Could AMD's Turion be holding its own against Intel's Centrino?

Could AMD's Turion be holding its own against Intel's Centrino?

Summary: The great thing about getting sucked into debates with vendors is that you end up with so much to write about as a result of doing a bit of digging around the Internet.  So this next entry represents the intersection of two conversations.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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The great thing about getting sucked into debates with vendors is that you end up with so much to write about as a result of doing a bit of digging around the Internet.  So this next entry represents the intersection of two conversations.  One conversation was with HP's acting director of commercial notebooks Steve Shultis who, when asked how his company's AMD Turion-based notebooks fared performance-wise against HP's Intel-based notebooks, refused to discuss the issue and instead referred me to third-party benchmarks (ones that I'd have to find on my own).  The second conversation was with Intel's mobile platform spokesperson Barbara Grimes, who would much rather that I not keep trashing her company's Centrino brand.  If I could find some comparative benchmark data that shows what sort of bang for the buck you get with an AMD Turion 64-based notebook versus one with the Centrino sticker on it, it would fall right in the middle of these two conversations.  So, I took Shultis up on his invitation and sought out some benchmark data.  The "research project" once again put me in the shoes of the buyer, a refreshing position for a tech editor to be in, but one that I don't envy very much because of how hard it is validate all the  information that's out there, and then use it as the basis of some purchasing decision.

My data comes by way of PC Magazine, whose testing labs I have a great deal of respect for.  The test results date back to April of this year when the publication held an AMD Turion-based Acer Aspire 5000 up against two Intel-based notebooks (a Dell Latitude 610 and a Gateway M210) "to see if AMD is ready to take back a share of the mobile market."   In that story, PC Magazine concluded:

In our initial tests, we found that the Turion is no Pentium M killer, but it shows promise and is a worthy competitor to Intel's processors. We're looking forward to testing notebooks with higher-clocked versions of the Turion 64, and we'll be sure to report those results as soon as we do.

I agree with this conclusion as long as the only metric you're looking at is performance.  But, based on what I know, most people have a budget too.  In the context of cost, the findings might be a little different.  So, I decided to research the prices of the three systems in question.  Looking at the benchmarks, the Centrino-based Dell system barely edged-out the Turion-based Acer notebook.  The Gateway system came in a distant third place.  I wondered if their prices would reflect the same stratification.  They didn't and, after following my research, you may come to the same conclusions that I did. 

First: The Turion-based Acer is by far the best value of the three.  Neither the Dell nor the Gateway held a candle to the Acer.   Second: If Intel wants to prove the promise of the Centrino brand by finding a Centrino system that out does a non-Centrino system (as happened when the Dell out did the Acer on performance and battery life), it should have no trouble finding those proof points.  But, if someone else wants to blow that theory up by showing a non-Centrino system out-doing a Centrino system (as evidence by the way the Acer outdid the Gateway), they will also have no trouble in finding those proof points.   If there's one thing that the PC Magazine review definitely proves, it's that it's virtually impossible to isolate the effects of the processor, chipset, or radio (the three components that, when specific Intel parts are used, add up to "Centrino") on the battery.  For starters, if Dell wants to win battery benchmarks (as it did in this case), it just needs a bigger battery.  So, of course it's going to last longer.  Meanwhile, at 15.4", the Acer's display is much larger (in notebook terms)  than the 14.1" display found on the Dell.  It also probably requires more battery power.

Whereas PC Magazine did a good job putting these systems on an even playing field for performance testing, it took quite a bit of homework to get them on an even playing field from a feature perspective to work up a price comparison.   Given how it bested the Acer by 90 minutes on battery life, I assumed the Dell Latitude 610  had the optional 6 cell battery as opposed to the standard 4 cell battery.  That said, the optional battery doesn't affect cost.  Just weight.  According to Dell's online configurator, there's no additional cost for the larger battery (switching to it doesn't affect the recalculated price).

The $1595-base priced Dell Latitude 610, with XP Pro, an 80GB hard drive (standard), 512MB RAM (+$79, the configuration tested by PC Magazine) with a DVD+/-R  drive (+$149) and Norton AntiVirus (+$69, comes standard with the Acer) brought the Dell's total price to $1892.

