AMD's Athlon-processor is a good and very well performing CPU. That's something we've learned in August 1999, when it was finally released and stole the performance crown from Intel. Many people were rather delighted that Intel finally got some really serious competition and so the Athlon made its claim to fame. Intel had quite a lot of trouble to keep up with this new AMD-processor, but finally the chip-giant was able to reclaim the lead with the rushed release of the Pentium 800, using the well-known 'Coppermine'-core.
A Little Quiz - Why is Pentium III faster than Athlon?
The current status in the x86-processor scene shows Intel's Pentium III 800 (or 'CuMine800') as the leader and AMD's Athlon 800 as the number two, pretty close behind it. This 'I am number one and you are number two'-stuff is only something for the mentally not too challenged people though, since the whole story is a lot more complicated than some pure benchmark numbers comparing Athlon and Coppermine are able to reveal. The real secret lies in the 'platform-issue'.
The truth, if I may call it that, is that
- Pentium III 800 processors are very hard to get. Intel is able to produce some, but certainly not many of them.
- Pentium III 800 is currently only really fast on platforms that depend on the super-expensive RDRAM-memory. Using the i820 or better the i840 chipset with this RAM makes Coppermine really fly, but unfortunately there are very few people who are willing to pay the very high premium for this memory-type.
- many Pentium III 800-systems that are on sale are actually using VIA's Apollo Pro 133 chipset or i820 with the 'MTH decelerator chip'. Both types are using the much more reasonably priced SDRAM. The Apollo Pro 133 uses PC133 SDRAM, which gives the user at least some of Coppermine's performance, i820 plus the cursed MTH can only use PC100 SDRAM and slows even this memory down so badly, that the performance is rather mediocre.
- i810e may be an alternative for some people in Intel's management, but it's certainly one of the funkiest ideas to place a high-tech Coppermine-processor in a low-end i810e-motherboard. Would those Intel-managers once look at benchmark data of Pentium III on i810e vs. Athlon on Irongate they'd drop this idea pretty fast.
- other people are using the well-established, but 2-year old 440BX chipset. Those guys have mostly upgraded from a previous Pentium III-processor and are at least not wasting any money on memory or second-rate platforms. However, on BX-platforms Coppermine can only run at 100 MHz front side bus and it is also unable to take advantage of AGP4x. Thus the BX-solution besides VIA's Apollo Pro 133 is certainly the Coppermine-platform with the best price/performance ratio, but it still can't take full advantage of Intel's latest and greatest processor.
- AMD's Athlon is currently still damned to run on platforms using the one-and-only Athlon chipset 'Irongate', also manufactured by AMD. This chipset was initially still good enough to compete against all Intel processors on any platform, but it was already pretty outdated when it came to market. Today it is certainly not quite up to the latest standards anymore and we should therefore not be surprised that even the fastest Athlon can't beat Intel's fastest Pentium III processor, as long as it's slowed down by a second-rate chipset.