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On the negative side, the model numbering of AMD's new top-shelf model seems pretty aggressive for the Athlon XP 3000+. Even in comparison to the "old" Athlon XP 2800+, based on the T-Bred core, the new high-end processor is often left in the dust (10 out of 18 tests). Basically, the performance rating of the Athlon with the Barton core is aggressive - AMD desperately needs to do some fine-tuning in this area. What's more, the new hybrid multi-optional load specs should cause some confusion among users. "How much L2 cache does my Athlon have?" is going to be asked a lot.
Our benchmarks showed that the Athlon XP 3000+ at standard clock speed (13 x 166 MHz = 2166 MHz) can't hold a candle to the P4 3.06 GHz together with the latest applications. The only exception is in UT 2003, where the AMD CPU clearly took the lead. Once the Athlon with the Barton core is overclocked to 2500 MHz (15 x 166 MHz), it can hold its own or even beat the P4. Another factor weighing down the Athlon is the fact that more software is optimized for the P4's HyperThreading capabilities. In its testing information, AMD recommends running old DirectX 7 games. Some have been around for two years or more and are really over the hill. Anyone for a benchmark under MS DOS 3.1?
One overclocking footnote: our test CPU was ideal for overclocking, remaining stable at 2500 MHz with conventional air cooling.
One major problem facing buyers is the price and availability. Dealers are exploiting the fact that the XP 3000+ is still a rarity, demanding up to $630. The P4 costs about the same, so there's no price difference to speak of with Intel, something that used to be heavily in AMD's favor. And, as supplies are going to be tough, this may frustrated users with pent-up desires for new AMD processors.
On the positive side, there is a lot that AMD enthusiasts can take away from these tests. Kudos to AMD for the continuous attention to its product - the Athlon has reached the sixth and final stage in its evolution. In five years, the clock speed skyrocketed from 500 MHz with the Pluto, to 2166 MHz with the Barton. Within the next few months, we will witness the launch of the XP 3200+, although the clock speed hasn't been set yet. When overclocked the XP 3000+ did very well, and will appeal to the enthusiast community that has been so supportive of AMD. However, the XP 3000+ will have to be priced very competitively for overclockers to justify the leap.
But on final refelection, the P4 with 3.2 GHz and 200 MHz FSB will be coming out in mid-April. After running extensive tests on the Barton, we have come to the conclusion that it is time for the Athlon 64 with the Hammer core. With all due respect for its accomplishments, the Athlon XP is ready for retirement. The platform has almost five years under its belt and the market needs some healthy competition again. The only way this will happen is if AMD sends an icy breeze chock-full of hailstones in Intel's direction. Otherwise, the company might be caught between the Hammer and the repo-man.