Acer doesn't sell its systems direct.  So, I had to shop around the Web. An Acer Aspire 5000 configured with the same options (80 GB hard drive, 512 MB RAM, XP Pro, etc.) but with the 1.5" larger display that goes to a higher resolution than the Dell, can be had for $955 at Buy.com.  At that price, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, it comes standard with Norton AntiVirus and a DVD+/-R drive. But, along with the Dell's $1595-base price, comes a 3-year onsite warranty.  In an attempt to match that on the Acer, Buy.com offers extended warranties above and beyond Acer's standard 1 year warranty and it charges $121 for a 2 years onsite option.  There was no three year option. So, to make the price comparisons as fair as possible, I prorated the Buy.com's warranty upgrade as if a three year option were available.  I added an additional $60 for a third year.  That brought the support cost to $180 (very much on par with what Dell charges for the same thing).  That got me to $1135. 

According to Gateway's Web site, the Gateway 210 that PC Mag included in its comparison is no longer available.  The closest thing on Gateway's site I could find to it  -- a system with a 1.6Ghz Pentium M 725 Centrino and a 400Mhz Front Side Bus (FSB) -- was the M325X.  I configured it with the same 80GB hard drive size as the others (+$40),  a DVD+/-R drive (+$45), and Norton AntiVirus (+$49) like what comes standard on the Aspire 5000.  Then, I matched the Dell 3-year onsite warranty (+$210).  The M325X appears to have the same 15-inch screen as the Acer.  Price as configured was $1325.  Obviously, even though the M325X has the same primary guts as the M210 did, we can't assume that its performance is the same.  But it's a pretty fair bet that it will still come in third place given how close the Dell and Acer were to each other because of how it, like the 210, has a Pentium M 725a with a 400Mhz FSB while the Dell has the Pentium M 730 with a 533 Mhz FSB. 

So, suddenly, at $1892 (Dell/Intel Centrino) vs. $1135 (Acer/AMD Turion) vs. $1352 (Gateway/Intel Centrino), the value proposition of the Acer Aspire 500 is reigning supreme.  Again, this is given these three notebooks. I'm rather certain if we look hard enough, we can find some notebooks that flip the story around. And, I also agree that, between the different system on the Gateway front, and the way I prorated the 3 year support on the Acer, this still isn't apples to apples. It's more like McIntosh apples vs. Red Delicious ones.  Even so, the Turion-based Acer 5000 is looking good. Damn good.  It barely underperformed the Dell in PC Magazine's benchmarks -- to the point that most users wouldn't  notice in their applications.  Meanwhile, at an additional $757, the Dell costs 66 percent more than the Acer.  Holy cow, that's 2/3's more expensive! The Gateway is also more expensive than the Acer unit and, no matter what its performance is, I'm positive that  the Turion system will still come out on top from a value perspective.

Topic: Hardware

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44 comments
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  • You have to look at actual selling price

    I helped a friend buy a Dell Inspiron 6000 with a 1.6 GHz Pentium M, 512 MB Ram, ATI x300 w/128, 15.4" disply, and other things for $802. Dell offers some big fat coupons sometimes.
    george_ou
    • Dell?

      You couldn't give me a Dell. I read alot of software forums. Most of the users complaining are having trouble with DELLS. I also find it strangely curious how they also usually have WinXP Pro as if Dell is pushing that OS. The so-called 'software' problems is almost always a hardware problem, drivers or Dell's default setup of the system.

      My sister ordered TWO Dell laptops for my niece and nephew for college. Both dead right out of the box and took almost a YEAR to get them fixed!!!

      I've never had problems with HP desktops and love my new Gateway laptop.
      John Smith32
      • Message has been deleted.

        Aguy_z
        • Dell Reliability

          I work for the Navy. With the Navy having switched to the NMCI network, EDS (the prime contractor) selected Dell as their supplier for all of the Navy's several hundred thousand seats. On the notebook front we have had numerous DOA units in just my department and a vary high failure rate with some users going through 3 and 4 replacements in less than a year. Quality has been horrible on notebooks. We have had fewer problems with tower units.
          Since we are an engineering facility our users are engineers and scientists that know how to use a computer and are not the source of the problem. Before yu think that we might have tweaked the units, you should know that all of these units are locked down by NMCI and we cannot make any changes or install any software. So Mr. Aguy, before you acuse someone of lying, maybe you should get your facts straight.
          barjohn
        • Your ignorance is astounding

          >> well unless they decide to go with AMD crap <<
          'nuff said.
          d_jedi
    • Too bad..

      they reserve the best ones (ex. $750 off a $1500 laptop) for US customers only.

