AMD refreshes their Dragon platform today with two new CPUs

by: John -
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AMD today announced a “refresh” of sorts for their Dragon platform. As you probably know, Dragon is a combination of CPU, motherboard, and video card from AMD that provides great performance at an affordable price.

Today’s announcement coincides with a launch of two new processors. The AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition is an unlocked quad core CPU running at 3.2Ghz and features 8MB of L3 cache. It’s unlocked liked all Black Edition CPUs and will allow you to overclock without restrictions.

For those looking for a slightly less powered and lower cost CPU, there’s the AMD Phenom II X4 945 running at 3.0GHz but is NOT unlocked. It also features an 8MB of L3 cache. Compared to the AMD Phenom II X4 940, you get 2MB more of L3 cache and a 200MHz faster HyperTransport Link.

Now, both of these CPUs have a DDR2 and DD3 memory controller built in so you can use these CPUs with both types of memory. The CPUs are backwards compatible with AM2+ motherboards and I’m assuming that it might take a BIOS update to get support in. In either case, you can purchase this right now for your current AMD setup and if you decide to move into the DDR3 realm, you’re ready to go with a brand new motherboard. It’s a great move on AMD to have the CPU be backwards compatible and a smart decision in these economic times.

Even though they are releasing a 955 Black Edition, AMD assured me that Both 720 Black Edition and 940 Black Edition will still be on the market. The 955 will just supplement what’s already out there.

So these new CPUs and a move to DDR3, what does this do in terms of performance compared to both Spider and Dragon in January? Well from AMD’s numbers, you can expect about 30-50% performance increase over Spider and 5-10% increase over Dragon in January.

If you remember, the previous 940 Black Edition CPU set a world record for clock speed. There’s no video yet but AMD told me they’ve had someone successfully overclock the 955 CPU to 6.6GHz. Seeing as this is a possibility, you can be sure that there’s plenty of headroom to push the CPU should you decide to do some serious overclocking yourself. Of course, you should be able to get some great performance out it as is and even push it some on regular air cooled computers but it’s good to know the Phenom II 955 Black Edition can be pushed to some great extremes.

Some new software updates will help overclockers who aren’t that versed in pushing their system. The Black Edition Memory Profile can take some profiles that are updated from memory manufactures and automatically tweak the north bridge and memory frequency and voltages. This is a great way to push your memory without having to know exactly what the optimum running specs are. With the vendors giving you the settings it’s just a simple push of a button to get it running at its highest efficiency.

Overdrive software has also gotten a nice update with Smart Profiles. Like the memory profiles that are updated by vendors, AMD will have a database of application and game settings that you can download in order to run your system as best as possible. Say a game only runs on 2 cores. The profile would turn off the other cores not in use and set the affinity of the two active cores. You can create your own as well but the software will be able to update your profiles from AMD’s database allowing for you to not have to manually check when a new profile is out. It’s pretty convenient and should also aid in those that aren’t hardcore overclockers who want to push their system.

Speaking of turning off cores, enhanced CoolCore technology extends to improving control of the processor. When a core is shut down, the L1 and L2 information gets flushed to the L3 cache where all the cores have access to. So, this will alleviate instances when a core is requesting information that’s stored in the cache of another core that maybe shut off forcing it to temporarily fire up the shutdown core and turn it off again when the information is retrieved. Now, that information can be in the L3 cache of the CPU letting the cores sleep.

For power, the TDP of the 955 is at 125W. Generally, you can expect the CPU to run about as cool as a 65W Phenom though. AMD is looking into 95W parts for the market in the near future as well.

So how much is the AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition going to cost you? Right now, Newegg has the CPU for $245 which is a pretty good price for an unlocked CPU. Compared to say an Intel i7 920 which runs at 2.66Ghz, it’s about $35 less. Now, we don’t have the two CPUs to compare performance so I can’t comment on how it does compared to Intel’s offering but it’ll be interesting to see as reviews trickle out how well it does in real world applications. Also, there's no pricing on the 945 yet but I'll be sure to post that when it comes to fruition.

So, there’s the Dragon refresh for today. I haven’t had an AMD CPU in a while but I used to love the Athlon FX and X2 line and in these economic times, I might have to revisit them in upgrading my test and main systems. DDR3 memory prices aren’t too bad now for 4GB and motherboards prices are a lot cheaper than an X58 variant on the Intel side. I do like some of the software features AMD is releasing today so who knows, you might be seeing reviews by my on the PC using AMD parts in the near future.
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