Core i5 vs. Phenom II X4 CPU Review
By Gabriel Torres on September 29, 2009
Core i5-750 (2.66 GHz) from Intel is costing today USD 200 and AMD doesn’t have any Phenom II X4 at the same price tag. The closest matches are Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (3.2 GHz), costing USD 189, and Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition (3.4 GHz), costing USD 245 – which are the fastest CPUs from AMD –, putting Core i5-750 in the middle of the two in terms of price. But how about performance? Which CPU is faster, Core i5 or Phenom II X4? Let’s see!
Both Core i5 and Phenom II X4 have an integrated memory controller supporting DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz in dual-channel configuration. One of the main architectural differences between Core i5 and Phenom II X4 is the presence of an integrated PCI Express 2.0 controller on Core i5, which in theory improves the practical transfer rate achieved by video cards. This controller provides 16 lanes, meaning that it can be connected to one video card working at x16 or to two video cards working at x8 each. On Phenom II X4 the PCI Express 2.0 controller is located on the chipset from the motherboard.
Another feature present on Core i5 and not available on Phenom II X4 is Intel Turbo Boost technology, which is essentially an automatic overclocking made by the CPU when it “feels” that the program needs more processing power (this is done only when the CPU has some of its cores idle and the total CPU temperature and thermal dissipation is still within specs).
AMD CPUs talk to the external world (i.e., the chipset) through a bus called HyperTransport (working at 8 GB/s on the two models we included in this review), while Core i5 use the DMI (Digital Media Interface) bus to talk to the chipset (working at 2 GB/s), which is the interface previously used to make the connection between the north bridge and the south bridge chips on Intel chipsets. At a first look it seems that AMD has the advantage here, but since Core i5 talks directly to the main video card without using its external bus and without using the chipset, this solution seems adequate.
On the tables below we compare the main specs from the CPUs we included in this review.
Phenom II X4 955
Phenom II X4 965
TDP stands for Thermal Design Power which advises the user of the maximum amount of heat the CPU can dissipate. The CPU cooler must be capable of dissipating at least this amount of heat.
The prices listed were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review
32 KB + 32 KB per core
256 KB per core
8 MB total
DDR3 up to 1333 MHz
Phenom II X4 955
64 KB + 64 KB per core
512 KB per core
6 MB total
DDR3 up to 1333 MHz
Phenom II X4 965
64 KB + 64 KB per core
512 KB per core
6 MB total
DDR3 up to 1333 MHz
Pay attention as on the Phenom II X4 box the manufacturer says “8.0 MB Total Cache;” AMD has obviously added the values of L2 (4x 512 KB) and L3 cache (6 MB) to reach this figure.
Now that you know the contenders, let’s see how they performed.
Since we have the data from several other Intel CPUs we collected for our Core i5-750 and Core i7-870 review, we will add them also to our charts, but on the text we will be exclusively comparing the performance of Core i5-750 and the two top Phenom II X4 CPUs from AMD.
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the CPU being tested and the motherboard, which had to be replaced to match the different CPU sockets.
Operating System Configuration
We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
PCMark Vantage simulates the use of real-world applications and gives scores for the following categories:
For a detailed description of each one of these tests, please download and read the PCMark Vantage Reviewer’s Guide.
You can see the results for each category below. We are not going to compare the results for the Memories and HDD suites.
Core i5-750, Phenom II X4 955 and Phenom II X4 965 achieved the same overall score on PCMark Vantage.
On the TV and Movies benchmark Core i5-750 and Phenom II X4 955 achieved the same performance level, with Phenom II X4 965 being 5.50% faster than Core i5-750 here.
On the Gaming set Core i5-750 was 22.89% faster than Phenom II X4 955 and 25.41% faster than Phenom II X4 965.
On the Music benchmark Core i5-750 achieved the same performance level as Phenom II X4 955, with Phenom II X4 965 being 3.85% faster than Core i5-750.
On the Communications tests Phenom II X4 955 was 11.14% faster than Core i5-750 and Phenom II X4 965 was 15.72% faster than Core i5-750.
And finally on the Productivity benchmark Phenom II X4 955 and Phenom II X4 965 were 3.40% faster than Core i5-750.
With VirtualDub we converted a full-length DVD movie to DivX format and saw how long it took for this conversion to be completed. The DivX codec is capable of recognizing and using not only more than one CPU (i.e., more than one core), but also the SSE4 instruction set.
The movie we chose to convert was Star Trek – The Motion Picture: Director’s Cut. We copied the movie to our hard disk drive with no compression, so the final original file on our HDD was 6.79 GB. After compressing it with DivX, the final file was only 767.40 MB, which is quite remarkable.
The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the better.
On DivX encoding Core i5-750 was 16.45% faster than Phenom II X4 965 and 20.72% faster than Phenom II X4 955.
The best way to measure performance is by using real programs. The problem, though, is creating a methodology using real software that provides accurate results. For Photoshop CS4, there is a methodology created by the folks at GamingHeaven that is very accurate. Their script applies a series of 15 filters to a sample image, and we wrote down the time taken for each filter to run. At the end, we have the results for each individual filter and we simply added them up to have the total time taken to run the 15 filters from the GamingHeaven batch. The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the number the better.
