Market Survey, Part 1: A Comparison Of The Latest Pentium 4 Motherboards

Time To Make A Move? Seven Pentium 4 Mainboards In A Comparison Test

Over the last few months, Intel has taken a lot of heat over its latest P4 processor. Its most recent Prescott core is literally a "hot little item" that cooks along between 84 and 115 W max, depending on the model. By contrast, AMD CPUs go up to a maximum of 89 W, and their latest generation only goes to 67 W. AMD is still ahead of Intel technologically thanks mainly to their CPUs' 64-bit capability, NX bit, and Cool 'n' Quiet feature. But the introduction of reworked, faster P4 processors will soon renew the attractiveness of Intel's solutions.

Intel can claim some advantages for its latest platforms. The 915 and 925 chipsets are without doubt among the best on the market today from a technological standpoint. And while it is true that motherboard manufacturers enjoy fewer and fewer differentiating features due to the advancing degree of component integration, Intel has developed a variety of options for adapting products to meet a range of different requirements.

For example, manufacturers can determine whether they want to support DDR400 or DDR2-533 memory when using a 915 chipset. They also get to decide the precise number of PCI Express and PCI slots to put on the board, and can choose whether to go with the newer Socket 775, or stick with the older Socket 478 instead. Other optional features include the network connector (100 Mbit or Gigabit Ethernet), sound system performance (high definition audio), extra memory controllers, or interfaces like IEEE-1394a/b (a.k.a. "Firewire.")

The 915P and 925X chipsets run an FSB clock speed of 200 MHz (termed FB800 because there are four data transfers per clock cycle). However, this past fall Intel introduced the 925XE chipset, which can run at an FSB clock speed of up to 266 MHz (FSB1066). In theory, XE boards are a safer investment, but the number of compatible processors is not going to increase much over the next half year. Only a single new P4 Extreme Edition is set to come out, at a speed of 3.73 GHz, and it is guaranteed to go for astronomical prices, probably in the neighborhood of $1,000. This is obviously not for the average user, and the other P4 processors on the way are all staying with FSB800.

With this background, it is time to take a look at Intel's processor plans, and the motherboards now out on the market.