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Monday, October 2, 2000
On Hardware

Pentium and other wonder chips

There was a time when people said "Surf" when they were referring to detergents. With severe competition and the entry of other big players, Surf lost its status and got reduced to just a product.

Similarly, in the case of computers also, today everybody and anybody can relate Pentium as it has become synonymous with hardware. If you are planning to buy a computer, then you consider it in terms of P-III, Pentium-II, Celeron etc. and hardly take into consideration the products of other companies like Athlon and Duron.

No doubt, Pentium-based computers are good as they offer the desired services at acceptable prices. But there are other things that could be better for you.


In most of the advanced countries, AMD has made inroads in traditional Intel area. In the high-end segment, which comprises of servers and workstations, this debate has already started as AMD has finally found its place there. However, in the desktop market, a change is about to take place.

What do these processor mean to you? What’s the difference between Pentium-III and Athlon? We will try to find answers to all these questions in this article.

Pentium-III is world’s largest selling processor, which is used in desktops, servers, workstations and notebooks and laptops. It was introduced in the year 1999 and is still the latest from the Intel. The speed of the processor, however, has increased many folds right since its introduction at 450 MHz and as of now the highest speed available for Pentium –III processor is 1.13GHz. In India, the maximum processor speed available is up to only 850 MHz. Going down from P-III 1.13 GHz, there are several other processors with varying clock speed, which includes 933 MHz, 866 MHz, 850 MHz, 800 MHz, 750 MHz, 733 MHz, 700 MHz, 667 MHz, 650 MHz, 600 MHz, 550 MHz, 533 MHz, 500 MHz and 450 MHz. These processors have P6 architecture and have the system bus speed of 133-or 100-MHz. This means that out of the above mentioned processors some processors like 667 MHz, 733 MHz or even 1.13 GHz etc. have the bus speed of the 133 MHz and the some others have the bus speed of only 100 MHz. These processors have two types of cache memory i.e. either 512K Level Two Cache or 256K-Advanced Transfer Cache.

AMD is another chipmaker and had been a poor cousin of Intel. However, in recent times, especially after the launch of K6-2 processor, AMD has come in the fore-front, as the performance of its Athlon chip was considered even better that that of its rival for some parameters. AMD had launched a much faster processor than Intel. In fact practically the Athlon is the fastest processor on the earth with a clock speed of 1.1 GHz and a bus speed of 200 MHz as compared with Intel’s 1.13 GHz processor. Athlon is also the representative of industry's first seventh-generation x86 micro architecture. It is worth mentioning here that all AMD Athlon processors are being produced using 0.18-micron process technology, which is considered very advanced. AMD Athlon processors are considered to be better for those who use high-end graphic and multimedia software as they give a tremendous boost to performance for these kinds of applications. It has proved its worth for business users also who work with image processing, digital content creation, CAD/CAE, scientific applications and other computationally-demanding applications like digital photo editing, digital video, commercial 3D modelling, image compression, soft DVD, and speech recognition.

Athlon can prove useful to those who use a computer for the purpose for entertainment like for playing 3D games, general browsing and multimedia experiences etc.

Athlon processors are available today with many clock speed options, ranging from 1.1GHz (1100MHz), 1 GHz (1000MHz), 950MHz, 900, 850, 800 MHz, 750 MHz. All these processors have the front side bus with a speed of 200 MHz, which is by far the highest in the world and can deliver up 50 percent more peak bandwidth than any other x86 system bus. With the seventh-generation micro-architecture, including a high-bandwidth system bus Athlon processors have recently incorporated on-die L2 cache, which has boosted the performance of the processor even more.

All the latest Athlon processors now come equipped with 256K of full-speed, on-die L2 cache memory. Moreover, it is also worth mentioning here that the cache architecture of the Athlon processor boasts a 384K total full-speed on-chip system cache including 128K L1 cache, which is actually four times greater than the cache of Intel's Pentium III processor having 256K on-chip full-speed L2 cache. This actually boosts the overall performance of the computer.

