||Intel Pentium 4 3.73GHz Extreme Edition & P4 660 Review
February 21, 2005 Chris Crazipper Angelini
Summary: Over the weekend Intel quietly released a new generation of Pentium 4 CPUs. Intel's latest 6-series processors include 2MB of L2 cache (double that of previous Prescott processors), 64-bit extensions, and enhanced power management technology. But are these changes enough to overtake AMD? Find out in today's review!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 14 )|
However, Intel made some compromises in the process, elongating the architectureís execution pipeline in a bid to help enable those anticipated higher frequencies And as a result, the immediate benefits gleaned from higher clock speeds, larger caches, and advanced manufacturing were all counteracted. Weíve since seen that same Prescott core come into its own at speeds up to 3.6GHz and 3.8GHz. Yet, the general consensus is that, as a gaming platform, the Pentium 4 falls short of AMDís Athlon 64.
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The good news is that Intel realizes its current position in the market and is working to rectify that situation. From dual-core processing in the long-term to broad platform improvements in the short-term, Intel is most certainly bent on improving its product lineup. The 600-series Pentium 4 processors represent the companyís most exciting effort for gamers in recent history, making absolutely zero trade-offs in the name of procuring extra speed.
In fact, youíll find that the 600-series goes a long way to neutralize some of AMDís key advantages, both in terms of raw speed and value-added features. The obvious caveat is that a 600-series chip costs more than a similarly-clocked 500-series processor. Intel is hoping that the new core more than justifies the corresponding price increase, though.
Enter The 6-Series
Just as BMWís 6-series is much more attractive than that offal it calls the 5-series, so is Intelís new six more favorable than the five it replaces. To begin, all 600 chips come with 2MB of L2 cache, doubling Prescottís original 1MB. And, like Intelís mobile Pentium M, the sixes feature EIST (Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology) to reduce power consumption during idle periods. Finally, thereís EM64T technology, 64-bit extensions purportedly backwards-compatible with AMD64 and borrowed from Intelís Xeon DP family.
| Under the 600-Series Hood||Page:: ( 2 / 14 )|
Itís About TimeÖ
Although Intel can hardly be expected to make a big deal of its 64-bit adoption (after all, itís following in AMDís footsteps here), the feature is significant to accelerating mainstream acceptance and encouraging 64-bit software development. There are already a few applications available in 64-bit trim, but the vast majority will have to wait until Microsoft officially unveils an operating system in 64-bit form rather than the existing release candidates. From a hardware perspective, relatively little is needed to support the technology. Existing motherboards require updated BIOS files and thatís about it.
Power management functionality is similarly easy to implement and use. Properly configured systems employ a number of features initiated in different ways to reduce the Pentium 4ís power consumption. The first is an enhanced halt state that reduces frequency through an adjustable bus multiplier, subsequently reducing voltage, and in turn, minimizing draw. The TM2 (thermal monitor) differs in that it responds to a processor request based on thermal load by changing frequency and voltage, cooling the core by up to 40 percent without a massive performance degradation. The goal there is to prevent the Pentium 4 from overheating should a heatsink dislodge or fan fail. Finally, EIST functions according to processor load based on operating system monitoring. Lower frequencies are applied during light work loads, while higher speeds kick in as processing demands rise. Currently, only Windows XP with Service Pack 2 supports the feature, though Windows Server 2003 will also recognize EIST once that update is finalized.
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And then thereís the 2MB L2 cache, a much-needed add-on that aims to improve performance by deemphasizing system memory, as opposed to AMDís strategy of incorporating an on-die memory controller to accelerate memory accesses. The extra cache raises the chipís transistor count to 169 million, while increasing die size to 135 square millimeters. Of course, the Execute Disable bit that characterizes 500-series processors with a J suffix is also included as a security measure. As with EIST, Execute Disable requires Windows XP Service Pack 2 for proper recognition.
A New Extreme
Existing 6-series chips still run on an 800MHz front side bus, limiting available bandwidth to 6.4GBps. Meanwhile the Pentium 4 3.46GHz Extreme Edition still gets that 1066MHz setting. Doesnít seem fair? Well, Intel is also introducing a faster Extreme Edition that centers on the Prescott core, representing the first ever architectural change for Intelís flagship offering. Running at 3.73GHz, the Extreme Edition sets itself apart by operating a bit faster than the top-end 3.6GHz 660 model and supporting a 1066MHz bus.
