So the Athlon XP 2100+ is set to climb to the top of the heap for x86 performance, right? Well, perhaps, but it has a few strikes against it. For one, the Athlon XP remains on the same 266MHz front-side bus as ever, and it’s made using AMD’s now-familiar 180-nanometer fabrication process. There are questions about how well the Athlon XP will scale as AMD ratchets up the clock speed independent of other improvements.
Plus, I really need to find a way to make this review interesting, so why not bring it up? Anyhow, we’ll benchmark this puppy and find out.
Introducing the Athlon XP 2100+
The first thing you need to know about the Athlon XP 2100+ is that it runs at 1.73GHz. Thanks to AMD’s handy-dandy naming scheme, the clock speed is different from the model number for a host of reasons we’ve already discussed at length.
You’ll probably forget about the first thing you need to know, though, once you see how the Athlon XP 2100+ looks:
Yep, it’s minty green. AMD says it’s changing its processors to match its company color. However, we all know AMD always has Intel on its mind, and I’m sure it didn’t hurt that the new color makes this CPU look an awful lot like some Intel products. Whatever the case, AMD is transitioning all of its chips with organic packaging (currently only the Athon XP and Athlon MP) to this new paint job. The change is purely cosmetic, so don’t expect big performance gainsunless you think “extra minty goodness” is worth a few more points in 3DMark.
For the photo fetishists out there, here’s a bigger picture of the chip.
As you can probably make out, the L1 bridges on the XP 2100+ are indeed severed, with gigantic miniature pits between the two sides. It’s possible to bridge the gap and unlock the multiplier on the Athlon XP to allow free range in overclocking, but it ain’t easy.
Beyond that, this is the same old Athlon XP as ever. Based on AMD’s Palomino core, it’ll ride atop a whole host of different Socket A motherboards out there. Please see our recent KT333 review and Socket A chipset roundup to get a sense of the many good options available.
Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least twice, and the results were averaged.
Our test systems were configured like so:
|Athlon XP||Pentium 4 DDR||Pentium 4 RDRAM|
|Processor||AMD Athlon XP 1800+ 1.53GHz
AMD Athlon XP 2000+ 1.67GHz
AMD Athlon XP 2100+ 1.73GHz
|Intel Pentium 4 2.0GHz
Intel Pentium 4 2.0″A”GHz
Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz
|Intel Pentium 4 2.0GHz
Intel Pentium 4 2.0″A”GHz
Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz
|Front-side bus||266MHz (133MHz double-pumped)||400MHz (100MHz quad-pumped)||400MHz (100MHz quad-pumped)|
|Motherboard||Epox EP-8KHA+||Abit BD7-RAID||Intel D850MD|
|Chipset||VIA KT266A||Intel 845||Intel 850|
|North bridge||VT8366A||82845 MCH||82850 MCH|
|South bridge||VT8233||82801BA ICH2||82801BA ICH2|
|Memory size||256MB (1 DIMM)||256MB (1 DIMM)||256MB (2 RIMMs)|
|Memory type||Micron PC2100 DDR SDRAM||Micron PC2100 DDR SDRAM||Samsung PC800 Rambus DRAM|
|Graphics||NVIDIA GeForce3 Ti 500 64MB (Detonator XP 21.83 video drivers)|
|Sound||Creative SoundBlaster Live!|
|Storage||IBM 75GXP 30.5GB 7200RPM ATA/100 hard drive|
|OS||Microsoft Windows XP Professional|
We’re testing with familiar motherboards and memory types here, because they represent what’s most widely available right now for the Pentium 4 and Athlon XP. Both processors would probably get a bit of a performance boost with DDR333 memory, and we’ll test that next time around, we promise.
The test systems’ Windows desktops were set at 1024×768 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- SiSoft Sandra Standard 2001te
- Compiled binary of C Linpack port from Ace’s Hardware
- ZD Media Business Winstone 2001 1.0.2
- ZD Media Content Creation Winstone 2001 1.0.2
- POV-Ray for Windows version 3.1g (multiple compiles)
- Sphinx 3.3
- ScienceMark 1.0
- LAME 3.90
- SPECviewperf 6.1.2
- MadOnion 3DMark 2001 Build 200
- Quake III Arena 1.30
- Serious Sam v1.05
All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
We start out with memory performance to keep it logically separate from the rest of the benchmarks, because the memory tests are a little more theoretical, and a little less about real application performance, than the rest of the benchmarks.
