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King of the Silicon Hill:
Today's High-End Microprocessors

Wednesday, November 13, 2002
By RevenantChaos,TopCoder Member

All of the optimizations in the world are nothing compared to one simple truth: your code is only as good as the microprocessor that's chewing on it. In the CPU game, there are two (well, maybe three) major players: AMD, Intel, and (if you're feeling generous) Cyrix.

AMD is best known for its high-end "Athlon" line (which utilizes the Thoroughbred core), which currently is topped by the XP 2600+ at 2.133 gigahertz. The XP 2800+ is currently being launched. AMD also produces the performance "Duron" line (which employs the Morgan core) and is in the process of getting a new set of processor lines on the market. AMD's processors consistently benchmark at the top of the pack, as will be demonstrated below.

Intel, which is AMD's major competition largely because of their advertising budget and deals with prefab system makers, produces the Pentium line, which is currently in its fourth generation. The Pentium IV line tops off at 2.53 gigahertz; a 2.8Ghz model has enjoyed a paper release, but isn't really in circulation yet. They also produce the Celeron line, which more or less consists of Pentiums minus most of their cache. Intel also makes some specialty lines, such as the expensive Xeon server processor line.

There are three major differences between the Intel and AMD lines. First, the Intel processors tend to reach significantly higher clock speeds. Also, the Intels have significantly higher FSB speeds; however, there is debate as to whether or not it really detriments much from the AMD chips' relative performance. Finally, the AMD processors tend to be much more efficient per cycle. An Intel machine might complete up to 2.5 billion cycles per second compared to an AMD-based system's 2.13 billion, but the AMD tends to get an appreciably larger amount of work done with each cycle. Also, the top-of-the-line AMD chip is over a hundred dollars less expensive than the top-of-the-line Pentium IV.

Van's Hardware has developed a set of third-party independent benchmarks, and this suite provides a perfect example of how the two chipmakers' products fare against each other. These were run on a Windows XP system, using the 2.13-gigahertz Athlon (the XP 2600+) and the 2.5-gigahertz Pentium 4.

Benchmarks from Van's Hardware (

Application Victor Margin
Photoshop AMD 13%
Illustrator AMD 21%
AutoCAD AMD 25%
POV-Ray AMD 35%
Phase2 AMD 25%
BrainMaker Pro AMD 14%

As you can see, the Intel chip looses all of these tests - more expensive, hotter-running, and less efficient. The SysMark 2000 tests (below) were run using the same hardware.

Benchmarks from SysMark 2000 (by BAPCo)

Application Victor Margin
Windows Media Encoder* Intel 30%
Photoshop AMD 10%
Paradox AMD 20%
Communicator AMD 1%
NaturallySpeaking Intel 6%
CorelDraw AMD 38%
Bryce AMD 13%

The Windows Media Encoder test is broken; WME does not detect some of the AMD's capabilities and it is therefore unfairly handicapped. Otherwise, the AMD does quite well. The Intel does manage to pull ahead in the NaturallySpeaking test; it excels at bandwidth-intensive tasks. This is the Intel chip's one strength. It tends to excel at content creation as well. One might visit the AnandTech review referenced below for more about this.

The SysMark 2002 tests tell a different story: AMD barely wins any. BAPCo, which produces the SysMark suite, is more or less an Intel tool for distributing propaganda; there is BAPCo correspondence (a photo of one such letter appears in the relevant Van's Hardware article, as well as in various other places) sent from Intel's internal post office. While the BAPCo-SysMark story certainly makes for interesting reading, it is beyond the scope of this article, which is focused on the products' performance.

Therefore, it becomes painfully obvious that the Athlon processor line is well ahead of the current Intel competition. Some of the gaps (up to a 38% difference, in the SysMark 2000 CorelDraw test) are so large that the 2.8 gigahertz Pentium won't even stand a chance, much less the 2.5 gigahertz models that are currently in circulation. Intel puts out the SysMarks and other such corrupt benchmarks to convince us otherwise; look at some third-party figures (as above) and decide for yourself. Computers are expensive and your time should be occupied with coding; why pay more for an inferior product that'll only make you wait longer?


  1. Van's Hardware
    article 1
    article 2
  2. OC Workbench
  3. AnandTech
By RevenantChaos
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