With processors topping out at over 3GHz, it is easy to take for granted the technology surrounding us. To think that AMD and Intel are attaining parity with very different microprocessor architectures is simply amazing, as each company has seen its designs evolve to accommodate the pressures of competition.
The AMD Athlon, which debuted at 650MHz and little more than PC100 memory support, has morphed not only with regard to its processing core, but also utilizes significantly faster front side bus and memory frequencies. In fact, rumor has it that we’ll soon be seeing an Athlon XP with 400MHz front side bus support – two times faster than the original 200MHz bus. NVIDIA’s nForce2 is perhaps the most popular complimentary chipset, providing up to 6.4GB of bandwidth, though the processor can only utilize 2.7GB in its current form.
Remarkably, the Pentium 4 is in a similar situation. The fastest P4 runs at 3.06GHz – double the 1.5GHz we saw late in 2000 when Intel first unveiled it. Comparing memory advancements is a bit more difficult, as the i850 chipset sported PC800 RDRAM whereas most current chipsets opt for either one or two channels of DDR memory instead.
Nonetheless, Intel has managed to remain competitive with a 533MHz front side bus pushing 4.3GB per second and a comparable quantity of memory bandwidth, achieving a delicate balance between system and memory throughput. But for the Pentium 4 to continue scaling upwards, Intel feels that data needs to be passed even faster between system memory, the memory controller hub, and the processor. It was originally speculated that Intel would do this by transitioning to a 667MHz front side bus. However, we now know an 800MHz setting will replace the current generation of chips optimized for a 533MHz bus.
Intel's D875PBZ motherboard
Motherboard back plate
The first chipset to officially introduce an 800MHz system bus is called 875P, formerly known as Canterwood. In addition to a faster front side bus, 875P is accompanied by a revamped memory architecture and a new I/O Controller Hub, catapulting it to the pole position of Intel’s Pentium 4 chipset family. As with past chipset launches, Intel has designed its own line of boxed motherboards to showcase 875P, allowing us to conduct a performance evaluation of the final product.