AMD Is Playing a Risky Numbers Game

By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2001-10-22

I had to look for a replacement for the aging Pentium II processor in my PC, so I began to do some research on the latest chip offerings from Intel and AMD. I found that it is becoming difficult for the average consumer to clearly see the differences among processors behind all that marketing smoke.

Earlier this month, AMD unveiled its fastest processor line yet, the Athlon XP based on the Palomino core. Surrounding the press releases are new marketing brandings that are supposed to help consumers better understand the performance improvements of the new Athlon XP compared with older AMD processors, like the Thunderbird.

The XP stands for "Xtreme Performance" and has an indirect association with Windows XP: AMD stated that the Athlon XP is optimized to bring performance of Windows XP to a new level. Each Athlon XP chip also comes with a performance metric number—for example, the Athlon XP Model 1800+.

What AMD is really hoping is that these new labels will help educate the uninformed consumer that the Athlon XP is the better-performing processor compared with the Pentium 4, even though the fastest Athlon XP runs at 1.53GHz, or more than 400MHz slower than the fastest 2GHz Pentium 4. The Athlon XP has a model number designation that puts it in direct comparison against each Pentium 4 clock speed.

I can understand why AMD created the model numbers to downplay the speed differences, but more numbers might end up confusing consumers rather than really educating them. Most tech-savvy PC users know that clock-speed frequency is no longer the measuring stick for processor performance. Two values—IPC (instructions per clock) and clock speed—play equivalent roles in the processor performance equation.

The Pentium 4 uses an architecture that allows for higher clock speeds by sacrificing IPC; the Pentium 4 performs 20 percent less IPC than its predecessor, the Pentium III. The Athlon has a lower clock speed but can outperform the Pentium because it can handle more IPC.

Most well-informed buyers will pick the processor because of its higher performance at a lower cost, not because of a large model number or clock speed. There are more things to look for when finding the right processor than just performance. Compatibility, price and dependability also play important roles.

Instead of playing the marketing bluff, AMD should focus more on penetrating the corporate market and let consumers choose the best processors for their PCs based on realistic information.

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