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Editor: Julio Franco

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We test all currently available Phenoms, from the 9600 Black Edition to the yet unreleased 9700 and 9900 models.

While Intel has been quick to regain a lot of the popularity lost during the past few years, that is no excuse to forget about the #2 company in computer processing. AMD made a name for itself with the original Athlon and Athlon 64 processors and it would only seem logical that its next generation product called Phenom (K10) was to raise expectations all over the place, and it did.

But as we know today, things did not go smoothly with the Phenom roll out, and to make things worse, Intel has barely stopped pounding with newer Core 2 CPU releases quarter after quarter.

The first batch of AMD Phenom processors finally went on sale last November, with the 9500 (2.2GHz) and 9600 (2.3GHz) models making a first appearance. Initial pricing was set at $283 and $251, however because their performance was lagging a bit behind its direct competition, AMD was quick to respond with a price reduction that set them at $251 and $209, respectively.

Today, two months after the release of these first processors, we are still left with the same 9600 and 9500 models out in retail. Due to the well publicized problems with the B2 stepping, AMD has held off releasing any further models until around March, when a new bug-free B3 stepping will become available.

This new stepping will refresh the current Phenom line-up, while adding a number of new processors. The Phenom 9500 will be replaced by the 9550 and the 9600 will be replaced by the 9650. Later on in the year, AMD is also set to release the Phenom 9700 and 9900 processors, clocked at 2.4GHz and 2.6GHz.

Although there has been a lot of negativity surrounding the new Phenoms, we have found them to be quite good overall. The biggest problem we current have with the processor is that it is not scaling very well, with the fastest announced processor being the 9900, which is going to operate at just 2.6GHz. Already we have found when testing the 790FX platform that if the Phenom is to stand any kind of chance against the Core 2 Quads it is required to at least match it at the same frequency. Then when you consider that most Core 2 processors offer serious overclocking headroom, it becomes clear that the Phenom has an even greater challenge ahead.

Today we will be comparing the Phenom 9500, 9600, 9700 and the 9900 (B2 Stepping) against the recently released Core 2 Duo E8400, as well as the very popular Core 2 Quad Q6600. An older Athlon64 X2 5200+ processor will be added to the mix as well.

Although the actual shipping Phenom 9700 and 9900 processors should be faster than what we will be showing you here, AMD has sent us engineering samples that in the meantime should give us a pretty good estimate of what to expect from them. The final retail versions of these two processors will be based on the improved B3 stepping. The Phenom 9500 and 9600 are retail versions that we have picked up from store shelves, so the performance of those will be identical from what you can get when purchasing either processor today.