I'm confused, and that doesn't happen too often, but the new PR-rating AMD is using really has me baffled. The introduction of the new Athlon XP and MP series CPUs marks the return of the dreaded PR-rating system. I can still vividly remember a somewhat identical rating system being used by Cyrix to market their CPUs and AMD's K5 series of late that also came with a PR-rating. So are we looking at the same thing here? Well, upon closer inspection something does seem to have changed, whereas the 'older' PR rating system was meant to indicate to what clockspeed Intel CPUs these AMD or Cyrix processors were comparable to, the new PR-rating seems to do it differently. They're not comparing it to any Intel CPU directly this time, or at least that is what seems to be the case, but rather come up with a PR-rating based on a large suite of benchmarks they've run.
To me that makes it even more confusing, as I know how BIOS settings, drivers, etc can affect benchmarks. So how do they plan to proceed with this I'm not entirely sure, but if they indeed are going to use it with their upcoming CPUs theyíd better make sure the actual system they use to benchmark their CPUs with doesnít change, else we'll be seeing some PR-ratings that won't make any sense. Even worse, suppose that somewhere along the line they are still using the same old system with the same old drivers to benchmark newer CPUs they'll not be getting the performance figures they hoped for as the system and drivers will have aged. So although I applaud AMD for trying to measure performance in a different way, this I think is not the most foolproof way of going about it.
In the light of AMD's success in the enthusiast and home-user markets I'd actually hoped that AMD would not start using that PR-rating again. The majority of these enthusiasts and home-users are well aware that clockspeed isn't the only thing that determines a PC's performance. However we can see the reasons for opting for such a rating when people buy off-the-shelf PCs at, for example, Best Buy
or Fry's. I'm doubtful the sales guy will be able to properly explain why the AMD system of a lesser clockspeed can be just as fast or faster than the Intel. As honestly, do you think the average sales clerk will be able to explain the following? The Athlon XP 1800+ runs at a 1.53GHz clockspeed, has an 1800+ performance rating and cannot be directly compared to an Intel CPU, yet does offer performance better than that of a 2GHz Pentium 4. The 1800+ is not the CPUís clockspeed but rather a performance rating meant to indicate the real-world performance. Unfortunately identical PR ratings do not exist for Intel CPUs thus youíll not be able to compare them directly.
Confusing isnít it? But lets look at the facts. It is nothing to be ashamed about that AMD doesn't have a shipping 2GHz part yet, on the contrary it is admirable that their 1.53GHz Athlon XP performs better than the 2GHz Intel part, despite the fact that the Intel CPU has a 500MHz clockspeed advantage, a 400MHz FSB and RDRAM memory with 3.2GB/s of bandwidth. If I were AMD I'd focus my marketing efforts on the fact that their CPUs are faster clock-for-clock, or to make a bolder statement, offer more performance per MHz. As really, Iím not too confident that most of the retailers selling systems from the well known OEMs will be able to provide proper explanation to their customers about AMDís PR-rating. Iíve already seen numerous ads, both in the printed and online press, that sell an Athlon XP 1800+ system as having a 1.8GHz CPU. Iím sure the people buying such a system will feel rather mis-informed when they find out their CPU is running at 1.53GHz rather than 1.8.
I'm confident that once AMD gets their 0.13-micron problems sorted out and can actually start shipping faster Athlons of the Palomino variety, they have what it takes to take on the new 0.13-micron Pentium 4s, even if their CPUs run at a lower clockspeed. Therefore they'll be much better off marketing their performance edge at a lower clockspeed, than to use a model designation for their CPUs, as they have nothing to be ashamed off. Their CPUs are faster clock-for-clock, thus AMD should not try to play the clockspeed game, but actually rise above it and educate its prospective customers that clockspeed simply doesn't equal performance. If they do a proper job they will have debunked one the biggest myths in the industry and have taken a number of cards from the hands of Intel's PR and will force them to play a different game of numbers, performance rather than clockspeed.