Summary: While AMD originally launched its Athlon XP 2600+ back in August, the company recently released a newer 2600+ model utilizing a faster 333MHz bus. And though it physically runs slower than its predecessor, it actually outperforms it in our benchmarks. See how well it performs in our review!
AMD has had no problems announcing new CPUs during the latter half of this year, in the past three months we’ve seen four new releases, the Athlon XP 2400+, 2600+, 2700+ and 2800+. Unfortunately, purchasing these CPUs has been rather difficult, supplies of the Athlon XP 2400+ were dry up until roughly a month ago, while the 2600+ and 2700+ have only become available within the past few weeks.
This has been a little frustrating for consumers in the market for a new CPU, as these chips are no slouches when it comes to performance and are priced to move. Part of the problem originates from AMD’s difficulties with its new 0.13-micron manufacturing process. While AMD practically executed flawlessly at 0.18-micron, they got off to a shaky start at 0.13. The first chip based on the process, the Athlon XP 2200+, hardly scaled beyond its initial clock speed of 1.8GHz. Meanwhile, Intel had no problems cranking up the clock speed of its Pentium 4 processors.
In response, AMD implemented a few changes to its 0.13-micron cores in order to enable higher clock speeds on these processors. An additional metal layer was added to the Thoroughbred core, giving the new chip a total of nine layers. To reduce electromagnetic interference, additional decoupling capacitors were added. Finally, the circuit paths within the processor were optimized. As a result of these changes, the die of the chip is a little bigger and the transistor count increased slightly, so these chips are physically more expensive to produce, but if AMD is able to increase its yields as a result of these changes, the added expense pays for itself.
But that’s not the only thing AMD has done to spice up its Athlon XP line, it has also implemented a 333MHz bus on its Athlon XP 2700+ and 2800+ processors. By moving to a 333MHz bus, bandwidth to the processor increases from 2.1GB/sec to 2.7GB/sec, a 22% increase. This is significant because as clock speeds continue to rise, the processor spends more time idling as it waits to retrieve data from main memory. By increasing the bus speed, the processor is better fed, increasing its efficiency. Another positive is that the processor and memory bus now operate in synch, reducing latency.
So where does a 333MHz Athlon XP 2600+ fit in with all of this? By utilizing a 333MHz bus, AMD can produce a processor that performs similarly to the original 2600+, but at the same time it operates a lower clock speed. Right now demand for the 2600+ exceeds its supply, so by producing a 333MHz 2600+ chip, AMD is able to fill the OEM and retail channels with more processors. During testing we found that the 333MHz Athlon XP 2600+ is also a little faster than its 266MHz predecessor, another bonus!
SIDEBAR: Normally we’d link to the official PR announcing this chip here, but AMD snuck the 333MHz Athlon XP 2600+ under the radar.
Pricing and Availability
Officially AMD is charging the same price for its 266MHz Athlon XPs as it is for the 333MHz chips: $297. Keep in mind this figure represents the bulk price AMD is charging its customers, street prices for the Athlon XP 2600+ are actually a little bit lower than that -- $289 at the time this article was written.
Spotting a 333MHz chip
Since they’re both utilizing the same model number, how do you differentiate between a 266MHz 2600+ and a 333MHz variant? One method would be to read the fine print for the clock speed. The 266MHz Athlon XP 2600+ runs at a clock speed of 2.13GHz (16x133) while the 333MHz XP 2600+ operates at 2.083GHz (12.5x166). Hopefully retailers will also clearly state the bus speed of the Athlon XP 2600+ chip you’re purchasing when you buy your processor.
Now that you’ve got the tools to identify one of these processors, lets see how they perform!
SIDEBAR: System availability on 333MHz Athlon XP 2600+ is expected by the end of this month. 266MHz chips as well as the Athlon XP 2700+ are currently shipping from many system manufacturers.
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
At 800x600x32, the 333MHz Athlon XP 2600+ performs five percent faster than the 266MHz chip, allowing it to outperform the Pentium 4 2.53GHz in this test. In fact, it’s able to close to within 3% of the Athlon XP 2700+ and 2.8GHz Pentium 4.
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
We see an even larger gap between the 333MHz Athlon XP 2600+ and the 266MHz variant – six percentage points. Once again the margin between the XP 2600+ (333) and Athlon XP 2700+ is 3%. Considering the money you save, the XP 2600+ turns out to be a pretty good value.
Quake III - High Quality
The margins largely remain the same in Quake 3 as they were in Serious Sam 2, seeing these numbers we’re sure many of you are probably eyeing a 333MHz Athlon XP 2600+!
Comanche 4 demo
Comanche 4 is more CPU-limited than the previous tests, as most flight simulators are. We’ve also noticed that Comanche 4 tends to favor the Pentium 4 platform. In any case, the margin between the 333MHz and 266MHz Athlon XP closes to 3% at 800x600, which is also the margin between the XP 2700+ and the XP 2600+ (333MHz).
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Unreal Tournament’s botmatch tests utilize the CPU to handle bot AI, making it a good test of the single-player campaign, but not very indicative of multiplayer. In any case, the Athlon XP chips sweep this test, with the XP 2700+ and both Athlon XP 2600+ finishing in the top three spots (the 333MHz XP 2600+ outperforms the 266MHz variant by 5% at 800x600).
Jedi Knight II - OpenGL
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