Tuesday, September 26. 2000
Now here's something slightly different! Up to now, I've generally floated around AMD-related stuff, but now I've just put up VIA Cyrix III 533, 600MHz Review for your perusing. Yes, Cyrix is back, but is it with vengeance? Go take a look!
Let's now look at 3D performance. Duron benchmarks are not available because they were not tested with the same video card. As expected, Celeron easily beats Cyrix III again, despite the fact that Celeron being benchmarked was clocked 12% lower. Take a look at Quake 3 Arena's 640x480 results, which are heavily influenced by CPU performance because it is relatively low-bandwidth, and video card chipset's speed or other subsystem is not much of a bottleneck. That's right - since Q3A's not heavily 3DNow! optimized, Cyrix III's weak FPU performance shows through. In case of 1024x768, though, because of the FSB being twice as wide as Celeron, the score gets slightly better, covering the deficiency in raw power.
This just goes on to show that Cyrix III is certainly NOT meant for gaming. If you're planning to build a cheap, but capable gaming system, there's no better choice than Duron, which is only about $30 more expensive and should offer better performance than even Celeron shown here.
The screen above was taken at the boot time when testing Cyrix III 600MHz. You can see Cyrix III's name on the screen here, but I couldn't get this nor get the system to boot at all. Why? Because BIOS was a bit old and couldn't recognize the chip. Thankfully, I was able to get a more recent BIOS supporting Cyrix III and was able to continue the testing. Just a reminder for those of you planning to get a Cyrix III - get the BIOS updated first.
Alrighty.. This review was meant to be a short 2-page review... sigh. But it is not, as you can see... It's a good thing I'm finally on the last page. Now for the conclusion. For people in the business who'd like to get their systems as cheap as possible should get this chip. As an added bonus(?), the employees would be discouraged from playing games at work while not affecting productivity of the usual business applications. For the average users and people who are already enthusiastic of the computer hardware so much that he/she was actually able to visit/read this page should avoid this chip like plague.
Having said that, you'd probably wonder why I would devote twice the amount of pages to show you such a terrible CPU at work. This is because I was so frustrated in reviewing the chip that I wanted to show you everything I thought about it. Pull out the benchmarks and this could've been a rant. Yawn.. I need sleep again. Oh, yeah, don't forget to type away your opinions on the discussion board!
Duron benchmarks come from earlier article for reference. What do we have here? Cyrix III's performance is not only easily beaten by a Celeron of lower MHz, but it gets run over flat by other 'value' chip, AMD Duron. A Celeron 466 is posting up to twice the speed of a Cyrix III 600. This is certainly not good. If you look at the Whetstone(FPU) benchmark, Cyrix III's FPU is simply jaw-dropping(the other way around). It is somehow overcome with the implementing 3DNow!, as Multimedia FPU benchmark shows much better score. However, this means that unless an FPU-intensive program such as a game supports 3DNow! well, expect incredible slowdowns.
These results were not very far from the expectations, but as you can see, VIA's decisions on choosing MHz over performance is having some serious whiplash. It's just sad that many customers may fall victim to the 'MHz sells' scheme. The impact is vastly more serious when comparing Cyrix III with AMD's Duron. Once upon a time (about 2 years ago) AMD and Cyrix's offerings had relatively similar performance in general. Now, Duron outperforms Cyrix by about three times on average! Despite the fact that both chips are competing in the same market segment, comparing Durons to Cyrix III looks almost wrong.
What if you take the actual selling price to account? Cyrix III is expected to be selling at around $60 for 600MHz version. Since Celeron sells for about $90~100 for the same MHz, price-performance ratio is similar or slightly bad for Cyrix III. This fact is rather fortunate for Cyrix III, because in the area where raw CPU performance doesn't matter much, such as in general business environment, this looks attractive - you get the performance that you only paid for. The local distributor is not dumb, and this is exactly where they'll focus on the sales of the chip.
Quite a few things have been changed to Cyrix since last year and some of them are obvious on the picture above. You can click on the picture for bigger image. First of all, since VIA owns Cyrix now, the company that produces the chip is VIA, and Cyrix is now just the brand of the chip itself. And why is it 'III' when where weren't a 'Cyrix I' or 'Cyrix II' before? It's possibly because the last Cyrix chip was M-II, which is now marketed as 'VIA Cyrix MII'. Also noticeable is the disappearance of the 'PR' speed rating system which followed with Cyrix chips and for a short time, AMD chips. Now Cyrix is 'proudly' showing its true MHz speed. Let's have a look at the chip's features.
As you can see, Cyrix III is to be plugged into Socket 370, so it's trying to compete directly with Intel's Celeron processor. This move from aging Socket7(or Super7) to widespread Socket 370 means that Cyrix III may please many users as an upgrade option. Support for MMX and 3DNow! would provide decent boost in speed where it's supported, but unfortunately, lack of SSE support means it may fall short of newer Celerons with Coppermine core ('Celemine') which support it. Supporting 100MHz or 133MHz FSB is impressive, nevertheless, because Celerons only support 66MHz. The chips reviewed (533MHz, 600MHz) support 133MHz FSB, while the remaining one (500MHz) supports 100MHz FSB.
