The Intel Celeron M – Performance or Pitfall?

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The Intel Celeron M – Performance or Pitfall?

note:  In today’s technology marketplace, there are more computing choices than ever from which customers can choose.  Many prospective buyers are wondering what kind of computer do I need?  Once a decision to select a mobile device such as a notebook or Tablet PC, more challenges lie ahead.  What type of wireless technology do I need?  How much memory do I need?  How big should the screen be?  And the question that is becoming the most difficult of all: “What kind of processor do I need?”

As you may seek answers to some or all of the above, we urge you to post your questions in our forums!  There are three consistent issues I have seen come up in the forums on both TabletPCReviewSpot and our NotebookReview site – getting the most for your money, yet getting good performance and sufficient battery life. 

Did you know that choosing the right CPU can make a big impact on all three issues in question?  In this editorial we will focus on one of the most important and misunderstood choices consumers have to make – the processor. 

Is great battery life, and speedy performance possible from a Celeron? 

Celeron Myths and Urban Legends

The Intel Celeron Processor was first introduced in April of 1998, offering “exceptional value and reliability for everyday computing tasks “.  At first the Celeron was simply the key to affordability of otherwise expensive choices in personal computers.  Consumers who planned to put off purchasing a computer due to the high cost, were now actively shopping to get a PC.  Many of these Celeron-based machines were purchased by families and individuals who only required basic computing horsepower for everyday tasks.  This was a perfect solution.

It wasn’t long before power users decided to join in and pick up low cost Celeron-based machines for servers, secondary machines, etc.  It also wasn’t long before those users started to recognize the processor’s limitations, becoming quick to criticize the Celeron, calling it a “brain damaged Pentium”.  Just mentioning the Celeron to most technofiles would invoke the reponse “The Celeron is a piece of crap”.

Fast forward almost seven years.  Today in the days of which mobile computing is commonplace, the Celeron is not even close to that original chip from 1998. Furthermore,  today’s chip has absolutely no relation (outside of the name) to the additional susequent Celeron models and updates released over the last  6 years.

On June 5th 2004 the all new “Celeron M” was introduced by Intel.  At that time, and even today still – the Pentium M is all the rage.  The Celeron M was still pushed aside by many as “scrapped silicon”.  With the past reputation is this newly branded Celeron M worth even consideration?

The Intel Celeron M

This new incarnation of the Celeron (for mobile computing devices) is currently being offered by many Tablet PC and Notebook manufacturers as an alternative to the Pentium M.  Costumers face a very attractive offer in this case, as the Celeron M models with almost identical specs. in every other category sell for around $200-$300 less.  So the answer is easy right?  The Celeron is a “piece of crap” so skip it, a no-brainer decision.  If that is your answer and you are the least bit concerned about spending your hard-earned cash wisely, then we suggest you read further!

Let’s take a closer look at the Celeron M itself.  The easiest way to do this is to compare it to it’s dizygotic twin, the Pentium M.

-image source: Tom’s Hardware Guide
        Left-The Celeron M 1.3GHz               Right-The Pentium M 1.4GHz

So what is the difference here?  Look at the upper black stamps closely.  You will see that the Celeron M says “1300/512” – that is a 1.3GHz clock speed with a 512KB Level 2 cache.  On the Pentium M it says “1400/1M” – translates to a 1.4GHz clock speed with a 1MB Level 2 cache. 

Difference #1:  The Celeron M has only 1/2 the Level 2 cache size as the Pentium M.

“Next slide please”…

-image source: Tom’s Hardware Guide
Intel Celeron M die (very close up!)

Here we zoom in on the Celeron M’s die.  Illustrated is the area that contains the 512KB of deactivated cache.  Also highlighted isthe super deep sleep enabling “Speedstep-Unit” that is non-functional on the Celeron M.

And… difference #2:  The Celeron M does not enable the same “super deep sleep mode” as the Pentium M.

Duking it out:  Performance Benchmarks

            VS.            VS.  




Using the industry standard Sisoft Sandra 2005 benchmarking software,  we pitted some heavy hitters against one other to find out the true raw performance each processor delivers.  Note that we compare the 1.3GHz Celeron M to the 1.4GHz Pentium M and the Pentium 4 1.6GHz.  We also included the AMD Athlon XP 2000 as a “non-Intel” reference CPU.

Here goes…

CPU Arithmetic Benchmark 

Whoa…  The Celeron M holds its own.  With consideration to the -100MHz clockspeed difference, this “value” chip delivers a tie with the Intel Pentium M.  Also the P4 gets a wash by both processors.  The AMD, well that’s another story, but pretty impressive delivery huh? 

And next…

CPU Multi-Media Benchmark

Same story, with regards to the -100MHz clockspeed, the Celeron M ties with the Intel Pentium M.  The P4 lags closely behind.  The Athlon, well uh…

(please note: these benchmarks do not include the recently released “Sonoma” core Pentium M which boasts a 2MB Level 2 cache.  It would be interesting to see how this newer chip fairs.  My guess – If the extra 512KB level 2 cache doesn’t make a big difference here, the Sonoma will mostly benefit users with its higher clock speeds.)

Battery Life

With the Celeron M you are going to lose about an hour of time per charge on average (note: times vary significantly in different hardware).  Since the Celeron M has been robbed of the advanced deep sleep capabilities of the Pentium M, you will lose out a bit on battery run time.  This is really dependant on how often you allow your machine to go to sleep during periods of inactivity.  If you are one who continually uses your machine while it is on, then shut down when you are done, your benefit from the enhanced Speed Step technology on the Pentium M will be minimal.

The Rational

The sleek Gateway M320 – the Celeron M option starts at only $699!

Both of these CPU’s offer quiet, low heat generating performance.  They are both indentically capable of being used in the newest “thin and light” form factors.  Both offer almost exactly the same performance per rated clockspeed under just about all circumstances.  So with that in mind, before you buy ask yourself some questions:

Want to save a few bucks?  Would you rather spend the extra $$ for a larger hard drive or DVD writer rather than the processor?  GO FOR THE CELERON! 

How important is it that you get that extra hour per charge?  Are you going to push your machine to the limit with gaming.  Better hope your machine includes an independent (not shared) video chip.  (note: many of the Intel M based machines have “shared” video memory – forget any hardcore gaming in those configurations)  But if you truly need the extra time per charge and/or are a significant power user who will actually use the larger Level 2 cache size performance – then GO FOR THE PENTIUM M.

Conclusion/Final Thoughts

Since when did I claim to be an expert on mobile processors?  The answer to that is “never”.  Since when did I set out to empower our readers to make informed buying decisions?  The answer to that is “always”.  I have done a fair amount of research and hands on testing prior to writing this editorial. 

For even more detail in regards to the Celeron M vs. the Pentium M and what we have discussed in this story, I definately recommend that you check out Tom’s Hardware Guide.  In final, I encourage you to post further questions or invoke more discussion on this hot topic in the forums, simply click the “discuss this story” link at the bottom of this page.  Thanks for reading!

Barry J. Doyle




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