Pentium 4: Intel's misstep?
In our first look at the Pentium 4 processor in November
, we were left with mixed feelings. At the time, Intel had embarrassingly found out the limitations of its Pentium III core: 1,000MHz (1.0GHz). Meanwhile, AMD's Athlon (the Pentium III's primary competitor) was scaling to clock speeds of 1.1GHz and beyond. At the time, launching Pentium 4 was the only way for Intel to reclaim the performance crown. Or so we thought.
While the Pentium 4 was launched at clock speeds up to 1.5GHz, our results found it performing all over the map. In some tests it clearly outpaced Athlon and Pentium III, while in others it trailed Athlon and barely squeezed by the P3 despite running at a considerably higher clock speed. Based on the cost of upgrading to Pentium 4, we recommended holding out or jumping ship to the AMD platform.
Since then, a lot has changed in the PC market. Memory prices have plummeted as well as processor prices; it's been a good time for consumers interested in upgrading their PC! However, the picture hasn't been as rosy for the PC market as a whole. With demand drastically cut from year-ago levels, both Intel and AMD have felt compelled to slash prices on microprocessors, the core product of both companies.
Complicating the situation for Intel is its slowly eroding market share. In the chipset market, VIA has gained ground quickly on Intel thanks to the success of its Apollo Pro133/Pro133A chipsets. Intel's misstep with 820 cost it dearly, but fortunately for the company its 815 series of chipsets is slowly gaining lost ground (although it remains to be seen how well it will hold up against VIA's recently released Apollo Pro266 chipset).
On the processor front, AMD's seventh generation Athlon and Duron processors have allowed the company to gain market share. According to numbers released by Mercury Research, AMD's market share has risen from 17% at the end of 2000 to 21% in the first quarter of 2001. In 1999 (the year Athlon was released), AMD controlled 15.9% of the processor market.
With demand for its products slowing and its primary competitor gaining on it, Intel has bumped up its roadmap for Pentium 4 and cut prices for the second time this month. This brings us to the processor we're reviewing today, Intel's Pentium 4 1.7GHz.
Previous processor releases from Intel brought with them an executive price tag. That is to say, they were priced solely for the hardest of the hardcore, or those with lots of disposable income. Today's 1.7GHz Pentium 4 however comes in at a shockingly low price of just $352 in bulk quantities!
Sure, street prices of Intel processors tend to run higher than AMD parts, but this is a dramatic turnaround for Intel. Traditionally, its attractive margins on its microprocessors have been one of the key selling points for potential Intel investors.