Celeron vs Pentium?
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Dear CPU Scorekeeper

I have been trying to research the differences between the Celeron and the Pentium with regards to bottom line performance. The Intel site denotes quite a substantial difference, while other comparisons state the Celeron outperforms the Pentium-II.

My question is: What kinds of differences can I expect with regard to performance and ownership of the Celeron versus the Pentium-III? How does the Celeron-466 compare to the Pentium-450, for example?

- - Robert, September 1999

See the questionCPU Scorekeeper Responds

The main architectural differences between Celerons, Pentium-IIs and Pentium-IIIs can be found on our Intel Stats pages. The performance differences between the Celeron-466 and the PentiumIII-450 can be illustrated using our CPU Comparator.

In summary, the main differences between Celerons and Pentiums are in the areas of bus speed and L2 cache features. Both Pentium-II's and -III's ship with 512kB of secondary (L2) CPU instruction cache. This allows the CPU to store recently used instructions close by and is responsible for much of their high performance.

The Celerons that Intel first introduced as a low-cost CPU alternative (266 & 300MHz versions) were basically just Pentium-II's without any L2 cache at all. This deficiency really punished Celeron performance when compared to competitive AMD and Cyrix chips. In response, subsequent Celeron versions (300A and up) were provided with 128kB of L2 cache. Though only one-quarter the size of the Pentium cache, it was built to run at the full speed of the respective CPU, rather than at half-speed as in the Pentiums. Due to its higher manufacturing cost and technical issues, the larger Pentium cache memory has always been set to run at only half the speed of the CPU itself. For a full-speed L2 in a Pentium design, you need to get into Intel's (much more expensive) Xeon line.

What Intel plays down-- but nearly everyone knows-- is that the full-speed, quarter-size Celeron cache gives them almost the same performance as the half-speed, full-size cache gives Pentiums. Thus you'll find that, for most applications, Celerons rated at the same MHz will equal or better an equivalent Pentium-II, for a much lower price.

For example:

     Celeron @ 466MHz x 128kB L2 @ 466MHz =>
     Pentium-II @ 450MHz x 512kB L2 @ 225MHz

Pentium-III's are given an added boost with an inherently faster system bus speed (100MHz vs. 66MHz for the Celerons) and Intel's new SSE 3D instruction set. This combination of hardware and firmware enhancements gives Pentium-III's a significant edge over the Celeron's smaller cache and slower bus.

Additional discussion on L2 cache can be found here, while more technical issues can be found at Intel's developer web site.

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