The Celeron Killer -
AMD's New Duron Processor
Редакция THG,  19 июня 2000


Introduction

AMD Duron

I still remember the time when AMD showed their 'K7 Roadmap' for the first time at Microprocessor Forum 1998. On this roadmap we could see the, by that time still 'nameless', future 'K7'-CPU in several variations. The specs of the 'K7', as it was still called back then, sounded pretty impressive and I speculated that this CPU could indeed be able to give Intel a really hard time once it's released. Still, there weren't a whole lot of people who believed that AMD would finally pull off a product that could indeed threaten Intel's monopoly. Therefore hardly anybody cared about the special 'K7'-version, which AMD planned to use as their future low-cost solution. In 1998 most of AMD's processors were seen as low-cost alternative to Intel's high-performance/high-price CPUs, so it seemed rather pathetic that AMD would plan a product that was particularly targeted to this segment. Back then most people thought that AMD should consider itself lucky if any of their processors would at least sell in this low-cost segment.

AMD's Success with Athlon

AMD Duron Logo

Lot's of things have changed since October 1998, and we had to learn that AMD was indeed able to design and produce a processor that gives Intel-products a really hard run for their money. 'Athlon', as 'K7' is called today, was released in August last year and since this time Intel's market shares have slowly, but surely shrunk, while AMD was suddenly becoming stronger and stronger.

Today, and especially since AMD's launch of the 'Thunderbird' processor two weeks ago, AMD is able to supply processors that are just as fast as, or even faster than their Intel counterparts, at significantly lower prices.

One Socket for High End And Low Cost

However, so far AMD has used its successful Athlon-core only to compete with Intel's Pentium III line of processors. Intel's Celeron line was targeted by AMD's K6-2 and K6-3 , but those two processor types require the rather old Socket7-standard and are not particularly cheap to produce either. Intel's Socket370 can host Pentium III as well as Celeron, which makes platform production for OEMs as well as future upgrades for end users a whole lot easier.

Athlon's Little Brother

AMD is also rushing to move back to the socket. Two weeks ago the new Athlon with the Thunderbird-core was released, which will ship in a package ready to plug into SocketA, aka Socket462. Today AMD will present 'Duron', formerly known as 'Spitfire', Thunderbird's little brother.

Socket A

Duron will also fit into SocketA/Socket462, so dealing with AMD-platforms will become a whole lot easier. As VIA/Cyrix is moving towards Socket370, I suppose that the end of good old Socket7 has finally come. Bye-bye Socket7, we all used to be big fans of you, but now it's really time to go.

Duron's Family Bands

Duron is the close brother of 'Thunderbird', the new 'Socket-Athlon'. As a matter of fact the architectures of Thunderbird and Duron are pretty much identical. The only two differences are the size of the second level cache and the core voltage. Thunderbird comes with 256 kB on-die and full speed L2 cache, while Duron has only got 64 kB of that stuff. In both cases the L2-cache is connected to the core over a 64-bit wide interface, which has been criticized by us as well as others at the Thunderbird release already.

Thunderbird's typical voltage is 1.7-1.8V, while Duron only requires 1.5 V. Therefore Duron produces only 22.9 W of thermal power at 700 MHz.

Duron Is Not Castrated, Celeron Is

Most of you will certainly know that Intel's latest Celeron processors at 566 MHz and up are using the so-called 'Coppermine-128' core. This core is identical to the silicon used for Pentium III (E) processors, with half of its L2-cache disabled, resulting in only 128 kB second level cache versus the 256 kB L2-cache of Pentium III. On top of that, Intel is hindering the performance of Celeron by specifying it for a today mediocre 66 MHz bus clock. Only Celeron-overclockers know the real potential of the Celeron, the 'normal' Celeron user finds himself with a chip that is seriously limited by this slow bus clock.

The story is a lot different with AMD's Duron-processor. First of all, Duron is using it's own silicon-design. Duron has only got a quarter of Thunderbird's L2-cache, it's not a Thunderbird-core with 192 kB L2-cache disabled. AMD is taking advantage of the fact that Duron has its own special die, so that saving the actual 192 kB L2-cache leads to a smaller die size of Duron, if you compare it to Thunderbird.

AMD Athlon and AMD Duron Markings

While Thunderbird's die size is 120 mm², Duron's die is only 100 mm2 big. Thus AMD can produce Duron cheaper than Thunderbird, while Intel's costs for producing Celeron are the same as for the production of Pentium III processors.

I already pointed out that Celeron is castrated by the fact that it's only supposed to run at 66 MHz bus clock, which has a significant performance impact. AMD is not trying to slow down Duron artificially. Instead of that AMD is using the honest approach and runs Duron at the same bus clock of 200 MHz DDR that is also used by any Athlon-processor. This fact is the secret of Duron's superior performance over Intel's Celeron, as you will see later.

