by October 31, 2000 0 comments

AMD Thunderbird 1.1 GHz–the name itself suggests lots ofpower. And that’s exactly what this latest processor from Advanced MicroDevices (AMD) is all about. Currently, it’s the fastest commercially-producedprocessor for desktop machines, excluding the Intel PIII 1.13 GHz, which had tobe recalled by Intel, thanks to a glitch in the CPU. In this article, we shallcompare the thunderbird against the Intel 1 GHz processor and other high-endofferings.

Let’s take a look under the hood and find out what thisprocessor is made of. At its heart lie 37-million transistors, made using a0.18-micron manufacturing process and copper interconnects. The 1.1 GHz clockspeed is accomplished using a 5.5x clock multiplier on a 200 MHz FSB. Theprocessor has a total of 128 kB of L1 cache, four times as much as the PIII, and256 kB of L2 cache running at core speed. This means that the cache runs at thesame speed as the processor. This also happens to be one of the primedifferences between the original Athlon and the new Thunderbird processors. TheAthlon had its L2 cache clocked at half the core speed. This factor becomesespecially important at such high clock speeds as 1.1 GHz, since the FSB andmemory are unable to keep up with the processor and the L2 cache keeps theprocessor well fed with data. The processor runs at 1.75 V.

The Thunderbird is a Socket processor unlike the 1 GHz PIIIthat we reviewed a couple of months back, which happened to be a Slot 1processor. In fact, the earlier Athlon was also a Slot processor. The differencein sizes is remarkable. Not just the processor, but the size of the heatsink andfan also greatly varies between the two. The PIII came armed with a hugeheatsink coupled with an equally huge fan, whereas the Thunderbird comes with astandard fan and a heatsink that’s just a little bigger than the one we areused to seeing on our processors. The 200 MHz effective FSB gives theThunderbird a bandwidth of 1.6 GB per sec (200 MHz x 8 bytes of data per clockpulse), whereas the PIII is limited to about 1 GB per sec due to its 133 MHz FSB.The P4 which is expected to be released in a couple of months, will have aquad-pumped 100 MHz FSB, which equates to 400 MHz. So it’s quite obvious thatprocessor manufacturers are realizing the importance of a faster FSB.

Our test system

Our test system shipped with a very high-end configuration:256 MB PC-133 SDRAM, nVIDIA GeForce2 GTS video card and an IBM Deskstar 30 GBHDD. For the sake of comparison with the PIII 1 GHz, we benchmarked the systemwith a similar configuration as used for the PIII, which means a CreativeGeForce graphics card, 128 MB SDRAM, and a 7,200 rpm hard drive. We would alsolike to point out that reducing the amount of RAM to 128 MB had very littleeffect on the benchmark scores, so it seems that 128 MB is still enough for mostapplications. We downloaded the latest drivers for the GeForce2–Detonator6.18. These drivers by themselves showed a big jump in scores in certain gamingbenchmarks that stretched the graphics card.

Performance

Now for the tests. We threw absolutely every benchmark wehave in labs at this machine, and it sailed through all of them. We ran allkinds of processor tests, games, and tests for high-end graphics and CADapplications. In the business applications and processor tests, competition wasliterally non-existent as the 1.1 GHz Thunderbird was able to outclass all otherprocessors. For the sake of comparison, we also used a PIII/700, which iscommonly available in the Indian market.

Business Winstone99, which tests performance in businessapplications, gave this machine a score of 34.9. In comparison, the Intel PIII 1GHz scored only 31.6 points, while the PIII/700 scored 29.6. Next we usedWinbench 99, which has tests that specifically stress the CPU like CPUmark andFPUmark. Again, the Thunderbird outperformed the Intel 1 GHz and gave a 12.6percent and 12 percent difference respectively in the two tests. 3D Winbench2000 gave the Thunderbird 2.25 points in the processor test and 1.93 to the PIII1 GHz. 3Dmark 99 followed this pattern as well, with the Thunderbird scoring17,172 CPU 3D Marks in contrast to the PIII’s 14,572.

We also ran Quake III Arena on the Thunderbird.Unfortunately, this benchmark was not available when we tested the 1 GHz PIII,so a comparison couldn’t be done. A comparison against the PIII/700, however,resulted in a better score for the Thunderbird. Quake III was literally broughtto its knees at resolutions and color depths at which most computers beg formercy. Frame rates never dipped below 100 fps except at 1,024×768 resolutionsand above at 32-bit color depth.

The test results

Processor Business Winstone
Thunderbird 1.1 GHz 34.9
PIII/1 GHz 31.6
PIII/700 MHz 29.6
Processor CPUmark

FPU Winmark

Thunderbird 1.1 GHz 98.6 6,020
PIII/1 GHz 86.1 5,290
PIII/700 MHz 64 3,710
Processor 3D Winbench 2000 processor test 
Thunderbird 1.1 GHz 2.25
PIII 1 GHz 1.93
Processor 3Dmark 99 Max CPU 3D Marks
Thunderbird 1.1 GHz 17,172
PIII/1 GHz 14,572
PIII/700 MHz 10,707

Conclusion

So, the verdict? In terms of raw-processing power, no otherprocessor can match it as of now. AMD has clearly made giant strides in the pastyear, first with the release of the Athlon, and then Duron and Thunderbirdprocessors.

However, there is also the question of overkill. First ofall, a machine based around this processor will be difficult to find. Second,you’ll need the best-possible configuration to really use its potential, whichwill make its price soar. So before heading out to your nearest computer storeto get hold of a 1.1 Gig Thunderbird machine, make sure you have the softwarewhich actually needs such a powerful processor. As of today, there aren’t toomany applications available that can completely tap this CPU’s power. Whereasprocessor speeds have been growing by leaps and bounds over the past few years,other components of your computer system like the hard drive, RAM, floppydrives, etc, have pretty much remained stagnant in comparison. So, if you’rean avid gamer, or need the best machine possible for graphics, use thisprocessor.

Anuj Jain at PCQ Labs

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