Thursday, August 13, 2009

Notebook Confusion: Another Bizarre Anandtech Review

I came across an Anandtech Notebook Review by Jarred Walton that claims to objectively compare low end examples powered by AMD and Intel processors. The reality seems to be otherwise.

I use an AMD notebook everyday. Mine is an older HP Pavillion with a 2.0Ghz Mobile Athlon 64 processor. It has a 15.4" display that can do 1280 x 800. I also have a very similar HP Pavillion Centrino system with a 2.0Ghz Pentium M processor. Both run Windows XP. The main difference between them is that the AMD system only has 512 MB's of memory while the Centrino has 1 GB. That actually isn't as simple as it appears because the Radeon 200M graphics in the AMD system have their own 128 MB graphics buffer while the Centrino uses main memory. So, it would be more like 640 MB's versus 1024 MB's. Therefore, we should have similar CPU power with a small advantage in memory for the Centrino.

In daily use, my notebook spends most of its time with the processor running between 800 and 1,000 Mhz so I was more than a little surprised to see Mr. Walton claiming that the AMD notebook in review with a dual core 2.1 Ghz processor doesn't have enough processor power. Whose leg are you trying to pull, Mr. Walton? Mr. Walton indeed suggests with a straight face that the Intel system is snappier. However, unless he is claiming that Vista requires twice as much CPU power to run then this claim is simply plucked out of thin air and cannot be taken seriously.

My two notebooks have very similar performance and utility for most things. Graphics are important though. I have a low end Sempron desktop system with again similar CPU power but the display only goes up to 1024 x 768 and that is quite noticeable. The 1280 x 800 is much easier to work with. If I were limiting the discussion to things like surfing the internet, using a word processor or spreadsheet then in all honesty I can't see much difference between the two systems. Mr. Walton makes the dubious claim that the Intel system is 25% more powerful so the extra cost is still a bargain. This claim is a joke. The reality is that Mr. Walton is scrambling to invent some reason to give the win to Intel and has gotten a death grip on the only advantage he was able to find: the Intel system does have slightly more CPU power. Seriously, I've never spent any time wishing I had 25% more CPU power and the two systems in review with more than double what I have should be plenty.

However, I have done some light game playing on my notebooks. I have played Empire Earth, Empire Earth II, Warcraft 3, Civilization 3 and 4, and Colonization 4. These will all run on my AMD notebook. Warcraft 3 does not run well on the Sempron desktop due to the lower resolution nor can it run Civ 4 at all. The Centrino system can run Warcraft 3 and I have played against someone using the LAN option. However, I do have to reduce my resolution because the Centrino system with native Intel graphics cannot handle the same resolutions that my Radeon graphics can. Worse still is that the Centrino system cannot run Civ 4 at all.

So, with all due respect to Mr. Walton's prejudices, let's stop the baloney. For almost all normal activity both systems have more than enough CPU power. This simple fact tends to negate Mr. Walton's desperate claim of a CPU power advantage. However, it does not negate the fact that the Intel system costs more and that it truly does have worse graphics than the AMD system. I suppose if you use your notebook for running obscure benchmarks then you would agree with Mr. Walton. However, for real people who actually use their computers I would say that either computer would be fine but with better graphics and a lower pricetag for the AMD system it would difficult to find a reason to buy the Intel system.

Still waiting for the day when the sun rises, flowers bloom, and common sense returns to Anandtech.

On another note: the AMD 3.4 Ghz Phenom II 965 Black Edition has finally arrived. It looks like a nice chip but since it is 140 watts I'm still deciding if it is preferable to the 125 watt PII 955 BE. I suppose if the 965 were downclocked to 3.2 Ghz then it might pull the same. But the real question is whether the 965 has an advantage if for example I am not trying for the highest possible clock. Good question.