There are clearly three classes of systems here: Pentium 4s based on RDRAM offer the most memory throughput, followed by Pentium 4s with DDR memory. Athlon XPs take the bottom three slots, as we’ve come to expect in this test. Let’s get a different kind of visual on it with Linpack:
If you’re new to Linpack graphs, look carefully. The left half of the graph is about floating-point performance using the L1 and L2 caches, and the right half is about FP performance when operating on data in main memory. You can see how the Pentium 4 “Willamette” has half the L2 cache of the Pentium 4 “Northwood,” and you can see how the Athlon XP’s 128K L1 cache is markedly faster than its L2 cache. You can also see that the Athlon XP’s total on-chip cache size is effectively 384K, because the L2 cache doesn’t replicate the contents of the L1 as in the Pentium 4.
The Athlon XP 2100+ peaks out higher than anything else, but the Northwood’s very fast 512K L2 cache allows it to run quite a bit faster at matrix sizes above 128K. Once we reach main memory, the DDR systems tend to bunch up, as do the RDRAM systems. The one exception is the Northwood 2.2GHz, which makes better use of DDR memory than the rest of the field.
Business Winstone 2001
Now we’ll get to the real meat of the tests. Business Winstone tests office applications like, well, MS Office, to see how fast these beasts will handle the daunting challenge of word processing.
The Athlon XP 2100+ takes a commanding lead in the office benchmark sweeps. But can it handle…
Content Creation Winstone 2001
By “content creation,” we mean mostly the kind of content we don’t have here at TR: real multimedia, streaming video and audio, snazzy graphics, and spinning logos. We’re lucky to coax a drop shadow out of Paint Shop Pro. Nevertheless, we power user types tend to spend a lot of time with “content creation” applications, so these tests are particularly noteworthy.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Content Creation Winstone now has a 2002 version, which we’ll be using soon. For today, though, we’ll stick with 2001.
The Athlon XP definitely has an edge in CC Winstone 2001, and the 2100+ model only extends that lead.
POV-Ray 3D rendering
POV-Ray is a freeware software ray-tracing program that creates high-quality 3D scenes. It’s also a very useful measure of a processor’s performance, particularly on floating-point math. Our POV-Ray tests use the original release of POV-Ray 3.1, plus Steve Schmitt’s recompiled versions, just to see what difference the various compilers and compiler settings can make.
We’re now using an updated version of Steve Schmitt’s recompiled POV-Ray. Although there two flavors of recompiled POV-Ray, including one specifically optimized for the Pentium 4, we’re only using the generic “PIII” version, which runs fine on both the Athlon and the Pentium 4. Unfortunately, some folks have reported getting buggy output from the P4-specific binary, so we’ll have to skip it.
This is a test the Athlon has always owned, so these results ought to come as no surprise. The Athlon’s impressive floating-point unit does especially well here, although advances in Intel’s compiler have helped the P4 close the gap somewhat.
LAME MP3 encoding
Isn’t it amazing how we can now encode MP3s much faster than real time? Let’s see which CPU is the best at keeping the RIAA up at night.
The pack is tight, but the Athlon XPs are bunched up at the top. We’re encoding a 50MB file here by the dude who does the “Like a Rock” theme for Chevy. Fork over the extra cash for an XP 2100+ instead of a 2000+, and you’ll save yourself a second encoding this song. Hmm.
Quake III Arena
Q3A has been a back-and-forth affair. For a long time, the P4 ruled in Quake III, and then the Athlon XP just caught up. Then the P4 passed it again. Can the Athlon XP retake the lead?
Not this time. The 2.2GHz Northwood is still king of all things Quake.
Compared to Q3A, Serious Sam has more polygons, bigger textures, and more scrumptious eye candy. Here’s how they shake out…
Serious Sam is undoubtedly Athlon XP territory. The XP 2100+ outruns the P4 Willamette by over 40 frames per second.
3DMark is even more hotly contested than our other 3D gaming tests. Have a look:
The Athlon XP 2100+ outruns the Pentium 4 2.2GHz when the two processors are both paired with DDR memory, but RDRAM gives the P4 a slight edge overall.
SPECviewperf workstation graphics
SPEC’s benchmark of workstation graphics performance is increasingly about video card performance over CPU performance, as the fastest processors max out our test box’s GeForce3 Ti 500 card with ease in many of these tests. However, that’s not always the case.
The DX, DRV, and MedMCAD tests show some performance differences, and the Pentium 4 takes two out of those three.
Speech recognition applications are especially hungry for memory bandwidth, but they require a fast CPU, as well. The version of Sphinx we’re testing needs to run faster than real time for its fairly intensive speech recognition algorithm to be useful.
