AMD’s TPI will not produce performance metric

I confess I’ve known about this for a little while, but I haven’t seen it reported elsewhere, so I suppose it’s still news. You will recall that AMD dubbed its model number-based rating system, upon its introduction with the Athlon XP, a “bridge metric.” The company pledged to replace the system with a more robust set of performance metrics to be produced by its True Performance Initiative, or TPI.

We decided to hold AMD to this promise, and thus I had a conversation with AMD’s TPI director, Hal Speed, back in December ’02. He said at that time that TPI was still on track for early ’03, with lots of new partners and new momentum backing the effort. However, 2003 came and went—as did the launches of AMD’s Opteron and Athlon 64 processors—with nary a peep about TPI’s new performance metric.

But here’s the kicker. I spoke to Mr. Speed again shortly before the official launch of the Athlon 64, and he revealed to me that the True Performance Initiative will not produce a performance metric. Speed said AMD was never able to get a full contingent of market leaders to sign on to the effort, and so the company decided to nix the project. Apparently, AMD actually thought Intel might be willing to join TPI. Speed said AMD had picked up “signals” that Intel might be receptive, perhaps in part because of the difficulty of marketing its own Pentium M processors. Obviously, things didn’t work out.

Mr. Speed disagreed with my characterization of TPI as a failure, though, claiming the discourse about processor performance had changed, and in that sense, TPI had succeeded. He cited the intentionally vague model numbers assigned to Opteron processors as healthy departure from older MHz-oriented thinking.

For most Athlon 64 products, AMD continues to use its model number rating system, shakily making reference to the mythical AMD Athlon “Thunderbird” processor against which the system is purportedly indexed. I say the reference is shaky for two reasons: one, no T-bird CPU has ever run at much more than 2GHz (consumer versions topped out at 1.4GHz), and two, AMD now apparently assigns Athlon 64 model numbers almost at will, based on a trio of factors: cache size, number of memory channels, and clock frequency. We have shown in our Athlon 64 3000+ review, published today, that the 3000+ and 3200+ products perform identically in many tasks.

In other words, we think the veneer on AMD’s “bridge metric” is wearing a little thin—even if we do still appreciate the need for some consumer guidance in the matter of comparative performance. Unfortunately, without the new, industry-standard performance metric AMD promised to produce via TPI, Joe Consumer may simply have to take AMD at its word about model numbers and relative performance. And taking AMD at its word, we have learned, may not always be the wisest thing to do.

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