In 2009 we've seen it spawn a whole range of dual-, triple- and quad-core chips, with different stock speeds and varying amounts of cache.
The newest arrival, the Phenom II X4 965, expands the range upward, raising the stock speed from the 3.2GHz of the X4 955 up to 3.4GHz. That's the fastest standard speed of any AMD chip ever produced, and it pushes the TDP up from an already high 125W to an eyebrow-raising 140W.
The X4 965 pushes the performance envelope too. In an MSI 790FX-GD70 motherboard, equipped with 2GB of DDR3-1066 memory, our stock-speed Phenom II X4 965 achieved a very solid benchmark score of 1.95.
That's the highest score we've seen from a 2GB AMD system, and matches the overall performance of a Core i7-860 - though the AMD chip proved slightly slower at single-threaded tasks such as audio encoding, and made up the difference with a higher multitasking score.
And, unlike Intel's new chips, the Phenom II X4 965 is a multiplier-unlocked "Black Edition", making it easy to tweak performance yet higher. In our tests the chip remained stable with a standard cooler at frequencies up to 3.6GHz, for a benchmark score of 2.06.
The price is right too. With a current street price around $360, the Phenom II X4 965 BE undercuts even the Core i5, and motherboard prices are likely to be lower too. Although boards based on the new P55 chipset shouldn't be as costly as X58 models, Socket AM3 boards are now showing up for less than $200.
Before you rush out and buy the new Phenom II, though, take note of its power consumption. Our test system drew 105W while sitting idle, rising to 160W under heavy load. With our Core i5 and Core i7 systems idling at under 60W, that looks ridiculously high.
All the same, if raw grunt is your main concern, then the newest version of the Phenom II is an excellent deal and a sensible alternative to Intel's more efficient, but pricier, alternatives.