Once again, none of our systems break the real-time barrier without overclocking. The Athlon XP 2100+ is actually a little faster than the P4 Willamette when compiled with Intel’s compiler. Go figure.
Tim Wilkens’ computational benchmark, ScienceMark, is a suite of tests that measures number-crunching ability by running some computationally intensive scientific equations. Like 3DMark, ScienceMark then spits out a composite number denoting a system’s overall score in the suite.
The Athlon XPs are fastest here, andsurprisethe Athlon XP 2100+ is fastest of all. On some of the more interesting individual tests, the results came out like so:
We just write this stuff after the graphs for fun. Does anyone read it?
The Palomino core in the Athlon XP 2100+ isn’t supposed to have much headroom left for overclocking, what with the 0.13-micron Thoroughbred coming soon and all. We wanted to find out how much extra is left in the Pally, so we turned up the clock a bit. We got the system to POST at 1950MHz on a 150MHz (300MHz DDR) bus, and it was surprisingly stable navigating BIOS menus and the like. However, the thing just wouldn’t boot into Windows, even with DMA disk access modes like ATA/100 disabled.
We were able to boot into WinXP at 1885MHz on a 145MHz front-side bus, though, and take a screenshot:
The processor seemed pretty happy at 1885MHz, but we had to back off on memory timings in order to keep the system stable, even with KingMax DDR333 DIMMs installed. We’d love to show you some exciting benchmarks at 1885MHz, but once we cranked back the RAM timings, the benchmarks didn’t show much appreciable gain. We’ll have to mess with unlocking the processor via its L1 bridges to know for sure how far this thing will really go.
In any case, the overclocking crowd will definitely want to consider a 1.6A or 1.8A Pentium 4 Northwood. The Pentium 4’s speedster design and Intel’s 0.13-micron copper fab process will ensure some massive overclocks, and the P4 platform’s 100MHz/400MHz front-side bus offers more headroom for both clock speed and performance than the Athlon XP. Of course, Intel CPUs can’t be unlocked like Athlon XPs, so keep that in mind.
There’s still life left in the Palomino, no doubt about it. At 1.73GHz, the Athlon XP 2100+ outruns the Pentium 4 2.2GHz in many of our testsespecially when the P4 is stripped of the slight advantage it gets from RDRAM.
That said, which processor will be fastest for you depends on your needs. For general use in business applications and content creation tasks, the Athlon XP 2100+ rules the roost. AMD’s latest is also best at real computational grunt work, like 3D rendering and scientific computing, provided that memory bandwidth isn’t the primary limitation in your application.
In our gaming tests, the Athlon XP and Pentium 4 were very evenly matched. But for strictly memory-limited applications, there’s no denying the P4’s prowess. In our test suite, the Sphinx and ScienceMark Primordia tests are the best examples of memory bandwidth-limited apps. The P4 cleaned up in those tests, regardless of RAM type. Perhaps it’s the 400MHz bus or perhaps it’s the P4’s memory prefetch and SSE streaming abilities. Whatever it is, the Pentium 4 makes much better use of the memory bandwidth available to it, and it shows.
So picking the fastest CPU solely on its merits here isn’t easy. If you’re unsure which brand of performanceAthlon XP or Pentium 4will suit you best, rest assured that both CPUs are extremely fast. The places where one excels over the other are areas of strength, not weakness.
However, once you get down to the price-performance equation, AMD still leads. Here’s how AMD’s pricing will look now that the XP 2100+ has hit the scene.
Athlon XP 2100+ (1.73GHz) – $420
Athlon XP 2000+ (1.67GHz) – $339
Athlon XP 1900+ (1.60GHz) – $231
Athlon XP 1800+ (1.53GHz) – $188
Athlon XP 1700+ (1.47GHz) – $157
Athlon XP 1600+ (1.4GHz) – $130
The list price on the Athlon XP 2100+ is about 50 bucks lower than the street price on a Pentium 4 2.2GHz. Sounds good, but AMD is kinda-sorta raising prices here, in the sense that the Athlon XP 2000+ was $339 upon its debut in early January. Now, the list price for the fastest Athlon XP is 80 bucks higher, and the Athlon XP 2000+’s price remains unchanged. That’s not a raw deal, but it is uncharacteristic for AMD. Apparently, the success of the model numbering scheme has inspired enough confidence for AMD to keep prices higher. (That, or they’re storing up price cuts for a potential price war with Intel. I wouldn’t be shocked to see one in the next few months.)
Regardless, the Athlon XP 2100+ is a helluva thing. It ismaybe, probably, depending on your application—the fastest x86 processor anywhere. For now.