Intel Pentium 4 1.4GHz & 1.5GHzby Anand Lal Shimpi on November 20, 2000 12:54 AM EST
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So there we have it, the long awaited successor to Intel's P6 micro-architecture is here and the long awaited follow up to Intel's Pentium III brings it to us. The Pentium 4 is an interesting CPU, simply because it has a number of features going for it, yet it seems like there are an equal number of factors working against its success. Let's talk about its strengths first:
The Pentium 4 will thrive as its clock speed increases, unfortunately for Intel it seems like the Athlon may be able to compete in terms of clock speed ramp, at least for the time being. While still on a 0.18-micron process AMD should be able to hit at least 1.5GHz with the Athlon. It will take at least a 2GHz Pentium 4, released earlier than what Intel's current roadmap places it at, to compete in terms of overall performance with the Athlon. As the Athlon increases in clock speed, the Pentium 4 will have to match its performance level with an even greater increase in clock speed.
Low latency and high bandwidth are the keywords when it comes to talking about the Pentium 4's caches. The high hit rate L1 cache and the extremely high bandwidth L2 cache will make the Pentium 4 a solid starting ground for any future NetBurst micro-architecture based designs.
Provided that developers take advantage of them, the 144 new SSE2 instructions could yield quite a major performance improvement for the Pentium 4.
The Pentium 4's extremely advanced branch predictor could prove to be very useful in tomorrow's floating point intensive applications. It isn't a surprise that the computing world is moving towards a more 3D environment, and with that comes an influx of more floating point intensive applications. Intel is banking on the Pentium 4's architecture being able to succeed in tomorrow's computing world.
Requiring the use of the the ATX 2.03 specification is a step in the right direction although it will be faced with much opposition since it will require that everyone purchase new cases and new power supplies. The fact of the matter is that today's systems do need more power and maintaining stability by making sure that today's systems have enough power is worth the extra $100 in the long run.
Unfortunately, in spite of the many good points about the Pentium 4, at least on paper, there is just too much working against it.
For starters, while the Pentium 4 requires a higher clock speed to maintain a performance lead, the fact of the matter is that according to Intel's roadmap the CPU won't hit 2GHz until the third quarter. The next Pentium 4 to hit the streets will be the 1.3GHz Pentium 4 which will offer a very low performance level compared to the competition, it would make sense to pursue a Pentium III instead of a 1.3GHz P4. If you're thinking about keeping a longer lasting system, don't forget that the Socket-423 interface will begin to be phased out starting at the middle of next year so the Pentium 4 won't leave you in much better of a position than the Pentium III.
While it's a good idea for Intel to attempt to take the price of RDRAM out of the picture by bundling two sticks with each boxed CPU, this isn't a true solution to the problem. The solution that needs to be implemented is that the Pentium 4 needs a DDR SDRAM platform, preferably one from Intel (VIA hasn't always had the best memory performance) and it needs one before it's too late. According to Intel, the Brookdale chipset (DDR SDRAM for the Pentium 4) won't be out until the first quarter of 2002, by that time even Dell will be begging for AMD chips if there is no DDR chipset for the Pentium 4. If Intel doesn't come through with one it seems like it will be up to VIA, luckily their DDR memory controller is already sampling in Apollo Pro 266 chipsets so its mainly a matter of licensing the bus from Intel and implementing it in a North Bridge design.
We mentioned that SSE2 is a benefit that the Pentium 4 holds. At the same time it is a downside, since a lot of the power of the Pentium 4 could come from the proper optimization of applications for SSE2 which we won't see in most applications for still some time to come. With AMD also supporting SSE2 by the end of 2001, the 144 instructions should be embraced by the industry and they will, but it will take some time.
For today's buyer, the Pentium 4 simply doesn't make sense. It's slower than the competition in just about every area, it's more expensive, it's using an interface that won't be the flagship interface in 6 - 9 months and it requires a considerable investment outside of the price of the CPU itself. Remember that you have to buy a new motherboard, new memory (if you don't get it bundled with a boxed CPU), and a new power supply/case. This is the investment that must be made in order to have a CPU that can't outperform any of today's top performers with the promise that tomorrow's Pentium 4 will be better.
Our recommendation to you? Wait until the Pentium 4 turns out to be a bit more, SSE2 support is still in its infant stages, the i850 platform is doomed because of its exclusive RDRAM support, the Socket-423 interface will go away pretty soon and the performance just isn't there. Intel does have the potential to make the Pentium 4 a success, for the reasons we just mentioned and discussed further in the article, however it's far from a success today.