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Battle at 650MHz

Written By:
Date Posted: February 5, 2002

A Brief History Of The CPU

The past twenty years have brought great strides in the personal computing business, and specifically in the microprocessor area.  This arena was pioneered by Intel, who for many years have controlled the market for CPU's for PCs.   The design win by Intel for the original IBM PC launched them into stardom in the PC CPU business.  From the 8088 to the current Pentium IV, Intel has continued to make its presence felt in this arena.  But many years ago a small company named AMD started to make Intel CPU clones and at a cheaper price.  Granted these were not necessarily as fast as a genuine Intel, but many people couldn't tell the difference between the two.

Just a few years ago Intel decided it was time to change socket designs to accommodate their brand new processor architecture, the Pentium II.  While Intel did this AMD and other companies (Cyrix, IDT) decided that there was still a market for a socket 7 CPU that was as fast as a PII.  So the K6-2 and Super Socket 7 design was brought to life, and for the first time AMD was not following Intel's lead. 

In 1999 AMD brought the K7 core to the market as the AMD Athlon, which helped AMD leapfrog Intel for the technically superior CPU.  This processor, which couldn't use the older socket 7 design, was especially faster at the one thing AMD had always been criticized for previously, its floating point unit capabilities.  The slot A design lasted for a year before AMD moved to the less expensive socket A packaging.  

From this AMD also separated their product lines into a performance and a budget line these processors being called the Athlon and the Duron respectively.   What is the difference between the two AMD offerings?  Basically all that is different is that the Athlon has 256KB of L2 cache while the Duron only has 64KB of L2 cache.  Apart from some slight manufacturing differences (copper vs. aluminum) and of course price, both products are very similar.

AMD Duron

Why was the Duron produced?  Simply put to compete with Intel's budget processor the Celeron.  While both processors are essentially cut down versions of the performance parts this makes them easier to produce and in some cases cheaper to produce.

Is there a market for such processors?  Yes there is, many first time PC buyers pick based on price and just plain Megahertz and as such are drawn toward systems which offer a fast processor for a low price.  Other people can only afford a low cost processor but still want high performance for the money and perhaps a little overclocking for free.


AMD Duron
Say Hello to the Duron

Lets look at some of the features of the Duron, and if you want to look at the product specifications just click on the link right here (taken from AMD Duron Technical Documents): Duron Specs

While those specs are impressive, its other features that make the Duron very interesting.  Among these is the fact that it uses the exact same socket and motherboards that its bigger brother the Athlon uses, while the Celeron used to share the same motherboards with the PIII it now is the only newer processor (not counting the low run PIII Tualatin) for the socket 370 configuration.  The Duron is also a fairly overclockable processor, with the 650 reviewed here making it to the 900-930MHz range without any problems.  The Celeron is also a good overclocker, but the problem with the Celeron is that it is multiplier locked, while the Duron is able to be unlocked.

Benchmarking - Why?

Why do we as reviewers use the graphics and charts to show numbers comparing product A to product B?  Its done to show you the reader what the objective performance of the product is.  But most people don't use Sisoft Sandra or 3D Mark 2000 on a daily business to do their work.  People however do use software for encoding videos, MP3 encoding, 3D software and other different applications.  And while people do use office applications on a regular basis they really do not need a extremely fast processor but rather a large amount of RAM.

CPU: AMD Duron 550-900MHz AMD Athlon 550MHz-1.2GHz Intel Celeron 566MHz & 850MHz


Gigabyte GA-6OXC BIOS F1

Memory: 384MB PC-133 at 2-2-2 (CAS,RAS-CAS, Precharge) 384MB PC-100 @ 2-2-2
Hard Drives:

8.4GB Quantum CR, 20GB Quantum LM, 40GB Maxtor

Sound Card: Sound Blaster X-Gamer 5.1
Operating System: Windows 2000 Professional Service Pack 2
Front Side Bus 100MHz(200MHz DDR) 66MHz (566) & 100MHz (850)


Motherboard Drivers: VIA 4-in-1 4.37 Default Win2k drivers
Sound Card Drivers:
Video Drivers: Kyro II 64MB - Windows 2000


Video Rendering Software: DivX;) 3.11Alpha - Fast Motion Version 2.00
  1-Pass 1.4d
  6.01 Adobe Premiere 6.01 Test by Terry Stetler
Audio Software:  
3D Software: 4.2 Using DSPTest
Other Software: Linux Kernel 2.4.9  


You will notice that there are no games in this review.   The reason for this is that most games are more focused on video card performance, and at the resolutions that the CPU becomes the limiting factor is one that most people would rather not play at.  Also a note that all video tests are conducted with a data rate of 3000kbps from a AVI file encoded originally in .

