AMD Chips: a Lab Rats Retrospective

Under the nastiest workload we could devise at the time, the AMD chips worked fine.

Ive never understood the reluctance of top-tier PC builders to incorporate AMD chips in their enterprise-oriented machines. When Hewlett-Packard announced last week that its putting AMD Athlon processors in its Compaq D315 Business PC series, my immediate reaction was "Its about time."

I cant find a solid number for the market cap that Intel has gained from its Intel Inside campaign, now just a month past its 11th birthday, but Ive always said that it was brilliant marketing by Intel and a brain-dead error for every PC builder that helped transfer buyer loyalty from its own brand to the brand of a component supplier.

When Ive been offered the choice between otherwise comparable PCs with Intel or AMD CPUs, Ive always found the AMD option costing less for the same capability. Is this a difficult decision? My familys late-1998 Compaq Presario, for example, has an AMD 400MHz K6 processor; my recollection is that I saved more than $100 compared with a similar Compaq model, right there on the same shelf at Best Buy, that instead used a Pentium III.

I remember when AMD shipped its first 386-class processor: Several of our Labs and news staff met with AMD engineers (in a Las Vegas suite during Comdex, as I recall), and the AMD folks were astonished when I pulled out several floppy disks (remember when applications came on those?) of software that used the still-rare 32-bit mode with DOS- extender technologies. "No one else brought software," said one of the AMD reps.

Well, weve always felt that our Labs had to earn that name—and under the nastiest CPU-intensive workload that we could devise at the time, the AMD chips worked fine.

On another occasion, AMD apprehensively sent an engineer to my L.A.-area office to accompany a production model of its chip for a side-by-side test against Intels. That was the time we put temperature probes on the respective chip packages while running another nasty suite of CPU benchmark routines and found the AMD chip running slightly faster and measurably cooler than Intels. Works for me—and the Athlon offers even more significant advantages in design, as Ill discuss next week.

If you prefer Intel Inside, tell me why at