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Review: Intel P4 1.7 Ghz

by David Ross on 20 September 2001, 00:00

Tags: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)

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Intel P4 1.7 Ghz

The name Intel captured the hearts of hardware enthusiasts the world over, with the famed Celeron 300A. This CPU was a major success in the hardware / overclocking world. It got just about everyone in the hardware world to use CPU's with the Intel brand name. Intel remained the firm favourite until around summer 1999 when AMD launched the Athlon, this really gave some considerable competition, to Intel's then current CPU the Pentium 3. The hardware enthusiast's began to look towards the AMD Athlon as an upgrade platform, large OEM's still stuck with Intel, but the Intel leadership in the market was under question for the first time ever.

As time went on CPU speeds grew, with Intel and AMD pushing the limits in the race for more MHz. Eventually AMD in my eyes won the race with the first CPU past the magical 1000MHz barrier. Intel obviously couldn't sit around watching the competition, so they launched their new CPU, the Intel Pentium 4.

Initially launched at 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz the Pentium 4 met with mixed reviews on hardware sites and in PC magazines the world over. The Pentium 4 was designed to run with highly optimized software, it relied heavily on SSE and SSE2 optimizations in the software. Around the time of the launch of the P4 back in November 2000 there was very little software for benchmarking that recognised and used the P4 architecture properly. The same could be said today in some respects, in real world usage the P4 still only shows a performance gains over, the competing Athlon CPU's in specific benchmarks, Quake 3 is one such gaming benchmark that shows good SSE optimisation can really speed up performance.

Architecture

P4 Architecture can be broken down into 5 key areas. The following is taken from Intel's own site

Hyper Pipelined Technology
Compared to the Intel® Pentium® III processor, Intel® NetBurst™ micro-architecture doubles the pipeline depth to 20 stages. This significantly increases the Intel® Pentium® 4 processor's performance and frequency capability.

Rapid Execution Engine
The Arithmetic Logic Units (ALU) run at twice the speed of the clock, increasing the overall speed. A brand new cache system - execution trace cache - keeps up with the high-speed rapid execution runs.

400Mhz System Bus
The 400 MHz system bus provides a 3.2 gigabyte per second transfer speed between the Pentium 4 processor and the memory controller and is the highest bandwidth desktop system bus available, delivering more responsive system performance.

Advanced Dynamic Execution
The Intel® NetBurst™ micro-architecture has a much wider view of instructions (3 times wider than the Pentium III processor) that needs to be executed and, as a result, can pick and choose from this larger view, in order to execute the instructions in the optimal order. This speeds up the overall performance of the Pentium 4 processor.

Streaming SIMD Extension 2 (SSE2)
With 144 new instructions, a 128-bit SIMD integer arithmetic and 128-bit SIMD double precision floating point instructions, your multimedia experiences are enhanced significantly.


I could go to great lengths about the P4 Netburst architecture, but its been done before on Hexus.net and numerous other sites, so I'm just going to concentrate on what it actually offers in terms of performance and value for the consumer.

To read more on the P4 architecture take a look at this earlier Hexus.net article click here.

Pictures

Well this is an obvious one the case showing large extractor fan at the rear and neat interior.

The sticker on the top of the case showing this is an engineering sample system.

The inside of the Pentium 4 rig

An up close and personal pic of the RAMBUS PC 800 memory, which comes equipped with some rather funky blue heatspreaders.

Rambus memory has to be installed in pairs, this system came equipped with 2* 128MB, the empty slots in the board are filled with terminators (shown below) these are bare modules which fill the slots up, and allow the ram to work correctly.

The Test Rig

Intel Pentium 4 1700MHz
Intel 850 Motherboard
256MB PC800 RDRAM
IBM GXP 75 30 gig Drive
Hitachi DVD drive
Elsa GeForce 2 Ultra 64MB

Running Windows Millenium, Nvidia Detonator 12.60

First Impressions

This is is the fastest system, in terms of raw MHz that I've ever had the opportunity to use. On turning it on I wasn't exactly overwhelmed by speed, coming from a 1600Mhz Athlon, it didn't seem very different to be honest. I've read quite a few articles about the P4 since it's launch, to a mixed reception from the hardware community in November 2000. Whilst the P4 clearly holds the speed crown in terms of MHz, it has some problems matching its claims of speed with actual real world performance. Lets see how it compares.

