AMD Phenom X4 9850 (2.5GHz) review: AMD Phenom X4 9850 (2.5GHz)

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The Good Unlocked multiplier allows overclocking; required motherboard offers minor gaming benefit; slightly faster MP3 encoding than Intel.

The Bad Poor overall bang for the buck at this price; faster competing chip from Intel is also overclockable.

The Bottom Line AMD's new Phenom X4 9850 is overpriced and outclassed compared with its Intel-based quad-core competition. If PC vendors can use this chip to make cheap systems (as they did with older Phenoms), we might have nicer things to say, but as a DIY part at this price, we can't recommend AMD's latest quad-core CPU.

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6.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6

From a do-it-yourself perspective, we're mostly unimpressed with AMD's new 2.5GHz Phenom X4 9850 quad-core desktop processor. This $235 CPU comes in only $10 less than Intel's comparable quad-core chip, but with noticeably slower performance on almost every one of our tests. Even the new Phenom's unlocked multiplier, which enables overclocking, can't save it, because you can do the same thing with Intel's faster chip. As we said with the initial round of Phenom chips, if the price drops (or if system vendors are able to offer them cheaply), it might look better, but with this performance and at this price, AMD still can't wrest the quad-cord lead from Intel.

The Phenom X4 9850 is part of the batch of higher-end Phenoms that were beset by a "TLB erratum" that delayed their launch and partly explains why we've so far seen only the 2.2GHz Phenom 9500 and the 2.3GHz Phenom 9600. According to AMD, it has fixed the issue in the higher-end chips, which affected data prioritization, and that the X4 9850 is ready to go. In the spirit of a fresh start, AMD has also rereleased the older Phenoms, dubbing them the Phenom X4 9550 and the X4 9650, although neither original model was affected by the TLB bug, and the performance of the new versions is exactly the same as the originals.

The X4 9850, though, features some more technical improvements over the lower-end models, and not just a faster core clock speed. Like the Phenom 9500 and 9600--and past AMD chip designs as well--the X4 9850 has a built-in memory controller regulating the speed at which data moves between the processor and the system memory. It also relies on the HyperTransport 3.0 standard, which links the processor to the various other components in your system, such as the PCI-Express data path for graphics processing. The memory controller and the HyperTransport clock in the earlier Phenom chips came in at 1.8GHz and 3.6GHz, respectively. The Phenom X4 9850 received boosts to 2.0GHz on the memory controller and on HyperTransport to 4.0GHz.

Despite all of that technical tweaking, the X4 9850 still fares poorly on our performance tests compared with Intel's old Core 2 Quad Q6600, which currently sells for almost the exact same price as the X4 9850.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
AMD Phenom X4 9850

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
AMD Phenom X4 9850

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
AMD Phenom X4 9850

CineBench test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
AMD Phenom X4 9850
AMD Phenom 9600
AMD Phenom 9500