High-end P4: Better, not best

SAN FRANCISCO (11/20/2003) - With the unexpected announcement of the company's first gaming-oriented processor--the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition--Intel Corp. obviously hoped to steal some thunder from Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Athlon 64 launch. But while PC World tests show that the new P4 EE outruns a standard Pentium 4, AMD's shipping Athlon 64 FX-51 outperforms both.

We tested the P4 EE, a 3.2-GHz CPU with a whopping 2MB L3 cache, on an Alienware Corp. PC originally equipped with a standard 3.2-GHz P4. That system included 1GB of memory and an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card with 256MB of graphics memory--as did each of three Athlon 64 FX-51-based systems (from Alienware, Falcon Northwest Computer Systems Inc., and Voodoo Computers Ltd.)

On PC WorldBench 4, the average score of the three Athlon 64 FX-51 systems was 142, about 8 percent higher than the P4 EE system's score of 131 (the same system with a standard 3.2-GHz P4 scored 126). The FX-51-based PCs also dominated the P4- and P4 EE-based PCs in our AUGI Gauge and Premiere 6 tests. Other scores were closer, but the only test in which the P4 EE unit actually beat the AMD competition was the one for Musicmatch 7.1 encoding.

The average cost of the FX-51-based systems we tested for our November issue was over $3300. Intel expected to begin shipping vendor and retail processors in early November. Volume pricing for the P4 EE is higher than for the Athlon 64 FX-51, but the AMD chip requires both a more expensive motherboard and costlier memory. Analyst Kevin Krewell at Reed Business says that he expects P4 EE systems to cost about the same as comparably configured FX-51 PCs.

Gamers should be pleased with either chip, but the Athlon 64 FX-51 has two notable advantages: It's 64-bit-ready, and it's easier to overclock.

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