Intel ‘to adopt performance ratings’

Leaf from AMD's book

Intel appears to have conceded at last that a processor's clock frequency isn't the be-all and end-all of chip performance. It is to begin adding performance ratings to its processors, the better to distinguish one model from another.

The sound you hear in the background is AMD's workforce dancing for joy. Having been forced to adopt what are essentially AMD's 64-bit extensions to the 32-bit x86 ISA, Intel is now borrowing AMD's scheme for naming chips - or at least something along similar lines.

The chip giant hasn't confirmed the move or denied it, preferring not to comment. But CNET, picking up on rumours circulating on the Net late last week, cites a source "familiar" with Intel's plans as admitting that it has performance ratings in its sights.

Next quarter's launch of Dothan, the 90nm version of the Pentium M, will see the new scheme debut. Dothan has 2MB of L2 cache, but is unlikely to offer radically higher clock speeds than the current line of 130nm Pentium Ms. Performance ratings would allow Intel to demonstrate the effect of the extra 1MB of cache rather than show a small jump in clock frequency. However, Intel will still tout clock speeds.

The move will also help push Prescott, the 90nm Pentium 4. Prescott has proved something of a disappointment, shipping at clock speeds no different from older, 130nm versions of the chip. Again, performance ratings would allow Intel marketeers to stress the advantage of the part's larger cache, updated architecture and frontside bus speed. According to the CNET source, Intel will put the scheme in place this summer.

Curiously, the performance metric will be used to compare chips in the same family, not across the board, presumably to leave clear blue water between, say, Xeon and Pentium 4 processors. AMD does the same thing with its Opteron and Athlon 64 processors.

Of most use to consumers would be a consistent cross-vendor metric. The result: processors could all be rated using a measure as standard as clock frequency but more relevant to today's superscalar, multi-threading CPUs. Finally, the 'megahertz myth' could be laid to rest.

But AMD's attempt to build an industry consensus behind such a metric was quietly dropped last year. The company simply could not find enough chip vendors to back the move. ®

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