HP Pavilion a1640n & a1630n: Intel vs. AMD?

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PERFORMANCE

As mentioned earlier, both systems felt perfectly responsive with typical applications. We tried to get a handle on what the performance differences might be with a couple of standard benchmark suites, a couple of games, and some known applications.

Benchmarks

PCMark05 produces a measure of the PC’s overall performance for a specific type of usage. It is a single number that is easily comparable to that of other PCs. PCMark05 targets typical home usage. The load sequence includes graphics, office applications, web page loading and other typical home activities.

In contrast, 3DMark is a popular tool for benchmarking 3D graphics performance of the latest PC hardware. It uses selected sequences of advanced 3D computer games to accurately gauge the speed of play with those very games. The CPU result has some affect on the final score in 3DMark06 compared to 3DMark05.

Both benchmarks were run several times on each PC.

Performance Benchmark Scores
PC
PCMark05
(AC Power)
3DMark05
(AC Power)
3DMark06
(AC Power)
a1640n
(Intel)
3353
(110W)
624
(109W)
265
(109W)
a1630n
(AMD)
3760
(115W)
661
(113W)
210
(115W)

The results were somewhat surprising. We didn't really expect much in the way differences. Both PCs crawled through the gaming sequences of these benchmarks, rarely reaching even one frame per second in 3DMark06 and maybe hitting 3-4 fps in 3DMark05. (Motion pictures need 24 fps.) Each machine crashed at least once running 3DMark06. There's no way you'd want to play any of the games featured in 3DMark with either of these systems in stock configuration. The few places where difference seemed to show up were in the Physics and 3D tests of PCMark, where the AMD system had a noticeable speed and visual clarity advantage. The slight advantage of the AMD system in 3DMark05 seems more representative of what we saw on the screen. The reversed score in 3DMark06 may be due to the higher emphasis on the CPU in the newer version of the benchmark.

Another Look at Energy Consumption

It's notable that the maximum power draw of both systems was considerably lower than in the CPU stress tests, and the difference was also smaller. If we use 115W and 110W as the maximum load for energy consumption estimates from the previous section on power, the results favor the AMD system more than when the unrealistically high 135W and 117W peaks were used.

Daily Energy Use Estimates based on 115W/110W Peaks
System
Home
Office
a1640n
(Intel)
349 Wh
657 Wh
a1630n
(AMD)
277 Wh
453 Wh
AMD advantage
21% less energy
32% less energy

Web browsing, Document reading/editing

These applications and functions are not generally used for any kind of performance testing. Yet, they represent activities relevant to anyone who uses a PC. Video performance is an important aspect of such activities. Not the kind of action performance needed for games, but clarity, legibility, focus, and so on. Superior 2D performance made Matrox video cards so popular among graphics and design enthusiast in the days of VGA-only interface. Matrox cards were clearer, sharper and better for working closely with images or documents. (DVI output has largely erased the Matrox advantage, but there are still difference in such performance among video cards.) And since VGA is the only integrated interface that either of these PCs provide...

Both systems provide a screen that's more washed out that what we're used to seeing with the discrete video card systems in the lab. But there is a difference between the 2D graphics performance of these HP systems. Over the course of two weeks of daily usage and comparison, the nVidia 6150 LE graphics chip of the AMD-based a1630N consistently provided a sharper, clearer, more legible and easier to work with display on both the 1280x1024 19" LCD monitor as well as the ADI 19" CRT monitor (still a very sharp display though a bit dim now). The difference was not night and day, but it was easily noticed with text on any light background. Both web pages and local documents were easier to read and edit with the nVidia video chip. Especially with text, the Intel screen created more eye strain due to decreased legibility. Monitor screen adjustments did not really help, although turning the brightness all the way down made it better with both PCs.

Gaming

The advanced games in 3DMark are definitely out of reach for these systems. But how about games that are a bit older, perhaps less demanding? The minimum hardware requirements for 2004's first person shooter game Far Cry are: AMD Athlon 1 GHz or Pentium III 1 GHz processor, 256 MB RAM, and a 64 MB DirectX 9.0b-compatible graphics card. Seems pretty modest. Even less demanding is 2003's Command & Conquer: Generals, which calls for 800 MHz Pentium III or AMD Athlon processor, 128 MB RAM, 1.8 GB free hard drive space and 32 MB video card using the Nvidia GeForce2, ATI Radeon 7500 AGP video card, or more recent chipset with DirectX 8.1 compatible driver. Of course, they don't like to tell you that with minimum requirements, you might not even want to play the game at all; game developer companies do everything to lower barriers to purchase.

C&C Generals is one of the very first 3D real time strategy games. It was highly received, a standout in a long line of RTS games from Entertainment Arts. Generals is playable on the AMD/HP machine, but compromises have to be made. At 1280 x 960 screen size, the graphic detail cannot be set any higher than medium. For a bit more lively speed you may need to drop it down to low. It still looks OK, and it's quite playable, if a bit slow. A smaller screen size helps, but the large maps in the game call for the largest screen size. With the Intel/HP machine, at 1280 x 960 and even on lowest display detail, this game not really playable. Especially when it's a medium (or larger) size map with more than a handful of moving elements, the action slows to a crawl.

Far Cry was considered about the best of its genre in the year of its release. A Far Cry time demo of 3726 frames was used for a comparative reference. On an A64 X2-4800+ system with 2 GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon 1800GTO, this demo flew, completing a loop in 47 seconds at an average 80 frames per second. The game scenes also looked very good, lush and detailed. The system took 50~60W more power to accomplish this performance.

With the AMD/HP PC, the movement slowed way down to a steady 9~10 fps, but the scenes were recognizable, and most of the details looked OK, except for the water, which was highly pixelated and unnatural. It took over 6 minutes to complete a loop. With the Intel/HP machine, the scenes became unrecognizable messes, action crawled to 5.4 fps, and the loop took nearly 12 minutes to complete.

Far Cry Time Demo
(3726 Frames)
PC
ATI Radeon 1800 GTO
control system
HP a1630n
(AMD)
HP a1640n
(Intel)
Performance
46.6 seconds
80 fps
154~159W AC
370 seconds
10 fps
98~106W AC
694 seconds
5.4 fps
101~103W AC

The photos of the screens below are self-explanatory.






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