Heavyweight Slugfest

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted May 01, 2001
by Charles Gajeway

Pentium 4 vs. Athlon Processor
Rating 89

When Intel unveiled the pentium 4 within a few weeks of AMD's latest version of the Athlon, we were both delighted and puzzled. After much speculation and anticipation, we now had two powerful CPUs running over 1GHz. Immediately, however, the question arose as to which platform was more powerful.

After all, just running an office suite an eyeblink faster than a Celeron 600 doesn't begin to justify the cost of one of these juggernauts, so our tests had to be tough enough to justify spending $2,000 to $3,000 on a cutting-edge machine.

Setting the computer up as a multimedia workstations was the toughest test they'd be likely to face in many small businesses. Gateway supplied test machines that were as identical as possible and we were on our way.

Fitted with upgraded peripherals, the exceptionally sharp and clear flat-screen monitor was particularly delightful using Windows 2000, it was immediately apparent that these were exceptional performers, loaded and ready to go.

As usual, we started with benchmark tests to get a feel for general performance. Almost immediately, we saw the benefit of Windows 2000, with a general speed rating about 22 percent faster than similar computers running Windows ME, and 133 percent faster than our Celeron 466 test bed. At this point, no significant difference was apparent.

We used Photoshop to perform extensive manipulations such as unsharp filters and Gaussian blurs on a variety of large images. Both computers were considerably faster than the test bed, but differences between them were insignificant.

Finally, we shot a fair amount of digital video footage and set about creating a mini-movie. Using MGI VideoWave III and an IEEE 1394 port, transferring the footage was quick and painless on both computers. We storyboarded, assembled shots, added effects, titles, and laid in audio. But when we compressed the original video into AVI format, we finally saw a difference.

Partway through, the Athlon bogged down a bit, while the P4 chugged on, finishing the process with a 45 percent speed advantage. The actual time savings was eight minutes, processing a clip that was one minute 33 seconds long. In a shop dealing with video all day/every day, that could translate into a productivity boost of several hours a week, maybe more. Savings like that can easily justify the P4's higher price tag.

In many respects, choosing between the two platforms was difficult. The Athlon has a price advantage and performed as well as the P4 on everything but video encodin. It's a great choice when using several machines and video isn't a primary function. However, if video is your bag -- or if the thought of using a non-Intel CPU gives you the willies -- the P4 is almost certainly worth the extra money. Both machines are so good that, either way, it's hard

Gateway, Inc.
SB 1200: $2,238; S 1500: $3,033
800-846-5211
www.gateway.com
Pros: Fast; stable; versatile
Cons: Both are pricey for general business use; the mid-tower case has only two 5.25-inch bays; the test configuration had only one open PCI slot

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