Does it matter?? - Updated 4-04-02Mar 30, 2001 (Updated Apr 4, 2002) Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in ProcessorsThe Bottom Line Well, yes and no.
The average computer user won't be able to tell the difference between an Intel processor and an AMD processor, provided they are aimed for the same market segment (either value or performance). As in, it's unfair to compare a Celeron to an AthlonXP, or a Duron to a Pentium4. Here's the market aim for Intel and AMD...
Value: Celeron Tualatin
Most computer enthusiasts, or geeks to some, find that they do have a preference when they research and experiment with processors from Intel and AMD. So, are you one of these people?
If you are an average computer user who doesn't want to bother with details and technical architecture, you won't care either way. I suggest you ignore the Intel/AMD war and leave the answer to my title a resounding NO; pay more attention to the rest of your computer. Now go away because I'm going to get into details and technical architecture.
Intel and AMD currently
Intel has the best track record of any current and past consumer microprocessor company, though they have had their hitches, too. Their current line of processors continues with the Pentium line (personally, I think they need a new proc name) and a new core! Better still, they won the race to 2GHz! But when will they increase that 32KB of level 1 cache on all their procs??
Intel has significantly changed their Celerons; so much so that I don't know if I should actually call them Celeron III's. The newer Celeron II's on a 100MHz bus with 128KB of level 2 cache come in speeds of 800MHz, 850MHz, 900MHz, 950MHz, 1GHz, and 1.1GHz. Intel's newest Celeron III's come on the same 100MHz bus, at speeds of 1.1GHz, 1.2GHz, and 1.3GHz, but they now have 256KB of level 2 cache! The very fact that the Celeron now has the same level 2 cache as the standard Pentium III suggests that Intel wants to keep the Celeron name, and I see no reason to think that a Pentium4-based value processor will come out soon and will be named 'Celeron4' or something like that. Anyway, the new 1.3GHz Celeron with 256KB of level 2 cache looks so good, I might now even consider it over a Duron. I might.
The desktop version of the improved PentiumIII, named the PentiumIII Tualatin, is one powerful piece of silicon. The Tualatin variations come in speeds of 1GHz, 1.1GHz, 1.13GHz, 1.2GHz, 1.26GHz, and 1.33GHz and have a 133MHz bus speed. Also, 1.2GHz and above PIII's are based on the new 0.13 micron process, making them smaller and cooler than ever before, and have 512KB of level 2 cache! Now comes the bad news: these babies are in the Pentium4 price class and are hard as h*ll to find! If you can find one, and if the price is less than 1.5 times as much as an equal speed Celeron (or the nearest one), then the PIII Tualatin might be worth it for those of you with Tualatin motherboards. Otherwise, their price is so high, you might as well skip value and go for a full-fledged P4 system.
The Pentium4 "Northwood" processors are much improved over the standard P4 design. They are only made for the microPGA 478 socket interface, have SSE2 instruction optimizations, are based on a 0.13 micron process, and have 512KB of level 2 cache! As you can see, they're like PIII Tualatins in P4 clothing with a healthy dose of adrenaline! With so much power, they also have speeds to match: 2GHz (2.0A model P4), 2.2GHz, and 2.4GHz. The Pentium4 also has a lot of platform options up its sleeve as of late, such as support for SDRAM, DDR RAM, and RDRAM, depending on what motherboard you get. SDRAM is fine for P4's less than 2GHz, but its bandwidth is lacking beyond that. DDR RAM is good for all P4 speeds but RDRAM takes the speed crown with the Northwood P4's because of their maxed-out performance. The fastest 2.2GHz Northwood P4 and/or an RDRAM system will set you back a lot, but the Pentium4 continues Intel's tradition of making the CPU by which all others are compared (check out the AthlonXP!). Whatever Pentium4 you get, make sure it's on Socket478 or you won't have a chance to upgrade (like when the current Northwoods come down in price!).
AMD has been knocking on Intel's door ever since they released the Athlon K7 in August of '99. The big blow came when AMD won the race to 1GHz in March of 2000, big enough to shake former Intel-only fans. The reasons were well-founded since AMD only made rather unspectacular value processors until the Athlon. All current versions of AMD processors have a whopping 128KB of level 1 cache!
AMD's value-based processor is the Duron, which fits into the same processor interface as all current AMD processors: SocketA. It comes in speeds of 600MHz (which is difficult to find now) to 1GHz on its 'older' core, and in speeds of 1GHz to 1.3GHz on its new Morgan core (a smaller version of the Palomino core used in the new AthlonXP). While the 'older' core certainly wasn't a slouch in terms of performance, it could after all best any Celeron II 50MHz faster, the new Palomino core adds some enhancements that were too long in coming. First of all, both cores have a 200MHz bus speed, 64KB of full-speed level 2 cache (this is the first x86 proc to have less L2 cache than L1), and a 0.18 micron process. The new Palomino core improves the use of the cache (so that less of it is wasted), and adds SSE instructions (just like Intel uses) to AMD's own 3D Now! instruction set to create 3D Now! Professional. Basically, the Duron now performs at about the same level as a similar speed Pentium III, probably better. Not bad for a processor that is considered 'value'.