      No lovin' for us computer geeks North of the border.
      d_jedi
    • Dell Inspiron

      http://www.analogstereo.com/buick_roadmaster_owners_manual.htm
      uk_forum
  • David - Go Read George's post on this topic (nt)

    nt
    Erik1234
    • No contradictions

      Maybe I didn't make myself clear enough, but nothing I wrote contradicts David's blog. I'll be doing a follow up.
      george_ou
  • Uh.... Someone check the batteries in David's calculator...

    Er.... Since when is $1892 2/3rds MORE than $1135?? If anything it's only about 40% more.

    Don't get me wrong, it's still a significant discount to get someone to consider buying the slightly slower Acer/AMD unit given the features and so forth.
    Wolfie2K3
    • GIGO

      I think you need to check your math yourself.

      The thing is that you need to look at the price differences a little more closely.

      1892 - 1135 = 757. That's the price difference.

      Now you have to look at that 757 in relation to the price of the Acer unit, not the Dell unit.

      757/1135 = x/100 ... ( 757 / 1135 ) * 100 = 66

      So you do in fact get the 2/3 (66%) figure.

      Even just comparing the two costs rather than the delta you get about 60%

      1135/1892 = x/100
      113500/1892 = 59.98
      Robert Crocker
    • Use the lowest price as denominator...

      1892 / 1135 = 1.666960352
      dav_knez9
    • ?? Someone check the batteries in David's calculator...

      I don't know but at the age of 54 I remember way long ago being taught to do the math thusly: 1892/1135 = 1.66696. .66696 = 66.696% greater than unity (1135/1135 = 1) so anything greater than 1135 comes up as the remainder after the division of 1892/1135. However I have a Dell desktop that's never given me an iota of problems, you don't even need a screwdriver to take the side off to clean out dust periodically or add new hardware. Another thing to keep in mind are the sizable rebates Dell is forever offering on just about everything. When one expires it's usually supplanted with a new one. Last good deal I saw was a Dimension 2400 for $399 after rebates. It included their 17" flat panel monitor which alone I've never seen for less than $200. Here's a deal they have now: Save $799 on Dimension? 9100 Outrageous Deal with 24" flat panel monitor. After $699 Instant Savings and $100 Mail-in Rebate! Hurry, offer ends 07/13/05!
      MannionTm
    • Sorry, man but your doing the math wrong

      Alright here's David's math. 1892-1135=757; 757/1135 =.66 so the dell IS 66% more.
      xander9791
  • David hates Intel - Period

    Always trying to stick the knife in them deeper and deeper - waz up David - someone at Intel beat you up as a child? I have used Intel processors since the early 808x days. I have also spec'd out systems based soley on Intel processors for companies I have worked for since the early 80286 days, and can truly state that I have never had a problem with any Intel product; I would like to you take a stab at specific softare that run on these processors. But anyway, for me it is worth paying a premium for a quality name, I do not consider AMD, Transmeta or the now defunk Cyrix processors as quality; they are cheap though, I'll give you that!
    Aguy_z
    • ummm...

      youve been doing it that long and have NEVER had a problem with intel products? you must be VERY lucky, ive had all kinds of issues with intel products from network cards, to motherboards, to processors... but not a big enough percentage to make me stop using them.
      doh123
    • Smart - Intel has no compelling Value

      At all. Nothing they make is all that good and AMD has always been better quality, better performance, and more reliable, all for less $.
      ITGuy04
      • Wrong - Intel = major value

        It has only been the past 2 years that AMD has turned out product that could be called, somewhat reliable (since they hired Intel's engineers back when Intel went through a big layoff). Prior to that, they were always and IMHO still are an inferior processor. But to address both you and the guy before you - I can honestly say I've NEVER had a significant Intel product problem. I did one time have a situation with a P3 where my processor would stop running and freeze the system - I quickly opened up the box and discovered that the person I had build this system forgot to put a heat sink on the processor. I bought one, installed it and it still runs today - I have Red Hat Linux running a firewall for my home office.
        Aguy_z
        • I guess my almost 5 year old Duron is junk?

          Or the 7 year old K62 that was running 24/7 until the power supply died and took the MB, CPU, and RAM?

          Or the K62/350 server I built in '99 that was also run 24/7 for about 5 years now for a client. Only time it went down was when the CPU fans went....

          These all are great systems and have been run 24/7 without issue running whatever I throw at them.

          AMD is the best there is. Period.
          ITGuy04
        • I thought everybody...

          ...who is anykind of a propellor head ran their computers with the left skin off because its easier to tweak on it that way.... LOL The lesson is dont turn on a "new to you box" without a look at the insides... And AMDs were never inferior to intels or else they would have gone out of business like the numerous others that have tried to make cpus and went bust.
          wizzzer