There are two things that happen every time a new processor is released, prices go down and the number of options a buyer has goes up. It's common sense, and it is the phenomenon that Intel's latest processor release will be causing for the next couple of weeks, the time to buy is now but the problem is deciding what processor to grab. The decision of what processor to buy is always becoming more and more difficult with every processor release, on the one hand you want to get the best out there and on the other hand you want to make sure that you're not going to regret spending your hard earned money on a processor that will definitely need to be upgraded in a very short amount of time.

For the average user the most intelligent thing to do is buy the "mean" in this case, basically a processor that isn't the fastest nor is it the slowest on the market. At the same time, you have the users that happen to be a bit luckier than the rest and for one reason or another have a very large (and sometimes annoying) budget for computer hardware. For these users, often times the best choice for them may not be the fastest thing out on the market, rather the previous title owner that the new release just replaced.

In the case of Intel, the previous holder is the Pentium(r) III 500 and the new comer is the recently released Pentium(r) III 550. How much of an improvement does 50MHz give you in the real world, or better yet, will you notice the difference between a 550MHz and a 500MHz Pentium(r) III investment a few months down the line when you begin having thoughts of upgrading? Let's try and find out as AnandTech takes a look at Intel's "latest and greatest," the Pentium(r) III 550.

A Quick Overview

The Pentium(r) III 550 carries on the same tradition as the original Pentium(r) III processors. Based on the same 0.25 micron core as the Pentium(r) III 500, the only differences the Pentium(r) III 550 holds over previous releases is the fact that it runs at a fixed 5.5x clock multiplier and makes use of 512KB of L2 cache that is capable of running at 275MHz. Coincidentally, most Pentium(r) III 500 owners will vouch for their processor's L2 cache being able to run at above their 250MHz rating, as many 500 owners are running at 560MHz with the L2 cache operating at a hefty 280MHz (the L2 cache operates at 1/2 the clock speed).

The Pentium(r) III is also a complete implementation of Intel's new Organic Land Grid Array packaging process, a deviation from the standard Plastic Land Grid Array packaging which is much larger in comparison.


Click to Enlarge

The OLGA package of the Pentium(r) III can also be seen, in limited quantities, on newer Pentium(r) II processors, such as some Pentium(r) II 450 units.

The 550, like all other Pentium(r) III processors, is a Slot-1 solution and is equipped with 32kb of L1 cache integrated into the processor's die. The card itself is home to both the 550 chip itself as well as two 256KB L2 cache chips making up the processors 512KB L2 cache that operates, as briefly mentioned before, at half of the clock frequency.

The retail heatsink/fan the processor ships with make contact with only the chip itself, and leave the L2 cache chips essentially "uncooled" during normal operation, possibly to deter overclocking and remarking by making sure that the L2 cache works fine at its rated frequency/temperature with as little room for tolerance as possible. It is possible to purchase an OEM Pentium(r) III 550 chip that doesn't ship with the retail heatsink/fan and use a third party cooling solution that does take care of cooling the L2 cache chips if you're that worried.

Like all Intel processors now, the 550 is clock-locked meaning that the only clock multiplier the processor can accept is the pre-set 5.5x value (100MHz x 5.5 = 550MHz). The Pentium(r) III 550 still operates at the same 2.0v core voltage setting that all processors since the Pentium(r) II 333 have been running at, and generally requires the use of an active cooler (heatsink/fan combo) for proper operation. The only requirements for compatibility are that the motherboard supports the Pentium(r) III processor, and the 100MHz FSB. With the exception of Intel's own motherboards, the Pentium(r) III 550 worked fine on all BX motherboards AnandTech tested it on. Most older motherboards without a BIOS update detected the processor as a Pentium(r) II running at 550MHz, and after flashing the BIOS with the latest updates the BIOS reported the correctly identified Pentium III running at 550MHz.

If you happen to own an Intel SE440BX you'll be out of luck as the 550 isn't supported by the motherboard at all. The only Intel boards that do support the 550 as of now are the SR440BX and the newer SE440BX2 which is basically the older SE440BX with a BIOS update to support the 550. It would make very little sense for Intel not to release a BIOS update for SE440BX users in order to enable Pentium(r) III 550 support, however on their web site they seem to only support the 450 and 500 parts on the original SE440BX.

Web Performance

There have been numerous claims made by Intel that the Pentium(r) III will "improve" your web browsing experience. While that may not be true for most of the sites you visit on a daily basis, here's a small albeit working example of the CPU dependency a single web page can bring with it.

Pentium(r)III systems will perform the rotation of this Java cube faster than older processors.

Processor ID Number: Danger or Paranoia?

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