what makes a CPU, a good CPU?

Published: 01st September 2008
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What makes a good CPU?

Not all CPUs are equal. In order to see, head to head, the pros and cons of both AMD and Intel CPUs, we'll assume

that we're comparing same speed CPUs.

There actually is a small amount of memory embedded into all CPUs. This memory is segmented into two sections,

L1 and L2 cache. As in hard drives and RAM, more is better. In addition to memory size, speed is important too.

Think of it this way: you want to move bricks with a truck. A bigger truck will help you move a lot of bricks at

once, while a faster truck lets you make more trips in the same amount of time, thus more loads. Both are important.

L1 cache sits closer to the CPU core and handles only the most common tasks while L2 cache sits a level afterwards

and handles less common tasks at a slower speed. In today's AMD Athlon CPUs, there is 128KB of L1 cache versus 32KB

on Intel's latest Pentium IV CPUs. L2 cache on the Athlon is 512KB (up to 8MB) vs the Pentium III at 256KB

(up to 2MB). However, the Athlon's L2 cache runs at half the CPU speed while the Pentium IVs runs at full CPU speed.

This means that a 600mhz Athlon's L2 cache runs at 300mhz while a 600mhz Pentium IV's L2 cache runs at 600mhz.

Bus speed refers to the system bus at which the CPU is rated to run. A higher bus speed means instructions are

being transferred at a faster rate. What about CPU speed? The two functions of CPU speed are the bus speed and the

multiplier. For instance, a 600mhz CPUbus speed can run at 6x 100 or 4.5x 133 bus speed with the 133 bus speed CPU

being faster. The reason is that instead of having to go through 6 cycles at 100 bus speed to reach 600mhz, the CPU

only needs to go 4.5 cycles at 133 bus speed, therefore completing its 600mhz speed in fewer cycles. Currently, the

Athlon runs at a 200mhz system bus while the Pentium III runs at 100mhz system bus or 133mhz system bus depending

upon the flavor you buy.

FPU or Floating Point Unit, refers to a part of the CPU that calculates certain algorithms that are essential to

most software performance. Simply put, the more powerful the FPU the better. In the latest Athlon's there are 3

FPU pipelines to push more calculations through the CPU while in the Pentium III, there is only 1 pipeline. This

alone does not mean that the Athlon is faster because dependent upon how the software is written, it may not take

advantage of the Athlon's superior architecture.

This brings us to 3D Enhancements which is linked to the previous section. AMD and Intel have developed different

3D Enhancement instructions which software developers can use to accelerate performance. However, developers do not

always write their software for both instruction sets, thus you will see a slant towards Intel's SSE set vs.

AMD's 3DNow! set due to Intel's industry muscle.

You'll want to get the best you can seeing how CPU technology gets obsolete very quickly. Hence you need to maintain

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