Thereís no extra cache this time; the EE rests solely on its frequency and bus. Thus, itíll likely be even harder to justify spending $1,000 on the chip. Conversely, at least the new Extreme Edition supports 64-bit processing and the Execute Disable Bit. Apparently, Intel thought better of incorporating power management functionality into a take-no-prisoners processor, so youíll have to do without EIST on the EE. Then again, if you can afford the price tag, this monthís electricity bill probably isnít much of an issue, either.
| Pricing, Overclocking, and the Future||Page:: ( 3 / 14 )|
The new 600-series models are a little more interesting. Prices range from $605 for the 3.6GHz 660 down to $224 for the 3GHz 630. In comparison, Intel currently lists its 3GHz 530J at $178 and the 3.6GHz 560J at $417. Clearly, thereís a significant price to be paid for all of the 600-seriesí features, but the final product fares better against its competition.
Now that Intelís 90nm manufacturing process has had time to mature, weíre hardly surprised to see it demonstrate superior flexibility. Thinking that the process would be good to about 4GHz, we set our ABIT AA8XE to run with a 225MHz bus and a x18 multiplier. After running for a while with solid stability, we started shooting higher, eventually settling on a 245MHz bus speed and a x17 multiplier, resulting in 4.16GHz from the 3.6GHz 660.
At that speed, we saw Doom 3 frame rates jump from 91.3 to 102.8, the 3DMark05 processor score hit 6245 (from 5306), and our WME 9 session drop from 6:04 to five minutes and fourteen seconds. Even Sandraís memory bandwidth numbers exceeded the results gleaned from our Extreme Edition cruising along on a 1066MHz bus.
And hereís an idea that smacked us cold in the face after trying to find a compromise between core and bus frequencies. Since the only differences between the standard 6-series and Extreme Edition are now clock speed and bus performance, whatís to stop you from buying a 3GHz Pentium 4 630 at just over $200and running it on a 1066MHz bus, yielding a nice, even 4GHz? Providing that retail 3GHz chips prove up to the task, itíd even be possible to drop the multiplier from 15 to 14 and wind up with an actual 3.73GHz Extreme Edition for a fifth of the price. The theory pans out nicely on our labís engineering sample chips, but weíll wait for boxed product to show as well before passing judgment.
Though the 600-series introduction might look like Intelís planned course of action for the Pentium 4ís future, we canít help but to think that itís really only a stop-gap measure until dual-core processors emerge mid-way through this year. The company has publicly stated that dual-core desktop chips will lead off, followed by server and workstation offerings in 2006, and then mobile processors later that year.
Unfortunately for those who would rather wait, it sounds like Intel will need another chipset in order to make dual-core happen, necessitating a more involved upgrade path. Of course, Intelís response is that the next chipset will be properly optimized to leverage the throughput demands of multi-processing. More than likely, however, there are other issues through which Intel still needs to work.
| System Setup||Page:: ( 4 / 14 )|
Intel Pentium 4 3.73GHz Extreme Edition (1066MHz bus)
Intel Pentium 4 3.46GHz Extreme Edition (1066MHz bus)
Intel Pentium 4 570 (3.8GHz; 90nm; 1MB L2)
Intel Pentium 4 660 (3.6GHz; 90nm; 2MB L2)
Intel Pentium 4 560 (3.6GHz; 90nm; 1MB L2)
AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 (939)
AMD Athlon 64 FX-53 (939)
AMD Athlon 64 4000+ (939)
AMD Athlon 64 3800+ (939)
ABIT Fatal1ty AA8XE 925XE Motherboard
ASUS A8N-SLI nForce4 SLI Motherboard
1GB Corsair 2-2-2-5 DDR400 Pro Series Memory (2x512MB)
1GB Corsair 3-3-3-8 DDR2-533 Pro Series Memory (2x512MB)
NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra PCI Express x16
Detonator 67.66 Beta with support for PCI Express cards
34GB Western Digital Raptor (10,000RPM, 8MB cache)
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2
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.
