Final Words

Now that the Pentium 4 is finally an attractive CPU, it's definitely a good thing that there are a multitude of high-performing chipset offerings that can harness the power of the CPU. Here are our thoughts on how the Pentium 4 chipset market stacks up:

- The 850E with PC1066 RDRAM is still the highest performing solution for the Pentium 4; however the performance advantage isn't too incredibly significant (generally under 10%). This keeps the 850E from being the most economical solution for the Pentium 4 but it is the best performing.

- The 845E and the SiS 645 are the two poorest performing chipsets on average although they are much more available than the two new DDR solutions (845G/P4X333). It's simply a case of out with the old and in with the new.

- The 845G and P4X333 are the highest performing DDR chipsets for the Pentium 4. The two solutions perform very close to one another however the 845G wins out because of the fact that you'll find it in more motherboards than the P4X333, unless VIA can surprise us with a tier 1 motherboard manufacturer. Since the P4X333 does not have any integrated graphics the price of P4X333 boards should be noticeably lower than 845G boards but given that the 845G GMCH is manufactured on a 0.18-micron process the integrated graphics shouldn't add too much to the price of the chipset.

The fact that the 845E/G support USB 2 with the new ICH4 means quite a bit for consumers since USB 2 support will soon become "free" on motherboards much like USB 1.1 support is currently (USB 1.1 costs the motherboard manufacturers virtually nothing to implement). It is interesting to note that Intel has not introduced AGP 8X support with either of the new chipsets meaning that we should expect another release from Intel closer to this fall (possibly at IDF?) with full AGP 8X support. It would make sense for Intel to introduce AGP 8X in the high end, potentially in a 850E successor with ICH4 so that they may boast taking full advantage of the many AGP 8X cards coming out later this year.

As far as integrated graphics go, the 845G is a bit of a disappointment. While it's sufficient for the corporate and low-end consumer markets it's difficult to say whether Intel's new 845G will be enough to power future Microsoft OSes that make extensive use of DirectX in their UI (e.g. Longhorn). For now, Intel is doing only the bare minimum to keep their feet in the graphics pool but there will come a time where Intel will either have to get with the game or get out. With today's GPUs becoming more and more CPU like, it would make sense that Intel would want to dabble in the very lucrative market however in doing so they must not only become a graphics manufacturer but also a software vendor. A rarely publicized fact is that software engineers outnumber hardware engineers at all of the major graphics manufacturers (ATI, NVIDIA, etc...) which illustrates the importance of drivers and software support when it comes to graphics processors. It will be interesting to see what approach Intel takes in the future when high-performance 3D graphics matter to much more than a handful of professionals and gamers.

3D Gaming Performance

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