SUMMARY: No overwhelming advantage or disadvantage either way – depends on what you’re looking for.
Many of you are curious about Duron overclocking and how it compares to CeleMine systems. After about two weeks of using a Duron on the ASUS A7V, I thought some initial impressions might be of interest:
- Overclocking: No question that changing the Duron’s multiplier is much preferred – there are no issues usually associated with high FSB overclocking such as out of spec PCI and RAM speeds. CeleMines that run at 100 MHz avoid this problem; those that are running at sub-100 speeds do not and may encounter weird W98 issues at some off-spec speeds. While almost all new motherboards have narrowed the “out-of-spec” ranges, some cards (e.g. NICs) still don’t like to be pushed too far.
The Duron can be overclocked at 100 FSB so that everything is in spec. This makes (I think) for better motherboard stability as nothing is being pushed beyond its rated bus speed. This then focuses all stability problems squarely on CPU speed and voltage issues.ADVANTAGE: Duron
- HEAT: No question that AMD has designed some very interesting CPUs that overclock extremely well but throw off heat like a toaster over. Pushing AMD CPUs beyond spec very quickly get you into some scary temps, ones that are really frightening to users used to seeing temps of 20-30 C. CPU temperatures of around 50 C (122 F) under stress are pretty commonplace for air-cooled Durons.
Finding adequate air-cooled heatsinks to handle overclocked CPUs is turning out to be a challenge – my recent experience with the Thermaltake 426 (now removed from AMD’s accepted list) and Global Win FOP32 are not isolated incidents – many users have mailed me with similar stories. Water cooling works very well, but most folks are not into water cooling, so it is an esoteric solution at this time. Even one of my favorites, Alpha PAL6035, is a good solution but gets a lot warmer on the Duron than a CeleMine.ADVANTAGE: CeleMine
- MOTHERBOARD COST: First generation boards always cost more and Socket As are no exception. VIA chipsets in general are less costly than comparable Intels so I would expect the premium to narrow considerably as more boards come to market (although the inclusion of third-party IDE controllers built into these boards does raise costs).
However, active cooling for the KT133 and (in the ASUS case) the PLL (clock generator) chips seem more like a necessity than an overclocker’s obsession with cool running components. All this adds to cost and complexity, especially for motherboards lacking active cooling. There are not many BX motherboards (the BP6 an exception) that benefit as much from cooling these chips as the Socket A boards.ADVANTAGE: CeleMine
- CPU COST: Not much argument here – a 600Mhz Duron costs $25-30 less than a 566 Celeron. AMD is using price as its market penetration strategy and will always employ aggressive pricing as long as Intel commands substantial market share.ADVANTAGE: Duron
- SYSTEM COST: Really depends on where you’re coming from: If you are doing a total motherboard + CPU upgrade, it’s pretty much a draw.
For CPU upgrades only, the CeleMine is ahead (kind of obvious); the difference between $110 for a CeleMine on a BX or VIA platform and $250 for CPU + Motherboard for the Duron, plus not having to pull motherboards out and futz around with unfamiliar equipment is a strong plus for CeleMines.ADVANTAGE: New – Draw; Upgrade – CeleMine.
- CHIPSET DRIVER STABILITY: VIA drivers make a lot of vendors crazy – they feel they are not as stable of forgiving as Intel’s. Part of this may be due to VIA’s rapid emergence as a market force after so many years in the bushes and part to VIA’s relative size disadvantage to Intel; the fact remains that we have seen a enough driver related issues to give some credence to these concerns.
VIA is not Intel and will never (= next two years) match Intel’s resources. Consequently VIA drivers will not exhibit the same “maturity” that Intel’s do. However, if VIA continues to steal as much share (roughly 50%) as it has enjoyed recently and designers become more attuned to VIA software, this issue should fade.ADVANTAGE: CeleMine
- PERFORMANCE: The Duron enjoys at least a 10% performance edge over the CeleMine. Intel’s intentional crippling of the CeleMine left it wide open to a competitive disadvantage compared to the Duron, and system vendors look like they will quickly exploit the gap. AMD uniquely designed the Duron rather than follow Intel’s crippling strategy and results attest to this approach. Intel may yet pull a rabbit out of the hat, but until it does the CeleMine is clearly lagging.ADVANTAGE: Duron
There’s no such thing as a free lunch – while the Duron is the clear performance leader, it comes with significant baggage (mainly heat) that may deter many from converting an Intel platform. It’s not a cake walk by any means. If AMD permanently multiplier locks its CPUs along Intel’s lines, I think the advantage swings sharply to Intel’s favor. AMD has thrown some nasty surprises our way (upgrade from a K7?) so snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is not out of the question.
