Most of the central processing units (CPUs) found in computers are manufactured by either Intel or AMD (Advanced Micro Devices). Though Intel processors are better known and many consider them to be more powerful, AMD processors offer consumers a lower cost and powerful alternative to Intel's CPUs. Intel and AMD's flagship processors, the Pentium and Athlon, respectively, are comparable in many ways. Nevertheless, there are some key differences between the two brands of processors.

History of Intel Pentium

The Intel Pentium processor was first introduced in 1993. Being the first Pentium processor, it was simply called the Pentium Processor. The Pentium name, however, has come to represent several subsequent CPU models, including the Pentium 2, Pentium 3, Pentium 4 and Pentium Dual-Core CPUs. Each succeeding CPU model has improved on the last in multiple ways, most notable by increasing the CPU's processing speed and memory cache size. The "Pentium" name helped Intel gain a near-monopoly over the CPU market for a large part of the 1990s.

History of AMD Athlon

Intel's near-monopoly was shattered when AMD introduced its Athlon line of processors in 1999. Like the Intel Pentium brand, Athlon has branded several AMD processors, including the Athlon XP, Athlon X2 and Athlon 64. Though technically "inferior" (on paper) to their Intel counterparts, these processors offer consumers the same, if not better performance, through a few technological differences.

Memory Cache

One of the key differences between Intel Pentium and AMD Athlon processors is the way they each store and access the CPU memory. This difference is also what accounts for the AMD Athlon processor's relatively lower price and comparable performance (with technically lower specs) with the Intel Pentium. The Intel Pentium processors store their memory in an L2 (level 2) cache that is roughly double the size of the cache found in comparable AMD processors. The L2 cache is a memory bank that stores and transmits data to the L1 (level 1) cache which, in turn, stores and transmits data to the processor itself; the larger the L2 cache, the faster the processing speed. AMD Athlon processors, although they have roughly half the L2 cache space, are able to match this speed by integrating the memory cache into the processor itself. This technological decision allows AMD Athlon processors to access their cache data much quicker than Intel Pentium processors, even though the cache is smaller.

CPU Benchmark Test Results

When the original AMD Athlon processor (now dubbed "Athlon Classic") was released, Intel was already on its third Pentium processor, the Pentium 3. To get an idea of how these CPUs stacked up to one another, a CPU benchmark test was conducted. The results were as follows and show the comparable nature of the two processors:

CPU marks (the higher, the better): Athlon, 54.6; Pentium 3, 48.2 FPU marks (the higher, the better): Athlon, 3270; Pentium 3, 3340 MIPs (Million Instructions Per Second): Athlon, 1973; Pentium 3, 1795 MFLOPs (Mega Floating-Point Operations Per Second): Athlon, 797; Pentium 3: 892 Bits Per Second: Athlon, 1254; Pentium 3: 1586