Dual-Core Duel: AMD Tops Intel

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A couple of weeks ago, we gave you a sneak peak at the performance of the new dual-core Pentium 4 processors from Intel. The chips, which are now shipping, are the first dual-core CPUs to hit the market. What's more, Intel started their push into multiple cores with desktop chips, rather than CPUs for servers.

AMD has been talking about dual-core chips for quite some time, and for awhile, was expected to be the first to the market with this technology. Accelerated plans from Intel and a few delays at AMD changed all that, but the company is finally ready to ship dual-core chips. In contrast with Intel, AMD debuts their dual-core technology in their Opteron line, made for servers and workstations.

AMD's thinking is pretty simple: Server and workstation applications are more likely to be multithreaded than desktop PC apps. A dual-core processor would benefit those applications almost from day one. Intel is playing a different game, believing that the heavy multitasking environment in today's PC desktops will get a benefit. Both are right, in a sense, and both are playing to their relative strengths.

We recently got our hands on a dual-core Opteron test kit from AMD, and decided to pit it against the Pentium 4 840 Extreme Edition we previewed recently. These are not chips aimed at exactly the same markets, but the Opteron is so architecturally similar to an Athlon 64 in that it provides a reasonable facsimile of Athlon 64 desktop performance. There are differences, of course—Athlon 64 CPUs don't have as many hypertransport links for multi-CPU systems, typically ship at faster clock speeds, and don't use registered RAM—but the core architecture is nearly identical. Rather than test it as a pure server platform, we used a uniprocessor system and a desktop graphics card to see how a dual-core desktop Athlon 64 might perform.

The dual-core battle is far from over, of course. Intel is shipping dual-core desktop CPUs now, but the quantities aren't real high. The real battle will come later this year, as AMD releases Athlon 64 CPUs for desktops that feature two cores, and Intel's dual-core shipments ramp up. For now, let's take a look at how the two competing technologies stack up. Continued...