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Results mixed from Athlon, Pentium tests

Results of benchmark tests are in on the new Athlon XP processor, and the winner of the performance crown is unclear.

Results of benchmark tests are in on the new Athlon XP processor, and the winner of the performance crown is...well, it's hard to say.

Advanced Micro Devices on Tuesday unveiled its new Athlon XP processor for PCs. With the announcement, the chipmaker said that its Athlon XP 1800+ chip outperforms Intel's 2GHz Pentium 4 chip, even though the XP 1800+ runs at 1.53GHz. AMD adopted the new naming strategy to reflect performance relative to market-dominating Intel products.

For the most part, benchmark testers who've been running the chip applauded the Athlon XP, although an absolute winner is tough to declare. Some testers said the Athlon XP outperformed the 2GHz Pentium 4.

Some called it a better value. Most testers, however, said it depends on the application. The 2GHz Pentium 4 showed higher performance on tests related to 3D graphics, such as the game "Quake 3." But Athlon XP 1800+ excelled at productivity applications, such as word processing and e-mail.

This is "not a whole big shift from what the Pentium 4/Athlon positioning has been previously," said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research, which published results of its tests on its site The Meter. "The 'Quake 3' results for Pentium 4 have always been much stronger, while Athlon has traditionally done better on business" applications.

The 1800+ is "roughly comparable" to the 1.8GHz Pentium 4, McCarron said, adding that the 1800+ outperforms the 2GHz Pentium 4 on certain tests. As a result, AMD could have conceivably placed a higher number on the chip, but "the tests are showing that they are trying to be as legitimate as they can," McCarron said.

Kevin Krewell of the Microprocessor Report said the new Athlon "is closer to the 2GHz. The only one AMD gets bitten on is 'Quake 3.'"

Tests at Source Magazine echoed a similar theme, finding the 2GHz Pentium 4 won out on "Quake 3" benchmarks and 3D Mark 2000. But the Athlon won on the Winstone business benchmark used to test productivity applications, and the Winstone content creation measurement. The benchmark tests performance on graphics applications such as Adobe Premier and Macromedia Dreamweaver.

An Intel representative declined to comment directly on AMD's claims, but stated, "The Pentium 4 is the highest performance desktop processor."

Later this year, the company will boost the speed of the Pentium 4 to 2.2GHz and move the chip to the advanced 130-nanometer manufacturing process.

AMD CEO Jerry Sanders said during his Tuesday presentation that AMD is taking a more holistic view, also taking price into account. Asked why the new chip wasn't dubbed Athlon XP 2000+, Sanders responded: "The answer is because the value proposition we're bringing to the market is up to 25 percent higher performance for the same price."

He added that AMD would offer a "Model 2000 this year after the Christmas selling season."

In any event, the great debate over Intel vs. AMD is becoming an academic one, analysts say. With the processors reaching levels of performance that go well beyond what most individuals need to send an e-mail or type a document, purchasing decisions come down to more of a question of price and availability.

"At the top end of the performance curve, we've gotten to the point where aspects of the platform are far more dominant than the processor," McCarron said. In "Quake 3" tests using high resolution, the main differentiator is really the graphics processor, he said. "With business productivity apps, all these processors at the top end are pretty comparable."

As for which chip is ultimately better, it depends on which computer guru you ask and perhaps how much you are willing to pay for your PC, industry analysts say.

"There is no clear winner here," said Duane Pemberton, editor in chief at Source Magazine. "They both do certain things very well, and both reward the consumer with a great computing experience. I think...one needs to ask themselves which one will provide me with the power to do what I need to, at the lowest possible cost.

"In that regard," Pemberton said, "I believe the Athlon XP is the winner."

Pemberton, however, refuses to call the new chip the Athlon XP 1800+ and will stick to calling the chip Athlon 1.53GHz.