Intel's 1-GHz PIII Edges AMD's Athlon

Systems from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM are in the wings; none are shipping now. PC World's preliminary tests are on an IBM Aptiva S Series GZ with the 1-GHz CPU, 128MB of Rambus memory, and Windows 98 Second Edition.

The WorldBench 2000 results: The 1-GHz PIII system scored a 165, which is about 5 percent faster than the best commercial 1-GHz Athlon PC World has tested, the Gateway Select 1000. The difference is slight, but Intel will claim bragging rights.

The 1-GHz Pentium III IBM Aptiva test machine includes a 128MB RDRAM memory, a 40GB hard drive, a 4X-4X-32X CD-RW drive, an 8X-40X DVD-ROM drive, a V.90 modem, a 10-mbps HomePNA network card, and Microsoft Windows 98 SE for $3099. An IBM G96 short-neck 19-inch CRT monitor adds $499 to that price. IBM starts taking orders Wednesday and expects to begin shipping units next week. [Note: After this story was originally posted, IBM dropped the price of the Aptiva S Series GZ to $2999, and says it will begin shipping this week. --Editor] Prior to Wednesday, Intel's fastest processor was 800 MHz. The 1-GHz Aptiva runs about 6 percent faster than the fastest PIII-800 system that PC World has tested, a Gateway system with 128MB of SDRAM and Windows 98 SE that scored 156. Compaq is also selling a 1-GHz Athlon system, which scored 154 in WorldBench, 7 percent below the Pentium-powered 1-GHz Aptiva.

The speed boost comes with a real-world price premium. Notably, Dell's 1-GHz PIII system is an uncharacteristically expensive machine. Called the Special Edition Dell Dimension, it will sell for a whopping $5999 and includes 256MB of RDRAM, a 30GB hard drive, a video card with 64MB Double Data Rate memory, a 3X-12X DVD-ROM drive, an 8X-4X-32X CD-RW drive, a V.90 modem, and a 19-inch monitor.

The company is taking a different approach to this launch, according to Ron Van Dell, Dimension general manager. It will initially offer the 1-GHz PIII only in a "deliberately rich configuration."

Any changes to the basic configuration will likely be upward, Van Dell says, because this machine is for "people who want the latest and greatest." Dell will begin taking orders within days and will begin shipping shortly after that, Van Dell says. The company will offer lower-price configurations later in the year, when more 1-GHz PIIIs are available, he says.

Likewise, the HP Pavilion 1G carries an estimated street price of $3499. It comes with 128MB of RDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, an 8X DVD-ROM drive, a CD-RW drive, and 32MB of DDR memory on the video card, plus a V.90 56-kbps modem and Intel 10/100 network card. Adding a 19-inch HP Pavilion M90 monitor costs $499.

In comparison, the 1-GHz Athlon Compaq Presario PC World tested includes 256MB of SDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, an 8X CD-RW drive, a 10X DVD-ROM drive, a network interface card, and a 19-inch monitor for $3799. The 1-GHz Athlon Gateway system PC World tested sells for $3308 and has 128MB of SDRAM, a 30GB hard drive, an 8X-32X DVD-ROM drive, a CD-RW drive, a V.90 modem, and a 19-inch monitor.

All of the 1-GHz PIII systems announced at launch cost significantly more than 1-GHz Athlon systems announced Monday. At least part of that cost is due to the still-high price of RDRAM memory.

Intel has said since February the 1-GHz PIII would launch in limited quantities until after midyear. What does that mean? It means to buy one, you'll likely have to buy direct--via the Web or a retail kiosk--from a small group of vendors, says Intel spokesperson George Alfs. Such vendors, including Dell, HP, and IBM, can get products out to enthusiasts the fastest, which is why Intel picked them to receive the first 1-GHz PIII chips.

The new processor will ship in volume by the third quarter, and systems should hit retail stores shortly thereafter, he says. Pentium-III CPUs have been in short supply generally, although Intel is ramping up to meet demand.

A Note About PC WorldBench 2000

These tests of the 1-GHz Athlon systems are among the first use of PC WorldBench 2000, an update to the PC WorldBench benchmark tests. PC WorldBench 2000 is based on 11 real-world applications: Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Visio; Lotus WordPro and 1-2-3; Netscape Navigator; Intuit Quicken; Adobe Photoshop; and Corel PhotoPaint.

The PC WorldBench 2000 score reflects a system's performance compared with a baseline system: a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion 8380 desktop with a 400-MHz Pentium II processor and 96MB of memory. The baseline system's PC WorldBench 2000 score is 100. If another system achieves a score of 110, that system is 10 percent faster than the baseline HP Pavilion when performing basic business tasks.

PC WorldBench 2000 scores should not be compared with PC WorldBench 98 scores reported previously. The PC WorldBench 98 scores are not equivalent to PC WorldBench 2000 numbers. PC World will retest systems when appropriate, to determine their PC WorldBench 2000 scores.

Laurianne McLaughlin and Jeff Kuta of PC World contributed to this report.

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