Intel's Pentium Performance Hangs on a Hyper-Thread


Intel has quietly begun to deviate from its self-perpetuated myth that processor performance is based on clock-speed alone: Intel's new 3.06 GHz Pentium 4 offers Hyper-Threading, a technology that Intel says offers up to a 24% performance gain independent of clock speed. The launch follows Intel's debut of its Pentium 4 with an excessively long pipeline of 20-stages two years ago that boosted clock speed to the detriment of processor performance.

Intel will likely continue to throw a substantial portion of its billion-dollar marketing budget to perpetuate the clock-speed myth in the average consumer's mind that processor performance is measured by clock speed alone. But after the debut of the HT technology in its desktop CPU line, incremental performance gains in new Pentium processors will no longer be measured by pure Megahertz levels, Intel said.

Enter Hyper-Threading

Simply put, HT allows one processor to serve as two physical processors while the OS and other programs are tricked into thinking that there are actually two working physical processors. The benefits are twofold: when multitasking, HT will allow you take about any combination of desktop applications with HT, run them simultaneously and then get some level of benefit depending on the application you are running, measured by task-completion benchmarks.

For example, you put on a slide show with music. While encoding the music, you manipulate images at the same time. The encoding process in the background is going to finish faster. While you will still have a quick responsive imaging experience in the foreground, in the past you may have had to wait and may not have had a responsive environment. And in some cases, the foreground application may have ground to a halt.

For office applications, virus scanning and encryption cranked up to the maximum take up IC computing power. When you are working on basic tasks in the foreground with a simple virus scan operating in the background, opening up a large PowerPoint file can take a lot of time. But instead of taking several minutes without HT, opening up the PowerPoint presentation might just take a few seconds.