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.

6 comments:

Usama said...

It seems that Gary at Anandtech had a similar thought in mind with regards to the 965 underclocked

http://www.anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.aspx?i=3621

yfe said...

Anand is bad.
Can you name a good unbiased site?

abinstein said...

Nice article. Anandtech articles rarely make sense lately. I'm sure it's all affected by the Intel ads on their sites. They are no journalists. Real journalists do not confuse commentary with advertisement.

orly said...

'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.'

Slightly more? Could you tell me the exact amount? BTW did you miss the section on battery life? From the article it seems the Intel laptop had 28% better battery life.

'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.'

So if its ok for you, its ok for everyone?

'stuff about gaming'

The article says how the intel laptop fails and AMD dominates it big time. What exactly is your point here?

'However, for real people who actually use their computers I would say that either computer would be fine'

You really dont read these articles, dont you? At the bottom of page 10:

'Compared to the more expensive laptops we've tested, these two entry-level Gateway systems are quite slow. Performance is relative, of course, and even the Gateway laptops are plenty fast for typical office/Internet work.'

'I suppose if you use your notebook for running obscure benchmarks then you would agree with Mr. Walton.'

Divx and H.264 are obscure now?

Scientia from AMDZone said...

Orly said

"Slightly more? Could you tell me the exact amount? BTW did you miss the section on battery life? From the article it seems the Intel laptop had 28% better battery life."

You apparently didn't read my article very carefully. My notebook with a 2.0Ghz K8 has plenty of cpu power. I have a similar Centrino notebook with 2.0Ghz Pentium M. Both of these have plenty of cpu power. Moving up to a dual core should give you more than enough so trying to rate these based on cpu power is reaching at best. However, the Centrino is lacking in graphic power and my ATI Radeon Express 200M graphics are also getting a bit dated. The 690G chipset is better than mine and the 780 chipset is better than that. However, Intel is still lagging in graphics. Bottom line: unless you only use your notebook for web surfing and word processor you will notice the graphics difference. On the other hand, you will never notice the cpu difference.

Secondly, it has already been demonstrated and admitted by Intel that Intel has benchmark tuning to get the best battery life scores. Unfortunately, that tuning doesn't always work so well in real life.

"So if its ok for you, its ok for everyone?"

I can find dozens of areas where the difference in graphics would matter. However, except for getting a slightly higher benchmark score you would be hard pressed to find any area where the small difference in cpu power would matter.

"The article says how the intel laptop fails and AMD dominates it big time. What exactly is your point here?"

The article also manages to dismiss gaming by insisting that either unit is only useful for light gaming. I specifically mentioned the games I've played on these systems. As I said (and apparently you didn't understand) my current notebook with Radeon Express 200M is adequate for light gaming. With 780 graphics you have quite a bit more than that.

"You really dont read these articles, dont you? At the bottom of page 10:

'Compared to the more expensive laptops we've tested, these two entry-level Gateway systems are quite slow. Performance is relative, of course, and even the Gateway laptops are plenty fast for typical office/Internet work.'"


Of course I read that. Again, the author is flat out wrong when he describes these as "quite slow". This repetition is getting old but once again I use a notebook with a single core 2.0Ghz processor so I know what I'm talking about. You would need something slower than mine (like an Atom) to be "quite slow".

"Divx and H.264 are obscure now?"

I'm baffled at what you are trying to claim. You can watch DVD's just fine with the AMD mobile chipset. Maybe you've forgotten that this is only a problem with Intel chipsets. My new computer has AMD 785 graphics and I just watched two Blu-ray movies with no trouble.

Scientia from AMDZone said...

What said...

"I suppose battery life isn't important to you either? That appears to be the more serious consideration in why AnandTech likes the Intel system more than the AMD system. They even state that for gaming you're better off with the AMD setup."

As I already explained to Orly, Intel uses benchmark tuning to increase battery life. When this tuning isn't available (which is most of the time) that amazing difference in battery life vanishes.

Secondly, as I already explained to Orly, the Anandtech admission that the AMD based notebook is better for "light gaming" is very dismissive. I've mentioned what games I've played. And, I know that you can play Sims, Spore, and Second Life on an AMD notebook but these show severe degradation on Intel Centrino II hardware.

Also, we both know that if Intel had come out ahead on the gaming benchmarks then the author would not have gone out of his way to downplay them. We also know that if AMD had come out ahead in the cpu benchmarks then the author would have found his common sense and correctly stated that the difference in cpu power would not be noticeable anyway and therefore would not be much of a criterion for choosing the AMD notebook. Someday, common sense might return to Anandtech but probably not soon.