AMD vs Intel. An educated/experienced users' opinion.

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I had to laugh when I saw an eBay vendor's  "guide" stating that you should buy AMD over Intel "because they're just better"... or words to that effect.

Let me preface my rejoinder to/expansion on that 'article' with a little background information about me, so you know that you're not just listening to a salesman's spiel based on the agenda that he can get more profit from you buying one brand over the other.

If you'd like to skip this bit, scroll down to the next line break... I won't be offended. ;-)

My father (now retired) worked in computing since I was a lad (I'm now a father of two myself, fast approaching 40).

I've been using everything from the Apple II €+ through Intel and AMD for over 25 years now (and Sinclair, Commodore, Amstrad & Amiga prior to that).
I've designed, built & sold systems based around Intel and AMD both since around 1999 and prided myself on tailoring them to customers' requirements, whether they know exactly what those are or ultimately need the benefit of my experience to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

I've helped design both a high performance watercooling system that took top honours in a respected magazine shootout, beating offerings from Swiftech, Asetek and many others and hand-built a performance PC that was featured in its own right with a dedicated three page article to boot.

From the time of the Pentium II's debut, I was an avid Intel supporter. My main machine ran a PII 400 when the 450 was the fastest on the market.
I bought one of the Celeron 300A processors and overclocked it to 450MHz (as did many others - that chip opened up a generation of overclock enthusiasts). I upgraded from that to a 533A Coppermine chip and proceeded to overclock that to 897MHz stable.
During this time, I sold many machines based around AMD, Intel and even Cyrix for the severely budget-challenged!

Then AMD broke the GHz barrier and the Duron became the overclocking gamer's weapon of choice, mainly due to its superior floating point capability. I was personally tempted to switch allegiance there and then but AMD had developed a repution for running hot and having no in-built thermal protection, so I held off for the time being.
Combine this with the strength and stability of Intel chipsets compared to those of VIA and the like. I had no reason to switch.

Upon release of the Palomino, I couldn't resist - the price/performance superiority of the new AMD chips was impossible to ignore.
A greater number of instructions per clock cycle (measured in MIPS or Million Instructions Per Second) meant that AMDs were faster for a lesser clock speed than their Intel counterparts {giving rise to AMD's new naming/numbering convention similar to the old and much maligned Cyrix PR (or Pentium Rating)}.
The thermal issues had been addressed in part (and I had discovered the joys of watercooling), so I succumbed to "the dark side" together with the masses. The final nail in my Intel coffin was the advent of the nForce2 chipset.
I was definitely converted.

I soon became an authorised AMD reseller and upgraded my main gaming platform to a thoroughbred XP1700+ (which I overclocked by a whisker short of a full GigaHertz - to 2.4GHz from the default of 1.433GHz). I recently purchased a 2500+ Barton which which to complement it in my second machine... finally replacing the original Palomino that I imported from the US upon its release.

However, my third, fourth and fifth machines still each run an Intel chip. Slave to the free power, I have a 2GHz Pentium4 Celeron that's inherently capable of 3GHz using the correct components to back it up. My PII 400 (passively cooled and dead silent) and Celeron at 897MHz are still going strong as backup machines that are perfectly adequate for surfing or doing office work or even for the kids to play games on (especially thanks to the console emulation software I have installed...).

In total, I am currently running three ~2GHz gaming machines and am currently speccing a fourth for myself, together with another couple for close friends under current construction.

In contrast, my ex-partner went to PC World and surrendered the cash to buy herself a Pentium4 3.0GHz with the sole specification of it being intended as a capable gaming machine...

Imagine my horror when I found that not only had they hamstrung it with the abysmal FX5200 graphics chip (equivalent to not much more than a GeForce2 in terms of gaming power) but that they had also paired it with SDRam, bottlenecking to the point whereby it is consistently outperformed by my £50 Celeron 2GHz running DDR RAM and a GeForce2 GTS Ultra (which cost me about ten quid second hand 12  months beforehand!).

The saving you can make in the CPU area alone can be difference between an onboard video solution and a mid-range dedicated graphics card for gaming or double the amount of RAM for superior application response time when handling large files such as photo manipulation or video/sound editing.

However, if you're dedicating a larger budget, you can have the best of all worlds - a fast processor (be it Intel or AMD), a high bandwidth RAM subsystem and a powerful graphics solution if you choose wisely in areas such as the motherboard are more importaantly, the chipset, that ties the rest of your components together.