Athlon processors are considered to be better for the purpose of Internet-based applications also like video conferencing, Web hosting etc. As they have advanced multimedia architecture and 3D technology, which deliver rich images, fast frame rates, and accurate theatre-quality sound. Moreover the high bus speed of 200MHz allows users to quickly and easily process Internet content on fast Internet access.

A technical comparison of Pentium –III and Athlon is as follows. The operations per clock cycle in case of Pentium –III is 5, where as in case of Athlon it is 9. The L1 cache in case of Pentium –III is 32KB, where as in case of Athlon it is 128KB. Likewise L2 cache size in case of Pentium –III is 256KB on-chip or 512KB external. However, in case of Athlon, the L2 cache size is 256KB on-chip (recent processors only, not previous processors) or 512KB external. Thus total on-chip full-speed cache works out to 384KB in case of Athlon and 288KB in case of Pentium-III. The system bus speed as mentioned earlier is also almost double in case of Athlon at 200 MHz, whereas in case of Pentium it is maximum is 133 MHz, whereas 100 MHz bus speed processors are also available from the company’s stable. Moreover the peak bus bandwidth of 1.6 to 3.2 GB/sec in case of Athlon is far better than Pentium-III peak bus bandwidth of 533 MB/s to 1.06 GB/s. Thus, as far as technical specifications are concerned AMD Athlon works out to be a faster processor than the Intel’s Pentium-III.

However, still Pentium-III processors continue to rule the market despite AMD’s growing market share. It is primarily because Pentium-III processors have a long track record of reliability and over a period of time it has delivered quality processors at reasonable prices. Moreover, since the Pentium-III processors are also well placed in the market so they enjoy the brand loyalty and also the ignorance of the customers towards AMD Athlon. As far as Indian markets are concerned, the Pentium-III is still the market leader with a major market share. This is primarily due to Intel’s aggressive marketing strategy and wide network. In case of AMD, neither the product is well placed in terms of marketing strategy nor does it has a proper network to push its product in the market aggressively.

The Intel’s dominating market share is also due to the fact that in majority of the personal computers in India; the use is not very highly technical. If we take the example of the home PCs, then the kind of application, the computer is being used for, are very basic. Even in case of office computers also, the use of the computers does not involve high-end software and thus people remain happy and contended with not so fast Pentium-III processors as they get good speed at reasonable price. However, Athlon processors works out relatively costlier. Normally the people, who use high-end software account for a limited share of the desktop market. They treat Athlon as a potentially good option.

Despite the fact that Athlon as proved its credentials in the international market, has not made inroads substantially in the desktop segment in India.

There is another reason for people’s choice in favour of Pentium-III. Normally, when people buy a computer they take into consideration the ease of upgrading it. Since Pentium has been there since long, so people normally upgrade their computer from a previous Pentium to the latest one by simply changing the processor. Here the cost of upgradation is only Pentium-III latest processor. Moreover one can also upgrade a Celeron based computer to a latest Pentium-III computer with 100 MHz bus speed.

These upgradable combinations makes Pentium-III a preferred choice. Whereas in case of Athlon, the motherboard and processor are specialised, which leaves the option of upgrading from a previous model of Athlon processor to the latest model only. You may not also upgrade your K6-2 processor to an Athlon, by simply changing the processor because the structure of both the processors is different. Thus as far as the lower end desktop segment is concerned, AMD has not taken off that well, as it should have because of these basic reasons. So you can see that despite the fact that Athlon is a better processor, Pentium-III is still the king.

Now as far as the question that "which processor you should opt" is concerned. It is clearly reflected in the analysis above. If you need a faster processor for working on high end software including image processing, digital content creation, CAD/CAE, scientific applications, Internet applications and heavy data processing etc. then AMD Ahtlon is certainly a better choice. However for other uses like home computer or general-purpose computer, the Pentium-III still offers a good solution at a reasonable price.


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