Ask Dan: AMD versus Intel

Publication date: 4 November 2008
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


Coming soon: The Athlon 6000 SUX

This chip [which you can't actually buy any more, but as we'll see, that's not necessarily a bad thing] is significantly lower in price than the Athlon 64 X2 4850E.

Is there a big difference in performance? What is the best price/performance AMD choice at the moment?


The Aus PC Market listing for the 4850E is actually slightly wrong, though I can't blame them, because AMD have really gone out of their way to make their CPU lineup as confusing as they possibly bleeding well can.

The correct name for the 4850E is not "Athlon 64 X2 4850e", but just "Athlon X2 4850e". These new CPUs are still Athlon 64s, but AMD have dropped the 64 from their name, for some darn reason. The difference between 64 X2s and no-64 X2s is supposed to be that the no-64 chips draw less power. Here's the lineup.

But then there's the "Low Voltage"-ness of the Athlon 64 X2 4800+, which I think may have made it almost exactly the same thing as the no-64 chip with the same clock speed.

Unless it's only low-voltage by the standards of previous Athlon 64 cores, or something. It's making my head hurt.

Anyway, you should expect these two chips to perform the same. Even if the power consumption's different, I think all the cache and interconnect stuff is the same. So I'd just buy the cheaper one. Now that only the 4850E is still on sale, the choice is of course made rather simpler.

As far as price/performance goes, I don't think AMD are really in the running at the moment, though they're not horribly far behind Intel, especially if you don't care about overclocking. I'm also not certain about the low-end market; Intel dual-core chips bottom out at a higher price than AMD ones, as I write this.

(Pentium Dual Core E2180: $AU154. Aussie shoppers can click here to order one. AMD Athlon Whatever 5200+LV: only $AU115.50; Australian shoppers can click here to order that one. But you can also get one of AMD's peculiar triple-core Phenom CPUs, a 2.1GHz 8450, for a lousy $AU169.40; if you'd like to order that one, it's here. Oh, and you can get a Sempron very cheaply indeed, but it's not a fair comparison since the Sempron only has one core.)

Given all this, if the high overclockability of low-end Core 2 Duos and Pentium Dual-Cores (which are, of course, Intel's own contribution to the utter chaos that is current CPU naming...) doesn't matter to you, the AMD chips down around the $100 mark may indeed be a perfectly good deal.



Dan, as someone who has soldiered on with an aging 939 dual core machine (albeit at 2.7GHz), the time has come where it seems AMD have managed to make a decent chip.

Are these Phenoms worth a look? Am I better to wait for the 45nm version? I am a perennial overclocker and couldn't live with myself if I bought a chip from the company with the morals of a sewer rat. It is after all in no-one's interest if AMD go under.

Have you gone over to the dark side as well, BTW?


The Phenoms are perfectly good processors; they just not as good value as the Intel alternatives, especially if you're interested in overclocking.

Lots of people have neutralised the Intel value advantage by buying DDR3-RAM motherboards to go with their Core 2 Duo or Quad. DDR3 is not as preposterously overpriced for what you get as it used to be, but given that DDR2 RAM is pretty much free with your corn flakes now, and also given that few personal computer tasks are strongly RAM-speed-bound, DDR2 boards are still definitely the way to go at the moment - Core i7 or no Core i7.

If you don't care about overclocking, then as I said above, there's no giant difference between Intel and AMD, value-wise, at the moment. Intel's probably still a bit better, but unless you insist on buying top-of-the-line CPUs, you could lose the difference down the side of the couch and not notice. It's easy to argue that some Phenoms are, if you don't overclock, better value than some Intels. And if you've got a good CPU cooler, a 20% overclock doesn't seem to be out of the question for Phenoms, which is a lot better than nothing.

For higher overclocking, though, the low-end Intel dual- and quad-core chips are absolute monsters - 40% overclocks are quite routine, and with good enough cooling 50% is no big deal. AMD just can't compete with that, even though they're selling some CPUs with unlocked multipliers.

Perhaps the new 45nm AMD chips will solve this problem - you wouldn't think they'd be less overclockable, after all. But I wouldn't hold my breath, particularly now that their "second half of 08" release date has been pushed to "early 09".

Intel have pretty much been resting on their laurels with their Core 2s, so you can bet they'll have new models and/or price cuts ready to go when AMD manage to get 45nm chips onto retail shelves.

I haven't upgraded for ages either; I'm basically still using this AMD system, with a bit more RAM and a new video card. But at the moment I do reckon my next system will be an Intel. I think you're likely to be sorely disappointed if you try to find a spotlessly ethical company to buy your computer hardware from (I, for one, have not forgotten AMD pulling the rug out from under everyone when they released Socket AM2 and cut off the previous CPU lines). If you can't stomach anticompetitive practices by Intel and want to support the underdog then it's not as if you'll have to put up with an actual slow computer as a result. But you obviously shouldn't be running Windows, either.

(If you really want to stick it to The Man, I suppose you wouldn't even be able to settle for a Via CPU. You'd probably have to run Linux on a Loongson 3.)

The only way to really, more or less, keep your money out of the hands of evil marketers and environmental despoilers is by buying your computers used. Which is not actually a bad idea at all, economically - though it obviously means you're probably not going to be playing the hot new 3D game the year it's released. Intel also still make Celerons, which are now dual-core chips that're very cheap. The 1.6GHz E1200 and 2GHz E1400 look at least somewhat interesting, but they're pretty slow for the money unless you overclock 'em until they bleed. If that appeals to you and you're an Australian shopper, you can order an E1200 from Aus PC Market for $AU108.90, as I write this, here, or an E1400 for $AU132 here.

Note that none of these CPUs are actually really slow, by any sane measure. Even at their stock clock speeds, and even if you're running Vista, a new PC with any current 2-or-more-core CPU and a large slab of dirt cheap DDR2 RAM will be a very zippy machine. Only if you're an eager overclocker, avid cutting-edge gamer or for some other reason need as much CPU grunt as you can get (scientific computation, pro 3D rendering, server tasks, regular compiler of Linux kernels...), and you want to make sure you pay as little per computron as humanly possible, do you need to obsess over this stuff.

Which is fortunate, because if everybody had to figure out the whole x86 CPU map before they bought a PC, nobody'd ever buy one.

Australian shoppers can purchase all sorts of PC CPUs from Aus PC Market.
Click here to order!