In the autumn of 2001, my parents finally decided to buy a new family computer, to replace the ancient Pentium 120 laptop my family was using up to that point. Unfortunately, Fall of 2001 was a crappy time to be buying a PC. No, building a PC was great – AMD had the impressive Athlon processor that beat the best from Intel while costing much less. As long as you were willing to put up with the somewhat immature and flaky VIA chipsets that the Athlon motherboards used, and took care to never let the hot and power-hungry Athlon die from overheating, you could build a high performance gaming system for low cost. But building and babysitting an Athlon system to be used as a stable and reliable family office PC and definitely not gaming – that was a less tempting proposition.
Unfortunately, practically none of the mainstream PC builder brands like Dell or HP even offered an AMD system, in case you were hoping they already did the hard part of choosing reliable, stable components and selling them as a prebuilt system. As if by collusion, they stubbornly offered only Intel systems, ranging from the laughably overpriced and underwhelming socket 423 Pentium 4 with the absurd Rambus memory, to the completely lethargic and outdated socket 370 Celeron, itself a crippled old Pentium 3, mated to an insulting low end motherboard that didn’t even have an AGP slot. The only brand that offered AMD systems was Compaq. But Compaq at the time did not inspire confidence. They still used old-fashioned 90’s beige cases with extra ugly Compaq styling, their AMD systems were as expensive as high end Intel, the company was about to be bought out by HP due to financial troubles, and even their website looked like something from 1995.
Among all the bad choices, the only system that made sense to buy was a midrange Pentium 4 on the new Socket 478, with the newly released i845 chipset which ran on cheap old-fashioned PC133 SDRAM memory instead of the ridiculous Rambus RDRAM. I read the reviews. I heard the criticism from tech enthusiasts. I knew its unimpressive performance. I knew Intel was planning to release a much needed DDR memory chipset the following year but were intentionally dragging their feet. But even crippled by PC133 memory, a 1.6GHz Pentium 4 was light years ahead of a 120MHz Pentium. It was now affordable enough to fit into a $1000 budget system, the kind of system that only a few months back would have had an older, slower Pentium 3 paired with the same old fashioned PC133 memory. And, all this was available with an Intel chipset which meant less risk of unreliability, instability or incompatibility. Thus, upon my recommendation, my family acquired a Dell Dimension 4300, running a Pentium 4 with the much hated PC133 memory.
After seeing the Dell system used from 2001 up to 2009 as the main family PC, and up to 2011 as a secondary home office PC, I can say I’m happy with my choice. The system ran the whole time without anything physically breaking, burning, leaking, glitching, exploding, melting, crashing, or otherwise causing an outburst of cursing and yelling. I chose the system hoping to get a stable and reliable budget home office PC, and it has served in that role remarkably well. And it even ran some games, thanks to an inexpensive Geforce 2 MX I was able to sneak in at the time of purchase.
But today, we finally find out just how much performance did I lose compared to a similarly equipped system with DDR memory. Was my Pentium 4 PC133 system complete garbage? Or were the tech enthusiasts a little too obsessed with their favorite concept of bottlenecking to fairly evaluate an overall decent budget system?
Watch the video and find out!