||Intel Pentium 4 Prescott 3.2GHz & Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz Reviewed
February 01, 2004
Summary: After months of hype and speculation, Intel's Prescott processor is finally here! This CPU boasts a larger 1MB L2 cache, larger L1 cache, and new SSE3 instructions among its list of new features. But not only is Intel introducing Prescott, today is also launch day for the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition at 3.4GHz. See how both of these processors perform in comparison to their predecessors as well as AMD's latest CPUs in this article!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 19 )|
When the Prescott core first appeared on our radar in 2002, only one detail was known: it would be manufactured on a 90nm process. The 180nm Willamette core was still around at the time, so naturally, Prescott sounded like an amazing feat of engineering prowess. As the chipís forecasted release neared, additional details emerged. It will have a larger L2 cache. Prescott will feature new instructions called PNI (now known as SSE3). Intel will utilize strained silicon technology. You get the picture.
And then, as the release schedule slipped, new tidbits of information started floating around. Intelís 90nm process runs incredibly hot. The new core might not work on all motherboards. Finally, Prescott is going to be slower than Northwood before it. Wait Ė could it be? Would Intel actually venture to sacrifice performance on its enhanced NetBurst architecture? What could cause such a thing?
Despite a few untimely delays, Prescott is indeed ready for its primetime debut at 3.4, 3.2, 3.0, and 2.8GHz. The core unquestionably features a number of both new and improved technologies that should, in theory, give it a respectable performance advantage. However, the quest for scalability has incited Intelís engineering team to make compromises to ensure the architectureís viability until Tejas, Prescottís successor, is ready to take the reigns.
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Introducing Prescott at 90nm
Advances in lithography make it possible to extend Mooreís Law, which predicts the doubling of the number of transistors on an integrated circuit every couple of years. Thus, the move to 90nm is a particularly significant event. Whereas Northwoodís die measures 146 square millimeters, Prescott is a much slimmer 112. And on top of that, Prescott contains no les than 125 million transistors compared to Northwoodís 55 (though neither comes close to the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and its 178 million transistors).
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In order to improve the speed at which electrons move through the coreís transistors, Intel uses what it calls strained silicon technology. In essence, silicon atoms, which naturally arrange themselves in an orderly grid, are stretched to augment drive current, resulting in transistors capable of switching faster. Intel accomplishes this task in two ways Ė one way benefits negatively charged transistors, while the other improves positively charged transistors. According to Intelís technical documentation, strained silicon only adds two percent to its total cost for manufacturing each wafer.
SIDEBAR: In addition to Prescott 3.2GHz Intel is also announcing 3.4GHz Northwood and Prescott processors.
| Prescott Cache, Core, and SSE3||Page:: ( 2 / 19 )|
The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is proof that Intel doesnít need its 90nm process to manufacture chips with lofty transistor counts, but it does play an integral role in making complex processors profitable. The largest contributor to Prescottís massive transistor increase is its enlarged caches. Intel left the instruction trace cache well enough alone, but it doubled the L1 data cache from 8KB to 16KB set associative eight ways. Moreover, Prescottís L2 cache is now 1MB rather than 512KB. Connected through a 256-bit bus and running at full processor speed, the L2 cache theoretically has more than 102GB of bandwidth at its disposal.
Modifying the Core
One attribute of the Prescott core that you wonít be seeing on any of Intelís marketing material is its deeper execution pipeline. Now, it isnít that employing a deeper pipeline is bad, but it does have an effect on the number of instructions that can successfully be executed per clock cycle, especially with an inefficient branch predictor. Fortunately, Intel claims to have enhanced both the static and dynamic branch prediction algorithms. Nevertheless, Prescottís new 31-stage execution pipeline does have an adverse effect on performance, as youíll see in the benchmarks.