This review will focus on real world applications, using programs such as Truespace, Premiere 6 and some very nice free programs.  So without further ado let us look at some video benchmarks.

Video Tests - 352*240 - DivX;)

Over the past two or so years there has emerged a new AVI format for internet video, that of DivX;).  Originally the 3.11 codec was nothing more than a hacked Microsoft MPEG-4 codec, but since then the 4.xx codec has been released which gets rid of the Microsoft codecs and is a open source project.  So of what use is DivX;) anyway?  Well if you had a 2 hour movie that you wanted to put on one 700MB CD how would you do it?  MPEG-1 will only allow for at most 1 hour and a bit of VCD compliant video/audio, but with DivX you can do this with a still decent quality video.

The following benchmarks look at video captured at a resolution of 352*240 at 29.97 fps from a movie called "Who the Heck was Slaw Rebchuck Anyway?"  The program used to encode the DivX files is VirtualDub Ver 1.4D and we used the following settings (for DivX;) 4.02).  So let us now look at how the Duron compares to both its big brother the Athlon and its enemy the Celeron.

DivX 3.11 resolution 352*240

Let us first look at the DivX 3.11 scores.  As we go up in speed we notice that the T-Bird continually is faster than the Duron, it seems logically to conclude that the larger L2 cache of the T-Bird is most likely the reason for this.  Notice that the Celeron beats the Duron and the T-Bird?  Seems like there are some SSE optimizations in this version of DivX and maybe the L2 cache of the Celeron is just a better design than that of the AMD CPU's.  The good point our of this benchmark is that any CPU over a Duron 750 (notice the red bars) can capture in DivX 3.11 directly from a TV-Tuner or any other capture source.

DivX 4.02 resolution 352*240

Now we'll look at some DivX 4.02 scores, and just a note this is not the newest DivX 4.xx codec, 4.12 is out and is almost as fast as 3.11.   Here we see that DivX 4 loves a large cache, as we can see that the scores increase with cache size 128KB (Celeron), 192KB (Duron), 384KB (T-Bird).  The T-Bird is fast enough to compare with a 50+MHz Duron or Celeron CPU.  We also see that in this case any processor at or over 1GHz can capture in real-time from sources (notice the red bars again).

TMPGEnc 2.00 MPEG-1

Let us also look at the standard in codecs, MPEG-1.   This has been around for a while and any 233+MHz CPU should be able to decode MPEG-1 videos.  TMPGEnc is a full featured MPEG-1/2 encoding program that gives very high quality video suitable for DVD/SVCD/VCD movies, and here are the settings used.  But how fast is our Duron in this test against its two competitors?  Lets find out.


So how do they perform?  Well it is strikingly similar to the DivX 4.02 results with a couple of interesting differences.  It still goes up in a cache based arrangement but the Celeron 850 is close to the same speed as a processor 100MHz is junior, and is only slightly faster than the Duron 750.   Unfortunately none of the processors here can encode MPEG-1 from TMPGEnc in real-time but for this quality it is a logical tradeoff.

Video Tests - 720*480 - DivX;)

Now we look at what most people use DivX for:  encoding ripped DVD movies to a smaller medium, CD's, to make it slightly safer to transport and watch elsewhere and are good for backup purposes, but I am in no way endorsing ripping DVD's for giving to others or selling these ripped DVD's.

The following benchmarks look at video ripped from the "Matrix" DVD.  The program used to encode the DivX files is VirtualDub Ver 1.4D and we used the same settings as shown on the previous page.  So let us now look at how the Duron compares to both the Athlon and the Intel Celeron.

DivX 3.11 resolution 720*480

Let us first look at the DivX 3.11 scores.  There seems to be no difference between each processor and apart from the 1.1GHz T-Bird and the 1GHz T-Bird they go up in a linear fashion.  You do get a 78% increase in speed between 550MHz to 1GHz which does cut down on the amount of time needed to just over half the original time.

