be widely available now, AMD recently owned up to a bug in the first generation of its Phenom and Barcelona chips that can cause systems to lock up when running certain rare software workloads at clock speeds greater than 2.4GHz.

A BIOS upgrade is available as a workaround, but according to enthusiast website The Tech Report, the workaround slows performance by up to 10 percent. The faster Phenom processors that the company is preparing for release in the first quarter of 2008 should have this error corrected.

Discouraging results

Now that we have a Phenom CPU in our labs, we can make better comparisons with test systems built around Intel-based processors (see the download chart Penryn vs Phenom, below). Our Phenom test setup used the same supporting components - an nVidia GeForce 8800GTS-based graphics board with 320MB of RAM, two Western Digital WD2500AAJS hard drives in a striped RAID array, and 2GB of DDR2-800 RAM - as our earlier Penryn tests did. We tested our unlocked Phenom at both 2.6 GHz and 2.3 GHz on an Asus M3A32-MVP Deluxe motherboard with an AMD 790FX chipset.

icon Phenom vs Penryn

When running the Phenom 9900 at 2.6GHz, our test system posted a score of 107 on WorldBench 6 Beta 2, not all that faster than the average mark of 96 turned in by the systems we've seen based on the last-generation Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 CPU. The E6600, an older chip, is of course much cheaper than the 9900.

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