AMD Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition review

Can the geriatric K8 architecture muster a Rocky Balboa ending?

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Our Verdict

Phenom’s looking a lot less silly, though Core 2 remains the thinking gamer’s choice

Product features

  • Processor Core : Quad-core (4 Core)

View full specification

For

  • Sensibly priced
  • An easy upgrade for AM2 rigs

Against

  • So-so performance
  • 45nm is coming soon

We'd all feel a little better about AMD's current chips if it wasn't for the name.

You call your processor 'Phenom' and, frankly, people expect a phenomenon. When it isn't one, the sting is all the harsher. It's like finding out a guy called Steve Massive is only five foot six.

Familiar architecture

AMD's latest consumer top-end chip is no phenomenon, but it does see the green party find its feet a little again. Superficially, little has changed since we made disparaging sniffing noises at the 9700 back in January.

The 9850 is another quad-core, 65nm chip, and still a revision of the old K8 design that the aged Athlon 64 used. We'd be fools to expect greatness, especially as the world was due the Phenom 9800 and 9900s back in November, but AMD just couldn't pull it off, plumping instead for the lower-clocked 9500 and 9600.

Still, here's a 2.5GHz model at last, with that confusing '50' suffix denoting Phenom's new B3 stepping, which tidies up a few erratums in the earlier models. Most notably, say goodbye to the TLB erratum 298 in Phenom's L3 cache, which carried a minor risk of system hang-ups, but when fixed with a BIOS update meant a small performance hit.

Speedy performer

Being all too aware of what the 9700 (itself now replaced by the 9750) is capable of, it wasn't much of a surprise to find the 9850 mostly snapping at the heels of Intel's venerable but beloved Core 2 Q6600.

Unlike Intel's low-end four-player, this is natively quad-core, not a dual-die sandwich, plus it's got an extra 100MHz on the clock, though that doesn't count for much in practice. The Q6600 draws slightly ahead in most tests, and significantly in Crysis, but the 9850 can scarcely be called a disastrous performer.

Additionally, it'll overclock on air (with a spot of volt-tweaking) to 3GHz, but realistically bank on a bump of 200-300MHz.

A rival to Intel?

As online stores offer both this and the Q6600 for as low as £150, the 9850 is the fruitiest drop-in upgrade yet, if you're already toting an AM2 platform. If, however, you're building a new system, AMD simply has nothing to compete with the higher-end Core 2s.

The 45nm, socket AM3 chips (which will work in AM2 boards) due later may close the gap, but after many Phenom let-downs, it's hard to bank on that.

So, hardly a silicon superstar and AMD remains conspicuously absent from fashionable high-end parties, but smart pricing makes this the most desirable Phenom to date.

Tech Specs

Product TypeProcessor
Processor CoreQuad-core (4 Core)
Processor ManufacturerAMD
Product FamilyPhenom X4
L3 Cache2 MB
Clock Speed2.50 GHz
Processor SocketSocket AM2 PGA-940
Brand NameAMD
Green CompliantYes
Green Compliance Certificate/AuthorityRoHS
L2 Cache2 MB
ManufacturerAdvanced Micro Devices, Inc
Product Model9850
Product NamePhenom Quad-core 9850 2.50GHz Processor
Product LinePhenom X4
Manufacturer Part NumberHD985ZXAGHBOX
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.amd.com
Marketing Information

Realize new possibilities for connecting with friends, family, and digital entertainment with the phenomenal performance of the AMD Phenom 9000 series quad-core processor. Built from the ground up for true quad-core performance, AMD Phenom processors speed through advanced multitasking, critical business productivity, advanced visual design and modeling, serious gaming, and visually stunning digital media and entertainment.

Packaged Quantity1
Process Technology65 nm
Package Contents
  • Phenom Quad-core 9850 2.50GHz Processor
  • Heatsink/fan with thermal interface
  • Installation manual
  • AMD processor case sticker
  • Certificate of authenticity
Limited Warranty3 Year