CPUs: Competition Improves the Breed

Network and memory bandwidths are probably your bottlenecks.

In this post-Arthur Andersen era, it was ironic to see an auditors signature over the benchmark figures in AMDs Athlon XP 2600+ processor announcement last month. This makes them more believable?

Moreover, those audited numbers offer no direct comparison against competing CPUs. Who cares if the numbers are accurate if they dont help you make a decision?

For comments that offer a little more kick than PricewaterhouseCoopers milksoppy "fairly stated, in all material respects," its nice to have our colleagues at www.extremetech.com provide us with this bottom line: "Even though Intels premium CPU [the 2.8GHz Pentium 4 disclosed last week] comes in at a lower entry price than past high-end Intel releases, the best price/performance ratio still lies with either the center of Intels product line or with AMD-based systems." As I said last week, the mystery is the reluctance of enterprise-oriented system builders to offer buyers an AMD option.

There are those who believe that Intel will have the last laugh. Yes, the Pentium 4 has a disappointingly long pipeline that can drastically handicap performance in unpredictable tasks, but "AMD is beginning to run out of steam," argued independent analyst David Cohen in a paper he presented to American Computer last January. At 2GHz, Cohen opined, the Athlons complex function units were already seeing a workload that would not challenge a Pentium 4s simpler logic below 3.8GHz—and the Pentium 4 architecture, he predicted, will handle as much as 10GHz while the Athlon "probably never will exceed 2.5GHz."

Personally, Ive learned not to give much credence to statements that any given clock rate is the limit for any given CPU design. If I went through my old briefing charts, Im pretty sure Id find the one from several years ago quoting Alpha processor proponents asserting that the Pentium architecture couldnt get past 300MHz. Meanwhile, Toms Hardware Guide reports its Munich, Germany, lab successfully running an Athlon XP at 2.666GHz, albeit when cooled to 40 degrees below zero. (Extra credit if you already knew that at minus 40, Fahrenheit and Celsius intersect.)

Network and memory bandwidths, not processor power, are probably your bottlenecks. Meanwhile, competition improves the breed. Lets root for both contenders.

Tell me what youd pay for a faster PC at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.