"Putting an end to the Performance Debate"

In our Pentium 4 Review, we stated that the Pentium 4's success is clearly dependent upon a few events occurring.  The most important two being that the Pentium 4 must ramp in clock speed very quickly and that its SSE2 instruction set must be taken advantage of.  While Intel isn't changing their roadmap any from what we have already told you about, we did get more confirmation as to the Pentium 4's future.

There is definitely a very poised attitude around Intel about the future performance of the Pentium 4.  History has shown us that as we move forward, applications and games become much more bandwidth intensive as they adapt to what the hardware industry can offer.  If you don't believe it, then go back to running using a 66MHz memory bus and see how freely the frames fly in Quake III, or how quickly you can render a scene in 3D Studio MAX.

So if the software and applications of tomorrow are going to be more bandwidth intensive, the Pentium 4 should do just fine, right?  Having a Front Side Bus (FSB) capable of transferring 3.2GB/s of data (peak theoretical), and a memory bus capable of feeding that very same amount of data, the Pentium 4 is set to tackle the most bandwidth intensive of applications.  That's exactly why Intel refuses to focus on anything but MP3 and Video encoding performance with the Pentium 4.  They even ran a FlasK encoding demo at the first Keynote at IDF. 

The issue of SSE2 optimizations is really in the hands of the developers.  Intel has made public their latest compilers and tuning software that helps the developer include SSE2 optimizations wherever possible.  With AMD's decision to support SSE2 with their x86-64 line of processors, there isn't much question that SSE2 will be taken advantage of in the future. 

However both of these issues can only rely on time to tell the story.  What Intel can do and what they are going to do to speed up the process is, of course, speed up the processor.  The Pentium 4 is still on course to receive its die shrink in the second half of this year, and that will hopefully finally give some end to the Pentium 4 performance debate. 

We got confirmation that the 0.13-micron Pentium 4 (codename Northwood) will debut at above 2GHz, although there are going to be versions at lower speeds as well.  This core will have a much smaller die size than the Pentium 4 (approximately 1/2 the size of the 217 mm^2 current P4).  Intel may actually use the smaller die to increase the cache size of the Pentium 4 to 512KB although we still have not received confirmation on this. 

A 2.1 - 2.5GHz Pentium 4 could offer tremendous performance, finally differentiating itself from Intel's Pentium III, which has continued to be the better option for performance in today's applications.  If you are going to be going down the Pentium 4 route, it is definitely best to wait for the 0.13-micron Pentium 4.

Intel actually had an air-cooled (using a normal heatsink/fan) demonstration of a 2GHz Pentium 4 at the show. 

The question that does remain unanswered is: will Intel's next incarnation of the Pentium 4 be nothing more than a die shrink with more cache, or will the blue group decide that current application performance is an important factor to consider and maybe re-architect some of the P4 core? 

We've previously positioned the Pentium 4 as analogous to the Pentium Pro.  If you remember back to 1995 when the Pentium Pro was introduced, its 16-bit performance was clearly a disappointment, even to the point where it was lower than that of the regular Pentium.  But Intel said that 32-bit code was the future (and they were not lying), therefore somehow justifying the Pentium Pro's poor 16-bit performance.  When push came to shove however, the very next incarnation of the Pentium Pro's P6 architecture had received some definite architectural improvements, as the Pentium II was much more of a 16-bit application performer than the Pentium Pro. 

The true test will be to see how much Intel believes in the Pentium 4's architecture as is or if they will make some architectural changes when the Northwood's introduction rolls around later this year.

We titled this section "Putting an end to the Performance Debate" for a reason, because it was a quote from a very high level Intel employee in regards to the Northwood. Take that for what it's worth; in a few months we'll provide you with benchmarks to either support or oppose that statement.

Index More Pentium 4s = More RDRAM
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