Why, then, did Intel change the pipeline? Think back to November of 2000, when Intel first unveiled the Pentium 4 running at 1.5GHz. Although it seemed significantly faster than the 1GHz Pentium III, the Pentium 4ís 20-stage pipeline precluded it from significantly outperforming its competition. Look where itís at today, though. At 3.4GHz, the Northwood processor is much faster than that first Pentium 4 and all because the deeper pipeline gave Intel the headroom it needed. Apparently, Intelís engineers are confident that the revised NetBurst micro-architecture will scale to 4GHz by the end of 2004.
It was hard to speculate on the effect SSE2 would have during the 1.5GHz Pentium 4 launch. After all, MMX never really took off, and given the normal development cycle of software, itíd be at least a year before properly optimized titles started emerging. But as it turned out, SSE2 really made a difference Ė if you want concrete proof, look back at how AMDí Athlon 64 scored in Content Creation 2003 before and after it was patched for proper processor recognition.
SSE3 is a much smaller extension of the IA-32 ISA, totaling 13 instructions and intended to improve performance in complex arithmetic, video encoding, graphics, and thread synchronization. Intelís C++ Compiler for Windows 8.0 already supports SSE3 optimizations, making it easier for developers to start employing the new instructions.
SIDEBAR: Intel now provides a roadmap on its developer website.
| Compatibility and Naming||Page:: ( 3 / 19 )|
Unfortunately, you canít simply buy a Pentium 4 based on the Prescott core and plug it into your existing Socket 478 motherboard and expect it to work. Thereís a good chance that if you already own an 875P or 865-based motherboard, it isnít compatible with the latest voltage regulator specification. And if it isnít, Prescott may not work. Even if it does feature the latest voltage regulator, you may need a new BIOS for proper compliance.
To get a better feel for the breadth of Prescottís compatibility issue, we tested several motherboards. Three of them Ė ABITís IC7-MAX3, ABITís AI7, and Intelís newest D875PBZ Ė were able to boot and load Windows XP. The others Ė ASUSí P4C800-E, AOpenís AX4C Max, two of Intelís D865PERL boards, and an older D875PBZ Ė would not boot up at all. Although Intel maintains that a simple BIOS update should rectify the problem on most boards, a representative of the company conceded that its older D875PBZ probably couldnít be resuscitated through a BIOS update.
Because the new core dissipates significantly more power than previous products (at 3.2GHz, its Thermal Design Power is 103W), it creates more heat. Intelís standard heatsink works fine for cooling the chip, but you should certainly exercise caution before using a Prescott in a small form-factor chassis, even though some manufacturers are claiming that their boxes support Prescott.
Although AMDís performance rating scheme is often the target of controversy, itís at least easy to keep straight. Intelís naming scheme, on the other hand, is about to get much more complicated. Northwood cores (130nm) bear either no letter designation or a ĎC,í representing Hyper-Threading support and 800MHz front side bus operation. Meanwhile, Prescott cores (90nm) are either ĎAí or ĎE.í The former has no Hyper-Threading support and runs on a 533MHz bus, while the latter has Hyper-Threading and 800MHz operation.
SIDEBAR: Super Bowl Sunday, interesting day to launch a processor eh?
| Pentium 4 3.4GHz Extreme Edition||Page:: ( 4 / 19 )|
More of the Same
When Intel announced the 3.2GHz Extreme Edition in September of last year, we were astonished at the chipís specification sheet. Though quite clearly based on the server-oriented Gallatin core, a desktop processor with 2MB of L3 cache was simply unheard of.
Intelís Pentium 4 Extreme Edition proved to be a pricey piece of work, too. Manufactured on a 130nm process and built of 178 million transistors, the 237 square millimeter core was monstrously expensive to produce. Thus, the processorís price tag of nearly $1,000 dollars didnít surprise anyone.
The 3.4GHz Extreme Edition being unveiled today is essentially more of the same core. In addition to that massive L3 cache, the Extreme Edition sports a 512KB L2, along with 8 KB of L1 data cache. Like the Northwood core, Extreme Editionís trace cache holds roughly 12 thousand micro-ops.
Intel designed the chip to work with its existing install base. Therefore, if you already own an 875P or 865-based motherboard, thereís a fair chance that the Extreme Edition will work immediately. And in the instance that it isnít recognized, most motherboard manufacturers have done a thorough job of delivering BIOS updates for Extreme Edition compatibility.
