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Can AMD's new K6-2 beat Intel's Pentium II?

May 28, 1998
Web posted at: 3:45 p.m. EDT

by Rex Farrance

(IDG) -- Lately, Intel's competition in the mainstream PC market has ranged from slim to none. A look at our June Top 20 Power Desktops shows an impenetrable lineup of Pentium IIs--and even the Budget Desktops chart reveals a mere 3 out of 20 PCs that are based on non-Intel CPUs. (See Top 100 link.) With its recently announced 350- and 400-MHz Pentium II processors, Intel seems harder to challenge at the high end of the PC market than ever. But that's about to change.

Advanced Micro Devices mow offers its K6-2 processor, which is designed to expand the company's significant presence in low-end, sub-$1000 PCs into the much-desirable mainstream business and home office market. Initially, AMD's new K6-2 will be available in two flavors, running at 266 MHz and 300 MHz, with a 333-MHz version coming later this summer.

The company is positioning its processor to duke it out with the Intel Pentium II running at like clock speeds, but AMD suggests that the inclusion of its 3DNow technology (a set of 21 special CPU instructions) will make for superior graphics performance once applications have been optimized to take advantage of it.

According to AMD, games that use Microsoft's DirectX-6 will also benefit; however, DirectX-6 is still in beta and it will probably be fall before any compatible games are available. In the meantime, games written using the OpenGL API and proprietary APIs such as 3Dfx Glide, a popular option will also get a boost, though not as much as if they had native 3DNow support, AMD says.

AMD will use the more affordable Super 7 architecture using a 100-MHz system bus as opposed to the more expensive Intel Slot 1 architecture with a CPU cartridge and 100-MHz P6 bus. While the price advantage here goes to AMD, Intel should have better performance: Intel's secondary cache is accessed at half the speed of its clock rate, while AMD accesses its secondary cache at 100-MHz. Ironically, however, our tests show no clear-cut performance advantage.

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Tooling around in real systems

To get a feel for the way the new CPU will perform, we took an early look at three AMD K6-2 systems, all running Windows 95 and equipped with 64MB of RAM and fast hard drives. AMD provided a reference system it had built around a 333-MHz processor and we were also able to test a 266-MHz system from CyberMax and a 300-MHz system from Polywell.

The performance results were competitive with Intel-based units of similar clock speed: The 266-MHz K6-2 posted a PC WorldBench score of 149 (151 is average for a Pentium II-266); the 300-MHz system yielded a 164 (160 is average for PII-300s); and the 333-MHz system clocked a 175 (171 is average for a PII-333).

And these fast machines are good values: In the CyberMax's case, the cost of the system was about $200 less than a similarly equipped Pentium II-266. The systems produced mixed results on tests using conventional graphics applications such as PowerPoint 97, Caligari TrueSpace 3, Macromedia Director, Red Line Racer, and Turok.

While the jury is out on how fast 3D-Now and DirectX-6-enhanced games will run, we'd be surprised if enhanced applications don't run quickly on K6-2 systems. Some of the optimized products that AMD tells us to expect in the days and months to come are games like Ares Rising by Imagine Studios, Baseball 3D by Microsoft, Incoming by Rage, Team Apache and Xenocracy by Simis, and Unreal by Epic MegaGames. In addition, Viewpoint Data Labs will have native 3DNow support in its LiveArt 98, which is designed to add 3D graphics to Word and PowerPoint documents.

CyberMax's PowerMax 3D-266 costs only $1299 and includes a 6.4GB hard drive, a 14X-32X CD-ROM drive, an STB Velocity 128 graphics board with 4MB of SGRAM, an Ensoniq Audio PCI sound card, Altec Lansing ACS-45 speakers, a Computer Peripheral V.90 56-kbps modem, and a 17-inch CyberMax monitor. If you want the same system with a 300-MHz CPU, it will cost $50 more. The company plans to ship a similar PC with a 333-MHz chip sometime this summer. It will probably cost about $100 more than the 300-MHz version.

Polywell's Poly K62-300D will cost $1733 with 64MB of RAM, a 9.1GB hard drive, a 12X-24X CD-ROM drive, a Diamond Viper V330 graphics board with 4MB of SGRAM, a Yamaha PCI sound card, Polywell speakers, a Diamond V.90 56-kbps modem, and a Sampo 17-inch monitor.


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