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AMD Athlon vs. Intel Coppermine

by Bob Wright

AMD Athlon vs. Intel Coppermine
Bigger, better... faster

Bob Wright
October 26, 1999


Recently, I have been receiving a great many emails asking about the latest technology jumps in CPU speed. One interesting point I never hear is questions regarding design, engineering and benchmarks. Of course, I spend some time constantly keeping abreast of the latest technology, listening to all the advances in CPU design. Usually my eyes glaze over when I begin to analyze the engineering data, issues like: PentiumIII core 256kb advanced transfer cache on-die, 4x reduction in latency vs Katmai PIII L2, 2 cycle back to back throughput, 8 bus queue entries improved from 4 bus queue entries, decrease in minimum gate dimension for improved speed, Additional metal layer for routing density enables full-speed integrated L2 interface… blah, blah, blah…

I know these are important issues to some people, people I personally do not know. But, this is about helping to explain some "real world" issues, issues that effect you and me.

These new CPUs, Athlon and Coppermine, are the next generation of speed initiatives for AMD and Intel. These CPUs will be pressing the envelope of the over 600mhz computer. In the past, AMD has played catch-up to Intel, utilizing chipsets and CPU sockets abandoned by Intel as they move on to each new speed increase in computing power, such as the Socket3 on 486 motherboards, with AMD's release of the 486DX-133 CPU that out performed the Pentium75 CPU in the Socket5 motherboards… or the more recent AMD marvels, the K6-2 & K6-3 CPUs that utilized the abandoned Socket7 (Pentium) motherboards, pressing beyond the Intel CPUs of 233mhz on to 500mhz.

So, we can complain the Intel kept abandoning CPU sockets and chipsets, only to have AMD come along and give us inexpensive upgrade options. Now, it is Intel that comes along with the upgrade options for Slot1 motherboard users and AMD that abandons us, requiring we upgrade to their latest SlotA motherboard socket in order to use Athlon CPUs.

AMD Athlon Intel Coppermine

What does this mean?
If you have a socket7 or earlier motherboard and you are wanting to upgrade, either way you will be replacing your motherboard. You can choose the Slot1, Slot2 or SlotA motherboard and an appropriate CPU. If you are like many who bought a Slot1 motherboard such as the ASUS P2B, BX chipset, with the idea in mind that you can upgrade it with only a new CPU for a long time into the future, then Intel will be your only recourse for CPUs.

So which is faster?
You can visit all the gamer web sites, the engineering stimulated sites, those web sites devoted to the latest, greatest and fastest thing on the market… only to be bedazzled with numbers, charts and engineering references that will boggle your mind. The real truth about CPU speed is always the same… one CPU vs another in the same speed range is pretty much the same, for 99% of all computer users, ie: Intel Coppermine 700mhz vs. AMD Athlon 700mhz. In the real world, where most people use a home PC for word processing, browsing the web, family finances and the occasional computer game, you will not be disappointed with either manufacturer when selecting a CPU. Benchmark tests mean relatively little in the real world of a home PC user… so we are not going to even begin to dazzle you with graphs and charts that mean little or nothing in the final analysis.

How to choose a CPU?
The real story here is, as it always has been, the AMD CPUs are a little less money. Intel CPUs in the same speed range are always just a bit more money. Some people are die hard Intel fans and willing to spend the extra money, including yours truly. Personally, I have two system here at my workstation and both have slot1 motherboards, an ASUS P2B and an ABIT BE6. That fairly insures that when I decide to upgrade them, a PII-450 and PIII-550, respectively, I will be choosing Intel CPUs… mostly because the Coppermine CPUs will fit into both boards.

If you are must replace the motherboard to upgrade to either CPU to move into the over 600mhz range, then I recommend you make decide based on your own comfort levels with either AMD or Intel. Either CPU will give you great performance.

My best advice as it always has been is to not buy the fastest CPU offered on the market. Always go with what you can afford, realizing that the software available never requires a CPU that will cost you much over the $150 price range… typically a good dollar investment for a CPU is between $150 to $250. Remember that the price of the fastest CPUs on the market will always drop into this range within 6 to 9 months of being released. Often waiting this small time frame will save you $400 to $500 dollars and you will be just as happy with your computer's performace.

Any other considerations?
There is one thing you should consider when deciding to upgrade into the next level of CPU speed, that is your existing computer case or at least the power supply. All of these new CPUs require ATX form factor motherboards, so if your case is AT, you need to factor this in. If you already have an ATX case, also consider that AMD highly recommends a 300watt power supply, while Intel is still content that their CPUs are used in 250watt systems.

Gearhead Gamers and Overclockers
If you fall into these categories, and you know who you are… most of what I have said will be rather tame for you. We here at The NOSPIN Group are not geared to helping you with your decisions about upgrading, we are not going to advise you how to abuse a CPU by configuring it beyond the manufacturers specifications and tweak it down so tight it screams for vast amounts of cooling and constant adjustments to the CMOS, drivers and operating system. I will simply point you in the direction of a few web sites devoted to helping you:

Tom's Hardware
Anand Tech
System Optimization
Sharky Extreme


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