Of course, Extreme Editionís downfall is its price, which, due to its exclusive nature, isnít likely to dip much lower. At launch, Intel is listing the 3.4GHz Extreme Edition for $999. It may show up online for slightly less, and the 3.2GHz version will probably drop a bit, but this is powerful equipment weíre talking about, and it isnít subject to the price wars that often take place on mainstream parts that sell in volume.
The only question mark hanging over the Extreme Edition is its interface for the future. Once Intel starts the transition to LGA-775, will the Extreme Edition follow suit? Moreover, will the Extreme Edition continue up to 3.6GHz, or will Gallatin run out of headroom first? More than likely, Intel is playing its high-end card on a case-by-case basis. For now, weíll enjoy the extra performance afforded by the 3.4GHz Extreme Edition.
SIDEBAR: Intel just cut its processor prices last week.
| System Setup||Page:: ( 5 / 19 )|
Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz Prescott (800MHz bus)
Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz Northwood (800MHz bus)
Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz Extreme Edition (800MHz bus)
Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz Extreme Edition (800MHz bus)
AMD Athlon 64 FX-51
AMD Athlon 64 3400+
AMD Athlon 64 3200+
Intel D875PBZ 875P Motherboard
Gigabyte K8VNXP Socket 754 K8T800 Motherboard
ASUS SK8V Socket 940 K8T800 Motherboard
1GB Mushkin Registered ECC 2-3-2 PC3200 DDR Memory (2x512MB)
1GB Corsair Pro Series 3-4-4 PC4000 DDR Memory (2x512MB)
GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB
34GB Western Digital Raptor (10,000RPM, 8MB cache)
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1
Desktop resolution 1024x768, 32-bit color, 85Hz refresh
All power saving options were turned off, as were the Automatic Update and System Restore services. Graphics options under the ĎPerformanceí tab were all disabled for maximum performance.
PC Magazine Business Winstone 2004
PC Magazine Content Creation Winstone 2004
SiSoft Sandra 2004
Futuremark 3D Mark03 v.340
Novalogic Comanche 4
Enlight X2: The Threat Rolling Demo
Square Enix Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 2
Epic Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
Ubisoft IL2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles
id Software Quake III v.1.32
Yeti Studios Gun Metal Demo
Aside from our compatibility testing, we also tried to get the 3.2GHz Prescott overclocked. Unfortunately, only three of the motherboards we tested would actually boot with Prescott, and two of them wouldnít properly pick up the chipís clock multiplier, leaving only Intelís revised D875PBZ with which to test. Needless to say, we didnít have much luck beyond Intelís four percent ďburn-inĒ mode.
SIDEBAR: Intel launched its Northwood core two years ago last month.
| PC Magazine Benchmarks||Page:: ( 6 / 19 )|
Content Creation Winstone 2004 and Business Winstone 2004
Despite its deeper pipeline, the Prescott core edges out Northwood by about three percent in Business Winstone 2004. None of the Pentium 4 processors are able to match pace with the Athlon 64 line, though. AMDís flagship FX finishes in first place, with the 3400+ and 3200+ taking second and third, respectively. The 3.2GHz Extreme Edition finishes ahead of the 3.4GHz version in an odd turn of events, as the Prescott and Northwood cores finish in a shotgun spread around the pricey Extreme Edition chips.
Content Creation 2004 is much friendlier towards the Pentium 4 lineup, as well weíd expect. The 3.4GHz Extreme Edition garners the blue ribbon this time around, followed by AMDís Athlon 64 FX-51. Intelís 3.2GHz Extreme Edition claims third place with the Athlon 64 3400+ in hot pursuit. Prescott and Northwood fall in accordingly, the former slightly ahead of the latter.