On powering up the system the BIOS screen certainly leaves you in no doubt what CPU your running, whilst it makes no mention of what speed its running at or the amount of RAM installed you can certainly see it's a Pentium 4 (O:

Benchmarks

The first benchmark I ran was SIS Sandra, a now familiar benchmark showing the main Processor and how it stacks up against other CPU's on the market. pleas be patient whilst the animation loads.

We compared this to the AMD system of the following Spec:-

Epox 8K7a +
256MB DDR
12* 133 bus speed


After I'd checked out with Sandra I ran another old favourite benchmark Quake 3. This is one benchmark that really does run well with the P4.

Quake 3

Quake 3 640*480 800*600 1024*768 1280*1024 1600*1200
Fastest 206.1 203.5 193.6 154.8 110.3
Normal 186.6 173.1 132.6 82.4 56.5
HQ 185.2 172.1 128.6 80.6 55.7
SHQ 182.5 168.2 126.8 79.1 51.5

Comparing the P4 against an Athlon running at 1600MHz, the P4 still shows its muscles beating the Athlon by 12FPS in 640*480 resolution. Right the way through the results the P4 shows gains over the Athlon, they level out once the limit of the graphics card is reached then the results are pretty much inseparable.

Quake 3 640*480 800*600 1024*768 1280*1024 1600*1200
Fastest P4 206.1 203.5 193.6 154.8 110.3
Fastest AMD 194.8 193.3 185.5 152.1 110.3
Normal P4 186.6 173.1 132.6 82.4 56.5
Normal AMD 179.7 169.1 134.4 82.4 56.4
HQ P4 185.2 172.1 128.6 80.6 55.7
HQ AMD 180.3 167.5 130.8 80.6 55.7
SHQ P4 182.5 168.2 126.8 79.1 51.5
SHQ AMD 175.6 159.9 120.5 74.3 51.5

3DMark 2001

I ran the now familiar 3DMark 2001. Although 3DMark 2001 is very much a graphic card orientated benchmark it still shows some merit in showing system performance, Both machines where configured with a GeForce 2 Ultra the and the same Detonator drivers, this should make it a fairly level playing field.

3DMark2001 640*480 800*600 1024*768 1280*1024 1600*1200
P4 1700 4930 4706 4161 3201 2420
Athlon 1600 5528 5169 4570 3383 2511



Unreal Tournament

Unreal Tournament is notoriously CPU limited, and as such it gives the P4 a good workout to show what its made of. I ran the thunder demo which I've used previously in my graphics cards reviews. Both systems where running version 4.36 UT with detonator 12.60.
I ran with the graphics setting maxed out with 32 bit colour and high quality settings.

UT Thunder 640*480 800*600 1024*768 1280*960
P4 1700 100.36 98.16 95.62 85.78
Athlon 1600 125.5 122.2 115.53 90.09


Here we see the Athlon running at 1600Mhz take s decisive lead over the P4, whilst both system remain playable in all resolutions the Athlon is definitely faster leading by over 25FPS in the lowest resolution.

That's enough of the game benchmarks for now lets see one application that has been talked about a lot.

Flask Mpeg DVD Ripping

This is one application that has caused much contention on the internet. At the launch of the P4 a famous hardware site, provided some rather odd benchmarks, these benchmarks got some clever bods at Intel to recompile the flask source code to improve the P4's performance. There are now optimized patches for Flask for both Intel and AMD CPU's. I've tried them out to see which is better/ faster at ripping DVD's. Using Flask mpeg 5.094,I ran some initial benchmarks, then I downloaded the Intel and AMD optimized code and ran the tests again. The DVD clip I chose was a small 246MB intro from a DVD film.

