Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne CPU Evaluation (January, 2001)
Name: Anne
Status: Student
Age: 16
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: January, 2001

I have some questions about processors. I think that Pentium class processors are best... I'm thinking Pentium3 is the best, followed by Pentium 2, and Pentium. However, where does the Athalon (I don't think I spelled that right...) and Celeron come in? Is the Athalon better than Pentium3? Is the Celeron better than Pentium 2 but worse than Pentium 3? ::confused::

Also, If I were to buy a Computer with a...for example, 700MgHertz Celeron processor, would CD-ROMs that have requirements such as "Pentium" work with it???

Yes, my family is looking for a new computer... and I'm trying to explain stuff to my mom... and yet I don't completely understand it myself. I would appreciate any explanations you can offer! :)

The processor is where all the calculations in the computer take place, so it is a really important part in determining how fast your computer will run.

There are some other factors to consider, and the next most important factor is the amount of memory or RAM that you have.

Also, you have to consider what you will be doing with your computer. If you mainly want to use a modem to surf the internet, the modem is going to be so slow, it won't matter if you have a fast processor and lots of memory. If you want to do a lot of papers and applications, you will need more memory, but the processor won't have to be the fastest. If you want to play all the latest games, you will want both a fast processor, lots of memory, and a really good 3D graphics card.

That said, here is how the processors compare:

Intel processors are Pentium class processors, these include the:
1. Pentium
2. Pentium Pro
3. Pentium II
4. Celeron
5. Pentium III
6. Pentium 4

In addition, each processor is available in a variety of speeds, usually given as Mhz. So you will see something like Pentium III 733Mhz processor listed. The Pentium III is the type of processor, and the 733mhz is the particular speed that processor will work at.

I have listed these processors in order from slowest to fastest, with the exception of the Pentium III and Pentium 4, I'll explain that in a bit. To continue, if you were to compare a Celeron 600mhz processor to a Pentium III 600 mhz processor, the Pentium III would be slightly faster. In addition, the later processors run at higher speeds, making them even faster. For example, the Celeron processor isn't even available in speeds greater than 766Mhz, while the Pentium III goes up to 1.13Ghz (1130Mhz).

Intel has been making the processors that the PC's use since 1984, and they are the standard processors used in most computers, and generally each new processor they make is faster than the previous ones.

Finally, a little needs to be said about the Pentium 4. It is Intel's newest processor, and has only been available for a few weeks. It is faster than the Pentium III because it runs at 1.40Ghz and 1.50Ghz, which is faster than the Pentium III. However, if a Pentium III could be made that ran at 1.40Ghz or 1.5Ghz, it would actually run current software faster than the Pentium 4. New software, however, that is designed for the Pentium 4, will run faster than current software. So it is a processor that will be best in a couple of years when new software has been released for it.

Hopefully that sorts out the Intel processors for you. Basically, the Celeron is slightly slower than the Pentium III.

Now, the Athlon processor is made by a rival company, AMD. They have basically reverse engineered the Intel processors and tried to make a processor that operates just like Intel's processors, and then sell them cheaper than Intel does.

This makes it a little more difficult to compare them to the Pentium processors. Some things the AMD Athlon actually does faster than a Pentium III, some things it does a little slower, and some things it can't do at all, while other things the Intel can't do, the Athlon does do.

The main differences in the things the processors are capable of have to deal with advanced graphics and math routines. In general software detects if the features it wants are present, and if they are not, uses a slower alternative, so software will work in either case, it just may run slower.

Since Intel is the standard, more software will be written to use Intel's advanced features rather than AMD's, but if some software absolutely required Intel's features and couldn't work around those features, it wouldn't work on an Athlon. I haven't heard about that kind of software or problem in several years, so that all seems to be sorted out.

For most people, this isn't a problem, and unless you are sure it will be a problem, I wouldn't worry about it too much.

The AMD Athlon, in general compares to the Intel chips quite well. AMD Athlon chips are designed to compete with the Pentium III chips is price and performance. You could pretty much just say that if you are looking at a certain speed Pentium III to look at the price of the same speed Athlon chip.

AMD also makes a Duron processor that is designed to compete with the Intel Celeron processor, so you could roughly equate the Celeron and Duron processors.

Also, a final word about the Pentium III and Celeron processors. The Pentium III chips are the processors that Intel has targeted to business and professionals who need the most computing power, while the Celeron processors are designed to be less powerful, but cheap enough for people to buy for their homes.

My advice to those buying a computer is to:
1. First decide how much you can afford.
2. Find the best value for that amount of money.
3. Buy the computer with cash.
4. Don't look at any computer ads for at least a year.

The reasons for this are simple:

1. You can always spend more and get a better computer, and you can always spend less and get a slower computer, so it is best to decide how much you want to spend, and then get the best deal for that amount of money.

2. Spending a little extra to get a computer that will last a little while longer doesn't really work. A computer will last as long as you are willing to put up with it and no longer. I have computers that are working fine and will still run most (but not all) of the software written today that are seven years old. I also have computers I purchased two years ago that won't run all the newest software.

3. Because computers are getting cheaper every day, you should never buy a computer on credit. If in six months you need to get rid of the payment, there will be no way for you to do it. The computer will not be worth the amount you owe, so you will have a hard time selling it to get rid of the debt, and the only options you may have may really hurt.

4. Computers will be so much faster in and cheaper in six months that your computer will be obsolete in the sense that it won't be the best, it might not run all the latest games or do some other nifty thing. This doesn't mean you have made a bad decision, it is price we pay for the rapidly advancing state of technology. So don't worry about the latest and greatest or anything else, just use your computer for what it can do.

Hope this helps,
--Eric Tolman

Click here to return to the Computer Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory