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Processor Upgrade Sense


Author:  Jason Jacobs
Date:  2006.07.07
Topic:  Hardware
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Introduction

In this modern media age, consumers witness product releases at a frantic pace. These releases span nearly all technological markets and occur so frequently that consumers are often left feeling that their product purchased yesterday has already become worthless today. Manufacturers have waged an all-out war against your pocket book in an effort to claim superiority, both in product and profit.

Many consumers find it's almost impossible to maintain enough awareness about products to easily discern the difference, make a choice, or understand the trade-offs involved in an upgrade or replacement purchase. The market increasingly leaves consumers with several questions: Do I have to be a computer technician to understand the terminology and make a purchasing decision? Where does this leave me? What does this new technology do for me?

Until recently, many in the technology field would agree that AMD has held the clear performance lead. AMD has become a respected name in the processor market among enthusiasts and relatively recently gained respect and wider recognition in the server market as well. While many individual system builders recognize Intel as pulling up the rear (despite maintaining a fairly strong market-share majority), it seems that Intel has been hard at work on their next-generation processor, the Conroe, now known as Core 2. Intel's Core 2 seems to promise unprecedented performance beyond anything that AMD can offer.

I have witnessed technology releases over the past 6 years and have worked on reviews of both AMD and Intel processors. I have often found myself wowed by the benchmarks but let down by actual performance. Considering that the top of AMD and Intel's lineup are often over $1000 (USD), I would expect tangible performance results before putting my hard-earned money on the table.

A Few Facts

  1. Both AMD and Intel's top processor parts exist only to compete with the other and attempt to gain superiority. Few consumers and even fewer businesses ever purchase the very highest end. The cost vs. benefit ratio is never worth purchasing at the top.
  2. Intel's philosophy from the P1 through the Intel Viiv and Core Duo seems to have been a numbers race that was planned by their massive marketing engine. The Netburst architecture allowed for very long pipelines and a high clock rate ramp-up. Ultimately, many businesses and consumers bought into the MHz superiority of Intel processors.
  3. AMD's philosophy seems to have been a combination of good luck and brains. AMD was fortunate enough to develop the Athlon processor, which represented their first real competitive offering against Intel. Building upon that success, AMD recognized opportunity and decided to be innovators and leaders while still paying full attention to what the consumers really wanted. AMD 64 soon followed and then Dual Core which brings us to today.
  4. AMD has spent several years combating what they dubbed The MHz Myth, in an attempt to convey to potential consumers that performance--not numbers--should be measured; it started working. Intel's strategy in developing Netburst and the P4 seems to have also backfired on them, leaving Intel without a real competitive offering in terms of performance.

State of the Processors

This brings us to today. Intel has a strong offering on the market with the Intel Core Duo and is about to release the Core 2. Still, AMD has the stronger current offering with its X2 and FX lineup and has just released socket AM2 which added DDR2 support to their product line. Intel's Core 2 stands poised to offer performance well above the AMD offering and as we said there seems to be no new generation of processor ready for release by AMD. This has left many consumers ready to jump ship and sail off on the Intel boat.

This is where the little voice in the back of my head chimes in and says wait a second, let's slow down and take a look at things here. The exchange between Intel and AMD is not a new story. Consumers ready to abandon their aging AMD or Intel machine for a cutting-edge CPU should evaluate the offering on both sides before making a decision. I receive many e-mails and see comments made online by consumers ready to purchase core 2 the moment it's released. These same individuals have been convinced that they need the latest and greatest when upgrading from an AMD 4000+, an X2 or an Intel 3 GHz and greater. What would an upgrade to Core 2 likely do for them? Architecture tweaks and minor feature improvements aside, at the end of the day, the bottom line is that they will see a few more FPS in their favorite game, and opening Outlook, MS Word, or their media player may get quicker by a fraction of a second. Looking at the early benchmarks, it appears that Core 2 holds a significant lead, but in the real world, few businesses and consumers purchase machines to run synthetic benchmarks all day long.



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