But do you spot something missing here? If you've seen the features of the chips that came out since 1999, you should know. This processor does NOT have integrated L2 cache. This is a bigger problem than it was back in Socket7 days when chips with integrated L2 cache was generally non-existent (excluding hard-to-produce AMD K6-III); on a Socket7 motherboard, you can find around 256KB to 2MB of L2 cache installed, but on a Socket 370 motherboard, there is no L2 cache installed because it assumes that the installed CPU already has one. With today's CPUs far outrunning memory in terms of speed, having L2 cache to buffer the memory is crucial in boosting performance. The lack of it in Cyrix III is a rather big mistake.
Actually, the original chip that was to become Cyrix III, codenamed Joshua and in development at Cyrix at the time of VIA's acquisition, DID have integrated L2 cache. This chip still used the PR speed rating system, but if you drop the PR and put it head-to-head with Celeron, it gave Celeron run for its money, MHz for MHz. What happened now? VIA decided to throw away the original Cyrix Joshua core with Centaur(as I've noted last page, also acquired by VIA) WinChip-based core. WinChip's design lacks L2 cache, is known to have unspectacular performance, but does consume less power, as it is evident on the feature list.
The reason behind this 'stupid' decision is that VIA succumbed to the industry-wide belief that 'the MHz sells' - no matter what the actual performance of the chip is, customers regard MHz as the sole rule of speed and buys whatever that has faster MHz. This is sadly true, even though many power users know this is basically wrong. Centaur design yields higher MHz than Cyrix design (you see a 600MHz version for this review, but the original Cyrix design hardly went beyond 400MHz) even though the actual performance suffers. Because MHz yield is better, VIA was able to take off the PR system from the chip.
To wrap up, you can see that what I have here for the review is not really a 'Cyrix' - manufactured by VIA, based on Centaur design, and plugs into an Intel platform. The only thing 'Cyrix' about this chip is the name. Okay. Now that I've bored you enough, I'll move straight to the benchmark!
The CPU industry for IBM compatible (or non-Mac) personal computers was pioneered by, and still dominated by Intel, the creator of modern microprocessors. Many companies have tried to take a bite out of this ever-growing market with varying success. The most prominent competitors were Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Cyrix. These two companies gained notable market shares by attacking value-oriented low-end segment of the industry in the last few years.
Even though Intel tried to cut off the competition by suddenly moving to Slot1 design for processors in 1997, AMD and Cyrix improved the Socket7 design thrown away by Intel to come up with 'Super7', which became a viable and cost-effective alternative to Slot1 and the two companies remained competitive. Seeing their little success in the low-end, many companies like Centaur and Rise sprang up to provide their own version of the Super7 processors.
Unfortunately, though, in 1999, nearly all of the competitors to Intel faced collapse due to many factors such as aging of the Super7 platform and problems with ramping up speed or production target. Cyrix and Centaur was eventually bought by Taiwan's VIA Technologies and Rise switched their target market to internet appliances, disappearing from the PC scene. AMD was on the verge of bankruptcy while their K6-III had trouble producing in volume. That's how Cyrix, Centaur, and Rise virtually disappeared. But...
In case of AMD, however, their unusually high devotion to R&D department in the last couple of years had paid off, and their K7 processor, renamed and now known as Athlon, was able to meet or surpass Intel's high-end offering, the Pentium III on both performance and price-competitiveness. Because of this chip and its siblings that followed such as Duron and 'Thunderbird', AMD made a strong comeback and is now viewed as a significant competitor to Intel. This trend is still picking up the pace - the latest additions to this include Intel's 2000 Q3 earnings warning in which many are thinking that AMD's gain in the market share played a significant role.
So what we are now seeing is that the PC industry is enjoying a true 'duopoly' of Intel and AMD, the two companies' combined market share being more than 99%. The two companies have almost the same line-up of ultra high-end to value low-end processors already in mass production or going into production in a few months, thus overlapping each other in every aspect and having fierce competition. All the while the other PC processor companies remained in virtual silence....
What you see above is a VIA Cyrix III 600MHz processor in a plastic box that goes inside the retail package. The hollow area on the right of the box is where the heatsink/fan goes in. I was shocked to see this handed to me for a review because I've not heard of Cyrix much since it was absorbed by VIA more than a year ago. I did hear about this chip occasionally, but it was constantly being delayed that I thought I would almost forget about it. This product is going to be available on the market almost immediately, so I can pretty much say that Cyrix has finally made a comeback. It is quite evident that, because of all the spotlight being focused at Intel and AMD, Cyrix's re-entry was rather quiet.
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