Intel's New Weapon: Pentium 4 Prescott

Conclusion: Prescott Has Become A Minor Matter

First, Prescott definitely does not represent monkey business, as it performs at the same level as the Northwood. In addition there is the unknown thing called SSE3, the use of which remains to be seen. That is a summary of Intel's Prescott processor in two sentences. However, is the Prescott a trendsetter?

In our opinion, the debut of a processor based on a cutting-edge process technology and architecture that only offers the same performance level as the predecessor is unanticipated. Despite 1 MB L2 cache and some optimizations, Prescott is slower than Northwood in roughly a third of our benchmarks. Software, like many 3D shooters and more serious applications like Lame, MS Movie Maker 2, Mathematica, Cinema 4D or even 3DStudio perform worse than before.

On the other hand, there are a similar amount of applications that run faster on a Prescott CPU. These are DivX encoding with Xmpeg, file archiving with WinRAR, video authoring using Pinnacle Studio 9 and the remolded SYSmark 2004.

We should as well put the considerable heat dissipation onto the list, as the Prescott offers no improvement in this increasingly important category. Users willing to upgrade their socket 478 systems are left out in the rain due to the uncertain compatibility situation and last but not least Prescott is badly overclockable, which made us skipping the overclocking tests. So there is only one argument left that makes Prescott really attractive: It is a new technology and it is not more expensive than Northwood.

Do you believe buying a Prescott processor is a future-proof investment? You really shouldn't, because that is what Intel wants us to believe, as the real generation and architecture change to socket 775, DDRII memory and PCI Express are few months away yet.

Prescott is future-proof for its creator, for Intel learned and did not repeat former mistakes. Intel, for example, has learned that processor architectures sometimes need to be changed in order to achieve higher clock speeds. That's what happened with Pentium II and Pentium 4 that, at first, performed ridiculously low. Such an architecture change should not be accompanied by a new model name, because performance increases will only show up at higher clock rates. Unfortunately, they will be provided later. That is why Prescott was not named Pentium 5.

What we do not understand is why Intel presents a new technology, flavored with lots of marketing-friendly numbers, only few months in advance of a platform change. So what is the meaning of this "average Prescott" we were given today? The introduction of SSE3 cannot possibly be that important. We only found one benchmark supporting the new instructions, and it does not even benefit from it. At existing clock speeds, Prescott is not faster than Northwood and is thus a pretty useless product, as the socket is meant to be phased out shortly anyway.

In our opinion, Intel today does not care about Prescott as a processor, but as a marketing instrument. It is fast enough, which is mainly what counts, and since the 90 nm production-process yields cheap processors in vast quantities, the Santa Clara based company gains new flexibility. The margin for price drops is tremendous and the product portfolio will grow soon (remember the Celeron). As Intel becomes more experienced with Prescott's production, Intel will then be able to raise clock speeds at will. Until then, Northwood is a perfect backup solution.