Jesse Berst: Shattering chip myths

Five things you've gotta know about today's hottest chips.

You survived the Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy years. Made it through the "It's Just One Kiss" and "Of Course I'll Respect You in the Morning" phase. And eventually learned to avoid marketing ploys that include the words "timeshare" or "miracle cure".

So now you're ready for my upper-level course in Shattered Myths. And today's topic is processors, those tiny chips that power computer systems. If you're confused about what's going on in the world of Pentiums, Athlons and Celerons, you're not alone. Processor manufacturers are falling over themselves to churn out faster, newer, better chips at a frenetic pace. Followed by equally frenetic price-cutting.

On the surface, faster, better chips and falling prices ought to translate into a heyday for computer buyers. Except for two things:

Most users can't afford to buy a new PC every time Intel or AMD cranks out a faster chip.

Most users don't need the kinds of processor speeds we're seeing today

The trick is to understand which of today's plethora of chips makes sense for the kind of computing tasks you routinely perform. And to buy at the right time. I've recruited ZDNet experts to help on the PC front. So on to the myths:

  • Speed is Everything. That's true for some. Certainly not for everyone. If you're a gamer or into high-end graphics and multimedia, increasingly faster processor speeds will make a difference. But don't assume the Pentium III is the odds-on pick among gamers. Some talk a good case for AMD's 650 MHz Athlon. Click for more.

  • The Latest is Greatest. Forget that one! If you're reading this, the Web is part of your routine. And you want the best Internet experience you can get, right? PC Magazine labs found almost no difference between the speed or quality of Internet experience using a 450 MHz PIII compared with a 450 MHz PII.

  • You Get What You Pay For. If you buy out of the bargain bin you expect inferior quality goods. That was the case when Intel first introduced the Celeron, its come-from-behind entry in the cheap PC space. But not so today. suggests there's little difference between the latest Celerons and the P2s. And AMD's low-end K6-2 also gets high marks for value and performance. Click for more.

  • Biggest is Best. Intel is the chip king; has dominated the industry for years. But the best? Not necessarily. For the first time in Intel history, a rival is offering a faster x86 processor. AMD's Athlon not only out-performed the Pentium III in recent lab tests, its benchmark scores were the highest ever recorded by PC Magazine Labs. Click for more.

  • There's No Time Like the Present. If you're buying a new PC, that's not exactly true. For the second time in a month, Intel just axed desktop chip prices. AMD did the same last week. Cheaper chips today mean cheaper PCs tomorrow. Watch for some attractive deals just in time for holiday shopping. Click for more.

Now it's your turn. Click here to tell the Mailroom your favourite chip myths.