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We may not have wide OS and driver support for 64-bit computing yet, but AMD’s Athlon 64 processors prove that having the headroom can be quite welcome, even in the 32-bit space. The latest speed bump to the standard (not FX) version of AMD’s 64-bit processor—the Athlon 64 3400+—brings a performance chip that competes quite nicely with Intel’s HyperThreading P4.

Like the FX version, the Athlon 64 3400+ has 128K L1 and 1,024K L2 cache, 3DNow! Professional, and support for SSE2.

But whereas the pricier Athlon 64 FX has a 128-bit memory interface and requires registered DDR memory, the less expensive Athlon 64 CPUs have a 64-bit interface and a single-channel, on-chip memory controller that supports 200- to 400-MHz standard DDR SDRAM.

To determine how much you get for your money, we procured a well-equipped Athlon 64 3400+ system—the Velocity Micro Vision 64 ($2,988 direct)—and stacked it up against a similarly equipped 3.2-GHz Pentium 4 HT box, the Compaq x09. Note that both have 1GB of 400-MHz DDR SDRAM, the 256MB nVidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra graphics card, and two 7,200-rpm SATA hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration. In the tests we ran, the AMD chip outperformed the
P4 across the board. Of course, each company’s highest-end chips (the Athlon 64 FX and the P4 Extreme Edition) are fairly evenly matched.

Besides performing well, the system is an overall delight. The ViewSonic 19-inch flat CRT looks wonderful and pulls you into movies or games. The Creative MegaWorks 650 6.1 THX speakers take full advantage of the Audigy 2 ZS card and provide immersive audio.

You can get started on media projects right away, thanks to the excellent Ulead Digital Media Center bundle, which includes PhotoImpact 8, MovieFactory 2 SE, and VideoStudio 7. Burning options abound for your final products or for copying, thanks to both a 4X DVD multiformat writer and a DVD/CD-RW combo with 52X CD burning. So considering the price and performance of the Velocity Micro Vision 64, we couldn’t imagine changing a thing.