Comparison Between Duron and Celeron

  Intel Celeron AMD Duron
Bus Clock 66 MHz 200 MHz (DDR)
L1-Cache Size 16 kB I + 16 kB D = 32 kB L1-Cache 64 kB I + 64 kB D = 128 kB L1-Cache
L2-Cache Size 128 kB 64 kB
L2-Cache Interface 256-bit 64-bit
Platform Socket370 Socket462
Chipsets 440LX/EX/BX/ZX, 810, 815 VIA Apollo KT133, AMD750, 760
Performance 60-80% of Pentium III at same clock frequency about 90% of Athlon/Thunderbird at same clock frequency, 92 - 99% of Athlon Classic at same clock frequency

You can see that Duron is much closer to the performance of its big brothers than Celeron, because AMD is using the same bus clock for Duron as well as Athlon. Intel is using the little FSB-limitation trick to make people fall into the MHz-trap. Inexperienced users might think that a Celeron 700 is just as fast as a Pentium III 700. Both sell at the same price, but Celeron is significantly slower.

The biggest advantage of Celeron is the huge amount of platforms offered for it. Intel's Celeron design is several years old and Celeron runs on virtually any platform Intel released since. Duron has currently only got VIA's Apollo KT133 chipset to run on, having to share it with its bigger brother Thunderbird. It will take a while until the market is saturated with KT133 platforms. Right now, it's not too easy to get one. Later this year VIA will release more chipsets for Socket462-processors and AMD, Ali and SiS will supply their solutions as well.

Show Me Your Color

Since I was the one who brought it up, it's now time to clear up the issue about the die color of Thunderbird's and Duron's die. In the Thunderbird article I reckoned that dies with a greenish tint are produced in AMD's Dresden Fab 30, using Copper interconnect. The bluish dies I decided to be samples from the Austin Fab 25 using aluminum interconnect. AMD informed us (and obviously a few others too) that I was right to distinguish the production place of the dies by checking the color of the chip. However, the greenish or bluish color does not come from the material used for the interconnects, but from a different 'polisher' that is used in Dresden and Austin. We know that Duron will only be produced in Austin and you can see that Duron is definitely green. Therefore I had to learn that my guess was only partly correct, the colors however are exactly the other way around. A green die comes from Austin and is using aluminum interconnect, a blue die comes from Dresden and is using copper.

Duron Pricing

These are the 1K unit prices AMD disclosed for the Duron launch:

  • Duron 700 - $192
  • Duron 650 - $154
  • Duron 600 - $112

Those prices are about identical to the prices of Celeron processors of the same clock frequency. From this point of view Duron is the much more attractive solution, because the benchmark results show that Duron is significantly faster than Celeron. However, I consider the $193 for Duron 700 as a tad too high as well. For the same price you can get a Pentium III 667 EB, which outperforms Celeron and is able to beat Duron in several benchmarks as well, as you will see below.

The Test Setup

I've used two brand new motherboards in this test. One was used for AMD's SocketA processors and the other one for Intel's Pentium III processor.

The Socket462 platform used was the brand new A7V board from Asus. This board turned out to be the fastest and most stable KT133 platform that we have tested yet and it had no problems to host Thunderbird as well as Duron.

Asus A7V

For Pentium III I chose another Asus board, which again turned out to be faster than the rest. The CUSL2 is Asus new Socket370 motherboard with the i815E/Solano2 chipset. It is also the board I used in the Solano Review posted the other Sunday.

Asus CUSL2

This new i815E platform makes Pentium III look a lot better than on i820 platforms, as you might notice in the benchmark results.

The Test Setup, Continued

Platform Information
Graphics card for all tests NVIDIA GeForce 2 GTS Reference
200MHz Core, 333MHz DDR-RAM 32MB
Hard Drive for all tests IBM DPTA-372050, 20.5 GB, 7200 RPM, ATA66
Socket A System
Motherboard Asus A7V, ACPI BIOS 1001, June 2000
Memory 128 MB, Enhanced Memory Systems PC133 HSDRAM CAS2
IDE Interface Onboard ATA66
Network 3Com 3C905B-TX
Slot A System
Motherboard Asus K7V, BIOS 1007 beta 1, June 2000
Memory 128 MB, Wichmann WorkX MXM128 PC133 SDRAM CAS2, settings 2-2-2, 5/7
IDE Interface Onboard ATA66
Network 3Com 3C905B-TX
Celeron System
Motherboard Asus CUBX, ACPI BIOS 1006 beta 03, June 2000
Memory 128 MB, Enhanced Memory Systems PC133 HSDRAM CAS2
IDE Interface Promise Ultra66 PCI card
Network 3Com 3C905B-TX
Pentium III System
Motherboard Asus CUSL2, BIOS 1001, Intel 815E chipset
Memory 128 MB, Wichmann WorkX MXM128 PC133 SDRAM CAS2, settings 2-2-2, 5/7
IDE Interface Onboard ICH2, ATA100 capable
Network 3Com 3C905B-TX
Driver Information
Graphics Driver NVIDIA 4.12.01.0522
Driver for VIA Chipsets 4in1 4.22
AGP-driver 4.03
ATA Driver Promise Ultra66 driver rev. 1.43
Intel Ultra ATA BM driver v5.00.038
Environment Settings
OS Versions Windows 98 SE 4.10.2222 A
Screen Resolution 1024x768x16x85
DirectX Version 7.0
Quake 2 Version 3.20
command line = +set cd_nocd 1 +set s_initsound 0
Crusher demo, 640x480x16
Quake 3 Arena Retail Version
command line = +set cd_nocd 1 +set s_initsound 0
Graphics detail set to 'Normal', 640x480x16
Benchmark using 'Q3DEMO1'
Expendable Downloadable Demo Version
command line = -timedemo
640x480x16
Unreal Tournament Ver. 4.05b
high quality textures, medium quality skins, no tweaks
640x480x16
Benchmark using 'UTBench'.
MDK2 Downloadable Demo Version
Default Settings Used @ 640x480x16

