A new Benchmark and Scary Scores

We’ve got good news and unfortunately bad news to report in the benchmarking scene.  As far as the good news goes, BAPCo has finally released SYSMark 2001 which thankfully addressed the issues we have been complaining about for so long with SYSMark 2000 and even introduced a few new interesting ideas into the benchmarking mix.

SYSMark 2001 is finally a multitasking benchmark, running multiple Content Creation (Photoshop, Premier, Dreamweaver, etc…) and/or Office Productivity (Word, Excel, Netscape, etc…) applications at once while switching between them.  The benchmark even includes Outlook 2000 as a part of the test with a decent sized mailbox performing searches, deletes and replies among other operations on the box.  For a full description of the benchmark you can click here to read BAPCo’s whitepaper.

Interestingly enough, SYSMark 2001 outputs not only a final rating score but it also outputs an Average Response Time metric which indicates how long the system often takes to respond to user requests and commands.  This time does not include the time it takes for the “user” to input data or initiate commands since those functions are independent of the performance of your system.  How fast you click isn’t determined by what speed CPU you’re running.  The Average Response Time is a very useful number to look at because it allows us to translate the somewhat meaningless SYSMark ratings into a much more tangible number. 

SYSMark 2001 also employs a WebMark (also by BAPCo/MadOnion) type of testing that runs the benchmark in “user time” instead of in accelerated time like many of the other benchmarking scripts.  This means that the benchmark takes a certain amount of time to input characters, select commands, etc… however the only complaint we have here is that it takes a little too long to do so, but it is bearable.  The benchmark is much more robust and intense than SYSMark 2000, taking up almost 4GB installed and truly taxing a system much like any power user would.  We welcome the benchmark to our test suite and gladly throw out SYSMark 2000 which we have always had problems with.

The unfortunate news comes in the light of an issue discovered with Ziff Davis Media’s Winstone (Business and Content Creation), Windows 2000 SP1 and motherboards with VIA south bridges.  As if the issues with VIA South Bridges couldn’t get any worse, it seems like the aforementioned configuration (take note of the SP1 requirement on the Windows 2000 installation) could artificially inflate Winstone scores.  Luckily we only just switched to Windows 2000 SP1 for our last Athlon 1.33GHz review so this does not affect any previous reviews however it does invalidate our Winstone scores present in that review.  All other benchmarks/scores remain unchanged. 

The maintainer of the benchmark, e-Testing Labs is currently working with Microsoft on finding out if it is an OS issue.  Currently the only way around it is to either use a non-VIA platform (particularly one that features a VIA South Bridge, as it seems to be North Bridge independent) or test under Windows 2000 without SP1 installed.  We have thus suspended the use of Winstone in our conventional CPU test suite until a better work around is found.  Other reviewers should be aware of this problem and investigate their scores accordingly.

Heat & Overclocking The Test
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