Intel – 1.5GHz Pentium 4 review

Intel fights back against the Athlon
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Intel claims a lot for the Pentium 4, its latest and probably last 32-bit processor. It’s intended as a revamp of the Pentium III, to tide the world’s largest chip producer over until its 64-bit design comes through at the end of 2001. The Pentium 4 uses the same manufacturing process as the latest Pentium IIIs and features a 256KB secondary cache running at the same speed as the processor core.

A cynic might look at the Pentium 4′s revised architecture and conclude that it has only one real advantage over the Pentium III – it scales much better. Intel has been hampered in keeping up with AMD’s Athlon processors, as the Athlon is a simpler design and is far easier to build for higher and higher clock rates. It’s been noticeable that the Pentium III has been struggling beyond a clock rate of 1GHz, while AMD is already shipping 1.2GHz Athlons and looking to rates as high as 2GHz without changes to the core design.

The Pentium 4 starts at 1.4GHz, with a 1.5GHz launched at the same time, and Intel is said to be readying a 2GHz part for release soon after Christmas. This shows a very quick clock ramp, only possible with an architecture which scales extremely well.

Which it will probably need to do. From benchmark results on this sample 1.5GHz system, designed and built by Intel as a technology demonstrator, it has no real advantage over Athlons running at substantially lower clock rates. A SYSmark test run on this machine, which was supplied with 256MB of Rambus memory and an UltraDMA 66 hard drive, produced an index of 185, nearly 20 percent lower than we recorded from a 1.1GHz Athlon, running with ‘regular’ 133MHz SDRAM.

Intel’s ‘white box’ PC looks like a high-end desktop system, with a lot of emphasis on graphics. The adapter is a 64MB Elsa card, based on an nVidia GeForce 2 Ultra chip. This card is at least partly responsible for the very high 3DMark test index results, which reached 8,800. This is the highest we’ve yet seen in a non-workstation PC.

Intel would surely argue that much of the Pentium 4′s advantage will come from new software, written to take advantage of its new SSE2 instructions. This may be true, but these programs aren’t available yet and there are no benchmarks which use SSE2, either. As things stand at the moment, first impressions of the Pentium 4 are that it gives AMD little to worry about.

Company: Intel

Contact: 01793 403000

Although the Pentium 4 performed well on 3D tests, suggesting it may become the gamer's favourite, the more mainstream benchmarks put it well down the league, in comparison with lower clocked Athlons. It doesn't even look particularly good against Pentium III, assuming you could get PIIIs at the same clock rates.