The 'older' Athlon Thunderbird is old news. Nowadays, you can only find the AthlonXP, and rightly so. A new core upgrade to Palomino, support for only the 266MHz bus speed, and SSE instruction additions for competing more evenly with Intel's processors (the P4 uses the newer SSE2 instruction set, though). The only things that haven't changed are the SocketA interface (which rarely works on older motherboards because of the voltage difference) and the same 0.18 micron process. AMD's 0.13 micron process has yet to come, which has allowed Intel to once again maintain the roost. Still, the AthlonXP is by no means a slouch! The 2100+ model can go toe-to-toe with the "Northwood" P4 2.2GHz, but let me explain those model numbers. The AthlonXP ranges in speed from 1.33GHz (1500+ model) to 1.73GHz (2100+ model) in 66MHz increments; for every 66MHz more, the model number increases by 100. So, the AthlonXP 1.47GHz is the 1700+ model. The model number represents performance relative to the old Athlon Thunderbirds, so the 1600+ model performs as well as a Thunderbird would if it were at 1600MHz, but the AthlonXP does it with only 1400MHz, so just by that example you can see how much the AthlonXP has improved over the old Thunderbirds :)
What's the Deal with RAM? - RAM and chipsets are very important for fulfilling the potential of a processor. So how do Intel and AMD stack up?
CeleronII/III - This processor supports PC66/100/133 SDRAM but considering RAM prices lately, I wouldn't go with anything less than PC133 if you can help it. You'll need a motherboard that supports Tualatin processors, which means you'll need the i815et/ept chipset, or a motherboard guaranteed to work by the manufacturer with FC-PGA2 (some of these are even based on the original i815 chipset). And of course, if it supports Tualatin, it supports the PentiumIII Tualatin, though usually only to a limit (like 1.2GHz).
Pentium4 - Intel's i850 chipset supporting dual-channel RDRAM with the P4 is still the king in terms of performance, but is only really noticeable with the Pentium4 Northwoods. Then there are the chipsets that use SDRAM and DDR SDRAM, like the i845/D ('D' for DDR) and the SiS 645D (which actually supports PC2700 DDR RAM!). As for the VIA P4X266, if you happen to find one stay away because of the nasty lawsuit that pressured this chipset out of the market, and is likely to end up with a lot of unsupported motherboards.
Slot Processors - If you have a Slot1 processor from Intel - such as a Celeron, PII, or PIII - you should only get one chipset: Intel's 440BX. This is the longest lasting chipset in all of PC history! Many motherboard manufacturers have added separate controller chips and other tweaks to extend the capabilities of this otherwise mediocre chipset (by today's standards), adding 4x AGP, PC133 SDRAM support, a 133MHz bus speed, ATA/66 support, and even onboard SCSI or RAID! Quite cool and it's actually quite easy to find a BX board with most or all of these features. If you have slot, go with BX.
Duron - This value proc has some serious capabilities with VIA's KT133A chipset (bug free from what I've seen), like PC133 SDRAM support in sync with a 266MHz bus, though Durons only support a 200MHz bus. Most retail Duron PC's are equipped with the Savage4 onboard video chipset (which isn't that bad), but the Duron has more than enough power to push GeForce-type graphics cards if you want one! See below for additional SocketA chipsets.
AthlonXP - Minimum chipset for the AthlonXP is AMD's 761, which performs acceptably with PC1600 DDR SDRAM and a 266MHz bus speed. The other DDR chipsets are: VIA's KT266/A, ALi's MagiK1, and SiS' 635. The newest contendor is NVidia's nForce chipset, which is quite a good performer but includes the extra price of a GeForce2 MX chip for the onboard graphics. For the price, it's not worth it, but a new version is coming out soon with just the chipset and no onboard graphics and this one will be worth it. Otherwise, the KT266A is the best choice, with full support for all SocketA processors, from the Duron 600MHz to the AthlonXP 2100+ :)
Verdict? - The final verdict on which processor company to choose is up to you. I've just told you a few things about them and their current processors, a debate that has raged for far too long. While AMD offers alluring prices for custom-builders, Intel users prefer the almost pristine compatability and stability record of Intel's own chipsets. AMD almost totally relies on third-party chipsets for their procs, meaning that often they release a new processor before a chipset is available for it! Always do your research before settling on a processor & RAM platform, no matter which CPU company you choose.
For those who are at the extreme end of Intel-only or AMD-only, I think the only processor subject they agree upon is that PC procs are better than Mac procs! Don't get too far to one extreme or you'll be cutting yourself off from the computer industry in sheer blindness. Think for yourself!
I tried to be as unbiased as I could be in this epinion but I, too, have a preference. Can you guess? Intel or AMD for me?
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