High-Flying: AMD Athlon XP 3200+ Squares Off Against Intel P4 3 GHz

Conclusion: The Athlon XP3200+ Isn't A Hit, But A Paper Tiger

The Athlon XP 3200+ has laid claim to the title of "Fastest Desktop CPU." But in reality, though, it is something entirely different: the mighty value champ has degraded into a pusillanimous paper tiger. Although, our testing engineers only found fault with the aggressive model-numbering system.

The benchmark tests, on the other hand, leave no room for doubt: XP 2800+ would have been a more realistic label for the processor, which wouldn't have been a problem for anyone, if AMD still wants to go toe-to-toe with Intel's P4. But the 3200 label is much too aggressive - especially since Intel will be introducing an increased FSB clock for its lower-clocked P4 CPUs.

To be fair, though, the Athlon does have to make do with half the FSB bandwidth and a much lower core clock speed compared to the P4. For the first time ever, both platforms have a fast dual-channel DDR400 interface (CL2 mode), putting the maximum theoretical RAM bandwidth at 6.4 GB/s. In the benchmark tests, the P4 at 3 GHz clearly benefits from its HT technology and optimized software in conjunction with the FSB200 (quad-data rate). Some of the examples include the popular Winrar 3.11 packer and the new 8.1 update of Cinema 4D XL. The new 3D action game Splinter Cell (Version 1.2b) that we received exclusively for the test is also interesting: AMD got a considerable leg-up from the increased FSB.

While this Athlon is the new flagship, AMD can no longer argue the line about being the "upgrade processor." If you want to use the Athlon XP 3200+, not only will you need a new board with a dual-channel interface and FSB200 - you'll also need fast DDR400 RAM. Of course, you could always get by with your old motherboard and its 166 MHz FSB - but then what's the point of buying the new CPU? The Athlon XP 3200+ will only reach its top performance in an optimal hardware environment. The same thing goes for the Intel Pentium 4, which will have you digging even deeper into your pocket. There's no sense in launching an Athlon XP 3400+. End of Act One. It's time for the Athlon 64. Beginning of Act Two.

We also need a better perspective on model numbers, hence we at THG call on AMD to correct the model numbering for the new Athlon XP. Otherwise, customers will end up losing their faith in AMD if what they are buying does not live up to the marketing-speak on the box.