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3GHz wars - getting acquainted
The Athlon range of processors given AMD a huge lead in the gaming and enthusiast market over the past 3 years, however AMD haven't always made it easy for themselves. In 2002 AMD seemed unable to ramp their processor up to higher performance levels very effectively and Intel took full advantage of this. When AMD launched the Athlon XP 2700+ and 2800+, the latter of which was never intended for mass market, it further infuriated loyal fans. However with the launch of Barton, AMD have laid their 2002 tactics to rest and produced something that can pose a challenge to Intel. At least for the time being.

The problem, from AMD's point of view is that the less learned computer buyer will almost certainly look at two factors when purchasing computer equipment. Price and higher numbers. The general consensus being that something that is more expensive along with more and higher digits attached to the model number means that it's bigger, better and faster. With certain things this is true (for the most part), take hard drives for example. We'd all much rather have a 15,000 RPM hard drive as opposed to a 5,400 RPM unit. Larger the capacity, the better and so on. (For this example we are ignoring the fact of reliability and general poor workmanship of certain hard drive manufacturers).

In processors this is simply not true. Clock speed is simply one factor in amongst a large number. As we interviewed an Intel representative at this year's CeBIT event we found that Intel don't see clock frequency being the main judge of performance. Although they are restricting this view to only notebooks at the moment. It is still a glaring omission, and one AMD has been banging on about for a number of years now.

AMD was winning the performance battle, but loosing the frequency war. Intel's Pentium 4 got off to an appalling start. A Pentium 4 system would cost several hundred Pounds more to own than an equivalent Athlon system. RDRAM was far too expensive and whilst its performance was superior to DDR SDRAM, in most real world applications few saw this performance increase as a cause to justify the high cost of purchasing these modules. What Intel relied upon was being able to ramp the Pentium 4's clock higher and faster than AMD. Looking back, it's hard not to admit their success in doing so.

AMD fell behind. Performance wise they remained right on the tails and sometimes edged out Intel, but to the general public AMD seemed to have the slower processor, because of having lower Megahertz. Many say that AMD would have, and should have done a lot better if it weren't for their poor marketing. Intel are well known for their marketing antics and sadly AMD just aren't able to meet the spending their rivals do on spin. In the past 12 months AMD has put more effort into publicizing their brand name with sponsorship of key sports teams and events amongst others. Whether they will be able to win over OEMs, system integrators and retail customers is something that will be seen in the following months and years. With the launch of Opteron, AMD have made a start and getting some of the "big iron" guys will be important for the Sunnyvale chip maker.

2002 was a year in which Intel managed to turn the Pentium 4 around. In 2001 they lost a significant amount of market share, and whilst they still remained the undisputed market leader, Intel couldn't let AMD eat away at their market for another year. Intel introduced Northwood and then HyperThreading. HyperThreading was previously reserved for Prescott CPUs and now we saw it, ahead of schedule. Many say this was a direct result of AMD and their impressive showing in the past few years. Whatever it was, Intel certainly moved up a gear and as 2002 drew to a close Intel had the fastest x86 processor on the planet.

Which brings us to the present. The Athlon XP 3000+ is based on the new Barton core. It doesn't have a host of new features from the Thoroughbred 2700+, the one and only being 512Kb Level 2 cache. The 3000+ is clocked at 2.17GHz. 2.17GHz - isn't that the same as a Athlon XP 2700+? Yes. So on the face of it, there isn't a whole lot different apart from the extra Level 2 cache that is present on the Barton.

AMD call the Barton "Model 10". Model 8 was the Thoroughbred. We decided not to post the flow diagram for the Thoroughbred because they are identical, except for Model 10 being replaced by Model 7.

We've decided to make this article focus more on performance rather than do an in-depth look at the processor technologies. However if you prefer more in-depth action please do tell us and we'll follow this article up with some of the techno babble. However there is something we would like to point out regarding cache.

In the Barton 3000+ we have 512KB of Level 2 cache. Quite a few people make the mistake of thinking all caches are identical. They are most definitely not.

Taking a very basic (but still applicable) model of a processor you have 2 levels of cache. The "closest" memory store to the ALU (Arithmetic and Logic Unit) is the CPU's registers. Depending on architecture this the number of registers vary, but usually is in the region of 8 - 32. Those of you that have done Assembly language programming will no doubt be familiar with these babies at very close quarters.

After the registers you have Level 1 cache. On both the Thoroughbred and Barton cores you have 128 Kbyte split cache.

Level 2 cache is the next up. On the Thoroughbred we saw 256 Kbyte Level 2 cache and on the Barton, as mentioned before there is a 512 Kbyte Level 2 cache.

After which you have the main memory (RAM). Cache is extremely important. Greater the cache, better the performance, however it's important to see where the increased cache is, rather than just thinking bigger number = better for me. For this reason we will start off with 2700+ Thoroughbred vs. 3000+ Barton results, then moving onto Barton 3000+ vs. Intel Pentium 4 3.06GHz