AMD Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition review

Is there life in the old Phenom II X4 dog yet?

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With so many CPU models on offer from AMD and Intel, it's not always obvious where any given chip lines up. In the case of the AMD Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition, however, its main task is very clear. It must beat Intel's Core i5-760.

More accurately, it probably only needs to match the 760. The two chips both sell for around £140. However, thanks to typically lower motherboard prices, the overall platform cost is lower if you go with AMD. In that more precise context, how does the 970 stack up?

Initial impressions in multi-threaded benchmarks are good. The Phenom II X4 970's healthy 3.5GHz clockspeed and quad-core layout motors through the x264 HD video encoding test in 19.4fps, just a whisker slower than the Core i5 760's 19.7fps result.

It's a similar story in Cinebench R10. One minute and one second for the Phenom II plays 59 seconds for the Core i5. Shift the focus to gaming, however, and the 970 begins to struggle. World in Conflict is a particularly demanding game for CPUs and it duly exposes Phenom's weakness. The Core i5 is nearly 20 per cent quicker, despite a large clockspeed disadvantage.

Speaking of clockspeeds, the 970's impressive stock frequency of 3.5GHz is actually its undoing when it comes to overclocking. The Phenom II architecture generally hits the wall at 4GHz, regardless of model and the 970 is no different. The same applies to Intel's Core i5 and Core i7 chips. However, clocked at 2.8GHz, the Core i5-760 has much more headroom to play with.

We liked

AMD often has to balance value and upgradeability against raw performance when competing with Intel processors. The Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition takes those traditional AMD advantages and adds an impressive stock clockspeed of 3.5GHz. The result is competitive multi-threaded performance and no excuses.

We disliked

While high clocks and four cores will inevitably deliver plenty of parallelised punch, the Phenom II X4 970's ageing architecture is exposed by applications that rely on strong single-core performance. What's more, the 3.5GHz stock clockspeed doesn't leave much room for overclocking.

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