Moving the goalposts?

AMD and Intel both launched new chips last week, aimed at the performance buyer. But while Intel stuck with the usual convention of naming the chip after its clock speed—the Pentium 4 2.2GHz in this case—AMD released another chip using its new scheme, the Athlon XP 2000+.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  January 13, 2002

AMD and Intel both launched new chips last week, aimed at the performance buyer. But while Intel stuck with the usual convention of naming the chip after its clock speed—the Pentium 4 2.2GHz in this case—AMD released another chip using its new scheme, the Athlon XP 2000+.

AMD has been keen to promote alternative measurements of chip performance, and not just all-out clock speed. It argues that processor speed alone does not guarantee the best performance, and that chips need to be judged on a number of factors, an argument it is backing up with the True Performance Initiative (TPI) to promote the establishing of an alternative industry benchmark.

There are a few problems with this approach. While providing the buyer with a more all-round measurement of performance is a worthy undertaking, especially given that Intel seems to release ever faster chips by the day, finding a fair measurement is a real sticking point. AMD’s proposed benchmarks show the XP 2000+ out pointing the 2.2GHz.

But setting and defining industry-wide benchmarks is notoriously hard. There are as many measurements of performance as there are uses for a PC. Intel, or Via, or Transmeta could all equally produce their own benchmarks, all equally valid, and all showing their own chip with the upper hand.

AMD has gone about this in the right way with the TPI, by encouraging the industry to discuss how chips should be measured, but you only have to look at the number of different Web sites that are devoted to hardware testing to see that there are far too many egos and vested interests for any one set of measurements to be more appropriate than the all the rest.

The other issue I have is not with what AMD is saying, rather more what it isn’t saying. Although trying to set fairer, more intelligent benchmarks is a good thing, its new naming convention seems designed to confuse. The bottom line is that the Athlon XP 2000+ only has a clock speed of 1.66GHz. OK, AMD doesn’t claim that the ‘2000’ refers to clock speed, but when you compare 1.6GHz to 2.2GHz, that is a very big difference.

Only an absolute PC novice won’t find out the clock speed before buying a PC, so what message does putting ‘2000’ in the name send to the buyer? It is like the fake Sony Playstation, called the Polystation, that mimics the packaging and hardware, while coming nowhere near on performance. Can a showroom sales person really convince the end user that AMD isn’t trying to hide something? The choice of name seems to be intended to hide exactly one thing—AMD may have won the one Gigahertz battle, but Intel won the speed war. Attempting to introduce new benchmarks now looks like trying to move the goal posts.

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