Benchmark Results - Office Application Performance

Sysmark 2000 - Windows 98 SE

As usual we start with BAPCo's Sysmark2000. Duron makes a good figure here. It's just a tad slower than its father, the Athlon Classic, at the same clock speed. Intel's Celeron is left far behind Duron, which gets rather close to the results of Pentium III. You can also see the performance gap between Thunderbird and Athlon Classic.

Benchmark Results - 3D Game Performance

Quake 3 Arena - Demo001 NORMAL

In Quake 3 Arena Duron is just as fast as Athlon Classic at the same clock speed. You should start to get used to seeing Celeron far behind Duron, which is much closer to the Pentium III.

Benchmark Results - 3D Game Performance

Quake2 - Crusher

In Quake 2 Duron cannot quite keep up with Athlon Classic, but the results are still very good, especially if you compare the Duron scores with the Pentium III scores.

MDK2 DEMO - Test Settings

In MDK2, Duron 700 is able to reach the performance of a Pentium III 667, Celeron is abviously far behind. Still, Athlon Classic and TBird are a bit faster than AMD's new kid on the block.

Benchmark Results - 3D Game Performance

Expendable Demo - Timedemo

The picture in Expendable is similar to the Quake 2 scores. Duron is a bit slower than Athlon Classic, but not far behind Pentium III.

Unreal Tournament D3D - UTBench

In Unreal Tournament Pentium III is able to take a big advantage of the new i815 chipset, as it scores a whole lot better than on any other official platform, as i820, i840 or VIA Apollo Pro 133A. Duron is again a bit behind Athlon Classic, Celeron is left in the dust.

Floating Point Performance - 3D Studio Max 1

It's a tradition that we at Tom's Hardware are using 3D Studio Max as our floating-point test. We are taking the time that 3D Studio Max reports for rendering the 'ktx_rays.max' file. The rendered frame looks like this:

Raytracing 1

To make the results easier to read we don't report the time, but the number of ktx_rays.max frames that can be rendered in one hour.

3D Studio Max 1 - Frames/h

All K7-based processors are far superior to the Intel counterparts. Duron's FPU is just as fast as the FPU of Thunderbird or Athlon Classic.

Floating Point Performance - 3D Studio Max 2

3D Studio Max 1 is rather old nowadays, so I started rendering the same frame under 3D Studio Max 2. The result looks a bit cooler, which is why it takes a little longer to render this frame:

Raytracing 2

Even though the software is more recent, you shouldn't expect any differences. Still this is a very important test for people who have to render very complex scenes. I know 3D-modellers who have to wait hours or even days for their scenes to get finished rendering. One or two hours more or less wait is obviously making a big difference.

3D Studio Max 2 - Frames/h

The results look almost identical to the ones above. Again the AMD-processors can leave the Intel competition far behind. Duron performs identical to Thunderbird, because it is equipped with just the same FPU.

Conclusion

There is no doubt; we've got to congratulate AMD for bringing us the best low-cost x86-processor that money can buy. Duron can't deny its Athlon-genes, which make it an excellent performer that is even able to touch high-end CPUs. Intel's Celeron has been beaten badly and if it wasn't for its excellent overclocking record, this Intel-processor would be completely obsolete by now.

Now Duron is only facing one problem, which is the availability of platforms for it. VIA has only just released the KT133 chipset, and it is already in big demand for Thunderbird systems. Once KT133-platforms ship in volume, or once AMD has released its 760 chipset, Duron should be found in many to most low to midrange systems.

The days of Intel's Celeron are counted. I personally still like the Celeron 566, which can be overclocked to 800 MHz in the majority of cases. Other than that, Duron will take the low-cost market by storm unless VIA Cyrix III processor should be able to reach its performance. Celeron's dead.

Don't be upset that I did not mention any overclocking of Duron yet. We are actually working on a big overclocking special for Thunderbird and Duron. This article will keep quite a few surprises for you, so it's worth to wait for it a tiny bit.

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