So, as a confirmed AMD supporter and self-confessed AMD reseller, what would I recommend to you?

Well, it depends what you want from your PC.

If you're a gamer or a home/office on a less than flexible budget, then yes, I would probably recommend you go with an AMD.

The Sempron currently provides a nice entry-level 64bit option for many, with the 2500+, 2800+, 3100+ and 3400+ being particularly sought-after examples due to their having the same amount of L2 cache as their mightier Athlon counterparts, as opposed to the cut-down 128KiB found on the other Semprons (2600+, 3000+, 3300+).
To identify whether a Sempron is a 64bit chip, request the OPN from the seller, it should end with the letters BX for a Skt754 chip or BW for a Skt939.
Sempron based solutions can also offer a potential upgrade path to the more powerful Athlon64 or AthlonFX chips for a degree of future-proofing if chosen wisely too.

If, however, budget is not so much a constraint as more a potential bragging right and perhaps you wish to use your PC for a substantial amount of regular video/DivX encoding, for instance, you may well find that Intel may well realistically  be your first choice.
Intel also apparently holds the crown when it comes to software rendering in applications such as 3dStudioMax and many other processor intensive tasks, such as heavy number crunching for many of the popular Distributed Computing projects.

General desktop performance for the average user is often perceived as being snappier with Intel's HyperThreading, preventing common background tasks, such as antivirus, antispyware and even software based sound solutions, such as the AC'97 Codec dependant ones becoming a noticeable burden on your CPU overhead.

With the advent of AMD's Dual Core offerings, Intel has lost much of its margin in the lead it had in this area (to the point whereby in mid-2005, AMD took out full-page newspaper ads to challenge Intel to a dual-core server duel. (copy & paste links in your address bar).
Intel declined to take up AMD on its offer but it could hardly end there.

CNET took the bait and set up a test here -
AMD would appear to be a clear winner based on their series of tests.

Tom's Hardware too, picked up the gauntlet, intending to slap both parties as hard as it could on behalf of us, the end-users.
See here -
In a comparison of the top of the line Dual Core chips subjected to a marathon 18 day stress test, as you'll see, Intel does rather well indeed (with multiple applications running).
Quote - "When multiple applications are running, the clear conclusion is that the Intel Pentium 840 Extreme Edition is superior to the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+. This result attained by Intel's dual-core processor is particularly attributable to hyperthreading (HT) - the division of the two cores into four virtual CPU units."

For single application figures, AMD fights back strongly enough that unless you're intending to become a serious power user who does very little other than very heavy multi-tasking, the decision is a fair no-brainer unless you happen to be particularly competent at overclocking a given offering to within a MHz of its tolerance.
Alternatively, Intel is well worth considering if you are the kind of power user who can't bear to be bogged down at any point in your computing experience - If you wish to game whilst your render is being done and your anti-virus is schedule to kick in, etc. then it's up to you where you choose to spend your disposable income.
Just stay informed.

I'm avidly keeping an eye the upcoming Conroe CPU from Intel, as are many enthusiasts. If early reports are anything to go by, the migration to the new architecture will prove to be just what Intel needs to regain pride of place in many enthusiasts' hearts.
Take a read here - and you too will see why.

Here's a sample benchmark result courtesy of HotHardware to whet your appetite.

The lower blue bar on the graph is the current cream of AMD's crop, the FX-60, overclocked to 2.8GHz. A real screamer, you have to admit.
The one towering above it is the new Conroe from Intel, running at a cool stock clock of 2.6GHz for the purposes of the test.

In conclusion. Both manufacturers' offerings have their merits, depending on the primary use of your PC.
AMD are currently very competitive in most areas of the home user market.
Intel does have a certain degree of prestige thanks to a very aggressive marketing policy and the corporate weight to swing some of the biggest domestic contracts in the world. This give them a good resale edge in terms of recouping losses on your hardware when you come to trade up but with depreciation what it is in this market, that's negligible in and of itself.

I don't truly ally with either as a blanket approach. Each has strong products at various points in the range.
I cannot stress enough - Research your prospective purchase carefully! Google is a wonderful tool.

One thing I abhor is misinformation and false/misleading advertising. Don't be caught out. There's a lot of it about.
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