Conclusion: Athlon XP Has The Lead Over Pentium 4
We've got our performance winner in this extensive CPU test - the AMD Athlon XP 1800+ tops the Intel Pentium 4/2000 in most of the applications benchmarks we selected. The Athlon XP's strengths really lie with 3D games that use DirectX 7 or DirectX 8.
Another one of the reasons is Windows XP, being forced as the successor to Windows 98/ME and Windows 2000 by Microsoft. In comparison to the past, the Athlon XP can profit from Windows XP, probably more than Intel CPUs. It seems that AMD helped Microsoft get the optimum out of its new CPUs.
Even in MP3 audio encoding, the fastest Athlon XP was a nose faster that the faster clocked Pentium 4 processors. We were in for a surprise with the new MPEG-4-Codec DivX 4.02.1: when used together with Flask Mpeg 0.6, the Athlon XP 1800+ (clocked at 1533 MHZ) knocked the stuffing out of the Pentium 4, clocked at 2000 MHz. This is a watershed in CPU comparisons between AMD and Intel. Although the benchmarks favor AMD over Intel presently things can, and will change. A new version of the DivX codec or Flask Mpeg, can change the picture again. Higher performance gains can be had on either processor.
The picture is similar in 3D rendering (OpenGL) - the AMD Athlon XP's three FPU units helped it to outstrip the Pentium 4, with 2 FPU units. Ideally, you can employ the following equation:
Performance = Clock Speed x Operations/Cycle
This equation helps explain the theory behind why the AMD Athlon XP, although clocked at a lower speed, is able to reach the same performance than a faster-clocked Intel Pentium 4. But one thing should be made clear here - since Intel introduced its 0.13 micron processor, the Northwood Pentium 4, it can turn the MHz dial up higher than AMD can. High clock speeds are a real burr under AMD's saddle, as has been shown by the developments of the past several months. While Intel has already cleared the 2000 MHz hurdle, AMD has barely scraped over the 1533 MHZ one from 1400 MHz.
In this comparison, we've introduced a new evaluation criterion that may be of particular interest for home users - the value rating for each processor states which processor offers the most performance at the cheapest price. According to our calculations, the AMD Athlon XP 1500+ currently offers the best value among all CPUs.
Another factor is the stability and product quality of a system: while all Athlon processors suffered from occasional instability in our tests, the Pentium 4 platform ran without a glitch. Reasons for this behaviour might not lie in the processor itself, but rather in the motherboard design and the chipset used. Future driver updates might not just improve performance but also stability of a platform. And of course, every user knows that the lightweight price tags on Athlon XP processors may have a downside compared to their more expensive Pentium 4 rivals.
However, we still believe that AMD is offering its processors much too cheaply compared to Intel's prices. A basic law of marketing should be that cheap doesn't necessarily sound better. Otherwise, the customer will begin to think that the product offered is of inferior quality. This is precisely the area that AMD management needs to work on and get some measure of self-confidence.
The Intel Pentium 4 is supposed to benefit more from application software updates than the AMD Athlon XP, since developers are continuing to add SSE2 enhancements. Today's crop of 3D games are no problem for either the Athlon XP or the Pentium 4. They run very smoothly at high resolutions and refresh rates. In this case, it was up to game developers to tailor the 3D engines to work better with new technologies such as SSE and SSE2. Not even DirectX 8.1, which was launched only recently, makes full use of Windows XP capabilities.