Note also that extremely low latency memory modules were used for both platforms. The AMD64 system used 1T command rates, while the Pentium 4 machine employed 2T command rates.
As youíll see, weíre again doing a few things differently. Baseline benchmarks now begin at 1024x768. Although itís certainly relevant to show off performance at 800x600 or 640x480, where youíd typically see the greatest differences between processor and platforms, those settings are really falling by the wayside and in no way reflect actual game play. Youíll be surprised nonetheless. Even at 1024x768, thereís plenty of difference between competing chips.
SiSoft Sandra 2005 Lite
Windows Media Encoder 9 File Conversion
Futuremark 3DMark05 v.102 CPU Test
Id Software Doom 3
Crytek Far Cry v.1.1
Valve Software Half-Life 2
1C/Maddox IL2: Sturmovik
| SiSoft Sandra 2005||Page:: ( 5 / 14 )|
SiSoft Sandra 2005 Lite
| Windows Media Encoder 9||Page:: ( 6 / 14 )|
WME 9 File Conversion
Historically one of the Pentium 4ís strongest categories, media encoding clearly favors frequency here. In fact, the fastest option looks to be, almost embarrassingly, the 3.8GHz Pentium 4 570J. Youíd still get great performance from any of the other Pentium 4ís, though, as even the 560 outperforms AMDís Athlon 64 FX-55
| 3DMark05||Page:: ( 7 / 14 )|
3DMark05 Processor Test
Once again, cache makes very little difference in improving performance. The 3.73GHz is able to secure a slim victory in Futuremarkís 3DMark05 processor test, a multi-threaded gaming benchmark that Intel recently claimed might suggest how future games will be developed. Oddly enough, the 3.46GHz Extreme Edition is beaten handily by all of the other Pentium 4 processors and even AMDís single-threaded FX-55.
| Doom 3||Page:: ( 8 / 14 )|
At 1024x768, a relatively moderate resolution for such a high-impact game, the fastest Athlon 64 puts a good deal of space between itself and the fastest Pentium 4, Intelís 3.73GHz Extreme Edition. All of the chips exhibit excellent performance when mated to a GeForce 6800 Ultra, though.
And the gap only shrinks as we move to 1600x1200, where the FX leads by about five percent. Although the Athlon 64ís gaming performance is generally glorified, tests like this really show how minimal the difference can be when it comes to the resolutions that gamers really use.
| Far Cry||Page:: ( 9 / 14 )|
Far Cry v.1.31
The extra meg of cache helps the Pentium 4 660 outperform the 550, but by the time we hit 1600x1200, that gap is nonexistent. If anything, the more efficient Northwood core wins out over Prescott at that resolution, where the 3.46GHz EE takes first place. In the grand scheme of things, though, AMDís Athlon 64 is able to maintain a slight advantage, both in comparative price and performance.
| Half-Life 2||Page:: ( 10 / 14 )|
A processor-sensitive game from the start, Half-Life 2 does best on the Athlon 64 at low and high resolutions. At 1600x1200, the slowest Athlon 64 we tested comes out even with the fastest Pentium 4, in fact. Even then, weíd challenge you to tell the difference between the Athlon 64 FX-55ís 73 frames per second and the Pentium 4 660ís 67.
| IL2:Sturmovik||Page:: ( 11 / 14 )|
As with Half-Life 2, IL2 goes to the Athlon 64. Less expensive and measurably faster, thatíd be a reasonable first-choice for a gaming machine.
| Ballistics Report: Pentium 4 6-series||Page:: ( 12 / 14 )|
Cache: Intelís hoping that youíre willing to trade more of your cash for an extra meg of its cache. Homophone aside, you can basically think of the 600-series as a standard Prescott with more onboard memory, meaning better performance all-around.
64-bit: Youíll never catch an Intel representative admitting it, but the company was dragged unwillingly into supporting 64-bit memory addressing. Now that the inevitable has happened, we no longer have to debate the merits of 64-bit technology. Itís there, supported in hardware, thanks to both manufacturers. Hey Microsoft, now whatís your excuse for delaying XP x64-bit Edition?
