Advanced Micro Devices launches its 1.3-GHz Athlon processor today, and tests of the first systems available demonstrate a burst of speed that in many cases surpasses Intel's 1.5-GHz Pentium 4.
While AMD's flagship chip still trails Intel's 1.5-GHz Pentium 4 in terms of raw megahertz, exclusive PC World Test Center evaluations show systems using the AMD processor paired with double data rate memory easily outperform comparable systems with the P4 and Rambus (RDRAM) memory in most tests. The first systems running AMD's 1.2-GHz Athlon and DDR also outperformed P4 systems on most benchmarks, with the major exception being video encoding tasks where the Pentium 4 tends to shine.
The 1.3-GHz Athlon is the first speed increase for the chip since last October. Early systems were tested and are available now from several smaller vendors, including Polywell, Tangent Computer, and MicroExpress. Systems will also be available from majors such as Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, and Micron as well.
The latest Athlon offering should give AMD an edge on performance until Intel comes out with its next, even faster Pentium 4, says Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64. Intel has said it plans to ship a 2-GHz Pentium 4 in the third quarter of this year.
Two Flavors of Athlon
AMD offers two versions of the 1.3-GHz Athlon. The 1.33-GHz chip has a 266-MHz front side bus that works with systems that use 266-MHz DDR memory (PC2100). The straight 1.3-GHz processor has a 200-MHz front side bus that works with 200-MHz DDR (PC1600) memory or PC-133 SDRAM memory.
Systems using the 266-MHz DDR memory will see a notable speed increase over the others, says Mark Bode, division marketing manager for desktop products at AMD. Systems with the slower chip and memory can run 6 to 10 percent slower than the 266-MHz systems, he says. The faster memory essentially buys you an extra speed grade, he says.
All three of the systems evaluated by the PC World Test Center use 256MB of the PC2100 DDR memory and Windows 2000 Professional, but their features varied. The systems range from Polywell's fully decked-out US$2988 Poly 880-K7, to Tangent's pre-production $2095 Valera, and Micro Express's $1799 bargain-priced MicroFlex 1333A. All are terrific performers, with the MicroFlex snagging the top performance spot among Windows 2000 systems.
Compaq's Presario 7000Z, based on a 1.33-GHz Athlon, will start at $1459 with 128MB of DDR SDRAM, a 20GB hard disk, CD-ROM drive, modem, and 17-inch monitor.
MicroFlex Scores Tops
Sporting an Nvidia GeForce2 Ultra-based graphics card with 64MB of memory and a 40GB Western Digital hard drive, the MicroFlex unit posts the top score of 231 on the PC WorldBench 2000 test. That makes it nearly 13 percent faster than the average of two 1.5-GHz Pentium 4-based systems previously tested, and about 5 percent faster than the average of three 1.2-GHz Athlon systems reviewed earlier. (All comparison systems run Windows 2000 and include 256MB of memory.)The Tangent and Polywell aren't far behind Micro Express, garnering PC WorldBench 2000 scores of 225 and 224, respectively. Both use Nvidia GeForce2 Ultra-based graphics cards with 64MB of memory; the Tangent comes with a 46GB IBM hard drive, while the Polywell has two 30GB IBM disks in a RAID 0 configuration, which stores data across both disks.
All three 1.33-GHz Athlon systems have a robust features set, which includes 10/100 Ethernet cards, 56-kbps modems, DVD-ROM drives (12X for Tangent and Micro Express, 16X for Polywell) and graphics cards that support the Digital Video Interface (DVI) for digital LCDs.
Micro Express sweetens a good deal with a basic Bell Office 15-inch LCD monitor and an 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive; it has an integrated sound card, but no speakers. Tangent's attractive package also includes integrated audio and a good pair of Altec Lansing ACS 45.2 speakers with subwoofer, plus a clear Optiquest 19-inch monitor.
Polywell rounds out its package with a top-notch six-piece Creative Cambridge Soundworks 5.1 Dolby speakers paired with a SoundBlaster Live Platinum card, a 16X/10X/40X CD-RW drive, Lotus SmartSuite, and a crisp 19-inch ViewSonic monitor with its high-end (and somewhat pricey) package.
Next: Mobile 1 GHz and 1.5-GHz Desktop
In addition to its announcements about its 1.3- and 1.33-GHz Athlon chips, AMD is outlining its road map for the newest Athlon and Duron cores, code-named Palomino and Morgan, respectively. Palomino and Morgan mobile cores are on schedule, AMD representatives say.
Palomino chips, which are expected to hit the street for the mobile market up to and including 1 GHz, are scheduled for release in the second quarter. Morgan for the mobile market is already delivered to PC makers and is expected to be available in production volumes by the second quarter, the company says.
Palomino and Morgan desktop processors, meanwhile, are slated to ship in the third quarter. AMD's road map indicates that Palomino's speed will be at least 1.5 GHz for the desktop, while Morgan desktop chips will run at speeds greater than 900 MHz. AMD also plans to use the Palomino processor for one- and two-way servers and workstations.
(James Evans of IDG News Service contributed to this report.)