Sharks versus Jets. Yankees versus Red Sox. AMD versus Intel. The great rivalries tend to inspire passion, so it should be no surprise that I set off a fierce debate with my latest Microsoft Challenge. As part of my quest to build a Windows Dream Machine for the new millennium, I asked TechRepublic members to help me settle on a CPU for my new system. For years, with only a few brief exceptions, I’ve built or bought machines with Intel CPUs. If I stick with that attitude, am I cutting myself off from the most powerful processor?

TechRepublic member keith.mckeever has no doubts about which CPU maker is top dog today: “I have used AMD chips in all the PCs I have built since they have come out with the K6. Why? I have found that stability-wise, the AMD chips provide a rock-solid foundation to build off of (currently I have my 400-MHz home PC overclocked and running stable at 500 MHz).”

For the most thorough performance measurements, TechRepublic member bmalone suggested a long look at Tom’s Hardware Guide. “AMD has matched or beaten Intel in the last two years time and time again. AMD has met their chip demand, they’ve responded quickly and accurately to any technical issues involving their products, and they’ve done it every time cheaper than Intel.”

From a price standpoint, it’s no contest. Mail-order suppliers sell 1.2-GHz Athlon Thunderbirds for under $300. A 1-GHz Pentium III costs $20 more, and you’ll pay $600 to $800 for a Pentium 4 that’s only marginally faster, if you can get one. But that doesn’t factor in the potential costs of compatibility problems—a concern for TechRepublic member dlancaster: “In my network, there have been some compatibility problems with non-Intel processors. We try to stick with Intel Pentiums when possible, although we do have some Celerons in some locations. From my experience, a PIII 800eb is a good solid chip with enough speed for the vast majority of users. It is also reasonably priced now and should keep most users happy for quite a few years.” But that’s a minority opinion. Member bmalone says he would choose AMD: “They’ve had considerably fewer stability issues, chipset issues. The price is lower, and the platform is older and less likely to create unwanted surprises.”

For a single-CPU system, the Athlon is the clear winner. But TechRepublic member Jay.Winks decided to be refreshingly unconventional: “I like AMD too, and I would like to see their competitive standing in the marketplace continue to force some real value for the consumers. But everybody’s missing the point on the performance issues—we’re looking for maximum computing, and we have a nice SMP-ready OS in Win2K to work with. The P4 isn’t due for SMP stability till late in the year (and it may well take longer), and the SMP Athlon/Duron bugs are far from resolved as well. So it seems to me you’re going to get more processing for your money, more CPU cache, more everything happening in a double-fire pattern if we go SMP with dual PIIIs on, say, an ABIT VP6 dual FCPGA mobo with onboard ATA-100 RAID.”

Jay’s preaching to the choir here. My current Windows 2000 system—the one that will be moving into the server closet in a month or two—is built around ABIT’s BP6 board, a dual-CPU system that’s been a Windows 2000 workhorse for me. A pair of 800-MHz Pentium IIIs (total price under $400 and dropping daily) can handle just about any business task, and the dual CPUs should pay off big in multitasking situations.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this week’s Challenge!

Here’s Ed’s new Challenge
Last week, Microsoft suffered a double whammy, with Web site blackouts that lasted, on and off, for three days. Microsoft insists that the original problem was a misconfigured router but admits that a denial of service attack was responsible for the second and third wave of outages. You don’t have to be as big as Microsoft to be a target—anyone who runs any Windows server software needs to be conscious of security holes. I’m ready to crack down on my network, but where do I start? How do you test your system to make sure it’s as safe as possible? Can you recommend software, hardware, or services that can identify security issues before they become problems? What kind of procedures do you have in place to make sure that the latest patches are applied to Web servers? If you’ve developed effective security policies for your Windows network, share them with your fellow TechRepublic members and earn up to 2,001 TechPoints. Click here to tackle this week’s Microsoft Challenge.