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SMP is not for gaming

Athlon MP processors are powerful, but us gamers have no real use for them

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

AMD have decided to separate multiprocessing from the desktop market by releasing Athlon MP as an entirely separate line. Unlike Intel, whose Pentium III processors were dual processor capable, AMD believes MP systems are business-orientated, and offer little advantage over the company's desktop chips, particularly given the enterprise-level pricing. Whether that's good news or bad, AMD are certainly right about the MP's application for desktop users; there is virtually none. Although Athlon MP boasts enhancements - it is the first non-mobile AMD processor to offer a full implementation of Intel's SSE instructions - they carry little weight with fragmaniacs. Like the Athlon XP, MP features 3Dnow! Professional and advanced data prefetch routines that aid productivity, those may be useful, but at what cost? In terms of memory bandwidth performance, our dual MP 1.2GHz system running on the AMD 760MP chipset lost out to a single and dual Xeon 1.7GHz system by some 400Mb/s. This will take its toll in the server markets but it does dwarf the achievements of a single Athlon 1.2GHz desktop chip by a similar amount. Interestingly though, if you go back to our review of the 1.53GHz Athlon XP you can see that it doesn't reach the heady heights of either system here in terms of memory bandwidth performance. Not the strongest of starts, but as far as the rest of the benchmarks we ran are concerned, Athlon MP is a belter. Database performance, 3D rendering, Winstone Workstation performance, Linux compilation performance; in all of these tests the Athlon MP came out on top. Overall system performance as marked by SysMark 2001 puts the chip in between the achievements of the single and dual 1.7GHz Xeon systems. Not a bad run as a server! When you put it through its paces as a gaming chip, however, it starts to disappoint. Pit it against its big brother the 1.53GHz Athlon XP (which is admittedly somewhat more expensive) in single CPU configuration and it has difficulty matching the scores. It comes close, but not as close as the £40 cheaper 1.33GHz Athlon. Slot in the second CPU and what do you know, virtually no games support it. As we showed in our original article looking at the dual Pentium III system, you gain perhaps five frames per second by switching on SMP-compatibility in Quake 3-engine games, and little else supports it besides. Windows Millennium doesn't even support SMP, and Windows 2000 and XP only do so if you install with two chips present. And even then, the process of threading the load of an application between the two chips is nigh on impossible. As a desktop user, there are very few occasions when throwing two heavy duty processes at individual processors helps improve productivity. Ultimately, the story is still the same - you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and in this case the dog is the operating system and software we use. Virtually no desktop user runs Linux, and those that do aren't likely to play games on them. That was surely proven once and for all by the recent disintegration of Loki's Linux gaming company. It would be nice to say that the Athlon MP's performance makes all the difference, but there isn't much point buying one of these now, let alone two of them, while the prices of normal Athlons are so much lower, and the various components required to get an Athlon MP system running mount up to a substantial packet. A motherboard for over £300? Why? As a server operator… things look good, but, well, that's not really our concern. Related Feature - AMD Athlon XP review

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