AMD has been rapidly pursuing Intel of late, and matching the chip giant move for move. The Athlon XP 3000+ Barton was the latest AMD offensive, and doubled the L2 cache from 256K to 512K, thereby equaling that of the Pentium 4 Northwood. This was a significant release for AMD, and by moving the Barton core to the Athlon XP 2500+ and 2800+, it proved very competitive at the high-end desktop and enthusiast markets. The Barton was doubly important due to the Athlon 64 delays and the need for a high-end desktop part to bridge the gap between the 32-bit and 64-bit AMD processors.
Another area that Intel has been making definite headway is with system bus speeds. Their initial Pentium 4 models used the 400 MHz front-side bus (quad-pumped 100 MHz system bus), and Intel later moved to the 533 MHz and 800 MHz FSB speeds. This was a real coup for Intel, as by jacking the front-side bus it allowed for faster processor speeds to be toned down or delayed, and basically utilized the faster bus for the majority of performance increases. This was never more apparent than with the Pentium 4-3.0C (800 MHz), which was actually clocked lower than the Pentium 4-3.06 GHz (533 MHz) processor, yet outperformed it on virtually all levels.
It is only natural that AMD would be looking at the same avenue for their next release, and after moving from the 266 MHz to 333 MHz FSB, hitting 400 MHz would seem to be the next logical step. The Athlon XP 3200+ does just that, and uses a combination of CPU core and FSB speed increases to take yet another run at the Intel Pentium 4. But just like the Pentium 4-3.0C, the overall performance benefits must be weighed, and its impact on the AMD platforms needs to be examined.
This move to the 400 MHz front-side bus has a direct link to the desktop platform, as it did when Intel introduced the i875P to coincide with the Pentium 4-3.0C release. Not only did the Pentium 4 front-side bus move to 800 MHz, but the i875P also offered dual-channel DDR400 memory speeds to match, thereby transitioning any gains from the 800 MHz FSB straight to memory performance as well. AMD is working the same magic, but is using the existing nForce2 architecture. The newest nForce2 revision supports the 400 MHz FSB and features standard dual-channel DDR400 support.
In this review, we'll do a quick run-down on the Athlon XP 3200+ architecture, clock speeds and new 400 MHz front-side bus, along with taking AMD's newest CPU through our usual torture test of game and application benchmarking against the best from both Intel and AMD. The Barton core wowed the crowds with its 512K L2 cache, high-end performance and value, and it will be interesting to see how this processor utilizes the power of the 400 MHz FSB.