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The Pentium 4: A Lot Of Noise Over Very Little

Intel's 15 Most Unforgettable x86 CPUs

In November 2000, Intel announced its new processor, the Pentium 4. With a higher clock speed (at least 1,400 MHz), this processor had a major drawback in that its performance wasn’t as good as competing models on a per-clock basis. AMD’s Athlon (and even the Pentium III) performed better at the same frequency. Complicating matters, Intel tried to shift to Rambus’ RDRAM memory (the only memory at the time capable of meeting the requirements of the CPU’s FSB), but failed. Expensive and hot, the Pentium 4 nonetheless managed, with many modifications, to more or less stay in the competition for a few years (by adding L3 cache and technologies like Hyper-Threading).

Intel Pentium 4 32-bit
Code name Willamette Northwood Prescott
Date released 2000 2001 2004
Architecture 32 bits 32 bits 32 bits
Data bus 64 bits 64 bits 64 bits
Address bus 32 bits 32 bits 32 bits
Maximum memory 4 GB 4 GB 4 GB
L1 cache 8 KB + 12 Kµops 8 KB + 12 Kµops 16 KB + 12 Kµops
L2 cache 256 KB 512 KB 1,024 KB
Clock frequency 1.3-2 GHz 1.8–3.4 GHz 2.4–3.8 GHz
FSB 400 MHz 400, 533, 800 MHz 533, 800 MHz
SMT/SMP no Hyper-Threading (certain versions) Hyper-Threading
Fabrication process 180 nm 130 nm 90 nm
Number of transistors 42 million 55 million 125 million
Power consumption 66-100 W 54-137 W 94-151 W
Voltage 1.7 V 1.55 V 1.25–1.5 V
Die surface area 217 mm² 146 mm² 112 mm²
Connector Socket 423/Socket 478 Socket 478 Socket 478/LGA775

Mobile versions (with a variable multiplier), Celeron versions (with a smaller L2 cache), and Xeon versions (with an L3 cache) of the Pentium 4 were sold. Hyper-Threading and the L3 cache are two technologies that first appeared on servers and were then adapted to standard processors (though L3 cache was available only on the expensive EE models).

We should also mention the FSB, which was clocked at a fourth of the nominal clock frequency, using what is called Quad Data Rate (QDR) technology—a 400 MHz bus is actually 100 MHz QDR, 533 MHz is 133 MHz QDR, etc. Finally, 64-bit versions of the Pentium 4 appeared in 2005, which we’ll talk about later on.

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