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Prescott offers ‘indiscernible gains’ over Athlon XP

Intel must do better - analyst

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AMD still has Intel licked on mainstream desktop processor performance, beating even Intel's newly released 90nm 'Prescott' Pentium 4.

So said American Technology Research (ATR) analyst Rick Whittington in a report published this week.

Now, Rick's a little pro-AMD, so we'd expect him to talk up the chimp's chips against those of the mighty Chipzilla.

Thus: "Early performance evaluations suggest that on a full 1GHz higher clock rate, the 90nm Prescott has not appreciably widened the performance gap over Athlon XP, AMD's 32-bit 130nm [chip]," he said.

"Furthermore, Athlon 64 on 130nm runs common 32-bit desktop applications noticeably better than Prescott but will soon have 64-bit Windows beta applications to demonstrably widen that gap," Rick added.

"AMD will soon transition to its 90nm process suggesting that eventual process-derived performance gains by Intel could be matched by AMD."

But then Intel will soon offer 775-pin Prescotts and supporting chipsets, which will allow it to better cope with the power consumption and heat generation considerations of higher clocked Prescotts.

That will then allow the company to reach the clock speeds where Prescott's 31-stage pipeline comes into its own and starts to deliver the real performance gains - and the lead over the Athlon XP that Whittington is complaining is absent now. And Prescott's longer pipeline does favour content creation apps, which Intel is particularly keen to tout.

We saw the same thing when the original P4 was introduced. The chip didn't deliver significant performance gains - except, perhaps, in content creation - until it got beyond 2GHz.

Of course, Whittington should demand that AMD try and take advantage of its short-term advantage and get promoting the Athlon 64. We suspect it will turn up the heat when the 90nm versions ship, by which time Microsoft might actually have got 64-bit Windows XP's gold master out the door.

Intel is keen to ramp Prescott volumes and clock speeds quickly. AMD will have to move fast to stay ahead of the curve.

Back to Intel, and Whittington does acknowledge Intel's lead in 300mm wafer manufacturing. This, he reckons, will give it the volume play necessary to "obtain sufficient process information to manage the appropriate fab tweaks, ie. correct the current leakage and reduce wattage (heat)". That will be necessary if the company is not to disappoint the markets later this year and next "should 90nm not improve".

As Whittington has noted before, AMD's decision to adopt silicon on insulator technology will potentially allow it to mature its 90nm faster than Intel can through volume production.

ATR rates both AMD and Intel stocks as buys. ®

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