P4 Bests Athlon (Pricey Intel-based PC edges past AMD.)

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  1. Necrosis

    Necrosis Well-Known Member

    May 9, 2002
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    From PCWorld.com

    News & Trends: P4 Bests Athlon

    Pricey Intel-based PC edges past AMD.

    by Laurianne McLaughlin
    From the July 2002 issue of PC World magazine
    Posted Wednesday, May 29, 2002

    Intel has finally done it: A computer based on its fastest Pentium 4 processor has beaten a comparable system using AMD's top Athlon XP chip in PC World's benchmark tests.

    A system with the new 2.53-GHz P4 (up from 2.4 GHz) and using Intel's new, faster 533-MHz frontside bus--the crucial pipeline that transports data between the CPU and applications--edged past a PC with AMD's Athlon XP 2100+ chip by two points in our PC WorldBench 4 test suite. (The 1.73-GHz 2100+ uses a 266-MHz frontside bus.)

    The catch? A 2.53-GHz P4-based computer will cost you as much as $500 more than a comparable Athlon system. That's serious cash for a performance difference you'll be hard-pressed to notice, judging from the initial results of our tests with two PCs from the same vendor.

    Intel's latest rollout pushes P4 PCs past Athlon XP systems, but AMD isn't standing still. It will soon introduce an Athlon XP processor using a .13-micron manufacturing process that it says delivers better speed and performance than chips made with the older .18-micron process can achieve.

    Still, Intel-only buyers will want the new combination because it does offer a slight performance boost. In fact, even prospective buyers looking at a 2.4-GHz PC should seek one that has the new bus (labeled the 2.4B), because Intel is not charging extra for it. (The 2.26-GHz P4 also has the bus.)

    Do pick a 533-MHz-ready chip, but don't expect big performance gains. We saw only one application spike with the new bus. As Intel speeds up the P4 and adds support for faster memory, however, the 2.4B bus could play a larger performance role.

    To support the faster bus, Intel has revamped its system chip sets, introducing higher-quality integrated graphics and USB 2.0 support to some. For the details, see "Fast Bus, Same Fare."

    P4 Tops Tests

    To compare the latest CPUs of each chip maker, we pitted a preproduction Falcon Northwest Mach V system carrying a 2.53-GHz Pentium 4 CPU and 256MB of 266-MHz DDR memory against a nearly identical preproduction Mach V with a 1.73-GHz Athlon XP 2100+ chip and 256MB of 333-MHz DDR RAM. Each PC ran Windows XP Professional and included an NVidia GeForce4-based graphics card that held 128MB of DDR RAM.

    The P4-based Falcon system earned a PC WorldBench 4 score of 121, edging past the Athlon-based Falcon's 119; you wouldn't notice that difference in most applications. Our multimedia tests were nearly a wash: Each PC won three tests, and the seventh ended in a tie, although the P4 PC offered a slight advantage to digital multimedia users.

    Each Falcon system came in a pricey aluminum case with a fancy paint job that is geared toward buyers who want looks as well as performance. However, at $2975, the P4 PC (with a 17-inch monitor) still costs $500 more than the Athlon unit with the same monitor. Two points just isn't much bang for an extra $500.

    Get On The Bus

    To see how much the new bus actually affects performance, we looked at preproduction systems from Gateway and Hewlett-Packard that supported both the 400-MHz and the 533-MHz bus speeds.

    We examined a $2113 Gateway 700S with Windows XP Professional, 256MB of PC 800 RDRAM, and an NVidia GeForce4-based graphics board with 128MB of DDR RAM. We tested it twice: with a 2.4-GHz P4 and a 400-MHz bus, and with the same chip and a 533-MHz bus. With the faster bus, the PC earned a score of 115; with the slower bus, it earned a score of 114--an imperceptible difference.

    Then we tested a $1784 HP Pavilion 752 configured with Windows XP Home, 256MB of 266-MHz DDR RAM, and an NVidia GeForce3-based graphics card carrying 64MB of DDR RAM. Each chip/bus combination earned the identical score of 115.

    Both HP and Gateway say our test PCs will ship exclusively with the new bus by June. However, the bottom line is that the bus didn't help the P4 PCs run productivity applications faster in our tests.

    Also worth noting: A similar HP Pavilion 702 system based on the Athlon XP 2000+ chip edged past both of our 2.4-GHz Pentium 4 PCs, earning a score of 117. This $1464 HP machine--configured nearly the same as our P4 Pavilion--would save you over $300.

    AutoCAD Advantage

    We gave intel's new 533-MHz frontside bus an additional chance to strut its stuff in our multimedia benchmark tests. Unfortunately, we saw only one score improve--in the AutoCAD test.

    Using the new bus, the Gateway completed the AutoCAD test in 321 seconds; using the older bus, the same system took 330 seconds. Likewise, the HP finished with times of 318 seconds and 328 seconds, respectively.

    While that is a boost--albeit a fairly modest one--the new bus provided no significant improvement in other tests.

    The faster bus speed doesn't matter much on most applications now, but that situation could change in the future, says MicroDesign Resources senior analyst Kevin Krewell.

    "The lack of a 'pop' [from the] bus speed increases is due to memory bandwidth limitations," he says. Future technologies could end that.

    The most significant future improvement could be in PCs that use PC 1066 RDRAM or DDR-333 with dual-channel support, Krewell says. Intel has yet to validate PC 1066 for the 850E chip set, however, and it hasn't even announced support for DDR-333 yet.

    Your Next Move

    Analysts expect Intel to remain dominant in chip speed this year. But for computer users who are more impressed by system performance than by chip speed, AMD-based PCs should continue to be the better value.

    Intel-only PC buyers should consider a system with a 2.4-GHz P4 (with 533-MHz bus support) instead of one with the 2.53-GHz chip. While our 2.53-GHz Falcon offered the best score at 121, the comparable--if less flashy--2.4-GHz Gateway PC trailed by a scant six points, giving the Falcon a mere 5 percent advantage. Even if the Falcon's fancy case is replaced with a standard one--dropping the price to $2314--the Gateway still saves you about $200.

    Going forward, the competition for top performance marks should keep the battle between Intel and AMD interesting. Plus, the rivalry should help keep downward pressure on PC prices, which means that--even if you can't afford to buy now--speedy and well-priced systems shouldn't disappear anytime soon.

    Benchmark Chart

    PCWorld.com: P4 Bests Athlon (Pricey Intel-based PC edges past AMD.)


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