|The triumphant arrival of the Phenom quad-core processor turned into a four-month headache for AMD, with the main culprit being the translation look-aside buffer (TLB) erratum identified in the first batch of Phenom 9500 and 9600 chips. Just as the mayor of the seaside town in Jaws warns about the chilling effect on tourism of yelling "shark", the TLB bug sent prospective buyers scurrying from the CPU waters.
That troubled B2 core is now a thing of the past, as last week AMD released its latest batch of processors, complete with an updated B3 stepping that fixes the TLB glitch. The new Phenoms also return to the initial branding convention, adding an X4 to the product name for easy differentiation between quad-core Phenom X4s, tri-core X3s, and dual-core X2s. But is this good news enough to help AMD move forward against the Intel juggernaut?
The B3 core makes its debut in the Phenom X4 "50-series" processors, with the Phenom X4 9550 (2.2GHz) and 9650 (2.3GHz) replacing the older Phenom 9500 and 9600, respectively. The core architecture remains the same, built on a 65-nanometer process with 512K of Level 1, 2MB (512K per core) of Level 2, and 2MB of shared Level 3 cache with performance that's on par clock-for-clock with the first-generation Phenom B2s.
New additions to the lineup include a flagship Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition (2.5GHz) and a 2.4GHz Phenom X4 9750. All have a thermal design power (TDP) or 95 watts except for the 9850 BE, which consumes 125 watts. There is still no 2.6GHz part to match the sneak-preview Phenom 9900 sent to tech sites and magazines a few months ago, but you can expect that further down the road.
While the TLB concerns were somewhat overblown, enthusiasts were also unimpressed with the low clock speeds and meager overclocking potential of first-generation Phenoms. That's where the X4 9850 Black Edition comes in, as it features an unlocked multiplier and all the ingredients for serious tweaking.
Of course, there was a Black Edition 9600, which everyone remembers for its largely lackluster results. The Phenom X4 9850 BE is a very different story, with most testers seeing overclocked speeds in the 2.8 GHz to 3.0 GHz range, showing that AMD has been tweaking the B3 core in some other areas besides bug-fixing. This not only whets the appetite of hardcore gamers and ensures brisker sales, but also gives us a better opinion of how high AMD can take the Phenom X4 core at 65 nanometers before making its eventual switch to 45nm.