Power Management: Desktop systems donít run off of batteries and theyíre usually not crammed into 1U racks, so whatís the big deal surrounding power management? These latest chips give off quite a bit of heat and consume plenty of electricity. For more than a year now, AMD has showcased the benefits of CoolíníQuiet as a corporate cost-reducer and home heat-saver. Now Intel gets to join the fray with EIST, borrowed from the mobile Pentium 4 and enterprise Xeon. We approve.
Plug and Chug: Before you freak out about having to buy a new motherboard or power supply, rest assured that if you can support an LGA775 Pentium 4, youíre good to go for a 600-series chip. Download the latest BIOS for your board beforehand, though, in order to recognize the processor.
Price: Stepping up to the latest technology is always financially painful. Intel wonít beat you up too badly over the 600-series, but you can still expect to pay a sizeable premium. Itís worth dropping 200MHz to get the 600-series chip, if thatís what it comes down to. After all, you can always overclock your processor. Adding 64-bit extensions to your 500-series chip wonít be so easy, though.
AMD: No matter which way you slice it, at the end of the day, Intel must still compete against AMDís performance numbers. Weíre impressed with the Pentium 4 600-series, however, it isnít always the fastest in gaming applications. AMD still owns that title. Then thereís price. AMDís better off there, too.
| Ballistics Report: Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.73GHz||Page:: ( 13 / 14 )|
Performance: Yeah, itís fast. For $1,000, it better be.
Exclusivity: I used this line in the last Pentium 4 3.46GHz review, but it still applies.
Do you mean to tell me that people buy Ferraris for something other than to look good driving down Sunset? The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is a rare and expensive bird. Those who buy one are either trying to impress their friends or are genuinely wealthy.
1GHz Front Side Bus: Differences between the latest Extreme Edition and those 600-series chips include 130 more megahertz and a faster front side bus. Thatís really all there is. The EE features 64-bit processing and the Execute Disable bit, but performance-wise, it doesnít offer much extra.
Price: It seems like there are a lot of expensive processors nowadays, but Intelís Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.46GHz takes the cake at $999. If you were looking exclusively at Pentium 4ís, a la Dell, thatíd still be a lot to ask. But when you venture out into Athlon 64 territory, one thousand dollars simply isnít worth the price of admission.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 14 / 14 )|
Intel Pentium 4 6-series
But this time around, the Pentium 4 is packing a little more heat. EM64T technology and EIST establish parity with AMD64 and CoolíníQuiet, two of the Athlonís most valuable assets. Moreover, the extra megabyte of cache helps augment performance versus AMDís integrated memory controller, though not necessarily as much as we would have hoped.
That doesnít mean Intelís Pentium 4 is now equivalent to the Athlon 64, though. In a majority of gaming environments AMD continues to dominate at lower resolutions, while leading slightly during more intensive situations.
Meanwhile, video encoding numbers clearly favor Intelís architecture, as do the synthetic tests that comprise SiSoft Sandra. You may have noticed that we slipped the 3DMark05 processor test back into the suite as well. With an admitted focus on dual-core processing from Intel and AMD, the idea of multi-threaded games becomes much more important, and that particular synthetic test demonstrates how the results of such an application might play out in the real world. Not surprisingly, Intelís Hyper-Threading technology currently rules the roost and will likely be even better once dual-core arrives.
Another reason to consider a Pentium 4 nowadays is overclocking. Switching to the 90nm Prescott may have sacrificed some efficiency, but the ability to exceed 4.1GHz on a 3.6GHz chip certainly sounds appealing. Furthermore, now that the Extreme Edition family is nothing more than a supercharged Pentium 4 600-series chip, itís entirely feasible that an inexpensive 3GHz 630 could be tweaked to match or exceed the $1,000 3.73GHz processor. See what happens when you try to over-leverage economies of scale, simultaneously neutering your flagship?
All in all, the 600-series is just what Intel needed to keep it in the game until later this year. No, the Pentium 4 doesnít outperform the Athlon 64 in most gaming environments, but its newfound gaggle of features does improve the value proposition. Considering the architectureís multitasking and content creation alacrity, weíre more impressed with this processor introduction than any other since the Athlon 64 first emerged.