A New CPU Value Champion
Of course, talking about hardware specs is all well and good, but ultimately the big question is how these processors perform in the real world. In the past, Phenom processors, even at the cutting edge of AMD's offerings, have only been somewhat competitive. In fact, the slowest Phenom processors often seemed less interesting then the fastest Athlon X2 dual-cores, particularly if you were interested in playing PC games. The X3 lineup was also notorious for providing very few interesting choices, as the original X3 Phenoms were often so slow that the addition of the third core offered no performance increase over comparable dual core processors, even in applications known for making good use of additional cores.
My, how things can change. The Phenom II's better clock-for-clock performance against Intel's Core 2 processors translates well into AMD's relatively inexpensive AM3 products. AMD has wisely positioned these new products to be good values for enthusiasts, and as a result they are capable of making a good case for themselves against anything Intel offers in a similar price range. The biggest winner is the AMD X3 720, which can be had for less than $150 dollars. AMD obviously wants this processor to tackle Intel's E8400 Core 2 Duo, a processor that has been a top enthusiast price/performance champion since its debut, and they seem to have succeeded in dislodged that old favorite.
The X3 720 performs slightly worse than the 8400 in most PC games, but it also performs much better at tasks like encoding video or running 3D rendering software. Plus, it has an unlocked multiplier, which makes it absurdly easy to overclock for free performance gains - all you need to do is open the BIOS and change the multiplier to a higher number. When you add the fact that the AM3 socket is one with a bright future, and the LGA775 socket used by the Core 2 processors is being replaced, the choice for a new system builders is obvious. The X3 720 is a much better choice than anything else in its price range.
For the average user, the Phenom II X4 805, 810, and 910 are less exciting. In fact, the 805 and 910 are probably never going to be released as retail parts, but instead be sold only to OEMs. However, if you're looking for a gaming system or low-budget workstation, then these new AM3 Phenom IIs, as well as the previous AM2+ Phenom IIs, are very attractive deals. Intel's Core 2 Quads just don't offer the same bang for the buck.
It is clear that Intel still has the high-performance market for processors locked up. None of these new AM3 Phenom II processors come anywhere close to matching the cheapest Core i7 processor. However, many users do not need the fastest processors - in fact, the only systems that absolutely require a top-of-the-line CPU are professional workstations. For everyone else, these new AM3 processors very appealing. It seems that, for now, the AM3 Phenom IIs are the new value champion.