AMD chip tops Intel

In a never-ending battle for bragging rights, Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. are at it again to see which company can produce the fastest desktop processor. Last week, Intel released a 600 MHz Pentium III, and this week AMD is announcing the release of its 600 MHz processor, the Athlon 600.

In a surprising result, AMD beat out Intel in a head-to-head test by the FCW Test Center, registering an impressive 18 percent faster performance than a comparable Intel system.

The gap widens even further for users looking to upgrade from a 500 MHz Pentium III. Users upgrading to a 600 MHz Pentium III will see only about a 9 percent performance increase, whereas the jump from a 500 MHz Pentium III to the Athlon 600 will be a whopping 29 percent.

So while you may not notice the difference between the 500 MHz and 600 MHz Pentium IIIs, you definitely will notice the performance boost between the 500 MHz Pentium III and the Athlon 600, especially when running applications that require extensive processing power.

We tested these systems using the Business Applications Performance Corp. SYSmark/98 benchmark. SYSmark/98 is an industry-standard benchmark for measuring the processor performance of computers running popular business applications. The AMD Athlon 600's lightning-fast score of 294 on the SYSmark/98 is the highest we have ever seen.

Several factors contribute to the unprecedented performance of the AMD.

First, the Pentium III has only a 100 MHz front-side system bus, compared with the Athlon's 200 MHz bus. The front-side bus carries data between the CPU and peripherals, such as the hard drive, so a higher bus speed boosts overall system performance even though the processors may run at the same speed. In addition, the Athlon processor is based on the Digital Alpha CPU-EV6 bus protocol, a higher-speed bus implementation than Intel uses, which also improves system performance.

Additionally, the Athlon has 128K of Level 1 cache (64K instruction cache plus 64K data cache), which is four times more than the Pentium III's 32K of Level 1 cache (16K instruction cache plus 16K data cache). Cache provides memory storage for programs or data the computer accesses frequently. A larger cache allows the computer to store more data, which can have a noticeable impact on performance.

Network management of the AMD Athlon CPU shouldn't be much of a concern for government agencies as long as third-party vendors develop a Desktop Management Interface-compliant platform around the Athlon processor. With that, standard management capabilities should be available. Because we haven't yet seen a production system, we have not been able to fully test these functions.

AMD officials say they are positioning the Athlon family to penetrate the workstation and server arena and to advance into the larger enterprise market. The company also has dropped its longstanding policy of pricing its processors at about 25 percent less than Intel, instead opting to go head to head with Intel on performance.

That could pay off. We found that in a megahertz war—at least with this CPU—AMD seems to be the front-runner. Watch for a price war to ensue. AMD has taken a significant step in the right direction but still has a long way to go to crack the corporate and government environments, and only time and the marketplace will tell if they are successful.

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