AMD Athlon 850

by Anand Lal Shimpi on February 14, 2000 12:00 PM EST
AMD versus Intel – The Reality

From the perspective of performance, the Athlon had been falling short of the Pentium III because of the advantage the Pentium III’s full speed on-die L2 cache gave it in most applications.  The choice seemed clear, as long as the price was virtually identical, the Pentium III was the faster overall CPU and was thus the better choice.  But after the heated clock speed battle at the end of last year, there were quite a few interesting points that soon became evident to the public when users actually began looking for these 800MHz CPUs.

On a clock for clock basis, the Athlon is on average 30% cheaper than its Slot-1 Pentium III counterpart.  The reason for this is apparently because of a shortage of Pentium III processors coming from Intel which has become incredibly stressful on vendors.  That 30% figure is an average – for some processors the price advantage held by the Athlon is even more.  For example, at the time of publication, the cheapest price a Pentium III 650 would go for was around $420 while an Athlon 650 retails for almost half that at $260.  The Pentium III 650 costs over 60% more than the equivalently clocked Athlon CPU!

Even Intel’s beloved FC-PGA Pentium III, currently available at 500MHz and 550MHz speed grades can’t beat AMD’s pricing.  The lowest price a Pentium III 550E (FC-PGA) can be had for is $270, which is $10 more than an Athlon 650.  While the argument can be made that the 550E can be overclocked to 733MHz and beyond, the majority of Athlon 650 owners, with the addition of an overclocking card or a motherboard that supports adjustable FSB frequencies, can easily hit the 750MHz+ mark. 

This brings us to the first conclusion about today’s CPU market: while the Pentium III, on a clock for clock basis may perform better than the Athlon, because of chip shortages and the resulting inflated prices of Pentium IIIs, the Athlon is the more affordable CPU.

Assuming that you have a reasonably large budget for your new computer and decide to go with one of the higher clock speed CPUs, finding anything above a Pentium III 733 is next to impossible for most Do-It-Yourselfers.  Unless you’re ordering through one of Intel’s major OEMs such as Dell, getting a system based on a Pentium III 750 or 800 isn’t a realistic option, regardless of how much money you are willing to spend.

On the other hand, we have seen over 40 online vendors that currently stock the Athlon 800 at a hefty cost of around $750 (at the lowest).  While $750 is quite a bit to spend on a CPU, the bottom line is, regardless of how big your budget is, you can at least get an 800MHz Athlon whereas finding an 800MHz Pentium III is almost as difficult as getting on the waiting list for this year’s Ferrari F360.  (The Ferrari carries about a 1.5 year waiting list so getting a Pentium III 800 shouldn’t be that bad, but you get the point.)

Yields on the 0.18-micron Athlons have been wonderful, which is proven by the incredible overclocking potential of the latest Athlon CPUs.  There have been reports of 500 and 550MHz parts hitting well above 750MHz, which puts them on-par with Intel’s extremely overclockable FC-PGA chips.

There is very little keeping AMD from releasing a 900MHz or even a 950MHz Athlon CPU at this point other that the fact that there is no need for one since Intel has yet to announce anything faster than 800MHz.  But judging from their recent trend of announcing processors without actually having the announcement resulting in physical availability of the chips, Intel could theoretically announce a higher clock speed part and force AMD to release the Athlon at 900MHz or above.  For this reason, we can’t make any statement as to exactly when AMD will introduce the higher speed CPUs, it’s all up to when Intel’s 866MHz Pentium III is officially announced. 

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