Summary: Last week it was AMD's Athlon XP 2600+, today Intel's Pentium 4 2.8GHz CPU is up for review. Does this chip have what it takes to claim the performance throne outright? Read today's article to find out!
Cranking up the clockWhile 2001 was dedicated to bringing the Pentium 4 to the mainstream market (and thus phasing out Pentium III), Intel has spent much of 2002 boosting clock speed while improving performance at the same time. This was largely accomplished with the launch of Intel's "Northwood" variant of the Pentium 4 core. Unlike the original Pentium 4 core, Willamette, Northwood chips are built on an enhanced 0.13-micron core. Because of this smaller core, Northwood CPU's require less voltage and generate less heat.
As a result, Intel has had an even easier time bumping up clock speeds. While Willamette chips topped out at 2GHz, Northwood will hit clock speeds of over 3GHz. In fact, Intel plans to release its 3GHz Pentium 4 before the end of this year.
Besides enabling higher clock frequencies, Northwood also boasts one significant performance-enhancing feature: 512KB of integrated L2 cache: twice that of any other processor in the desktop segment. Because of this feature we witnessed a performance boost of roughly 7-10% in games such as Quake 3 and Serious Sam, while performance in business applications and desktop publishing increased by 5%. To top it off, the Pentium 4 was recently given a faster, 533MHz system bus for even more performance. As a result of the infrastructure changes that have been made in 2001 as well as 2002 and the performance enhancements brought by Northwood, it's no surprise that the Pentium 4 platform has really taken off with hardware enthusiasts and gamers this year.
With today's 2.8GHz Pentium 4 release Intel has one goal in mind: securing the performance crown once and for all in the desktop CPU segment. But will they accomplish this goal? You'll have to stay tuned to find out!
Core changesFundamentally, today's 2.8GHz chip is the same as its predecessors. It's still built on Intel's 0.13-micron process and contains 512K L2 cache. The only significant difference lies in its core voltage. The Pentium 4 2.8GHz requires 1.525V versus 1.5V in previous Northwood processors. If you're familiar with overclocking, you're probably pretty used to this practice. Successful overclocks of 100MHz or more frequently require increasing core voltage.
In Intel's case, by increasing the core voltage they are able to increase their yields at 2.8GHz, but as a result, the processor consumes more power, therefore generating more heat.
SIDEBAR: Earlier this month Intel unveiled details surrounding its upcoming 0.09-micron manufacturing process
PricingBesides the 2.8GHz part, today Intel has also released Pentium 4s at clock speeds of 2.5GHz and 2.6GHz (with a 400MHz bus) and a 2.66GHz part (with a 533MHz bus). Official pricing on these chips when purchased from Intel in bulk are $508 for the 2.8GHz CPU, $401 for the 2.66GHz and 2.60GHz chips, and, get this, $243 for the 2.50GHz and 2.53GHz parts. Pricing on the 2.53GHz chip in particular comes as quite a surprise: officially this was a $637 chip just last week. Today, even Intel's fastest CPU is priced lower than that!
Expect prices on the slower parts to fall in line with these new rates at the beginning of next month. For example, the 2.4GHz Pentium 4 still officially lists for $400 on Intel's website.
In terms of availability, shipments have commenced on all of these processors, unlike the Athlon XP 2600+ that was launched last week. In fact, the 2.8GHz Pentium 4 has already appeared on Price Watch at prices as low as $546 with shipping.
CompatibilityMotherboard compatibility should be seamless, even without a BIOS upgrade. We tested the 2.8GHz Pentium 4 with a handful of motherboards and they were all able to properly recognize the chip's new 1.525V VID. Intel shipped the 2.8GHz part with the same cooling setup they've used for previous processor launches so cooling shouldn't be an issue either. We've heard strong rumors that Intel's upcoming 3GHz chip release will require new motherboards, but we can't get confirmation on this from Intel or motherboard manufacturers themselves. The fact that they haven't denied this rumor however suggests that a motherboard upgrade is certainly likely. We'll have to keep our eyes and ears peeled on this one.
OverclockingArmed with a variety of motherboards, we were eager to see how high we could overclock our 2.8GHz processor. Since we chose the SiS 648 platform to conduct our performance tests, we naturally turned to one of the first retail SiS 648 motherboards on the market: MSI's 648 MAX. Unfortunately, the 648 MAX only offers voltages up to 1.625V, which didn't leave us with much room for overclocking. In addition, the SiS 648 reference motherboard doesn't support voltage adjustment.
As a result, we were forced to rely on ABIT's 850 solution, which allows voltage adjustments up to 1.725V and bus speed adjustments in 1MHz increments. After lots of trial and error we settled on a final clock speed of 3,024MHz (21x144) at 1.675V. At any clock speed above that, the system wasn't completely stable, regardless of voltage. To obtain that clock frequency, we had to turn down the multiplier on the RDRAM memory so we weren't able to pair the P4 with equally fast memory.
AMD Athlon XP 2100+
Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz
3DMark 2001 Second Edition - 32-bit color, 32-bit textures
NotesInitially we wanted to use MSI's 648 MAX motherboard for this review to represent the Pentium 4 platform. In our opinion, SiS' 648 chipset represents the best price/performance ratio of all the solutions currently available on the market. And if you're concerned about system stability, have no fear. In our testing with the chipset, we still haven't experienced a single lock-up, crash, or blue screen error that wasn't related to overclocking the CPU or running the chipset out of spec (for instance, running with too many DIMMs installed).
