Two chipsets from the AMD front

Yesterday AMD formally unveiled and shipped the AMD-760MP chipset. Right now there is one and only one motherboard using it, the ritzy Tyan Thunder K7, which runs about $550 minimum. (Wholesale cost on it is rumored to be $500.) Considering its 64-bit PCI slots, two built-in 3Com NICs, onboard ATI video, onboard Adaptec SCSI, and four available DIMMs, that’s not a half-bad price. It’s obviously not a hobbyist board. This dude’s intended to go in servers.
At any rate, reviews are all over the place and the quality varies. Far and away the best I found was at Ace’s Hardware, where he tested the things people actually likely to buy this board would do with it: workstation-type stuff.

Anand does his usual 10 pages’ worth of butt-kissing and he’s living under the delusion that people will buy this board to play Quake. However, he does test the board with plain old Thunderbird and Duron CPUs (they work, but AMD won’t support that configuration). Skip ahead to page 11 after reading the story at Ace’s. His tests suggest that for some purposes, a dual Duron-850 can be competitive with a dual P3-933. That information is more interesting than it is useful at this point in time, but we’ve all been curious about dual Duron performance, so if and when an inexpensive AMD SMP board becomes available, we have some idea what we’ll be able to do with it.

All the usual hardware sites put in their two cents’ worth; by the time I read Ace’s and Anand’s and Tom’s reviews I stopped learning anything new.

Some of it bordered on ridiculous. One site (I forget which) observed that the AMD 766 northbridge looks just like a K6-2 and said they must have made it look that way just to remind us where the Athlon came from. Whatever. The AMD 766 northbridge and the K6-2 use the same heat spreader. The intention is to keep the chip cool. It’s not there just for looks–the chip runs hot. But that’s the kind of quality information we get from most hardware sites these days, sadly.

More immediately useful and interesting, but not yet available, is the nVidia nForce chipset. You can read about it at Tom’s and elsewhere. This is technically nVidia’s second chipset, their first being the chipset in Microsoft’s X-Box. This chipset is a traditional two-chip solution, linked by AMD’s high-speed HyperTransport. It includes integrated sound better than anything Creative Labs or Cirrus Logic currently offer (now we know what nVidia was doing with those engineers they were hiring from Aureal) and integrated GeForce 2MX video connected via a high-speed port that would be equivalent to AGP 6X, if such a thing existed. And nVidia pairs up DDR controllers to give dual-channel, 128-bit memory with a bandwidth of 4.256 GB/sec. Suddenly DDR provides greater bandwidth than Rambus in addition to lower latency.

Just for good measure, the chipset includes Ethernet too.

What’s all this mean? High-speed motherboards with everything integrated (and with integrated peripherals definitely worth using) for around 200 bucks. By the end of the summer, last summer’s monster PC will be integrated onto two chips and priced for building PCs at the $600-$800 price point.

This summer’s computer revolution won’t be Windows XP.

And, in something not really related, here’s something you probably missed, unfortunately. Start rubbing your hands together if you enjoy the Mac-PC or Intel-AMD wars. This is a hard benchmark comparing AMD Athlon, Intel P3, and Motorola PowerPC architectures and their relative speed. The methodology: under Linux, cross-compile a Linux kernel for the SPARC architecture (compiling native isn’t a fair comparison; this way they’re all creating identical code and therefore doing the same work, or as close to it as you’re gonna get). You know those claims that a Mac is twice as fast as an equivalent-speed Pentium III running Photoshop? I always countered that with Microsoft Office benchmarks, where a Mac is about 1/4 the speed of a PC, at best, when doing a mail merge. Neither is a fair test. This benchmark resembles one.

Anyway… Yes, a G4 is faster than the equivalently clocked Pentium III. How much faster? Roughly 10 percent. And an Athlon turns out to be about 20 percent slower than the equivalent P3. Of course, the Athlon reaches clock speeds the P3 never will, and the Athlon is also much more than 20 percent cheaper than the equivalently-clocked P3, so who really cares?

This still isn’t a totally fair comparison of CPU architecture, since chipsets vary (and it’s entirely possible that the difference between the P3 and the Athlon in speed is due to chipset quality), but if indeed the G4 was twice as fast as the P3, it would surely outperform it by better than 10 percent in this test. But it’s a decent comparison of real-world performance, because it doesn’t matter how much better your CPU is if it’s burdened by a chipset that doesn’t show up to play on game day.

