Intel Changes Position: MHz Is History

We have a new chance to move away from MHz, an antiquated measure of performance, Rob Enderle says.

Around the beginning of the last decade, Intel had the most efficient processor and was trying to argue that competing designs—which had faster clock speeds but did less actual work—were in fact inferior parts. They tried to get the industry to abandon MHz as a measure of performance and failed. At the end of the decade, Apple (Motorola) and AMD had more efficient processors and tried to get the industry to move away from MHz. They, too, failed. Now, the pendulum has started to swing back, and we have another chance to move away from this antiquated measure of performance.

What is driving this change from Intels side isnt so much competition with AMDs and Apples processors, which clearly are not running at higher clock speeds, but the increasing enticement of Intels lower-cost parts. These low-cost parts—Pentium 4s without HyperThreading and Celerons—have similar clock speeds to Intels high-end offerings but do substantially less work. In other words, they are much less efficient. An interesting way to look at this is that Intel is competing with itself and losing.

The perpetual problem is that if people are locked into MHz, Intel has no easy way to show the relative value between a high-cost Pentium 4 Extreme Edition with HyperThreading (one of the few product names that is almost a sentence) at 3.1GHz, which sells for around $1,000, and a 3GHz Celeron, which sells for a fraction of that. Realize there are a number of variables that make up the Extreme Edition part: massive cache, the HyperThreading component and much faster front-side bus speed. However, few people who buy computers have the skills (or want to have the skills, for that matter) needed to understand the differences these technologies bring.

To address this, Intel is attempting to apply a number to their products so that a buyer can determine which is better. Now, this isnt the industry standard that we really need, but it is at least an admission that MHz isnt an industry standard—which opens the door for firms like Futuremark, which make benchmarks, to fill this gap.

To understand the new numbers, you first need to realize that mobile and desktop can be confusing if you compare one with the other. The simple advice is, dont. Youll know which type of product you want early on, and your comparisons will be between the different notebooks and desktops. You will probably never actually compare a notebook with a desktop.

Next page: How to group product lines.