First tests find 1.7-GHz Celeron an iffy chip

In its latest move to woo budget PC buyers, Intel Corp. has ratcheted up the clock speed of its Celeron processor from 1.3 GHz to 1.7 GHz and pumped up the frontside bus speed from 100 MHz to 400 MHz. But based on PC World's exclusive tests of a PC using the new Celeron, you should avoid it: This chip is all bark and no bite.

The new Celeron uses the same core as older Pentium 4 chips. But Intel decided to ship this processor with a scant 128KB Level 2 cache, half the size of the L2 cache of previous Celeron and older P4 chips (newer P4s have a 512KB L2 cache).

Low performance

The 128KB L2 cache evidently hindered the speed of the preproduction 1.7-GHz Celeron system tested, an US$849 Gateway 300S: It managed a meager score of 83 on PC WorldBench 4 tests. A comparable 1.7-GHz Pentium 4 system--with the same integrated graphics--ran more than 10 percent faster, earning a score of 93.

The CD-RW drive, monitor, and speakers on the $1253 P4 test system, a preproduction Gateway 500, were better than those on the 300S. But configured just like the 300S except for the CPU (central processing unit), the 500 sells for $1028--only $179 more.

In addition, the 1.7-GHz Celeron system actually performed worse than older Celeron machines that PC World has tested. A comparable 1.3-GHz Celeron Dell system earned a score of 92. A similar 1.2-GHz Celeron PC from Gateway logged a score of 89, and a Hewlett-Packard system scored 90.

Sounds fast

Intel decided to go with the 128KB cache size in order to deliver the 1.7-GHz Celeron at a desired price point, says company spokesperson George Alfs. It's notable that the decision also helps keep the performance of the fastest Celeron chip distinctly lower than P4 chips.

Analysts say consumers should not be amused.

"I think Intel's handling of [this] Celeron represents a complete disregard for its customers," says Kevin Krewell, senior analyst at MicroDesign Resources. "The 128KB of L2 cache is simply Intel crippling the processor's performance to make the latest Pentium 4 look better. It would be like going to a car dealer and finding that the economy car has only half the cylinders enabled."

Most 1.7-GHz Celeron systems will ship with Intel's just-announced 845GL chip set, which offers the same integrated graphics technology as the new 845G--except, notably, no upgrade graphics upgrade path for users.

When the 1.7-GHz Celeron systems ship, vendors will also offer PCs based on a new version of the old-style Celeron running at 1.4 GHz. Although it uses the old 100-MHz frontside bus, it retains the 256KB Level 2 cache, so PCs powered by this chip should outperform systems equipped with the new 1.7-GHz Celeron, Krewell says.

This means that if you want a sub-$1000 system based on an Intel chip, the 1.4-GHz Celeron may be a smarter option than the 1.7-GHz version.

AMD had its own competitive value chip, the Duron. But recently, the company announced it will discontinue its Duron processor, opting instead to offer its popular Athlon processor across the price spectrum.

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