Most telling is the end, where he gives the cost per speed unit. AMD wins that chart handily.

Enough of my babble. Read all about it here.

More Like This: AMD Hardware

8 thoughts on “Two chipsets from the AMD front

  • June 6, 2001 at 9:39 am

    A couple of years back I got my hands on a 120 MHz Macintosh and I decided install Linux on it. I was running Linux on a P100 at the time and I was expecting extreme performance from the Mac compared to my PC. I was also running more memory on the Mac. After hearing so much about how Macs run circles around PC hardware, I was pretty sure that I got myself a real screamer there.

    My initial reaction after installing Linux was disappointment. I had these two computers sitting side by side running very similar installations of Linux and after a month of evaluations I found myself more often than not using the P100 instead of the Mac. It was simply faster and more efficient.

    Linux is most problably more efficient on PC hardware but I thought that the outstanding speed that Macs are supposed to have compared to PC’s should counter that. Not so.

    I got an offer to buy the Mac for a small sum but I declined after checking prices on components to upgrade it. It simply wasn’t worth it.


  • June 6, 2001 at 12:14 pm

    The PPC 601 chip (used in most 75, 100, and 120 MHz Macs) was a dog, and even all but the most ignorant Mac zealot admits that. And if that Mac was a 7200, it only made matters worse. I don’t think that machine had any L2 cache at all (and I don’t know if you could add any or not) and the video was absolutely pathetic unless you added VRAM to it. I decked out a 7200 at work (we used to have a ton of those things, and I can’t find words to adequately describe my disdain for them) and it was still the second-sorriest excuse for a computer I’ve seen since the Mattel Aquarius. (The sorriest excuse being, of course, an un-upgraded 7200.)

    I suspect a better Mac would give closer performance to an equivalent PC and it should even surpass it slightly, but it won’t run circles around it. About the only thing I’ve ever seen a Mac run circles around is an older Mac, or an extremely cheaply-built PC. If I’m willing to spend the same amount of money to get either, I’ll always get better performance out of the comparably-priced PC.

  • June 6, 2001 at 4:30 pm

    Yup, I think it was one of those 7200 you talked about. Anyhow, I have nothing against Apple. If their hardware was that much better and competitive pricewise then I would consider it for my Linux platform. So far PC hardware simply gives more bang for the buck and more flexibility.

    /Dave T.

  • June 6, 2001 at 5:35 pm

    Hey, Farquhar, no dissin’ the Aquarius. I have one in my basement (which probably why you mentioned it). I remember typing programs in, using function key/letter combinations to expand BASIC keywords. Of course, I lost it all when I turned the power off, but… It was basically Intellivision on steroids.

    Oh, and I forgot to include it in my arms race count. 🙂

  • June 6, 2001 at 7:14 pm

    If you count that, then I count my Coleco Quiz Wiz. Hey, it had ROM cartridges, so it is programmable, theoretically… And it had a partial keyboard.

    So, when you gonna hook up a tape drive to your Aquarius and write a Web browser for it? Huh? Huh? I’ll be watching my Apache logs…

  • June 6, 2001 at 8:00 pm

    Don’t tempt me, paper boy…

  • June 6, 2001 at 8:04 pm

    Oh, and the Quiz Wiz had what for logic? Only CPUs qualify for a machine in our race, not discrete logic components. Sure, the Aquarius’ CPU has probably been replaced as the microwave CPU of choice by now, but it wasn’t a breadboard…

  • June 6, 2001 at 8:50 pm

    I don’t think that machine (Mac 7200) had any L2 cache at all (and I don’t know if you could add any or not) and the video was absolutely pathetic unless you added VRAM to it.

    True, no L2 cache, but it had a slot where you could add some (expensive Static RAM ;), and yes – the video was much nicer with add’l VRAM. I’ve got a 7200/90 mothballed at home with 64 Mb RAM + add’l SRAM cache and VRAM waiting to be put back into service with Yellowdog Linux as a small server. No, I have no intention of running heavy-duty X appls on this ;-> I’ll probably hardly ever even start X at all…

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