AMD's pushing up the clock speeds with its new Phenom II CPUs, and the X4 965 Black Edition is the latest effort to fight back at Intel's Core 2 and Core i7 ranges. With a stock speed of 3.4GHz, this is the highest frequency CPU AMD has ever made, and it's needed to revise its manufacturing process in order to hit this high speed.
It's a good job that AMD has done a bit more than just release a clock-bump of a CPU too, as otherwise we'd have very little to write about. We'd probably have to resort to ridiculing AMD's three key highlights of the 965 BE which are: 1) It's clocked at 3.4GHz, 2) It 'helps customers pay less for more' (an odd claim given that the 965 BE is £20 more expensive than any other desktop CPU AMD is currently selling), 3) It's a $245 part (our price search in the US says otherwise).
If nothing else, AMD wants you to walk away from this review with those three 'key' points about the 965 BE fixed firmly in your head. Naturally, we'd like you to come away with a little more than that, so on with the review.
Left: AMD's Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition. Right: Gigabyte's GA-MA790FXT-UD5P motherboard
In order to push the K10 cores of the Phenom II to 3.4GHz, AMD has had to use a vid of 1.4V. That's really rather high, and explains why the 965 BE is quoted as having a TDP (Thermal Design Power) of up to 140W. Last time AMD made a 140W TDP processor, it was a big of flop, as many motherboards didn't support it. This time is different, with our Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P not even needing a BIOS update.
AMD is confident that using such a high vid is fine, however, as it's learnt a thing or two about high voltages from its TWKR project. This limited edition CPU was intended for sub-zero cooling and extreme overclocking, and could therefore handle some ludicrously high overvolts. From this, AMD has been able to revise its manufacturing process so that even everyday sub-£200 CPUs are a bit more robust.
We're a little worried that this will now be the trend with AMD - higher clock speeds achieved via higher vids, and ever hotter and more power-hungry CPUs. But then, if that's the only way you're able to squeeze more speed from your CPUs, that's the compromise you have to make. AMD claims that you should be able to push 965 BE to at least 3.95GHz on air, 4.3GHz under water and over 7GHz with LN2. AMD has also updated its OverDrive overclocking utility, added some BEMP profiles and created some new Smart Profiles.