AMD and Intel war over benchmarks

Intel is training resellers in the art of discrediting the way AMD rates its processors, calling it 'bad science'. AMD says the comparisons are irrelevant

Intel has begun offering a "training class" to channel customers, directly targeting rival AMD's new policy of emphasising model numbers over clock speeds. The class charges that AMD's Athlon XP 2000+ chip does not live up to its model number ranking.

AMD launched its "True Performance Initiative" with the Athlon XP processor last autumn, in order to shift consumers away from the perception that a chip with a faster clock speed offers better performance. Athlon XP chips come with a model number that indicates their performance relative to older Athlon chips, so that the Athlon XP 2000+ (at 1.67GHz) would offer roughly the same performance as an earlier Athlon clocking 2,000MHz (2GHz). Intel and its allies claim the model numbers are designed to invite comparison with Pentium 4 chips of a similar clock speed.

Last week Intel began advertising an online seminar to its customers, aimed at presenting its point of view on AMD's model numbers in greater detail. The move followed the release of an Intel-funded report from Aberdeen Group that criticised the True Performance Initiative as "bad science" designed to fool "inexperienced buyers".

The class, offered twice a day through the end of next week, appears to use a variety of benchmarks to show that the Athlon XP at 1.67GHz does not compare favourably to a Pentium 4 2.2GHz. The class is not available to the public, but an enthusiast Web site called AMDZone published what appears to be a presentation summarising the seminar's main points.

Intel's benchmarks are the main bone of contention. Two main sets of benchmarks are presented, one set from SPEC -- an industry-standard ranking -- and another set testing features such as content creation, gaming and video rendering. In all but the Business Winstone test, Pentium 4 is shown coming out on top.

AMD dismissed the SPEC benchmark as largely irrelevant. "It doesn't relate a lot to either consumer or business use, unless you're in the scientific community," said a spokesman. He said that AMD had been careful in the set of benchmarks it had used in establishing the True Performance Inititative, audited by Andersen Consulting, so as not to lay itself open to charges of benchmark fixing.

"Benchmarks can be made to say whatever you want, really," he said.

Intel's use of differing system configurations is likely to arouse controversy. The Intel benchmarks compare a Pentium 4 "Northwood" core with Rambus memory, for example, while the AMD core uses DDR (double data rate) DRAM, which does not allow the same bandwidth for memory-intensive applications such as video rendering, but is much cheaper.

However, most Pentium 4 systems on the market do not use Rambus memory, with system makers overwhelmingly preferring the less-expensive DDR or SDRAM options. In tests where both systems were outfitted with DDR memory, ZDNet found that the 2.2GHz Pentium 4 Northwood often could not keep up with the Athlon XP 2000+.

Intel also takes one or two other pot-shots at AMD, such as by comparing the power consumption of Northwood, manufactured on a .13-micron process, to the Athlon XP, which is manufactured on a .18-micron process. The Athlon XP consumes 70W "maximum" power, according to the Intel presentation, while the Pentium 4 consumes 55.1W of "Thermal Design Power" (TDP).

TDP is a figure used by OEMs to design cooling units, but doesn't include spikes in power that only last a few milliseconds, where the "maximum" power may include such spikes, according to AMD. "It's not fair at all," an AMD spokesman said. "They're effectively different units."

In the first half of this year AMD is to roll out a new core called Thoroughbred, based on a .13-micron manufacturing process. The process shrink will reduce the die size, reducing power consumption and allowing higher clock speeds.

Intel declined to comment except to confirm that it does offer training to its customers, including training on "competitive issues".

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