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This megahertz madness must end

Oi! Intel! Stop announcing unavailable products!

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Opinion Intel has never detailed exactly how many of its CPUs it ships - at any speed. But at the high end the word on the street is that, over the past three months, AMD probably shipped more than a dozen 1GHz CPUs for every Intel chip of the same speed.

Time was when Intel saved its technology demonstrations for IDF, where luminaries such as Albert Yu and Kicking Pat Gelsinger would stand up and demonstrate a CPU achieving an impressive clock speed, perhaps some 20 per cent or so above the fastest chip available at the time.

But now Intel's technology demonstrations are disguised as product launches. Panicked into action by the imminent launch of the first 1GHz Athlon, Intel did a paper launch of a comparable 1GHz Pentium III (and even this was a couple of days late). The critical phrase in this launch (and the 1.13GHz part announced this week) is 'limited availability'.

What that means to the average user is 'you can't have one'.

Journalists are, of course, a special case. Chip makers bend over backwards to ensure that there are always samples available for review. Most of the hardware sites have already published 1.13GHz reviews, and even the humble Register has had both a 1GHz Pentium III and a 1GHz Thunderbird to play with for some time.

Size isn't everything

What is really stupid about this state of affairs is that hardly anyone actually needs a 1GHz processor. Detailed benchmarking will measure the performance differential between an 800MHz and a 1000MHz box, but we defy anyone to be able to tell us how fast a particular machine is whilst sitting at it running Word, Excel and a web browser.

Once you get above 500-600MHz, other factors come into play. Gamers would see more benefit from a better graphics card, as would CAD users manipulating huge drawings (who should also probably look for faster disks). For the average home user, a faster Internet connection would deliver more of a real performance boost than raw megahertz.

Intel itself promotes the use of a balanced system, where all the parts work together to deliver usable performance, where there is no weak link, and also no link that is considerably stronger than the others. This is why the single-minded fascination with raw megahertz is so hard to fathom.

AMD has already sent samples of its forthcoming 1.1GhHz part to reviewers, ahead of a launch scheduled for next month. Would it be too much to ask Intel to avoid announcing a 'limited availability' 1.2GHz part at the same time?

Intel should be concentrating on getting Willamette and Itanium ready rather than wringing the last ounce of performance out of its ancient P6 core in a macho bid to score points over AMD. Whatever happened to taking a statesmanlike approach?

And one other thing worth considering is that with processor speeds increasing by relatively tiny amounts every few weeks, there must be more and more people out there continually putting off buying a new PC because there'll be a faster one along in a minute.

If clock speeds only went up every six months or so (and by a larger amount) more people might be prepared to put their hands in their pockets to buy one, knowing that their pride and joy won't be out of date before they've even left the store. ®

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