|AMD Phenom-II X4-980 BE Processor|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Processors|
|Written by Hank Tolman|
|Tuesday, 03 May 2011|
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Closer Look: Phenom-II X4-980BE
The Black Edition moniker tells us that the Phenom-II X4-980BE is ready for overclocking, and that's exactly what we are going to do with it. Before we get to that, let's look at the basics of the Phenom-II X4-980BE.The Athlon-II and Phenom-II CPUs are 45nm CPUs. That generation of CPUs, both on the Intel and the AMD side, tended to run quite a bit hotter than newer 32nm CPUs, especially the Sandy Bridge CPUs. That heat generation is a big concern for potential overclocking. Just because the CPU says it's Black Edition doesn't mean you can crank the multiplier up and run it as high as you want. The Phenom-II CPUs also had a little bit more surface area than the 45nm Intel processors; about 24% more. The Phenom-II X4-980 has a heat-spreader surface area of 1.47" x 1.47" (37.31 x 37.31mm). Aftermarket CPU cooler manufacturers can take advantage of that extra surface area in order to cool the CPUs a little better.
Getting a little further into the technical details, the Phenom-II X4-980BE has a nominal voltage of 0.825-1.4v. It comes out of the box taking about 1.4v, a little more than Intel CPUs, but it can be undervolted for the energy conscious consumer. Normally, I've been able to get the Phenom-II CPUs to be stable on about 1.20-1.25v. With the higher stock multiplier, the Phenom-II X4-980BE resides at the top end of that. I successfully undervolted it at stock speeds to 1.25v. On the flip-side, I pushed the voltage up to 1.60v during overclocking.
The Phenom-II X4-980BE is built on the AM3 938-pin micro grid array like all other Athlon-II and Phenom-II processors. This means it was meant for an AM3 motherboard. However, one of the things that has kept me a fan of AMD is that their newer processors have been backwards compatible with the AM2+ socket. This means you don't have to upgrade motherboard, RAM, CPU, and cooler all at once. That's nice for users on a budget. Unfortunately, this isn't going to be the case with the release of the AMD Fusion platforms in Bulldozer and Llano. Since they will be going to a 32nm fabrication process, a new motherboard will be necessary.
I have had great success overclocking AMD Athlon-II and Phenom-II processors. For their generation, the Phenom-IIs had some of the best overclocking potential available. This has changed a little with the release of the Sandy Bridge CPUs and with the incremental stock speed upgrades of the Phenom-II CPUs. The Phenom-II X4-900 series Black Edition CPUs have all been able to overclock pretty reliably to around 4.0GHz. That was true of those with stock clocks from 3.2GHz all the way to stock clocks of 3.6GHz. The reason for that is that all those CPUs are pretty much identical. The only difference is the stock clock speed set at the factory by the stock multiplier. As the stock speed increases, the overclocking potential decreases.
The other reason why overclocks up to 4.0GHz are not as impressive is due to the recent overclocking of the Sandy Bridge CPUs. Although much more restricted, the Sandy Bridge CPUs have been able to reach up to 5.0GHz overclocked speeds on air alone and the heat they produce at those speeds is much less than that of the Phenom-II CPUs fully overclocked. It's true that those speeds are really only Turbo Boost speeds because of the overclock restrictions of the Sandy Bridge CPUs and the P67-Express chipset, but even so, it makes the 4.0GHz of the Phenom-II series look outdated.With the Phenom-II X4-980BE CPU I had very minimal time to overclock. I didn't spend as much time or effort on it as I would have liked, but I was still able to overclock it very well. I incrementally bumped up the unlocked multiplier on the Phenom-II X4-980BE and stressed it with Prime95 running on all four cores. While I normally like to run this for 12 hours to ensure stability, I only did it for 6 hours this time, due to time constraints. Still, it is rare that a CPU lasting 6 hours won't make it to 12 hours. Without increasing the voltage on the CPU, I was able to get the multiplier only to x19.5 for a clock speed of 3.9GHz. That's an overclock of about 5%. I'm looking for a little more.
In order to get more, I increased the CPU voltage to 1.6v and then started moving up the multiplier again. I reached a stable overclock of the Phenom-II X4-980BE at a multiplier of x20.5 and a core speed of 4.1GHz. That's a much more impressive overclock of nearly 11%, the same as we were able to pull out of the Phenom-II X4-975BE. It seems like 4.0Ghz is about the threshold for these CPUs, and while you may be able to get a little higher, you will undoubtedly have to use a lot of extra voltage and you will need a lot of extra cooling. For my setup, I used the Scythe Mugen-II CPU cooler, one of the highest rated coolers from Benchmark Reviews Executive Editor's Best CPU Cooler Performance: Intel Q3-2010 article.