On Photoshop CS4 Core i5-750 and Phenom II X4 965 achieved the same performance level, with the CPU from Intel being 3.95% faster than Phenom II X4 955.
After Effects is a very well-known program for video post-production that is used to add animation and visual effects in videos. To evaluate the performance of each CPU running this program, we ran a workload consisting of 25 compositions that applied several filters and effects to a variety of input file types such as PSD (Photoshop), AI (Illustrator), EPS, and TIF. After each filter was applied, the composition was rendered to an uncompressed AVI file with the same resolution as the input files. The results below are the time each CPU took to finish the whole batch, given in seconds, so the lower the number the better.
On After Effects CS4 Core i5-750 was 21.79% faster than Phenom II X4 965 and 25.87% faster than Phenom II X4 955.
We measured the time each CPU took to compress five high-resolution 48-bit uncompressed TIF images, each one with around 70 MB, to RAR format with the popular WinRAR application. The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the number the better.
Core i5-750 was 18.93% faster than Phenom II X4 965 and 21.84% faster than Phenom II 955 on file compression using WinRAR.
Cinebench 10 is based on the 3D software, Cinema 4d. It is very useful to measure the performance gain given by having more than one CPU installed on the system when rendering heavy 3D images. Rendering is one area in which having more than one CPU helps considerably, because usually, rendering software recognizes several CPUs. (Cinebench, for instance, can use up to 16 CPUs.)
Since we were interested in measuring the rendering performance, we ran the test called “Rendering x CPUs,” which renders a “heavy” sample image using all available CPUs (or cores – either real or virtual, as on CPUs with Hyper-Threading technology, each core is recognized as two cores by the operating system) to speed up the process.
On Cinebench Core i5-750 and Phenom II X4 955 achieved the same performance level, with Phenom II X4 965 being 5.11% faster than Core i5-750.
3DMark Vantage measures Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) gaming performance. We ran this program under the “Extreme” profile, which sets resolution to 1920x1200, Anisotropic filtering to 16x and max out all quality settings to the maximum allowed. We are going to analyze two results. The 3DMark score and the CPU score. Currently with so much processing in 3D games being migrated from the CPU to the GPU (graphics processing unit; the graphics processor present on the video card), replacing the CPU with a more powerful one doesn't impact gaming performance as much as it used to happen several years ago.
Under the “Extreme” profile from 3DMark Vantage all CPUs achieved the same performance level. This shows how for high-end gaming the video card is the component that most influences performance, not the CPU, as mentioned above.
Comparing exclusively the CPU benchmark results from 3DMark Vantage, Core i5-750 achieved a score 5.69% higher than Phenom II X4 965 and 7.51% higher than Phenom II X4 955.
Call of Duty 4 is a DirectX 9 game implementing high-dynamic range (HDR) and its own physics engine, which is used to calculate how objects interact. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? It gives a more realistic experience to the user.
We ran this game under 2560x1600, maxing out all image quality controls (i.e., everything was put on the maximum values on the Graphics and Texture menus). We used the game internal benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo for downloading here if you want to run your own benchmarks. The game was updated to version 1.7. We ran this test five times, discarding the lowest and the highest scores. The results below are an arithmetic average of the three remaining values, given in frames per second (FPS).
The performance of Core i5-750, Phenom II X4 955 and Phenom II X4 965 was within the same level, showing us that at least for this game picking the right video card is more critical than picking the right CPU
Fallout 3 is based on the same engine used by The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and it is a DirectX 9.0c (Shader 3.0) game. We configured the game with “ultra” image quality settings, maxing out all image quality settings, at 2560x1600. To measure performance, we used the FRAPS utility running an outdoor scene at God mode, running through enemy fire, triggering post processing effects, and ending with a big explosion in front of Dupont Circle.
On Fallout 3 Core i5-750 and Phenom II X4 965 achieved the same performance level, with Core i5-750 being 3.83% faster than Phenom II X4 955.
In most scenarios Core i5 and Phenom II X4 achieved the same performance level and in most cases when one particular CPU was faster than the other the performance difference was practically negligible.
There were three important exceptions, however. When converting a full-length movie from a DVD (MPEG2) to DivX format Core i5-750 was 16% faster than Phenom II X4 965 and 20% faster than Phenom II X4 955; rendering a sample project on After Effects CS4 Core i5-750 was 22% faster than Phenom II X4 965 and 26% faster than Phenom II 955; and compressing files with WinRAR Core i5-750 was 19% faster than Phenom II X4 965 and 22% faster than Phenom II X4 955.
So for the user working professionally with video editing, Core i5 is the CPU to go and there is no question about it. For the average user picking the “right” CPU will depend on the brand he or she likes best, although the results move the tip of the scale towards Intel. Another item that may help decide the best CPU to choose from is the cost of the motherboard, which was not analyzed in the present review.
One very important discovery made during this review is that if you have a high-end video card, the CPU has almost no influence in the system gaming performance. So if you are building a high-end gaming machine, maybe it is better to pick a cheaper processor and invest the price difference on a faster video card.