AMD vs Intel showdown

We’re not the first to be criticised by certain AMD supporters. They argue that we’re biased towards Intel because of the lower review scores we usually give AMD-based equipment. And yes, the review scores are lower, but there should be no question of any bias – we desperately want AMD to start succeeding.

Every processor launch, platform arrival or big announcement sees our ears perk up like a dog that’s heard its master rattling its bowl, but we’re perpetually left with our tail between our legs when we actually get our hands on the products to put them through our rigorous tests.

One of AMD’s press relations agencies contacted us to offer a straight comparison – one machine with Intel, one with AMD – suggesting enthusiastically that AMD’s mobile platform had been misconstrued, and it was synthetic benchmarks (those that don’t require user input, like 3DMark) that had shaped our opinion on AMD.

Run real world benchmarks on the machines, we were told, and we’d soon see the difference. Well, we privately guffawed at the thought of AMD’s Turion X2 architecture besting the venerable Centrino platform, and then gratefully accepted their offer.

After all, they wouldn’t have offered if there hadn’t been something in it, right?

Test 1: Boot

Real world test number one, then. One of the most annoying things about owning a PC is the time it takes to get going; what could be more real than that as an initial test? Nothing.

And AMD, sadly, has dropped its chips in a puddle on this one. From a complete shut down to the appearance of the flashing cursor on the Vista Basic log-in screen, the Centrino machine took 38 seconds, while the Turion bumbled away for an additional 19 seconds, coming in at 0:58.

It did, however, manage to pull some seconds back when we then tried a cold restart, taking 1:16 (against Intel’s 1:08) to make it back to the password prompt. These being laptops, you’re just as likely to be returning them from sleep mode as you are to be booting them up from cold.

The Turion managed a fully respectable 24 seconds when entering sleep mode from the Vista desktop, and an eerily similar 24 seconds to wake itself back up again.

We’d like to confirm that we think this is a perfectly fine lick of speed, just in case any sensitive AMD fans are reading. Thirty seconds would be fine. But when the Centrino manages to enter sleep mode in 10 seconds and wake up in 19, we have to give this to the Intel platform.

Winner: Centrino

Test 2: Battery

Continuing the real world theme, here’s some advice for aspiring laptop owners: don’t buy either of these machines if your intention is to use them on the move; not only are they monstrously heavy, they appear to have one rechargeable AA battery’s worth of portable power.

And establishing a new theme of using synthetic benchmarks while cackling at the thought that we wouldn’t, we enlisted the help of a wonderful benchmark called Battery Eater, which taxed the CPU, hard drive and graphics unit until each laptop gave up and shut down.

AMD’s machine lasted a paltry one hour 11 minutes, while Intel clung on to do one hour 34, but these extra 23 minutes don’t represent a real victory by any means – both scores are weak. The clumsily lit 17inch panel on these Inspirons was unlikely to have helped.

Winner: Centrino

Test 3: Graphics

Ah, here’s the ace in AMD’s hole – graphics. Collaboration with seemingly revitalised sister company ATI has seen AMD move towards a united platform model, where it creates processors, chipsets and graphics units that are actively designed to work well together.