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Early tests give advantage to Intel's Conroe

Preliminary results back up the chipmaker's boasts, but AMD fans point out that Intel built the PCs used to compare the chips.

Intel's Conroe desktop processor outperformed Advanced Micro Devices' FX-60 in tests last week, but AMD supporters are conceding nothing until systems appear in the wild.

Independent hardware reviewers at this month's Intel Developer Forum were given a chance to compare PCs based on Conroe against PCs based on AMD's FX-60 processor, its most powerful chip for desktop PCs. But the tests were done on PCs set up by Intel and run by reviewers from popular hardware sites such as AnandTech, and The Tech Report. They showed Conroe outperforming AMD's chip by about 20 percent, which was in line with claims made by Intel before and during IDF.

However, given the nature of the testing, it's too early to anoint chips based on Intel's new Core microarchitecture as the new kings of the motherboard, according to AMD fans and analysts.

The reviewers noted that they didn't detect any obvious bias toward Intel's chips. AMD supporters, however, flocked to message boards to point out that Intel's testing used an outdated BIOS that held back AMD's performance by a small degree and used an older motherboard. They also said Intel's test was unable to predict how AMD's chips would perform once the company adds support for faster DDR2 memory in the second half of the year.

Rahul Sood, chief technology officer of high-end PC maker VoodooPC, weighed in on his blog with suggestions for a more equitable comparison. However, when AnandTech reran its tests incorporating some of those suggestions, Conroe's overall advantage was still around 20 percent.

Benchmarks for individual applications--mostly games--were primarily used in the comparison during these tests. But until Intel's chips are are introduced later this year, it's impossible to say with certainty exactly how much of an advantage the company's chips will deliver, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Conroe appears to have outdone anything AMD will have available this year, but it's a question of how much, McCarron said. With faster memory and a likely move to faster clock speeds in the second half of the year, AMD's chips will be capable of better performance than the FX-60. But the new chips probably won't outdo Conroe based on the relatively minor changes AMD is making to its design this year, he said.

AMD's current advantage stems from its decision to integrate the memory controller and use Hypertransport buses on its AMD64 chips unveiled in 2003, McCarron said. This was a major step forward in performance, similar to the major step Intel is now taking with its Core microarchitecture, he said.

"That is a one-time gain when you make that architectural transition. Once that's done, you're back to the usual, getting performance through clock rate and cache size," McCarron said. "But at some point (AMD) will revise their architecture, too."

Systems based on Conroe are expected to launch later this year, and all the reviewers have pledged to publish updated results based on systems they've built and configured themselves.