SIDEBAR: Intel will also be introducing BTX and PCI Express later this year.
| SiSoft Sandra 2004||Page:: ( 7 / 19 )|
SiSoft Sandra 2004
The arithmetic tests in Sandra 2004 have always seemed to favor Intelís NetBurst architecture. Once again, the Northwood-based Pentium 4 and Gallatin-based Extreme Edition chips respond very well to the first of three standard Sandra 2004 benchmarks. Prescott, on the other hand, lags behind the 3.2GHz Northwood core by more than 13 percent in the integer test.
The difference between Intelís NetBurst and the AMD64 architecture is much more pronounced in the multimedia test, where the Pentium 4 processor prove their SSE2 alacrity. Prescott still trails Northwood, though, likely a result of the 31-stage pipeline.
Sandraís memory bandwidth test naturally favors the Athlon 64 FX-51, which benefits from its integrated memory controller and dual-channel memory bus. The Pentium 4 processors follow by about one gigabyte per second, while the Socket 754 Athlon 64 processors comprise the rear, limited by their single-channel buses.
SIDEBAR: Intel was founded in 1967.
| PCMark04||Page:: ( 8 / 19 )|
Intelís Pentium 4 Extreme Edition fares well in the PCMark04 overall score, which is derived through running a number tests designed to stress different parts of a given platform. Prescott actually comes in ahead of Northwood this time around, falling in third and fourth place, respectively. The Athlon 64 lineup, which isnít optimized for the multithreaded test that PCMark04 runs, takes the last three spots.
The CPU test suite is designed specifically to isolate processor performance, according to Futuremarkís PCMark04 whitepaper. Although only four of the test runs in a multi-threaded environment, Intelís Pentium 4 family still dominates the suite. Interestingly, the Athlon 64 FX-51 failed to complete the CPU suite, even after multiple re-installations of PCMark04.
Of course, the FX makes its comeback in the memory metric, which is designed to stress main memory and CPU caches. Intelís dual-channel 875P chipset complements the Pentium 4 nicely, enabling a clean sweep of the remaining positions. VIAís K8T800 chipset is wholly capable in its own right, but the Athlon 64ís single-channel memory architecture doesnít provide enough bandwidth to compete in memory-specific benchmarks.
SIDEBAR: Intel built its first processor in 1971.
| 3DMark03||Page:: ( 9 / 19 )|
Futuremark 3Dmark03 v.340
Although the Athlon 64 has shown well in real-world gaming tests, it doesnít do as well in the 3DMark03 overall score. Both of Intelís Extreme Edition processors sweep the top here, followed closely by the Prescott and Northwood cores. Once again, Prescott exerts a small lead over Northwood.
The situation reverses in the CPU test, where AMDís Athlon 64 FX-51 take first place, followed by the 3.4GHz Extreme Edition, the Athlon 64 3400+, and the 3.2GHz Extreme Edition. Prescott once again demonstrates a lead over Northwood, this time by a five percent margin.
SIDEBAR: Besides desktop processors, Intel also manufactures flash memory, networking/communications components and processors for handhelds.
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 10 / 19 )|
Novalogic Comanche 4 Demo
When the Athlon 64 FX-51 first emerged, it dominated Comanche 4, a flight simulator known for taxing processors. Intelís 3.2GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition went a long way in catching up to the premium Athlon 64, but was unable to do so. Now, with the release of its 3.4GHz Extreme Edition, Intel reassumes the lead in Comanche 4. The FX-51 trails slightly, and is followed by the 3.2GHz Extreme Edition. AMDís Socket 754 Athlon 64 processors pull the next two spots, leaving Northwood and Prescott behind. Oddly, Prescott doesnít do well at all in Comanche 4.
SIDEBAR: Last great helicopter simulation: Longbow 2.
| X2: The Threat||Page:: ( 11 / 19 )|
Enlight X2: The Threat Rolling Demo
X2 marks another victory for the Athlon 64 FX-51, though the 3.4GHz Extreme Edition is close behind. AMDís Athlon 64 3400+ pulls a third-place finish, followed by the 3.2GHz Extreme Edition. The difference between Prescott and Northwood is negligible here, though itís somewhat of a non-issue, as both 3.2GHz chips fall in last place.
