Most testers, however, said it depends on the application. The 2GHz Pentium 4 showed higher performance on tests related to 3D graphics, such as the game "Quake 3." But Athlon XP 1800+ excelled at productivity applications, such as word processing and e-mail.Now those statements aren't entirely untrue, but the way CNET has wrapped them up is wholly misleading. The Athlon XP 1800+ is indisputably an all-around better performer than the Pentium 4 2GHz. CNET's mistake here may be the result of simple incompetence, an inability to read and process the benchmarks available on the web. But that doesn't make their conclusions any less wrong.
They do note that Anand said the Athlon XP outperformed the Pentium 4, but then they quote Duane Pemberton of Source Mag saying "There is no clear winner here." Now, I don't know Duane; he may be a perfectly nice guy and in his own way competent, but he couldn't be further off the mark here. A pox on CNET for either 1) quoting Duane out of context or 2) swallowing Duane's low-candlepower analysis.
Let's review the results from our own Athlon XP review for a sec. Called me biased, but I believe our test suite is one of the more comprehensive sets of benchmarks around. We conducted a series of real-world performance tests covering office productivity apps, content creation, 3D rendering, MP3 encoding, 3D gaming in OpenGL, 3D gaming in Direct3D, workstation-class graphics apps, speech recognition, and scientific computing. Of those nine categories, the Pentium 4 came out ahead in two: Direct3D gaming and speech recognition. The Athlon XP was outright faster in five of those categories, and the other two (OpenGL gaming and workstation graphics) were a wash. That is a fairly decisive victory for the Athlon XP, especially when you take into account its relatively large margins of victory on many tests.
Now, it pains me to point it out, but we were not able to test the Athlon XP with a motherboard based on VIA's KT266A chipset, as Anand's and the HardOCP were able to do. The KT266A tends to deliver a 5-15% performance boost over the AMD 760 chipset we used in our tests. Coupled with the KT266A, the Athlon XP catches up with the Pentium 4 in Quake III (tilting the OpenGL gaming category in its favor) and outruns the P4 in 3DMark 2001 (moving the Direct3D gaming category from the P4 to the Athlon XP). If I had to speculate, I'd bet the KT266A would even allow the Athlon XP to take the lead in our speech recognition tests.
But no matter. You get the point. The Athlon XP is hands down the fastest x86-compatible processor on the planet. For CNET to suggest otherwise is simply wrong, regardless of how they source their story.