How It Works: CPU

Both companies make models for high-end, midrange, and low-end machines. Other companies produce CPUs as well, such as Motorola's Power PC 750 which powers Macintosh computers.

AMD's Athlon and Intel's Pentium III share the pinnacle of power for CPUs that run Microsoft's Windows operating system. They are roughly comparable in design and performance, both including enhancements that speed up 3D games and computer-aided design software.

Intel and AMD's high-end CPUs power a wide range of PCs, from midpriced home systems (in the 600- to 850-MHz range) to the most expensive engineering workstations and high-end multimedia systems (around 866 MHz and above). In the newest models, the CPU represents anywhere from around $200 to about $1000 of the system cost.

On the high end, PCs with 1-GHz chips will run about $2700 to $3300, depending on what other components the PC offers. In the middle range, systems powered by 600-MHz to 850-MHz chips from AMD or Intel cost from about $900 to more than $1600.

Economy-priced (sub-$150) chips usually run at slower clock speeds than Athlons and PIIIs, have smaller or slower caches, and have fewer performance enhancements. AMD's K6-III and K6-2 and Intel's Celeron anchor low-end PCs selling for less than $1000.

Portable computers often can't handle the fastest CPUs. A desktop design can dissipate heat much better than a laptop can, which means laptops have to use slower and less powerful CPUs. Faster processors also require more power to run, which eats up battery life. Currently, the fastest portables available run at about 700 MHz.

Looking Ahead

CPU makers are always making changes to improve performance. Recently, they've moved from a fabrication process called .25 micron to the new .18 micron, which allows closer spacing between smaller transistors, and thus provides higher speeds and less heat from the same architectures. In addition, the aluminum interconnects between transistors are beginning to be replaced with copper, which conducts electricity better than aluminum.

But these enhancements don't mean the push for more raw speed won't continue. Intel has announced a new chip, codenamed Willamette, that will run at 1.5 GHz and should be available later this year. AMD has promised to keep pace.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

David Essex

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?