Questions 2007

Someone asked me the following, and I thought the answers might be useful to many of you.

Ok….so I’m about to break down and buy a P4 Northwood 2.26Ghz w/533Mhz FSB….I was stuck on AMD, but for the price (found this P4 for $235 @ googlegear), I’ll have to say, this looks just as good as an AMD 2200 XP….which I’ve only been able to find as cheap as about $225…only one problem: I’ve be AMD’ing for so long I know little to nothing about P4’s. Just a few questions:

1) Pricewise vs. performance/overall value, which do you feel is a better buy? The P4 2.26 NW or the Athlon XP 2200+? (especially considering the AMD only runs @ 1.8Ghz)

No matter what you choose, Intel’s price cuts around Labor Day will change the CPU pricing picture dramatically. A 2.4GHz processor will cost about $193 or less after the price cuts. Indeed, in September, some 2.4GHz/533 processors will be made using the new C1 stepping. While we think it’s a little too early to put together the ideal Northwood system until dual DDR boards become available, for those
a bit impatient, waiting at least a month will be worth the wait to most.

Even if you want AMD, it will still be worth waiting. The Intel price cuts should end up cutting the price of the 2200+ to about $150. AMD may also announce the 2400+ at around this time. More significantly, by September, perhaps AMD will have tinkered with the TBred some more to improve its maximum speed. Maybe.

I don’t see any point in buying right now. Waiting at least a month looks to be a much better idea.

2) Not to be Joe Sixpack here, but do the Mhz really compare here? I know the XP is supposed to be a rating system….do you feel the rating is correct in this case?

These are much different processors than perform much differently with different programs. Per relative performance, trying to provide a simple formula is worse than useless because relative performance is all over the place. You have applications where a 2200+ is basically the same as a 2.53GHz PIV. There are others (especially those that use heavy SSE2 optimization) where the Athlon gets beaten even by PIVs running at the same MHz.

If you had to come up with a single number, calling a 1.8GHz XP a 2200+ isn’t crazy or illegitimate. It’s not an unreasonable average, but that average hides so much variance that you shouldn’t use it to decide. This is an area where using a simple number is just simple-minded. Make the wrong decision, and you may well give up any performance increase you’d get from overclocking.

Look and see how the two processors compare in the critical applications you use, and decide from that which processor to buy.

Then we have overclocking. Right now (and this could change in a month), if you take likely overclockability into account; it’s pretty hard to argue for an XP2200+ over a 2.26 PIV, but it wouldn’t take a lot to get the XP back into the picture.

3) Motherboards: no clue. What’s the fastest, most stable chipset? Stock speed? Overclocked? What do you feel is the best? (including officially[legally] supported and otherwise) DDR is the only thing I am decisive on here….I hate RAMBUS.

Again, improvements are on the way. We should see dual DDR (albeit from Via) fairly shortly. That should get you on average about a 7% performance improvement (and again, a lot of variation from that average).

Right now, the 845E chipset seems to be doing fine (some people are having some problems with the 845G). Shortly, though, we’ll see 845PE boards, which will “officially” support PC2700 RAM (and make it a bit easier to run RAM at asynchronous speeds above that of the CPU).

On the AMD side, though, the last few Via socket A chipsets seem to be pretty stable, too

4) The last and most important question: GHz seems to be a more marketing that actual speed lately, but I don’t really want to go much below 2Ghz…..just as a summary, do you feel AMD XP’s or late-model Northwoods are more fairly priced, if either, or pretty much equal?

That all depends on what you value and don’t. If money is a big factor, and you don’t have to be the fastest kid on your block, it’s hard to ignore buying a lower end XP system dirt-cheap and see what happens. You’ll hardly be hurting in any meaningful sense.

On the Intel side, come September, even if you don’t overclock, you’ll be able to get a 2.4GHz processor at a reasonable price. Is a 2.4GHz Northwood $100-$125 better than an XP1700+ or XP1800+? Depends on the person.

Here’s the question that should have been asked, but wasn’t:

What about heat?

We are in for a hot spell until .09 micron comes around, no matter what you buy.

I recently asked for some comments about how Athlons are selling, and these comments are revealing:

“The 2200+ is one tough cookie to cool also. I’m seeing lots of RMAs on them where the customer either fried the CPU or their motherboard won’t run it properly.”

“The T-Breds . . . are there, but nobody seems to
want them (as OEM or system integrator… you really dont like to put
HOT CPUs in customer machines, since they need expensive and/or LOUD
cooling, which both are no-no’s for business machines) as of yet.

“The Tbreds have yet next to none impact. They are there, but for this
price no one wants them, buys them or even sells them. Plus they have
heat problems that no sysintegrator wants to deal with, apparently.”

Remember the AMD Thunderbirds? They were called furnaces back then. Unoverclocked, they put out about .5 watts per sq. mm, seriously overvolted, .7-.8 watt was common.

A TBred puttin out 1.8GHz is putting out .7 watts heat per sq. mm. That’s running stock. If you overvolt, you’ll break TBird levels easily.

The important measurement when it comes to heat is not overall wattage, but watts per The question is not “How many watts can a heatsink handle?” but rather, “Can the materials in the heatsink conduct away X number of watts with a very limited contact area?”

The high-end PIVs aren’t going to be a whole lot better. They’re already in AMD Thunderbird range, and even moderate overvolting will get them all too close to that .7 figure. Add to that the fact that PIVs seem more sensitive to heat than Athlons, and you have a problem. The most likely major symptom of overheated PIVs won’t be burning up, just throttling back a lot, which defeats the whole purpose of a high-speed processor.

If you want a quiet computer, and water cooling is not an option, don’t even bother with these things. Whether it be a PIV or a TBred, if you’re thinking about overclocking it, very high end cooling will be a requirement. That means a lot of copper, and probably a noisy fan cooling that copper chunk, and frankly, even that may not be enough.


There are better and worse times to buy. Right now is not a good time to buy a PIV because better prices and equipment will be coming shortly. On the other hand, it’s probably a very good time to bottom-feed on the AMD side.

You can win or lose the game before you even head out on the field. In this particular case (a very typical one, I might add), the person is searching for an easy, simple answer. He’s more concerned about MHz than what kind of performance he’ll get from what he does with his machine.

It seems penny-wise and pound foolish to spend dozens of hours working to pay for a machine, and more hours trying to overclock it, but not want to spend more than 10 seconds learning about which processor will do a better job for you. Especially when (at least in some cases), spending a hour researching could get you more performance improvement than overclocking it.

The comparison between AMD and Intel is not as easy as it used to be. It’s not a whole lot harder, but it takes more time and effort than more than a few wish to spend.

One of our foremost goals is to teach good buying habits. Trial-and-error is not a good buying habit. Buying on impulse is not a good buying habit. Impatience is not a good buying habit. Looking ahead, planning a bit, and spending some time learning a few more facts about what works best for you is a good buying habit.

That’s true not only for computers, but for life, which will be busy trying to beat that impulsiveness out of you so long as you act that way.

Can get awfully expensive if you’re awfully stubborn.


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