AMD has been firmly on the back foot since Intel released its Core microarchitecture in 2006. The venerable AMD64 architecture may have ruled the roost in its day, but AMD has yet to come up with a winning answer to any of Intel’s recent top-end CPUs.
Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture has only compounded AMD’s position too. Not only is Intel winning the overall and clock-for-clock performance ratings, but the Core i5-2500K is also one of the most power-efficient CPUs we’ve seen. The competition isn’t likely to become any easier for AMD either, as Intel’s Ivy Bridge CPUs, with their Tri-Gate 3D transistors, look set to extend these performance improvements further in 2012.
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Thankfully, AMD's Llano architecture has shown that AMD's new CPU technology can compete with Intel's designs when it comes to building a cheap, power-efficient gaming machine or HTPC. However, until AMD releases its Bulldozer architecture later this year, the company's Phenom II chips are all AMD has at the top end of the scale, the latest of which is the Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition.
With a frequency of 3.7GHz, this is AMD’s fastest quad-core CPU to date and, more importantly, it will be the last CPU to wear the Phenom badge. The 980 BE is also compatible with Socket AM2+ and AM3 motherboards, and features 6MB of shared Level 3 cache, plus 512KB of Level 2 cache per core – 2MB in total.
However, the chip also has a surprisingly low price. Retailing for around £140, the chip costs less than the original price of Intel’s Core i5-2500K and AMD’s 6-core Phenom, the 1100T BE when they were released.
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Despite being made using a 45nm manufacturing process, the 980 BE’s TDP is a mere 125W according to AMD. This isn’t bad for a top-end quad-core chip, but it's still 30W more than the 95W TDP of Intel’s 32nm i5-2500K. One of the most interesting features, though, is the 980 BE’s unlocked multiplier, as AMD’s recent CPUs have shown a lot of promise when it comes to overclocking.