With the release of the Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition AMD released their fastest clocked processor to date. It is clocked at 3.7GHz, only slightly shy of the highest clocks Intel officially reached on the Pentium 4 years ago. AMDs upcoming CPUs will only best these clocks in turbo mode. Intel also offers specialized Xeon CPUs clocked at 4.4GHz. That’s just putting numbers into perspective, we all know that clock speed alone doesn’t say anything about performance. In the usual 1000-unit quantities, the CPU costs $185 each, as the official price list reveals. The other Phenom II X4 models have been reduced in price following the introduction of the new top model.

Technically the chip can be filed in the no-news department. Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition is based on a three year old architecture, as AMD launched the first models based on the 45nm Deneb die at the very beginning of 2009. The chip features four K10.5 Shanghai-architecture cores, each featuring 128KB of L1, 512KB of L2 cache connecting to 6MB of shared L3 cache. Deneb consists of 758 million transistors packed into a 258mm2 die.

Back then, top notch enthusiast models were based on the C2 stepping of the chip. Apart from the release of the sexa-core Thuban chip in 2010, not a lot has changed. AMD Phenom II X4 980 features a slightly updated C3 silicon, with a 3.7GHz stock clock with the maximal TDP of 125W. The CPU should fit into AM2+, AM3 and AM3+ (AM3r2) mainboards, though a BIOS-update might be necessary.

Benchmarks around the web have shown that the speed-bump provided by the Phenom II X4 980 is nothing but a drop on a hot stone. Obviously it provides the highest single-threaded performance AMD has offered to date. But the aged architecture simply can’t compete with Intel’s 45nm and 32nm (Nehalem/Westmere/Sandy Bridge) based processors on a clock for clock basis. For multi-threaded applications it’d probably be better to get a Phenom X6 instead. If even more performance is required, at this point the answer is only Intel. For bang-for-buck buyers, the lower clocked Phenom II X4 models still offer excellent value though.

Given that the launch of AMDs FX processors based on the Bulldozer core is imminent, you may as well wait until there are solid performance numbers on this one before you make a buying decision. The same guidance is valid for people wanting to upgrade, since numerous socket AM3 mainboards will get Bulldozer-compatibility via a BIOS update.