spacePC MAX

CPU - System Considerations

A (relatively) Short Story About CPUs and Smoke and Mirrors

In the early to mid 90s the way businesses purchased their computers was by reputation. In those early days of the Internet many people didn't have access to enough information to make intelligent selections for their computers. A business standby was, "if the Information Technology, (IT), director decided to purchase IBM computers he couldn't get fired". It was the safe thing to do no matter how bad an idea it may have been at the time. (view a side note)

In roughly that same time period Intel pretty much had a lock on the CPU/Computer market. With fairly good reason at the time. The same idea applied to Intel as applied to IBM. You couldn't get fired if you purchased Intel systems. Many people were unaware there were any alternatives. In some businesses that may still be true but circumstances have changed dramatically in the last several years.

AMD CPUs were once thought of as inferior and incompatible compared to Intel. There was a time when AMD was investing their resources trying to catch up, all the while building better technology into their CPUs.

In late 2003 AMD hit a home run with their AMD Athlon™ 64 CPUs. (Here is a reference from Ziff Davis). The AMD technology was literally years ahead of Intel for desktop systems and, at the time, Intel was saying they were heading in a different direction. (They were really trying to minimize the impact of AMD having a 64-bit CPU when they didn't). Even prior to release of AMD's Athlon™ 64, AMD had a CPU that was superior to Intel's offerings in the form of the Athlon™ XP. It was well over a year after AMD had an advanced 64-bit CPU before Intel was able to ship desktop CPUs they could call 64-bit.

Then both Intel, (Core Duo), and AMD, (X2), had what they refer to as dual core, (DC) CPUs, (essentially 2 CPU's in one). Pick up almost any computer magazine worth its salt and you would have found reviews that show AMD way ahead of Intel in raw performance in the DC market. AMD beat Intel in nearly every benchmark. The design of Intel's dual core DC CPU was fundamentally flawed and they had admitted rushing it to market. They also said they were planning to redesign their DC CPU. One computer magazine maven, (John Dvorak, in PC Magazine), had claimed that Intel was at least 2 years behind AMD.. Now who is playing catch-up. This was another article from PC World that points to performance gains using AMD. In the PC World article they were comparing the standard AMD CPU against the Extreme Edition of Intel's CPU which was the top of the line for Intel at the time and far more costly than the AMD counterpart.

Sure, you could get an Intel based system that would perform as well as an AMD based system but you would pay dearly for it. There's nothing simple in the CPU business. Consumers look for X amount of memory, X amount of hard disk space, maybe X amount of memory on the video card and what they believe to be the processor they want or can afford and that's it. That's not it! In the heyday of Intel's 2.8 GHz CPU, there were no fewer than 4 different 2.8 GHz CPUs with 4 dramatically different performance characteristics, (and of course, 4 different price points), so if you said you had a system with a 2.8 GHz CPU, 512MB of main memory, a video card with 128MB of memory and a 120GB hard disk you haven't really said anything about the performance of that system. For more on this, see our hardware page.

Since late 2006 the tables turned again in favor of Intel. Their Core 2 Duo processors are running circles around most of the main stream AMD processors. Intel has still pulled the wool of many consumer's eyes by selling lower performing and higher performing Core 2 Duo processors and the public doesn't understand the differences but it's just a matter of time before AMD will catch up again. You will still pay for the performance gain in the better Core 2 Dup CPUs but in the long term it's worth the investment..

(Side story), Several years ago a customer with an out-of-state home office was convinced by the home office that they needed to standardize on the DELL systems the other branch offices used. Over the next several weeks they determined that to keep up with the single processor systems we had been providing they would require dual processor DELL systems at a price premium of 40%. Three years later they were replacing some of the DELL systems but still had some of our systems in use. Needless to say the IT person hasn't recovered, and is still trying to get the home office to change their mind.


© 2002-2016 PC MAX All Rights Reserved