Unfortunately, we couldn't complete 2.53GHz tests with the 648 MAX and our TwinMOS DDR400 memory module. Since we've only received one sample of each, we couldn't investigate the situation any further. The real unfortunate part was that we'd completed 95% of our tests when we started running into stability issues. Therefore we went back and re-ran all of our numbers with the SiS 648 reference platform, but chose to go with even more aggressive memory timings than what we've used in previous articles. The result? 100% of the tests were completed without a single hiccup, even with the memory set at a CAS latency of 2. In fact, our results with the SiS 648 reference platform at 2.8GHz were slightly faster than the overclocked 3GHz system with RDRAM, so we elected to omit those results. We plan on conducting a full suite of overclocking tests with the 2.8GHz part once we're able to get to the bottom of the DDR400 situation. We're guessing that the two components we have aren't quite getting along, as the memory timings we used on the 648 MAX were much more conservative at DDR400 than they were on the SiS 648 reference motherboard.
Officially, DDR400 isn't supported by the SiS 648 chipset, so we can't exactly complain. But at the same time, we're hoping we can resolve this issue (either with new RAM or with a different motherboard). In any case, our performance results with the MSI 648 MAX were roughly 5% slower than the results we obtained today with SiS' reference board, although there were a few cases where the difference was up to as high as 9%.
In any case, we think you'll be pretty surprised by our results! We'll delve into our experience with the 648 MAX in more detail in an upcoming review.
SIDEBAR: Intel CPU price list
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8
NotesSince DDR400 isn't officially supported by the SiS 648 chipset, we'll keep our comments limited to the DDR333 platform. At 800x600x32, we see that the Athlon XP 2600+ trails the Pentium 4 2.8GHz by 7% (which finishes 5% behind the 2.8GHz P4), and also falls slightly behind the 2.53GHz Pentium 4. As the resolution increases the video card becomes more of a limiting factor and performance between the various systems tightens.
SIDEBAR: Intel's next Pentium 4 core is codenamed Prescott
3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
NotesAgain, we're keeping our comments to the DDR333-equipped Pentium 4 platform, as the SiS 648 chipset doesn't officially support DDR400 memory. And as you can see, Intel's 2.8GHz Pentium 4 is able to outperform the Athlon XP 2600+ by 5% at 800x600x32. If you're familiar with previous CPU releases, you realize the significance of this immediately: the Serious Sam engine has historically favored the Athlon platform. If P4 is ahead here, you can guess what the rest of our results will probably look like.
Quake III - High Quality
NotesQuake 3 has always favored the Pentium 4 platform, and with its 2.8GHz clock speed the Pentium 4 really shines: it owns a 19% performance advantage at 800x600.
SIDEBAR: In 2 weeks Intel will be hosting its developer forum, expect to hear lots of developments
Jedi Knight II - High Quality
NotesJedi Knight II is another one of those applications that has run well on the Pentium 4, although not quite to the same extent as Quake 3. The margin between the Athlon XP 2600+ and Pentium 4 2.8GHz is 11% at 800x600x32.
SIDEBAR: Besides processors, other technologies Intel has played a leading role in are AGP 8X, USB 2.0, and Serial ATA
Content Creation Winstone 2002/Business Winstone 2001
NotesThere has been some controversy surrounding SYSmark 2002, so rather than post results with it we've decided to stick with one other third party benchmark we've used for quite some time, e-Testing Labs Winstone suite. As you can see, the Pentium 4 2.8GHz still isn't able to overtake Athlon XP in this benchmark, although the gap closes to 3%. In Content Creation 2002, Pentium 4 is able to hold a 5% performance advantage over Athlon XP 2600+.
SIDEBAR: On the mobile front, Pentium 4 is up to 2GHz
Performance: At 2.8GHz, this chip is fast! Even in applications that have traditionally favored the Athlon XP, the Pentium 4 2.8GHz really pours it on. Quite simply, this is the fastest desktop processor money can buy. Right now there's nothing out there that can top the Pentium 4 2.8GHz, especially when you pair it with a fast platform.
533MHz bus: Intel's 533MHz system bus really makes a sizeable increase in performance, if you're in the market for a new P4, make sure it supports the faster bus. Intel is charging the same price for 400MHz chips as they are for 533MHz parts, so we see no reason not to pick up the 533MHz CPU. If you think the higher multiplier offered on the 400MHz CPUs that launched today may aid your overclocking chances, think again. The 2500MHz model will ship with a locked 25.0 multiplier, so once you up the bus to 133MHz (effectively 533MHz) you're looking at 3325MHz!
There aren't many P4s out there that can reach such a high clock speed without an extreme cooling setup. In comparison, our 2.8GHz chip utilizes a 21.0 multiplier.
Pricing: At $508 the Pentium 4 2.8GHz is priced much more aggressively than previous CPU releases, but is still priced out of the range of many consumers. We feel the best value Intel is currently offering lies in its 2.53GHz chip, although we still haven't seen official pricing on the 2.26 and 2.4GHz variants. Based on Intel's current pricing structure, they both should be under $200 when the new price list is released, which would be very hard for anyone in the market for a new P4 CPU to pass up.
Current P4 infrastructure: All of today's Socket 478 motherboards work with the 2.8GHz Pentium 4, but we're not sure if we can say the same for future variants. Therefore, if you went out and bought a 2.8GHz CPU and motherboard today, you may have to buy a new motherboard and CPU the next time you upgrade.
This isn't a huge issue for those of you who upgrade every three or four years (as both components are likely quite outdated by then anyway), but for consumers who upgrade more frequently this would definitely be upsetting. It wasn't uncommon for BX motherboards to live on for years with the Pentium III; unfortunately the Pentium 4 platform hasn't enjoyed this level of stability to date.
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|