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AMD working on new PC rating method

The chipmaker expands its fight against the "fastest chip equals best PC" approach, moving from a consumer-education effort to developing a new way of judging performance.

Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices is continuing its fight against the most common way of rating computer performance--a method that relies on what AMD calls the "megahertz myth."

Last summer, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company launched its True Performance Initiative, urging consumers to question the notion that a PC with a faster chip will always outperform one with a slower processor. Now AMD says it has joined with other members of the PC industry to develop a new measurement, one that would take various factors into consideration to more accurately reflect the overall performance of a computer.

"We've been working with industry leaders today to propose a come up with a better way for end users to evaluate what they're really getting," Patrick Moorhead, vice president of consumer advocacy for AMD, said Wednesday--the same day AMD introduced two new Athlon XP desktop PC processors. Moorhead said AMD is seeking feedback from software developers, as well as from other PC-component makers.

Consumers often compare processor clock speeds and prices on various new PCs. But the lowest cost PC with the highest clock speed processor might not always offer the best overall performance, AMD maintains. The company has argued that a less expensive machine with one of its own 1.8GHz Athlon XP 2200+ processors can perform as well or better than a PC using archrival Intel's 2.26GHz Pentium 4 chip.

But some PC industry players might ask why another performance measure is needed when a host of PC evaluations and performance information is available.

Currently, PC makers can cite a number of measurements, including benchmarks--tests that score performance based on how quickly the computer handles a certain task--processor clock speeds; and even the performance of various components, such as memory or graphics cards.

But AMD says that any one of these measurements tells only part of the story and that trying to juggle all of them only muddies the waters for people intent on bringing home a new PC, especially first-time buyers. It proposes a method that would take all the different factors into consideration and produce an easily digestible rating that buyers could consider at the store, without referring to a host of intimidating reference materials.

"Lightbulbs have better information about them at the point of sale than PCs," Moorhead said, adding that what's good for customers is good for the business--now in the throes of a major sales slump. "A confused buyer is a buyer who sits on the sidelines. That's not good for the industry," he said.

Reviewers for magazines and Web sites tend to use benchmarks, such as Business Applications Performance's SYSmark, to measure the performance of desktop PCs. But though some of these tests are designed to measure overall performance, analysts have said they could use an overhaul.

"There's a lack of good, independent system-oriented benchmarks," said Dean McCarron, with Mercury Research.

McCarron said that as long as it involved the largest PC makers, a new independent body might be able to create a credible test.

Though most hardware makers are usually eager to join in on new PC industry standards, those contacted by CNET said it was too early to comment on the new proposal, which has not yet been finalized. Intel, for example, said it hasn't yet seen any new proposals regarding performance from AMD.

Moorhead said AMD hopes to release the new PC performance measurement by early next year. "We're in analysis mode" right now, he said.