AMD Phenom II and Dragon Details
First off, before we take a look at the Phenom II processor we thought it might be an idea to discover what makes Phenom II a new processor. In point of fact, Phenom II is a direct descendant of the Phenom B3 core with a few minor changes. This means that the Phenom II keeps the same wide floating point accelerator at 128-bit wide along with its dual independent memory controller, allowing for ganged and un-ganged memory configurations as well as the 32-byte fetcher unit.
What makes the Phenom II new in design is its fabrication process and its cache memory. First off, Phenom II is AMD's first 45nm processor; this means that AMD has shrunk the die significantly to help reduce the mount of thermal dissipation.
While this is one goal, the other is to help improve clock speeds. Phenom cores using a 65nm process have been limited to around 2.9 / 3GHz on air, leaving the end users with a bitter taste in their mouths. AMD was once the overclocking master, but now they are simply plodding along. It's easy to remember when Intel introduced its 45nm parts to market and clock speeds started heading north to 4GHz and beyond. Today AMD is also hoping for this same curve in order to bring some of the enthusiast base back to AMD platforms.
The other major change with the introduction of the 45nm process is an increase in the cache memory. All three cores have the same L1 and L2 cache sizes, so nothing has changed there, but the shared L3 cache that is connected to the integrated Northbridge and memory controller has increased from 2MB to a whopping 6MB.
When it comes to the design, AMD has made the Phenom II a drop in replacement for any motherboard that supports the current Phenom quad and triple core processors, making it a perfect upgrade path. While AMD may cling to technology for too long, one thing is a constant, the upgrade path is assured for even the older AM2 boards. If it supports the 140watt TDP processors then it will support the Phenom II with a BIOS upgrade.
Since it's a full drop in replacement, the amount of pins hasn't changed on the bottom. A full 940 pin arrangement is used, making it fully compatible with the latest AM2+ boards and some older AM2 boards that are currently able to use the Phenom processors.
Now, while we would be content with AMD just introducing a new and improved processor, AMD isn't. In fact, they have decided to introduce a whole new platform to coincide with Phenom II.
With the Phenom we saw the introduction of the Spider platform. This very platform was a combination of a Phenom X4 processor along with an AMD 790FX chipset based motherboard and one or two AMD/ATI Radeon HD 3xxx series graphics cards.
Dragon is the next step up for AMD and it's a combination of three key pieces of hardware. First off, the processor and this is simply any Phenom II based CPU. The motherboard to go along with the Dragon platform must be based on the 790GX chipset, which in itself is extremely impressive due to its IGP nature with a dedicated memory module called Sideport. Lastly, we have the graphics card to accompany it and this is where we get a new upgrade. Rather than a Radeon HD 3xxx series graphics card, we now get the choice of a Radeon HD 4xxx series model.