Intel Pentium 4 Vs. Atom: A Battle Of The Generations


It is possible to take an old Pentium 4 system and revive it for basic applications. Whether as a home/multimedia server or as a backup client PC, Intel’s old platform works well, so long as you don’t have tall performance expectations. However, we wanted to know how it would compare to an Atom nettop platform, so we pitted Pentium 4 systems at 2.2 GHz and 3.2 GHz against an Atom 230 single-core and the new Atom D510 dual-core.

Performance? Don’t Expect Too Much

Performance-wise, there are benchmarks in which the old Pentium 4 still does well. This applies to workloads that haven’t been multi-threaded or coded to take advantage of newer instruction set enhancements, such as SSE3. All others, though, run much faster on the dual-core Atom D510, mostly thanks to its second processing core. The performance difference is glaring.

Note that all of the test systems deliver rather limited performance if you compare them to a modern PC based on an AMD Athlon II, Phenom II, or Intel’s Core i3/i5/i7. We’re clearly talking about entry-level performance in this article.

Power and Efficiency

Performance alone might not be much of an issue, as the applications we’ve mentioned don’t require much computing power. However, the power consumption and power efficiency are even more important. Both Atom systems are role models of quiet operation and low power consumption. In contrast, the Pentium 4 systems require three to five times more power at idle and under load. Whether or not you care about your power bill, this definitely has an impact on cooling and noise.

Eight Years Are Enough!

In the end, there’s a simple conclusion for everyone who wants a low cost system: keep your old Pentium 4 system if you have to, but bear in mind that all relevant metrics (performance, noise, power, and efficiency) are pathetic by modern standards.

If you can afford to spend a few hundred dollars on a nettop, we’d definitely recommend this. We usually rant about Atom due to its shortcomings compared to desktop platforms, but it simply trounces the old P4s. Keeping a PC in service for seven or eight years is more than enough. Just make sure you go for a dual-core Atom when you decide to buy.