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One Upon A Time There Was Prescott

Prescott Reworked: The P4 600 Series and Extreme Edition 3.73 GHz
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The die size of Intel's new 600 series Prescott with 2 MB L2 cache is 135 mm2.

The Prescott launch was exactly one year ago, and our conclusion was pretty obvious back then: the redesigned Pentium 4 core was basically no better than the Northwood core that preceded it, despite coming with a doubled L2 cache and advanced 90 nm manufacturing. At that time, all of us-including Intel people-were hoping to see much faster processors thanks to the new 90 nm core. However, Intel's strained silicon technology still has trouble with leaking currents. As a result, the available clock speeds went up only from 3.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz, an increase of just 12% within the last year.

Today, everything looks much better for Intel's mainstream processor. The 2 MB version of the P4 runs slightly faster in some benchmarks and comes with features that actually contrast pleasantly with the 500 series. Yet the clock speeds remain unchanged, as the 600 series will not even reach 3.8 GHz before Q2.

One advantage for Intel remains unchanged: the P4 family is the only desktop product supporting SSE3. Meanwhile, AMD is working on introducing SSE3 into their desktop models, as the new Opterons already support it.

Power Vs. Value

Though Intel cancelled the Pentium 4 580, we still believe a 4 GHz processor could be available in the second half of this year. However, while reaching a new speed mark might be highly desirable for Intel from a psychological point of view, such a small clock speed increment won't make today's systems noticeably faster. It is sad, but true: we should not expect clock speeds to continue to rise as they had been until last year.

The situation is somewhat similar for AMD: with speeds up to 2.6 GHz, the current Athlon64 processors often are faster than Intel processors running at much higher clock speeds. However, we don't expect the chip firm to jump over the 3 GHz line this year.

This leaves an obvious question: why should you buy a new computer if the available options are not considerably faster than what you already have? Both chip companies are working on increasing the value of their processor products by either providing more performance in ways other than clock speed increases, or by adding valuable features. Everything the 600 series incorporates is basically useful, and some features we would even consider necessary. But none of these new features can really be called new, since AMD has been offering similar features for 18 months now.

Both AMD and Intel realized that processor performance will not climb considerably by raising clock speeds any more. Instead, parallelizing is the buzz word for 2005: Intel wants to introduce their Smithfield dual core processors as early as in Q2. This platform basically combines two 1 MB Prescott cores into one die. Running at 2.8 to 3.2 GHz and FSB800, the desktop dual core will help to do more things at a time. There is a drawback, though: the specifications of socket LGA775 had to be slightly modified to suit. As a result, Smithfield will require new motherboards.

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