SAN FRANCISCO (08/28/2000) - It has been a banner year for CPUs, and it's not over yet. Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. have blown past the 1-GHz milestone each company reached earlier this year. The latest speedsters:
AMD's 1.1-GHz Athlon and Intel's 1.13-GHz Pentium III.
In our tests, both chips powered top-of-the-line processing that will come in handy for digital video editing and multimedia creation, hard-core 3D gaming, or complex scientific and mathematical modeling.
Limited availability is the only major downside to these newcomers, a problem with all new high-end processors recently. The 1.13-GHz Pentium III will be available only in limited quantities initially, with the supply increasing toward the end of the year. The 1.1-GHz Athlon should be available in quantity at launch.
Want to save a little money? Consider a 1-GHz machine or even an 800-MHz system. A 1-GHz system can be had for $400 to $500 less than a comparable topline PC. Switch to an 800-MHz CPU in a similarly configured machine, and the savings increase by $300 at least, but you'll sacrifice about 12 to 15 percent of the performance you would have gotten from the top systems.
We tested a reference system from AMD equipped with a new 1.1-GHz chip, 128MB of PC100 SDRAM, a 34GB hard disk, and a graphics card bearing NVidia Corp.'s GeForce2 GTS chip with 32MB of DDR SDRAM. The 1.13-GHz Pentium III CPU was mounted in a $3799 Dell Computer Corp. Dimension XPS B loaded with 128MB of PC800 RDRAM, a 45GB hard disk, both a DVD-ROM drive and an 8X/4X/32X CD-RW drive, an NVidia-GeForce2-GTS-based graphics card with 64MB of DDR SDRAM, a modem, 10/100 ethernet, and a 19-inch monitor.
The Dell system edged out AMD's reference PC on our PC WorldBench 2000 test suite with a score of 175, the highest we've seen by a Windows 98 system. AMD wasn't far behind, however, scoring 171 on our benchmark; you wouldn't notice any difference while using typical business applications. Still, these scores are less than 10 percent higher than those racked up by 1-GHz units. Noticeable speed gains occur only if you trade up from an 800-MHz or 600-MHz PC; on our tests, these typically score 12 to 22 percent lower than PCs with the new chips. (PC WorldBench 2000 is a system-level test.)Next UpBy year's end, Intel will up the ante again in the two-handed CPU poker game by releasing its Pentium 4, the latest revision in the Pentium line. The Pentium 4 is expected to debut at 1.4 GHz or faster. AMD's next-generation Athlon processor, code-named Mustang, is also on the horizon. Aimed primarily at the workstation market, Mustang is also likely to debut at speeds well beyond 1 GHz and carry up to 1MB of Level 2 cache.
By the time you read this, Compaq Computer Corp. and Gateway Inc. should be marketing 1.1-GHz Athlons priced several hundred dollars lower than comparably configured Pentium systems--a great deal if you're among the PC users who need the highest level of performance.--Anush Yegyazarian* Dimension XPS BList price: $3799, Dell Computer, 800/388-8542; www.dell.comUPDATEDELL'S NEW Dimension XPS B Series with Intel's 1.13-GHz Pentium III.