We were admittedly quite harsh on the Pentium 4 in our initial review of it last November, but it wasn’t without good cause.  The technology behind the Pentium 4 was impressive to say the least, but its architectural advantages did not translate into a real world performance improvement over the much more cost effective Athlon or even the older Pentium III in many cases.  But not for a minute did we believe that Intel had completely wasted the 5 years of development time that went into the Pentium 4, in fact, the Pentium 4’s launch was very reminiscent of quite a few launches in Intel’s history.  The release of the 386, 486, Pentium and Pentium Pro were all met with extreme skepticism as none of the aforementioned architectures offered a significant performance improvement over their predecessors.  However in the long run, each one of those architectures prevailed although it was generally after the first or second implementation of the architecture before it truly showed its advantages.

In our Pentium 4 Review we mentioned that two main conditions had to be met in order for the Pentium 4 to succeed.  The first being application demand for the technology; if applications are increasingly optimized for the Pentium 4’s NetBurst architecture then the Pentium 4 will definitely succeed.  Currently, applications are obviously more geared towards the P5 and P6 architectures which have been around for a combined total of 9 years compared to the less than 1 year that NetBurst has been around.

The second condition was that the Pentium 4 had to ramp up in clock speed.  With the architecture’s Hyper Pipelined technology less is being done in every clock, so in order for the Pentium 4 to truly surpass its predecessors it must boast a higher clock speed than the 1.5GHz it was introduced at.  After all, the Pentium 4 and NetBurst were designed for high clock speed operation. 

While the Pentium 4 hasn’t been out long enough to expect for a huge turn around in the demands of today’s commonly used applications, today Intel is announcing the first Pentium 4 clock speed increase over the 1.5GHz P4 that was launched five months ago. 

Dollars and cents

Along with the increased clock speed, Intel has been pushing for lower pricing on the Pentium 4.  Over the next month we should see the Pentium 4 1.7GHz to drop in price to well below $400.  While that will still keep it at least $100 above the price of AMD’s flagship Athlon-C 1.33GHz, it is a much more competitive price point than it was when the Pentium 4 was first released.

Intel has also helped lower the overall cost of Pentium 4 ownership by bundling 2 x 64MB PC800 RDRAM RIMMs with their retail boxed CPUs.  Pentium 4s may begin being offered in boxed configurations with more memory as well as with no integrated memory as prices continue to fall.

Also looking at the pricing of i850 based Pentium 4 motherboards, we see another effort on Intel’s part to keep the cost of ownership of the Pentium 4 as low as possible.  Looking at our Weekly Memory & Motherboard Price Guide from April 13, 2001 you’ll note that the difference in price between the ASUS P4T (i850 board) and the AMD 760 based ASUS A7M266 is only $6.  The reason this is important to notice is because the i850 chipset costs motherboard manufacturers almost twice as much as the AMD 760 chipset does, yet the only difference in price between those two boards is $6.  This either means that Pentium 4 boards based on the i850 chipset are quite cheap to produce (both of the aforementioned boards are 6-layer designs) or it could mean that Intel is eating a lot of the cost of the chipset in an effort to push more Pentium 4 systems into the market.

The effort is an admirable one; however there are a few more hurdles that lie in Intel’s path.  One being that the Pentium 4 does require a new power supply (ATX12V) and chassis as we described in our original review.  Although most motherboards will still allow you to run without the 4-pin ATX12V connector installed, Intel obviously doesn’t recommend doing that.  We have yet to investigate the ramifications of not using an ATX12V power supply with a Pentium 4 system other than we were able to verify that it does work without the +12V power connector attached. 

Another issue the Pentium 4 has in terms of being able to maintain a low price is that it has an extremely large die meaning that the cost of manufacturing is fairly high.  This won’t change until the third quarter of this year when the 0.13-micron Pentium 4 is released.

From a price standpoint, the Pentium 4 is still a few steps away from being as affordable as the AMD Athlon is however the conditions have improved tremendously since the Pentium 4 was launched last year.  And there are no indications of these conditions deteriorating over time, they should only improve. 

With third party Pentium 4 chipsets on the way, the continually decreasing price of RDRAM, and the forthcoming 0.13-micron Northwood core, the Pentium 4 platform is definitely headed in the right direction from a pricing standpoint. 

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