The state in PC hardware never changed as quickly as it does today. What used to be top notch two months ago can today already be almost outdated. Keeping up with the pace is anything but easy, but I'll try to give you some ideas what's going on currently, what will be there in a few weeks and months and what I would advise you to buy right now.
Socket 7 CPUs are the soon disappearing Intel Pentium, its successor the Pentium w/MMX, the Cyrix/IBM 6x86MX and the AMD K6. The main differences between these CPUs is that while the Intel Pentium CPUs with or without MMX are the slowest CPUs for business applications, they are the fastest CPUs in applications with a lot of floating point calculations, particularly including 3D games, all compared to the its competitors at the same clock speed. The 6x86MX has the highest business application performance, particularly when looking at the real clock speed of the CPU, but it's still lacking of decent FPU power, resulting in pretty bad 3D gaming performance. AMD's K6 is somewhere in the middle between Intel and Cyrix, its business application performance isn't quite as high as the 6x86MX, but its 3D gaming performance is a lot better than the 6x86MX.
Now Intel is ready to move out of the Socket 7 market completely, Cyrix and IBM have still not got a Socket 7 CPU with a more powerful FPU, so that the Socket 7 market is wide open for the K6 3D from AMD. This CPU will be probably be released in May. The special features of the K6 3D will be
- 100 MHz 'front side bus', which will increase the integer performance of the K6 significantly
- MMX like SIMD (single instruction multiple data) FP instructions, however only single precision as opposed to Intel's upcoming MMX2 for the 'Katmai', which will offer SIMD FP instruction with double precision.
By coming out with both of these two features in one go, AMD's K6 3D will not only get very close to Intel's Pentium II in business application performance, but the special 3D features will in most cases offer equal or even better 3D gaming performance than the Pentium II. Two things have to be considered however, the K6 3D will hardly perform much better than the K6 in classical FP intensive applications as e.g. CAD applications and the 3D features of the K6 3D have to be used by the API or the game directly. Microsoft's DirectX6 is supposed to include the 3D features of the K6 3D and AMD says that they will ship a special OpenGL driver for the K6 as well, so that Quake2 will also be able to benefit from the K6 3D.
The main problems of AMD are
- time to market. Intel will do a major product launch on April 15, including high end (Pentium II w/100 MHz front side bus) as well as low end ('Celeron' CPU) processor products, ready to destroy all of its competitors.
- shipping in volume. AMD is not exactly famous for fulfilling their promises in regards of satisfying the demand for their products. It took months after the launch until people could buy K6 233 CPUs last year and even today you can only get a K6 266 when you buy an OEM product, there are simply not enough K6 266 CPUs to sell them in retail.