SIDEBAR: Last great space simulation: any Wing Commander title.
| Final Fantasy XI||Page:: ( 12 / 19 )|
Square Enix Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 2
The Final Fantasy test runs in a preset time frame, outputting the number of frames successfully rendered. The results here are odd, yet reproducible. Both of the Athlon 64 processors come away undisputed champions, ahead of the Athlon 64 FX-51 and Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. Both Extreme Edition chips take the second and third positions, though, followed by AMDís FX-51. In what is becoming a pattern, the Northwood and Prescott cores bring up the rear. Of course, it should be noted that Prescott is able to outperform Northwood by a little more than two percent.
SIDEBAR: Intel will be conducting its developer forum later this month.
| Unreal Tournament 2003||Page:: ( 13 / 19 )|
Epic Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
The AMD64 lineup does particularly well in the Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo, taking the top two spots. Intelís 3.4GHz Extreme Edition splits third place with the Athlon 3200+, while the rest of Intelís lineup falls in accordingly. The difference between Prescott and Northwood is negligible once again; Unreal Tournament demonstrates that Prescottís deep pipeline pretty much negates the coreís other architectural enhancements at this stage of the game. Intel will clearly need to hit higher clock frequencies before we see compelling performance numbers.
SIDEBAR: Intel is rumored to be incorporating 64-bit technology in its CPUs.
| IL2 Sturmovik||Page:: ( 14 / 19 )|
Ubisoft IL2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles
IL2 doesnít have a built-in benchmark of its own, so we use FRAPS to record performance during playback of The Black Death from the five second mark until 45 seconds into the track. Northwood outshines Prescott here, though not by a significant margin. Meanwhile, AMDís Athlon 64 FX-51 claims another first-place finish, followed by the Athlon 64 3400+. Both of the Extreme Edition parts take third and fourth place, while the Athlon 64 3200+ comes in fifth place.
SIDEBAR: The IL-2 Sturmovik was Russiaís premier attack aircraft of WW2.
| Quake III||Page:: ( 15 / 19 )|
id Software Quake III v.1.32 demo Ďfourí
Quake III has a long history of favoring the NetBurst micro-architecture, so it was a bit of a surprise when the Athlon 64 FX-51 first outperformed Intelís flagship. The 3.4GHz makes quick work of that record, though, besting the FX-51 at both 800x600 and 1024x768. The only other notable finish is between Northwood and Prescott; once again Northwood prevails over Intelís latest endeavor.
SIDEBAR: Long live Q3!
| Gun Metal||Page:: ( 16 / 19 )|
Yeti Studios Gun Metal Demo Benchmark 1
The three Athlon 64 processors take first, second, and third place in the Gun Metal benchmark. Because this is intended primarily as a graphics benchmark, all of the scores fall within relatively close proximity. As such, there isnít much difference between Northwood and Prescott. Even the Extreme Edition chips are only marginally faster than their 3.2GHz counterparts.
SIDEBAR: Yeti was founded in 2002.
| Ballistics Report: 3.2GHz Prescott||Page:: ( 17 / 19 )|
90nm: Although itís hard to argue in favor of the 3.2GHz Prescott, Intel certainly spent time infusing the processor with new technology. Without the 90nm process in full effect, Intel wouldnít be able to manufacture a core with 125 million transistors. Although Prescott may not seem like a significant improvement over Northwood, its purpose will become much clearer in the next year as Intel is able to approach the 4GHz mark
SSE3: When Intel launched the Pentium 4, SSE2 was a silent feature. It didnít really offer anything in the way of extra performance, but it held the promise of enhanced performance in several popular types of software. Over the past three years, developers have embraced SSE2, giving weight to the promise Intel made in November of 2000. Now weíre seeing a new set of instructions that Intel claims will enhance graphics, video encoding, complex arithmetic, and even Hyper-Threading. Though it may take some time, Prescottís performance can only improve as developers start taking advantage of SSE3.