At this juncture, CeleMine is the clear choice for an upgrade; the Duron’s performance advantage is not overwhelming or compelling enough to justify added cost.
For a new system and if performance is your primary objective, Duron gets the edge, but not by much – maybe 60%. It is still too early to give 100% “thumbs up” until a lot of peripheral issues get resolved in its favor.
SUMMARY: The tide is turning to AMD as chipsets, drivers, motherboards and experiences with the Duron and T-Bird mature.
After about two months of AMD dominating the overclocking scene, taking a second look at how Durons and CeleMines compare is in order. The comments also apply to T-Birds and PIIIs.
Our initial impressions centered on the following areas:
Overclocking: Changing the CPU’s multiplier is much preferred over changing FSBs. There are no peripheral issues as everything is running at spec. While there is an advantage in memory performance, I doubt that it is an overwhelming advantage; mild FSB overclocking (110-120 MHz) is possible on most socket A boards.
HEAT: No question this is a big challenge when pushing AMD’s CPUs to the limit. However, it also seems that AMD’s CPUs can tolerate higher temps better than Intel’s; we are seeing fairly high AMD overclocks with CPU temps in the high 40s/low 50s with air cooling. More aggressive cooling techniques do not yield the same dividends compared to Intel.
Better air cooled heatsinks are required, but so are they for Intel overclocking. While I first thought this to be a key disadvantage, I think AMD’s CPUs can better tolerate higher heat loads than Intel’s. Extreme cooling Intel’s CPUs will result in dramatic speed gains, but one has to wonder if the effort is worth it compared to the relatively easier AMD overclock.
For example, I can get an Intel 533A to 900 MHz with a peltier, but at the same time I can get a Duron 650 to 900 with an Alpha PAL 6035. And the Duron will outperform the 533A at the same speed. For ease of use, I’ll take an air cooled AMD to a peltiered Intel anytime.
MOTHERBOARD COST: Still on the high side for socket A boards but coming down. Right now, Intel boards are cheaper and with lots more variety, but as AMD’s CPUs flood into the market, so will motherboards. Any Intel advantage here is short lived.
CPU COST: Not even close – AMD is whomping Intel on this one. One GHz for about $60? Jeez!
SYSTEM COST: If you have an Intel platform, it is still cheaper to buy a new CPU than a CPU plus motherboard. Whether the upgrade differential is worth the performance hit is another story.
CHIPSET DRIVER STABILITY: VIA, a tolerable second fiddle to Intel, is now emerging as a threat to Intel’s chipset dominance, thanks to Intel’s missteps. RAMBUS and the 820 debacle has done more to help VIA jump to about 50% of the chipset market than if they spent $1 billion in advertising. With AMD coming on very strong and VIA providing most of the chipsets, coupled with a pricing differential so lopsided in VIA’s favor – it’s hard to see VIA losing share.
With share comes increased revenues and profitability. Hopefully, VIA channels more resources into bullet-proofing their chipsets (I think they won’t have a choice – manufacturers will force it on them). Assuming more mature chipsets and drivers, AMD solutions will be more competitive.
PERFORMANCE: For Durons, not even close – cache-crippled CeleMines are at a real disadvantage. T-Birds are coming out in quantity and at speeds Intel is now struggling to meet. Intel looks less and less like chipzilla every day.
AMD has an incredible opportunity to give Intel real competition – not just for the next six months, but for a long time. Right now, AMD is the “chip of choice” for price/performance fans. Remember when ASUS didn’t even put their name on VIA chipset motherboards? How the worm has turned!
For a new performance system, I would be hard pressed to recommend an Intel solution. Even for upgrades, as AMD pushes prices down, price/performance is tilting towards AMD. Software is still Intel-optimized, but inevitably that will shift also.
AMD can still screw it up – multiplier locking CPUs can change this dynamic very quickly. But right now, AMD is hard to beat.