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AMD or Intel?

Written By:
Date Posted: May 1, 2002


I recently read an article posted at Tech-Review basically ranting about the . I suppose in their defense, they knocked Intel as well in a separate article, but in my opinion, had these articles been posted in a forum, most of us would dismiss it as flame bait. The author does bring up interesting points, but the language used makes it hard to take him too seriously. You can feel free to read the articles yourself, but I have a few things to say about this (well beaten) topic.

First of all, I don't consider neither company, AMD and Intel, to have any huge advantage over one another. I personally prefer AMD, but wouldn't hesitate to slap an Intel system together if the situation is right. I'm not going to get into specifics about their technologies, since you can find that information everywhere, but I'm counter-argue some of the more weaker arguements made by the author of the above articles.


There isn't any arguement here, as AMD Athlons do run hotter than their Pentium 4 (and 3) counterparts, and therefore the market explosion for aftermarket heatsinks. Now, the cooling fans on these heatsinks tend to be extremely fast spinning, thus loud. The same can be said for Pentium 4s however, but because the P4 does run cooler, it is possible to run the CPU with only passive cooling, assuming the case cooling is efficient. Dell does this, as does many other OEMs. Result? Cooler = Quieter.

Is there any hope for Athlon owners? Well, Athlon XPs consume up to 20% less power than the Thunderbirds, and thus runs cooler. If you buy a retail Athlon, it comes with a heatsink/fan sanctioned by AMD. These coolers are fairly quiet, when compared to the big monsters we're used to seeing. With the upcoming "Thoroughbred" processor, and the .13m fab process, we should see a significant drop in temperatures. Not overclocking is another option, as overclocked CPUs, no matter the manufacturer, run hotter.

As for Intel, stock cooling will be adaquate for Pentium based CPUs in most cases, but as they get faster, they'll have to resort to large fan combos as well.

Winner = Intel

Drivers and Support

When Athlons first came into the market, there wasn't a whole lot of 3rd party support, as AMD was forced to make their own chipsets. A whole slew of chipset manufacturers eventually started making motherboard chipsets, but performance was adequate at best. The situation has greatly improved now though, and the top performing motherboards are not AMD branded. Although the support for the product was great, it created a mess for a lot of inexperienced users. Chipset drivers became more important than ever in order to maximize performance, and in a lot of forums and newsgroups, you'll be surprised how many people still say, "Via 4 in what?"

Intel had 3rd party chipsets as well, but with the release of the Pentium 4, and the i815 being the platform of choice for PIII owners, they didn't run through as much driver hell as their AMD counterparts did. There are some 3rd party chipsets available for Intel now, so this "advantage" of not having to install chipset drivers is fading.

Then again, the last paragraph isn't exactly true. You do NEED to update your drivers, regardless of platform. Perhaps credit should go to AMD for going through the growing pains first, but unless you want to play your video games at slide-show speeds, keep those drivers updated.

For the DIY crowd, there isn't really any problem here. I'm certain most of us update all drivers, regardless of manufacturer, whenever they become available. Of course, it's always best to wait a couple weeks for the mainstream "beta testers" to point out the bugs.

Winner = Tie


AMD processors are more fragile. Unlike the Pentium 4, there is no heatplate to distribute the force applied by the clipping mechanisms of most heatsinks. The horror stories of cracked Athlons are true.

The lack of any thermal protection is another disadvantage AMD has against Intel. Athlons run hot, and if your cooling isn't up to spec, your CPU will die. The Athlon XP has an internal diode to prevent this, but no manufacturers has a shipping motherboard that makes use of this feature. Asus does have their C.O.P. (CPU Overheat Prevention) feature, but don't expect a working CPU if you forgot to reinstall your heatsink. Intel CPUs on the other hand can slow down on the fly (throttling), and actually shut down (i.e. lock up) before any serious damage is done.

Experienced system builders know that careful application of heatsinks is necessary to ensure AMD procs don't break. You have to do it right for Intel also, but it's more forgiving.

Winner = Intel

Price/Performance Ratio

I do my eveyday work in the office on a Dell Precision P4 1.8GHz. The machine costs a lot of money. So did my XP 1800+ system at home, but it does have all the cool gadgets to go with it. I do a variety of administrator tasks, and even sneak in a game or two at lunchtime on the Dell, and to be honest, between the two machines, I don't notice a difference in everyday performance. I ran some synthetic benchmarks, and both scored pretty much the same. In some cases, the P4 was faster, and others, the Athlon XP was.

All this talk about "having to buy a big heatsink, big power supply" cutting into the savings you get from going AMD is BS though. Let's face facts, if you overclock, you'll need a fancy heatsink with either processor. It's not talked about much, but if you go P4, chances are, you'll also need a new power supply. All things being equal, AMD is still cheaper, and performs as well.

Winner = AMD

Final Words

I can go on forever about the pros and cons about either platform, but I don't feel it would acheive anything. Both platforms have their advantages and disadvantages. I'd buy an Intel system because it's easier to setup and it's fast. I'd get an Athlon system, because putting it together is more fun, and it's fast. Either way, if you're inexperienced in building PCs, it'll be a challenge no matter what you get. If that's the case, Dell has some nice systems online...

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