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Value processors at 1.2GHz

Intel and AMD fight it out budget style

MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of MHz over the past few months. Intel is running at 2.2GHz with its Pentium 4, and AMD is trailing, at least numerically, at 1.67GHz with its Athlon XP 2000+. Although the new P4 and Athlon XP are neck-and-neck in performance, it's been some time since the two were on a level MHz playing field.

The world of processors isn't just about flagship chips, though. Both AMD and Intel have value processors in their respective Duron and Celeron lines. As luck would have it, both of these value chips are available at 1.2GHz. Not only that, but both the Duron and Celeron recently received some internal improvements that ought to improve clock-for-clock performance. That just begs for a performance comparison.

Value processors might not be quite as fast or sexy as the latest and greatest from the chip giants, but they have their place. Not only do they make great corporate solutions where absolute performance usually isn't an issue, but they're also a cheap way to put together a second machine to lug to LAN parties and the like. For many users' needs, the performance of value chips is plenty. The faster they get, the more attractive they become to a steadily growing slice of the market.

So let's get down to it.

In the blue corner, we have Intel's Celeron 1.2GHz, which now has more in common with the Pentium III "Tualatin" than with its Celeron forebears. In the green corner is AMD's Duron 1.2GHz, featuring the updated Morgan core. In our last few rounds of tests, the "Morgan" Duron has dominated. Can Intel's revisions make the Celeron competitive again? Read on to find out.

The competitors

With MHz parity, let the games begin

A view of the competitors' undersides

Morgan gets a speed boost
AMD debuted its new Morgan core for the Duron back at 1GHz. Morgan has 128KB of L1 cache (split evenly between data and instruction caches), and 64KB of L2. Morgan is essentially the Duron version of AMD's Palomino Athlon XP core. The Athlon XP, however, enjoys 256KB of L2 cache. Though both the Palomino and Morgan cores share data prefetch logic which speculatively loads data into the L2 cache, the diminutive size of the Morgan's L2 may hinder what prefetch can do to boost its performance. The Duron 1.2GHz runs at a 12X multiplier on AMD's 100MHz bus, which is actually double-pumped for an effective 200MHz. In order to counter the new Celeron's improved performance, AMD now recommends running the Duron 1.2GHz with DDR memory. Unfortunately, AMD apparently isn't ready to move the Duron to a 266MHz bus just yet. That's really a pity, but AMD wants to differentiate between the Athlon and Duron,

All current Durons are built in AMD's Austin, Texas fab on a 0.18-micron aluminum fabrication process. The Duron 1.2GHz requires 1.75 volts of power. All told, the only thing new about the 1.2GHz Duron is an extra 100MHz. Considering how well the Duron performed at 1.1GHz, an extra 100MHz can only make it better.