Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Retail PCs: Intel or AMD?

Does it matter whether you buy a machine with an Intel processor or one with an AMD processor? Both companies will tell you it does: Intel would stress the better performance it claims to offer, and AMD would talk about better integrated graphics and better value. But with a new crop of machines designed for Windows 7 now on the market, I wanted to take a look for myself.

When you see a review of a PC online or in a magazine, it's typically a review of a machine, and particularly the configuration set by the manufacturers. Sometimes these are what you would get if you bought a machine at a retail outlet, but sometimes they aren't. So I decided to check out what performance would be like on two relatively inexpensive retail computers. I ended up with two Hewlett-Packard notebooks from Best Buy. I ran a variety of tests, and found notable differences in some things, but not in others.

The first machine is an HP dv4-2045dx with a 2.2-GHz AMD Turion II X2, ATI Radeon HD 4200 Graphics, a 320GB hard drive, and a 14.1-inch screen (1280 by 800); it weighs 5.4 pounds and cost $579.99. The other is an HP dv6-1355dx with a 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD, a 500GB drive, and a 15.6-inch screen (1366 by 768); it weighs 6.3 pounds and cost $679.99. These aren't the thinnest, lightest systems you can buy, nor are the most powerful, but both seem like great values for the money, and are the type of notebook computer most people are buying.

But both came with 4GB of memory, writable DVD drives, and a Web camera, and all sorts of ports. Obviously, the machines aren't identical—for $100 more, you get a larger display, a bigger hard drive, and an Intel processor on the dv6. The question I wanted to answer was whether that made a difference.