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Welcome to the most anticipated new CPU development since the crossing of the Gigahertz barrier! Due to thermal dissipation issues, processors can no longer be given substantial clock speed improvements. This has led to many months of performance stagnation. Finally, Intel has come up with the latest concept in increasing performance levels, by integrating two or more processor cores into one chip. With this development, significant gains in performance seem to be within reach once again.
As many of you know from dual processor machines, the mere presence of two CPUs does not automatically double performance. After setting up a system with suitable components, the operating system needs to distribute tasks to all available processor resources. To take advantage of multiple CPUs, modern software should be designed to use multiple execution threads, which encapsulate program fragments into snippets that can run independently. Windows XP's scheduler then allocates threads to the different CPUs, optimizing load balance and leading to better responsiveness of the whole system.
Back in the autumn of 2002, Intel demonstrated this principle with Hyper Threading (HT) technology . HT enables the Pentium 4 3.06+ GHz and all FSB800/1066 versions to process two threads at a time. Although this feature only raises single-program performance levels in certain ideal situations, it leaves the system much more responsive to user input by allowing background tasks to run on the second logical unit. Thanks to HT, it is pretty rare to experience the unwanted scenario of having a frozen system working flat-out at 100% CPU load.
Future Pentium processors are meant to benefit from Intel supporting thread-level software optimizations. Where a Pentium with HT and parallelized code processing shows small performance gains, a dual core processor with two fully-featured processor units should finally enable a noticeable performance boost. This seems to be a vision to dream of, particularly if one takes into account the rather low entry-level price of $240 for the 2.8 GHz Pentium D 820.
We were given the opportunity to take a close look at, and run benchmarks on, an Intel prototype system. It was based on the 955X chipset and teamed up with the Pentium Processor Extreme Edition. Note that Intel press representative Christian Anderka placed high emphasis on the prototype-status of the test system, as the technology launch remains some time in the Q2 time frame.