Performance: Not that Prescottís performance is bad Ė rather, considering the number of enhancements Intel is touting, weíd hope that it would do better in our benchmark suite. In most gaming scenarios, Prescott is outperformed by the Northwood core, and of course, the Gallatin-based Extreme Edition. Even AMDís Athlon 64 3200+ bests it in a majority of real-world benchmarks.
Compatibility: Intel claims that a majority of motherboards can be made Prescott-compatible with a simple BIOS update. However, of the boards we tested, a majority wouldnít even boot up with Prescott installed. Most of the motherboards manufactured in the past few months are very likely ready to go, but there is a massive install base with older platforms that donít conform to the necessary voltage regulator specification. If youíre in doubt about your motherboard, check with its manufacturer before buying a new processor.
The Future: What does the future hold for the Prescott on Intelís Socket 478 interface? Well, Intel will be the one to decide how long the aging socket lasts, but thereís no getting around the LGA-775 interface set to emerge within the next couple of months. When that happens, weíll also be introduced to DDR2 memory and PCI Express graphics. So, if youíre going for high-end, you wonít want to get stuck buying a new motherboard and processor now, as several fledgling technologies get set to launch. If, on the other hand, value is a primary objective, you may want to look into a 2.8GHz Prescott, which may very well prove to be an able platform for overclocking.
SIDEBAR: Last month Intel introduced a new Celeron M processor.
| Ballistics Report: 3.4GHz Extreme Edition||Page:: ( 18 / 19 )|
Performance: Does it really matter that Intelís 3.4GHz Extreme Edition is basically a souped-up workstation processor? Not really- the fact of the matter is that the new 3.4GHz Extreme Edition flies through gaming benchmarks. Itís even fast enough to best the Athlon 64 FX-51 in several situations, at which point youíre comparing Ferrariís Enzo to Lamboís Murcielago.
Compatibility: Thus far, we havenít had a problem finding motherboards to work with our Extreme Edition processors. Most third-party manufacturers have been diligent in releasing BIOS files that correctly recognize the chip. Moreover, the Extreme Edition doesnít have memory subsystem requirements, like AMDís Athlon 64 FX-51.
Price: Donít even think about Intelís new 3.4GHz Extreme Edition unless you have money to burn. The processor alone costs one thousand dollars, and itíd be a complete waste unless you built the rest of your system from premium components as well. Then again, if you have a luxury condo and are driving a 4.4L Range Rover, whatís an extra $500 dollars anyway?
The Future: Someoneís always saying ďdonít buy yet; wait just another month and youíll get much better prices.Ē Our motivations are different, though. If youíre interested in high-end hardware (and clearly, anyone willing to drop a grand on a processor has a taste for the finer things in life), the second quarter of 2004 will be an exciting time. PCI-Express, DDR2, LGA-775, Socket 939, 3.6GHz, and new models in the Athlon 64 familyÖthe list goes on and on. If everyone sticks to their roadmaps, the next few months will be particularly busy.
SIDEBAR: Intel also announced its silicon plans for HDTVs.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 19 / 19 )|
Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz Prescott
Scoring cutting-edge equipment is delicate business. On one hand, itís impossible to deny compelling benchmark numbers. For the most part, Intelís juggernaut trades salvos with AMDís own battleship tit for tat. Weíre going to call a draw in the performance department Ė itís just too close to call.
If you already have a platform capable of accommodating an Extreme Edition processor, the new 3.4GHz might actually be cheaper than buying a Socket 940 motherboard and registered DDR memory. On the other hand, AMDís Athlon 64 FX-51 is nearly $300 cheaper than the Extreme Edition, and if youíre starting from scratch, thereís a fair chance that an Athlon 64 FX would be less expensive.
But once again, weíre thinking about the onslaught of new technology only a few months off. While weíre certainly impressed that Intel followed through with its word to continue the Extreme Edition lineage, we canít blame anyone who saves their pennies today for tomorrowís hardware.
SIDEBAR: After months of delays and admittedly disappointing performance, Prescott is a reality. Do you think Intelís latest core design will scale well? And what about that 3.4GHz Extreme Edition Ė would you pay $1,000 for a new processor? Let us know in the news comments!