Athlon 64 Vs. Pentium 4

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

The Good
The good is quite easy to spot. The Athlon 64 3200+ and Athlon 64 FX 51 should be considered AMD engineering marvels. Kudos to the engineers at AMD for their hard work on the K8 core; they certainly deserve it. Without a doubt, AMD R&D did their homework and has delivered an architecture that is simply superior to Intel’s when you consider clock-for-clock computing. Beyond that, you have to be a bit more selective in your statements. On the business application front and content creation programs, the Athlon 64 3200+ (paired with the right mainboard) and the Athlon 64 FX 51 were simply dominant in the industry standard benchmarks. Hyperthreading on the Pentium 4 should still be considered a real-world benefit, and we will simply have to look further into that at a later date. On the gaming front, the Athlon 64 family showed that they were not to be toyed with in the newer benchmarks, while the older engines still seem to favor the Pentium 4 a bit. Overall, even the midstream Athlon 64 3200+ seemed well suited to handle the Intel competition.

Intel has come to market with an impressive chip as well in their Extreme Edition. But when it comes right down to it, it’s not as impressive overall as the Athlon chips. Still, the Extreme Edition will be marketed towards gamers and enthusiasts. If you took the application benchmarks out of the equation, the P4 EE would look very strong.

Also for the enthusiast, it was evident that the Athlon64 was scoring very, very well in the gaming arena when compared to its big brother the FX. That surely has to leave us all with a smile when we see the AMD mid-level CPU be a serious contender.

The Bad
The bad will become seriously evident the moment you open your wallet to pay for a new Athlon 64. The Athlon FX 51 is priced at US$733 per thousand. The per thousand price is usually a good indicator of non-boxed CPUs for sale in the USA. Yes, we typed that right $…7…3…3. You’re thinking, not a problem when you can just go for the Athlon 64 3200+, right? The per thousand price for the 3200+ will be a hefty US$417 per thousand. Ouch. If you think the AthlonFX and Athlon64 chips above don’t seem to be price matched for their target demographic, we would have to fully agree. Let’s just say it, they are too expensive. When you consider that the enthusiast can buy a Pentium 4 2.4c, 512MB of PC3200, a name brand 865PE feature-packed mainboard for way less than the price of a Athlon64 3200+ alone, and run his system at 3GHz all day long, you have to think that all of that Athlon64 performance is simply overpriced.

On the Intel side of the fence, we’re hearing that the Extreme Edition will be trying to fetch around US$700 per CPU as well. This of course puts it in the same boat as the FX. They will simply be the elitist CPUs for rich boys with fancy toys unless pricing levels come down to something sensible over time.

The Ugly
The ugly is yet to be actually seen, but from what we’re hearing from multiple sources, when the ugly shows up it will be hard to face AMD. For months we have been told that AMD simply has not produced enough CPUs to come close to filling market demand or putting any real profit dollars in their own pocket, which they terribly need. Mainboard builders in Taiwan are very concerned with building retail mainboards that will not have any CPUs to put into. I’m still hearing this six hours before the launch as I sit in a hotel room in Taipei writing this. I’ve been waiting for the doom and gloom news to stop about the Athlon64 and AthlonFX supply, but it simply will not.

When you confront AMD with this, their answer is that they expect to have ample supply on the day of launch. Considering the prices of the CPUs, they may very well be right, as I do not see them flying off the shelves at their current pricing levels.

AMD would not supply us with a sample of their Athlon 64 3200+ CPU. We were left to use our sources to find our own. And this is a product launch? I’m thinking that we’re about to see a paper launch of a rather large proportion. Let’s hope that AMD can actually scale production over the next two quarters in order to deliver their Athlon64 CPUs at a competitive price and in large volume.

In Closing
On the business side of things, I think AMD is in a tight spot. I don’t think their stock price could absorb the cost of pushing back their desktop K8 launch yet again. They must launch now or suffer the consequences and that will be done at the cost of selling high-priced CPUs into a market where they will have little chance of moving when faced with stiff competition. I’m truly hoping that all of the information we’ve been given on supply is wrong, but I really don’t think so. This is truly one of those times that I would be very happy to be proven wrong, as I want to see AMD flourish and continue to give Intel the competition that’s needed to keep the market alive and well for the enthusiast and everyone else in the industry.

Bottom line? The Good – The Athlon64 3200+ and FX 51 deliver the best overall performance we’ve seen from any CPU line to date. The Bad – The Athlon64 3200+ and FX 51 are going to be overpriced for the gaming and enthusiast market. The Ugly – The Athlon64 and FX 51 will very likely not be available in any great quantity until next year…but that remains to be seen. Check out the whole write up here

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