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!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

David Essex

PC World
Show Comments

Brand Post

Shining a light on creativity

MSI has long pushed the boundaries of invention with its ever-evolving range of laptops but it has now pulled off a world first with the new MSI Creative 17.

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?