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AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition review

AMD Phenom II X4 955 - A Timely Upgrade

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Compatibility Notes & Improved AMD OverDrive 3.0

Motherboard Compatibility Notes

Even though Phenom II processors have been proudly marketed being cross-compatible with older motherboards, this was of little issue with the initial AM2+ models as well as the initial AM3 processors to work with AM2/AM2+ motherboards (give and take some BIOS updates). For the latest crop of AM3 processors, especially with the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition processor, it may not even be drop-in compatible with many of the existing AM3 motherboards without a BIOS update to explicitly support it (and the same goes for AM2+ motherboards). So do factor this before purchasing your motherboard and processor combo as you might want to get the retailer to help you flash the BIOS to the latest revision before pushing forth with your purchase.

As usual, given a time span of a few more weeks, most AM2+ and AM3 motherboards should have support for AMD's fastest processor. If you happen to be riding on an AM2 board though, there's still hope for it if it's not one of those very early board revisions. In any case, the wisest advice we can offer here is to monitor your prospective motherboard's BIOS update page for the latest CPU support before jumping in to purchase the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition.

AMD OverDrive 3.0 - Revised and Improved

Along with the latest crop of Phenom II AM3 processors, AMD has brought about improvements to their AMD OverDrive 3.0 (AOD 3.0) tool as well. Albeit it still retains the same version number, the latest build supports AMD's newest initiative called the AMD Black Edition Memory Profiles (BEMP). Akin to the NVIDIA's SLI memory and Intel's XMP memory scheme, AMD's BEMP attempts to provide the same result but with a different approach.

Instead of hard-coding the higher performance profile information within a special unused portion of the SPD as done by NVIDIA's and Intel's approach, AMD's BEMP approach works on the concept of obtaining the required profile information on AMD's online database of Black Edition memory profiles. To make the process easy, all you have to do is launch the latest build of the AOD 3.0, enter the BEMP section and select "Online Update" button to check on AMD's database if your memory module has an updated BEMP profile. If available, just proceed to obtain the profile and apply it. The utility will then update your BIOS parameters and the boosted settings will take into effect upon a system reboot.

This can potentially increase the pool of performance memory modules that will work with AMD's platform to offer improved performance and greater overclocking headroom. It will however take time build up the database as it currently only supports a total of five modules from a mix of vendors. Contrary to the BEMP naming scheme, you doesn't require a Black Edition processor as the profiles do not fiddle with the core processor's frequency or multiplier. BEMP will work in conjunction with any AM3 processor and AM3 motherboard.

Yet another notable improvement of the latest AOD 3.0 build is the incorporation of AMD Smart Profiles. This feature has some semblance of the Core i7 processor's turbo function which allows users to set each core's multiplier settings depending on the number of cores loaded. While Intel's function is set a BIOS level and is a little more straightforward, AMD's software approach allows flexibility and is defined by various program profiles. The main function of these smart profiles is to empower the users if they want a particular program at its maximum performance or invoke performance savings by self-setting each core's multiplier settings and saving these profiles. While some of the profiles are pre-loaded on the latest build, you can add/remove profiles as you deem fit.

It's a great tool for power users wanting absolute control, but it also requires one to understand a program's core loading levels to better utilize the profiles to their requirements. Unless you're a geek like us, Intel's approach is actually simpler and should take care of common scenarios in our opinion. No doubt, we'll still give credit to AMD for being different on both accounts discussed here.