Things are looking pretty grim for AMD at the moment. Its main competitor, Intel, has reported impressive profits and its Pentium 4 is getting even more powerful, thanks to FSB800 and dual channel DDR at unchanged clock rates, which led to downgrades in the ratings of the Athlon XP processors. And Athlon's top model, the 3200+, can only hold a candle to the Pentium 4 with 3.2 GHz in a very few disciplines. The reason for this is the tangible 1 GHz difference in clock. Still, there are nevertheless many arguments that clearly speak in favor of the Athlon XP.
First of all, you have to ask yourself how much you are willing to spend per unit of computing power. Especially in the 3 GHz or 3000+ segment and beyond, processors can cost several hundred dollars. This is money that somehow needs to "pay off" within only a few months, considering the merciless speed with which prices drop. In the upper price segment, AMD and Intel are still equally expensive. However, if a processor of around 2.5 GHz or 2500+ meets your requirements, then the AMD processors are downright dirt-cheap. An Athlon XP 2600+ based on the Thoroughbred-B will only set you back about $100, whereas a Pentium 4 will easily cost you $200. To do it some justice, the latter will need a motherboard capable of withstanding an FSB clock rate of 800 MHz, and experience has shown that these are more expensive than models for 400 or 533 MHz.
In everyday use, differences in performance between two different CPUs will only become evident when the processors are pushed to their limits or if the output actually differs by at least 25%. In this respect, top-of-the-line CPUs are only a wise investment if they are run to capacity. And this is not the case with office applications or most common games, but can be for specific "tasks" such as the encryption of video streams in space-saving formats (MPEG-2, MPEG-4) or extravagant graphics computations (rendering) etc.
It should perhaps be mentioned to those who, considering the impending launch of the Athlon 64, rate the future of socket 478 higher than that of socket A, that the soon-to-appear Pentium "Prescott" - whether it's called Pentium 5 or not - is not likely to inhabit this socket for very long. We will more likely than not have to brace ourselves for its replacement as early as the beginning of next year.
There are a total of ten motherboards to choose from with nVIDIA's nForce2 Ultra 400 chipset. The model from Soltek is new in this test, and MSI sent us a new version with better performance. We have also included Shuttle's tasty little tidbit XPC-SN45G in the test, as this mini-PC is based on a design similar to those of the other candidates.