DivX 4.02 resolution 720*480

Now we'll look at some DivX 4.02 scores, and just a note this is not the newest DivX 4.xx codec, 4.12 is out and is almost as fast as 3.11.   What can we see here, well DivX 4 seems to like a large cache as either in 352*240 or 720*480 it is faster with larger caches.  The increase is so great that with a 850Mhz T-Bird is as fast as a 900MHz Duron or 900MHz Celeron.

TMPGEnc 2.00 MPEG-2

Let us also look at the standard for DVD movies, MPEG-2.   The codec really gained popularity with the advent of DVD's which helped propel it.  Yet it still requires a very powerful processor to encode an MPEG-2 video stream.  Here are the settings used for this.  So then how fast is our Duron against its two competitors in this tough test?  Lets find out.


Isn't this surprising, the Intel Celeron seems to have a large lead in comparison to the Duron and even the T-Bird, why?  It seems that TMPGEnc has very good SSE optimizations for MPEG-2 encoding.  Otherwise MPEG-2 encoding also likes to have a large cache and as such the T-Bird beats the Duron in this test.  Needless to say the difference between 550MHz and 1.2GHz is almost double and thus can help improve encoding by cutting the time in half.

What can we conclude about video encoding and these different CPU's?  The Duron is a very powerful CPU for encoding in any form of video with it tying or beating the Celeron in all but two tests.  It can't quite keep up with its bigger brother in all but two benchmarks yet comes very close in most of the other benchmarks.

With all this video encoding in the last few pages we should look at some other uses for CPU's, that of 3D Rendering.

3D Rendering - Truespace 4.2

The first 3D program we will look at is that of an "entry level" 3D animation program Caligari Truespace.  This program while being more of a beginners program has allot of power and flexibility including the ability to import files from other 3D applications such as 3D Studio Max, Autocad and Lightwave.  We will look at performance in two areas, first at its rendering a scene to file with lens flares and other interesting features.  The second will look at performance in wireframe mode using Intel's 3DR rendering (software-powered). 

The scene used was created by myself, but the two major models, "USS Voyager" and the "Delta Flyer" were created by someone else (if its your model please e-mail me).  This scene has a maximum of about 80,000 polygons in the scene at one time and 5 lights at most (usually 2 or 3). Here are the settings and also there is an Image of the rendered picture.    So lets look at the render to file performance first:

Truespace 4.2 Render to File

What can we say about this?  It loves the T-Bird, but why?  Well we can see that the FPU of both the T-Bird and the Duron help to pull it away from the Celeron.  Another helper for the T-Bird is the larger cache that it has.  The result is that the T-Bird 850 easily beats a Duron 900.  How does the Duron fair?  Pretty good, its FPU which is the same as the T-Bird helps it get close to the T-Bird and helps pull it far away from the Celeron, with a 650MHz Duron equaling the power of a Celeron 850.  Do things change when we switch to wireframe mode?   Lets find out.

Truespace 4.2 Wireframe mode

Here we see the Celeron still get taken to the cleaners with both the Duron and T-Bird 650MHz equaling the power of the Celeron 850.  The Duron does much better in this test as it gets very close to the T-Bird's performance, this test most likely works inside the cache of both processors and thus gives them similar performance.  Now that we've had enough of space let us look back to the earth with Terragen.


Let us look at a program called Terragen.  As the name implies it is a terrain generator, that also makes images of landscapes including sunlight and cloud cover.  The pictures it can produce are very beautiful.  In fact the one used here is one I printed out on my printer.  The scene here has a total of 800701 quadrilaterals, and looks like this.   Let us look at some benchmarks.

Terragen Benchmark

This benchmark is purely FPU demanding, as both the Duron and the T-Bird perform the exact same.  The Celeron unfortunately does not have the same floating point power that the AMD CPU's and as such performs slower than a 650 Duron or T-Bird.

So what can we conclude about 3D rendering?  We can see that since it is Floating point intensive the Duron and T-Bird perform very close to each other, while the Celeron is simply outclassed by these superior products. Now lets look at some MP3's, something we are all familiar with.

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