Intel still questions Win2K's speed needs

Last Thursday, Microsoft rebutted the chip maker's claims that to run well, the new operating system requires significantly more processing power than most computers offer.

On stage at the Intel Developers Forum here, just hours before Microsoft officially released Windows 2000, Microsoft spokesperson Charles Fitzgerald delicately raised the issue. He also noted that Intel performed its tests on a beta release of the operating system.

The beta version -- sent to Intel months before Microsoft completed its final work -- was not "performance tuned", Fitzgerald said. The shipping version of Win2000 actually runs faster on existing hardware, he said.

The disagreement between the two companies began after Patrick Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of Intel's desktop product group, mentioned last Tuesday that Intel tests showed Win2000 would require a processor running at least 250MHz faster for comparable performance to Windows NT.

Tests by PC World, also on late beta versions of Windows 2000, found that significant chip speed and memory is better (no surprise), but is not absolutely required. The lowest threshold that supported satisfactory performance was a Pentium 166 with 64MB of memory; and 128MB is better. And, of course, Intel has a particular interest in promoting the newest, fastest CPUs.

What's more, PC World benchmarks of the final Windows 2000 code running three common desktop applications found the new operating system ran slightly faster or on par with its predecessor Windows NT 4.0. It performed about 15 per cent faster than Windows 98 SE. The test systems were 600MHz Pentium III machines in both 64MB and 128MB memory configurations.

Gelsinger stands behind his statements, citing tests performed by Intel's own information technology department.

"When we do a new software deployment, we can't have it drop below a threshold of performance or all of our customers get mad," he said. "So we compared the 2000 load that we want to deploy, which is Windows 2000 and Office 2000, and compared that against the current software load, which was NT 3.51, Office 97." Achieving equivalent performance, he said, "requires equivalent response time, and guess what -- you need more performance to do that".

That additional performance can only come from more processing power, he said. Intel recommends about "200 to 250 more".

Intel spokesman Manny Vara emphasised that the tests are "based on Intel data and our in-house environment", which includes systems running many performance-hungry applications.

The results of those tests, he said, show that to get comparable performance, Intel must upgrade from its 400MHz PII-based systems to 650MHz PIII-based PCs.

Microsoft says Windows 2000 requires only a Pentium 133, with 64MB of memory and a 2GB hard disk with at least 650MB of free space.

Gelsinger later went on to praise the new OS. "It's a great product," he said. "It's just doing a lot more."

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