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PC Buyers Guide - September 2002

By: TweakTown Staff | Guides | Posted: Sep 2, 2002 4:00 am



- Intel Pentium 4 2.80GHz/133MHz FSB (Northwood)


Times on list: New


Intel's website for this product



Intel's rise back to the top of the CPU ladder took a long time, as the P4 Willamette certainly wasn't the world's fastest processor. The original Pentium 4 (Willamette) couldn't keep up with AMD produced processors, and some of the lower clocked P4's were being beaten by Pentium 3's in certain applications. When the Athlon XP was released, the P4 Willamette fell even further behind, and Intel had to do something. Their answer was the Pentium 4 Northwood. The Northwood is essentially the same as a Willamette, so it supports SSE2, has a 400MHz FSB (100 Quad Pumped) and runs in Socket 478 format, but Intel has added an additional 256Kb of L2 Cache to give a total of 512Kb, and a die shrink to 0.13micron core.


The next evolution of the P4 Northwood was the move to a FSB (Front Side Bus) of 133MHz, quad pumped, which gives a very handy 533MHz effective. The 133MHz FSB version P4 has now all but replaced the 100MHz FSB version, and are starting to slowly come down in price. These processors come in 2.26, 2.4, 2.53, 2.66 and 2.80GHz varieties, and the 2.80GHz is obviously the one of choice for a power user. However, to run these new processors at their default speed, you will need to own a new i850E, i845E/G, SiS645DX/648, or P4X400 motherboard (the motherboard in the guide is one of these). To go with the new i850E motherboard, which will give the best performance of the five options, you need to buy PC1066 or RIMM 4200 RDRAM. This RAM is rather expensive (although close to a quality DDR RAM stick in price) and doesn't overclock all that well. However, since this is the top of the line section, I have still gone with an i850E board with RIMM 4200 which will give the absolute best performance possible with this CPU.


Looking to the future, the new AMD Athlon XP based on the Thoroughbred core has been released, but it has no additions other than a 0.13 micron die size. While this allows AMD to scale the CPU higher, it also means the chip will perform the same as a similarly clocked XP (Palomino), which means AMD won't be catching up to Intel on the speed scale just yet. To add to this, Intel has released their new 2.8GHz P4, which has easily become the fastest CPU on sale and extends Intel's lead in the marketplace.


Because of Intel's giant lead in the performance stakes, there have been rumors of AMD releasing a new Athlon XP based on a 166MHz FSB at speeds of over 2GHz. Whether this proves to be true will remain to be seen, but if this does happen and AMD can sell chips at 2.2GHz or more, they will definitely be back in the race for the fastest CPU on sale. But for now, the P4 2.80GHz is the fastest chip on the block, so it's going in this guide.


- Find the best price on Intel Pentium 4 2.53GHz (Northwood 'B')!


- AMD Athlon XP 1900+


Times on list: 4


AMD's website for this product



At lower clock speeds, the Athlon XP still rules over the Pentium 4, so it is a definite inclusion in the value section of this guide.


The Athlon XP (Palomino) was the processor released after the Thunderbird by AMD and was quite heavily redesigned. A lot of things were changed, but the things that stayed were the 266MHz FSB (133MHz DDR), 128KB of L1 cache and the 256KB L2 cache. The things that were introduced centered on the hyped QuantiSpeed Architecture, which is basically a name given to special things the processor has that lead to it being able to carry out more instructions per clock cycle (IPC). This boils down to it doing things like Hardware data prefetching, which gives it the ability to do more IPC's per clock cycle. This then leads to the slightly confusing PR rating system. The PR system is designed to show users what the performance of the processor is really like, as most people who purchase a CPU think the more megahertz, the more speed. An example is my XP 1600+ processor. The processor is actually running at 1400MHz, but because it can carry out more IPC's than a P4, AMD thinks its performance is equal to a P4 running at 1600MHz. This actually holds out to be fairly true, and is usually underestimated!


Anyway, why did I choose this processor? The choice of processors is only really between the Athlon XP's, as at lower clock speeds they easily account for the comparative Pentium 4. I chose the XP 1900+ because of its excellent price/performance ratio. The performance of the 1900+ isn't that far behind the 2200+ and is quite a bit cheaper, so you're not missing out on much performance wise, but still saving a few dollars. Add to that the above average overclocking ability of the 1900+ and you have yourself a winner, especially when placed with the right motherboard and RAM.


One thing to note is the release of the Athlon XP 2400+ and 2600+ based on the Thoroughbred core. This processor has a new revision core over the last Thoroughbred, which only had a die shrink to 0.13 microns over the Palomino, which is what the 1900+ is based on. The introduction of the two new Athlon XP's have, along with AMD's normal price cuts, reduced the price of other AMD chips. It may be worth spending a few extra dollars on a XP2000+ if your not going to overclock, as it will give you a little more performance for not much more dollars. If you can wait even longer, see if the rumors about the 166MHz FSB Athlon XP's are correct. If they are released, the price of the all the Athlon XP's should drop quite a bit, which means you might be able to afford the just released XP2400 or XP2600+


- Find the best price on AMD Athlon XP 1900+!


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