The Giga Battle


"If Giga, then which Giga?" is the question here. I am fully aware of the fact that only few of you will be getting and needing any of the two Giga-monsters right now, but I also know that it's just great to read about the performance Giga-battle, ain't it?

Giga-2nd Level Cache

Now what do we know and what can we expect from the Giga-fighters? Well, first of all there is the well-known 2nd level issue, which I already discussed above. Giga-Coppermine with its on-die L2-cache is obviously scaling better than Giga-Athlon. At 800 MHz both processors were pretty much on par, which is why it's pretty likely that in most applications Giga-Coppermine will be faster than Giga-Athlon. The story is a bit different for scientific and CAD applications that require a lot of number crunching horse power. Athlon's FPU is far superior to Coppermine's, so it will smoke Giga-PIII unless the software makes heavy usage of SSE and none of 3DNow!, something that unfortunately exists.


The next thing we shouldn't forget is the platform issue. I know, I've been talking a lot about that lately and we've got quite a list of articles addressing this issue.

What it boils down to is that Athlon is a bit at disadvantage here too. So far there are only two different platforms available for the fastest AMD-processor. Number 1 is AMD's own, but slightly outdated 750 'Irongate'-chipset, which lacks AGP4X and fast memory, as it's only using PC100 SDRAM. The other and newer platform is VIA's Apollo KX133 chipset. It supports PC133 SDRAM and AGP4X and is therefore currently the Athlon-chipset of choice.

There is a lot more platforms available for Intel's Pentium III. First of all there are the three 800-chipset, i810e, i820 and i840. Let's forget about the first one for Giga-PIII, since it is a low-cost solution with integrated graphics. Intel's 820 chipset is supposed to be the mainstream platform, but it's got this little RDRAM-problem you might have heard of. Intel's 840 is a much more interesting, but unfortunately even more expensive solution. It is also meant to use the super expensive RDRAM, but it offers two memory channels and thus very high memory performance. Too bad is however that Intel's own OR840 motherboard with the 840-chipset is not able to run Giga-Coppermine, because even the latest BIOS wouldn't let any CPU run faster than 800 MHz.

With the Apollo Pro 133A VIA is offering a very nice and attractive alternative. This chipset may not be the right one for professional OpenGL workstations, but people who are playing games or running office applications will be very pleased with its performance. PC133 SDRAM is used by this VIA solution as well, which keeps system costs at a reasonable level.

Last but not least there is Intel's old 440BX chipset. This platform was never meant for Giga-PIII, but you will see that for nerds there's no better one available. BX was only designed for 100 MHz FSB and not for CuMine's 133 MHz FSB. Equipped with PC133 SDRAM it can run at this speed as well, but in this case the AGP is out of spec, running at 89 MHz. Thus I am warning every inexperienced user from combining BX and Coppermine @ 133.

Giga-Availability - Athlon Yes / Pentium III No

The European IT-press is badly upset with Intel. It seems as if not even one Giga-part has made it across the Atlantic since the release of Giga-Pentium III. I am not talking of shipments to OEMs, not even one press sample has reached European ground, showing that Intel hasn't even got enough Giga-PIIIs to supply the reviewers, who are supposed to write nice articles about it so that the readers can try and get a product that isn't available. AMD is a lot better at that. The press was equipped with Giga-Athlons already before or at least on the release day. It also seems as if Giga-Athlon OEM-systems are actually shipping already.