After 30 years of equating faster clock rates with higher performance, Intel Corp. next year will release a mobile chip that runs slower but performs faster than existing chips.
While the new processor, code-named Banias, is likely to make a splash in the mobile market, its impact could also ripple into the desktop arena by bolstering charges made by rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and others that clock speed is not the major factor in gauging performance.
Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., will offer more details on Banias at next weeks Intel Developer Forum in San Jose, Calif. Sources said the chip maker will not discuss chip frequencies but will instead highlight Banias energy-efficient design as ideal for battery-powered notebooks.
In discussions with business partners and analysts, however, sources said Intel has disclosed Banias will be introduced at 1.4GHz to 1.6GHz and will outperform its own higher-clocked mobile Pentium 4 chips running at more than 2GHz on benchmark tests.
An Intel spokeswoman declined to comment on the clock ratings cited by sources and instead restated the companys public position that Banias “is being designed to deliver the highest level of performance while consuming the lowest amount of power.”
But AMD and mobile users arent the only ones who stand to gain from Banias performance marks. The chips performance over faster Pentium 4 chips could lend credence to a lawsuit filed by a handful of PC buyers against Intel this summer. The suit, filed in the 3rd Judicial Circuit in Madison County, Ill., claims early versions of the Pentium 4 processor did not outperform older Pentium III chips as the chip maker claimed.
The case, brought by the law firm Carr Korein Tillery, of St. Louis, largely parallels AMDs arguments that the Pentium 4 accomplishes less per clock cycle than an Athlon XP or older Pentium III. As a result, the chip has to run at higher speeds to handle the same workload as slower Athlon XP or Pentium III chips.
Despite the debate about processor speeds, some enterprise users contend its the chip makers reputation, not processor performance, thats important to them.
“We dont look for performance per se for PC clients; were looking mostly at reputation,” said Michael Hodges, systems manager at the University of Hawaii, in Monoa, which uses Intel-based PCs. “If they promise a certain level of performance, thats fine. But its reputation thats driving the [buying] decisions currently.”
Industry analysts agreed that CPU clock speed has been overrated.
“Megahertz for a long time was used as a proxy for processor performance,” said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst for Insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif. “But even at its best, it was imperfect.” In its place, Brookwood said, the industry should adopt an open-source benchmark.
But performance benchmarks often are controversial as well. Currently, AMD is denouncing changes made this year to the widely used Sysmark benchmark that AMD contends were done to bolster the performance of the Pentium 4 relative to the Athlon XP. In a report it presented to businesses and reporters, AMD identified 14 changes that had been made to Sysmark 2001 to boost scores for Pentium 4-based PCs.
Such benchmark tests have taken on greater importance for AMD since it introduced the Athlon XP last year. AMD contends the Athlon XP 2000+, which runs at 1.67GHz, performs as well as, or better than, a 2GHz Pentium.
Because AMD sees Sysmark 2002 “as a broken benchmark,” company spokesman Damon Muzny said AMD will continue to use the earlier versions to calculate its product labeling.
In a bid to revise the benchmark, AMD, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., this summer joined the nonprofit industry group that oversees the Sysmark test suite, Business Applications Performance Corp., known as BAPCo.
“Any benchmark that is too dominantly controlled by one company will reflect the bias of that one company,” said Kevin Krewell, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR, also in Sunnyvale, which publishes The Microprocessor Report. “BAPCo was … biased and influenced by Intel.” BAPCo Operations Manager John Peterson, also in Santa Clara, declined to detail why the benchmark was revised, saying, “The discussions between members are confidential.”
An Intel spokesman dismissed suggestions the chip maker forced benchmark changes. “A Pentium 4 processor at 2.8GHz is the worlds fastest desktop processor, and it is the fastest on numerous benchmarks, not just BAPCos,” said spokesman George Alfs.
- AMD, Intel Release Faster Chips, Cut Prices
- Intels 2GHz Mobile Chip Has Big Price Tag