Intel Pentium 4 vs. AMD Athlon – a First Look

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Comparing Intel’s and AMD’s (almost) Finest

I’m sure this will be the first of a series of comparisons between the Intel Pentium 4 and the AMD Athlon based systems that I write over the next few months. I plan on updating it from time to time as revisions and new models of both the CPU’s and chipsets are released, but let’s just focus on what is available now to get a peek at what is to come. I had planned on waiting a bit for this series of articles but I think it may be interesting to watch the performance changes as the products progress over the next few months.

The recently introduced Intel Pentium 4 2.0GHz is currently the fastest in the Intel CPU line, while the AMD Athlon is currently available in speeds up to1.4GHz with the Thunderbird core for desktop CPU’s. The Athlon MP for multiprocessor applications is available at 1.2GHz, and it has the new Palomino core. However, AMD will be releasing the desktop Athlon with the new Palomino core in speeds up to 1.5GHz in the next three to five weeks, so which to compare with? I started out thinking of using an Athlon 1.4 (T-Bird), but decided against it because of the impending release of the Palomino core for the desktop (one of the reasons I’d been waiting to run these tests). So I decided to use an Athlon MP 1.2 as a single CPU for the test, figuring I would compare it to the P4 running at about 1.7~1.8GHz on a i845 SDRAM based Mainboard. Why the i845? Well, my rationale was that since AMD CPU’s cost less, it would make sense to compare using the lower priced i845 and SDRAM combination over a more expensive i850 and RDRAM setup. Some may say I should have considered an SDRAM Socket A chipset such as the KT133A instead of the DDR KT266, but since the DDR Mainboards are more current (just like the Intel platforms) I felt it was appropriate to use the KT266 and DDR. My goof was thinking I should be comparing the SDRAM based i845 to the Athlon at all!

When released, the Palomino core Athlon should start at 1.3GHz and go through 1.5GHz initially, topping the current max speed of 1.4GHz for the T-Bird Athlon. Since it only made sense to compare the latest P4 to what will be the latest Athlon, my only issue now was that the Athlon MP is currently only rated for 1.2GHz, while the P4 goes all the way to 2.0GHz. So I started out trying to find a speed range for the P4 that would be about equal in performance to the Athlon MP at 1.2GHz. I knew 1.5GHz for the P4 was too low so I tried 1.7,but that was also too low. I then tried 1.8GHz, but that was still too low! So I said the heck with it and used 2.0GHz. This also allowed me to compare both the Intel 845 SDRAM and 850 RDRAM chipsets, something I had not planned on doing initially. I had planned to just use the i845, since I can set the Soyo P4ISR to any multiplier I wish, but now that I was going to use 2.0GHz I could also compare using the D850MD RDRAM 850 chipset based Mainboard. It turns out that was a good thing to do.

I decided to use a Soyo K7V Dragon using the VIA KT266 DDR SDRAM chipset, but that brought up another issue, as the KT266 will be replaced shortly with the KT266A, which should have better performance. Well, like I said this article is only the first in what may be a long series.

So what did we end up with? Comparing the state of the art Intel Pentium 4 2.0GHz CPU (by that I mean the latest and fastest) with the latest i850 (high end in price and performance) and the i845 (midrange in price and performance) chipsets to a 1.2GHz Athlon MP CPU that runs at a slower speed than the soon-to-be-released desktop version, with chipset that has worse performance than the soon-to-be-released replacement. Doesn’t seem fair to the AMD does it? Well let’s find out.


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