Sneaky tricks

When comparing processors from different vendors, you need to work hard to process the thick layer of marketing crud surrounding them.You've got to hand it to Intel for chutzpah when the company came up with the idea of Centrino.



When comparing processors from different vendors, you need to work hard to process the thick layer of marketing crud surrounding them.

You've got to hand it to Intel for chutzpah when the company came up with the idea of Centrino.

"I know!" said some bright spark in the Intel marketing department. "Let's invent some sort of phoney certification that doesn't mean anything except that the products have to use our components. And if they use a competitor's components we won't give them the certification.

"And while we're at it, let's include a technology that's already out of date and years behind what everyone else is selling. But let's jack up the price and sell it for more than everyone else does, because remember, if they don't buy our components at inflated prices, no certification."

It sounds pretty far fetched, and if it wasn't a company that had an enormous market share of Telstra- or Microsoft-like proportions, it would never work.

If you don't believe me, take a look at our review of notebooks, more specifically, the Acer TravelMate and the Acer Ferrari notebooks. They have the same memory, same hard drive, and same display size, but the Ferrari notebook does a lot better in some respects: faster processor, faster wireless networking, a DVD recorder drive, and a whole AU$1,200 cheaper.

Surely that's not possible. Why would a vendor sell a better notebook for that much less? I'm sure you've guessed by now that the TravelMate is a Centrino notebook with an Intel processor, while the Ferrari notebook uses an AMD processor.

But things don't all go the way of the AMD-based Ferrari. It was trounced in the Labs' performance testing despite a "performance rating" that would indicate its processor was much faster. (Perhaps we were supposed to be fooled by the colours and badge into thinking it was a top performer.) And the AMD-based notebook's battery lasted less than half as long as that of the Intel-based one.

These comparisons are precisely what we had in mind when we came up with the review in the first place. We wanted to get Intel and AMD notebooks from the same vendor and compare how they differed in specifications, price, and performance.

We were surprised how reluctant vendors were to send notebooks for comparison. Vendors who actually make both Intel and AMD notebooks suddenly pretended to have lost all their AMD notebooks out the back of the warehouse, or something.

What exactly were the vendors afraid of? Would either processor family come out badly in the comparison? Would submitting products annoy either vendor? Or perhaps all of the above.

If Intel has anything to hide, you can imagine the company would not hesitate to throw its considerable weight around and try to prevent these comparisons from taking place. So what are the dirty little secrets vendors don't want you to know? Here are my suggestions:

  • Centrino notebooks are overpriced because vendors are forced to buy expensive components from Intel only instead of cheaper competitors. As a result, you can get much better specifications for the same or lower price with an AMD processor.
  • However, AMD notebooks don't seem to perform as well, and --lacking the power management features Intel puts into Centrino -- they drain batteries very fast.

Some consumers may be price sensitive, but if Intel communicated the true benefits of its technologies -- performance and battery life -- instead of the marketroid ones in its Centrino advertising, what harm would it do? Meanwhile AMD needs to fix its power management issues, and could also avoid dishonest marketing techniques such as those misleading performance rating figures instead of processor speeds.

Ah, honesty in marketing: I can dream, can't I?

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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