Flask Mpeg DVD Ripping

This is one application that has caused much contention on the internet. At the launch of the P4 a famous hardware site, provided some rather odd benchmarks, these benchmarks got some clever bods at Intel to recompile the flask source code to improve the P4's performance. There are now optimized patches for Flask for both Intel and AMD CPU's. I've tried them out to see which is better/ faster at ripping DVD's. Using Flask mpeg 5.094,I ran some initial benchmarks, then I downloaded the Intel and AMD optimized code and ran the tests again. The DVD clip I chose was a small 246MB intro from a DVD film.

The clip was encoded at 352*288 resolution @ 25FPS, I chose a short 1000 frame section and tested both CPU's under the same settings

Flask Mpeg Fastest IDCT default Athlon x87 Optimized non MMX default fast IEEE - 1180 reference default MMX Fastest Intel Patch IEEE SSE2 fast Intel patch
AMD 1600 MHz 49 63 52 165 49 NA
P4 1700MHz 49 N/A 55 328 43 47

Well the results aren't very decisive either way, I re- ran the tests and the results stayed consistent, the P4 is only markedly different when you use the IEEE- 1180 reference setting for encoding, with the rest of the results there isn't much to choose between them. The Intel P4 comes out fastest when you use the Intel patched Flask Mpeg and the MMX setting this produces the fastest encoding time for the 1000 frame clip that I used. Over the course of a film the time saved would be quite considerable.

Pricing

This is one area that I don't usually look at to much in a review, but it is none the less an important issue for most, if not all people looking to upgrade their PC's. Intel products have always held a high market price, the P4 is no different in that respect. At launch the pricing was rather extreme, but as always market forces come into play and prices have fallen. The P4 is still priced above the competing Athlon's, but with the recent cuts its not as big a margin as it has been. Rambus Ram is one part of a P4 system that cost considerably more than the DDR or SDR Ram in the competing systems. At around £40 for a 128MB module it is around double the price of a good quality standard SDR or DDR module. Rambus RAM is used in just about every high performance P4 motherboard currently available. There are SDRAM based motherboards coming out now but on looking at some reviews the offer little in the way of performance, the P4 seems to need the huge memory bandwidth to make the most of its internal architecture

Having looked around the net at the prices for a Pentium 4, you can see that finally the prices are coming down to a level where computer users can actually think about the Pentium 4 as an upgrade. As a quick comparison I looked at the various prices for a system upgrade.

Pentium 4 Motherboard £150
Pentium 4 1700MHz £205
2*128MB PC800 RIMM £80
Pentium 4 Compatible PSU £50
total £485
Athlon Socket A Motherboard £130
AMD Athlon Thunderbird 1400MHz £110
256MB PC2100 DDR

£30

AMD Approved PSU £50

total

£320

Buying a Pentium 4 1700MHz as an upgrade from an existing setup costs around £175 more. For something which performs at about the same level as the 1400MHz Athlon in most applications this seems rather a hefty price tag. The P4 will definitely get better as the optimisations in the software take account of the SSE instructions in the CPU, but right now the P4 doesn't perform like the speed king that it appears to be at first glance.

Conclusion

With the price of the P4 CPU falling rapidly at the moment, it finally comes within the reach of hardware enthusiasts looking to upgrade to an Intel system, whether or not they should do this is still in my eyes debatable. There are plus points to the P4 it does overclock well with the right motherboard, and it runs much cooler than the Athlon Thunderbird. Running at some silly clock speeds it certainly romps home with the title for the fastest 3DMark 2001 system. The other major plus point for the P4 is the fact that you aren't in any danger of crushing the core, which the Athlon is so prone to.

In the setup I received from Intel I had no options to increase the CPU performance which was a little disappointing but having said that , many people just don't tweak their systems. Regular readers of Hexus.net probably wouldn't like the limited tweak ability of the Intel D850GB motherboard, but as a stock system it proved very stable and exhibited no problems with running games or applications. Intel are moving over to the Socket 478 architecture, from the current socket 423 layout, so in terms of an upgradeable motherboard the Socket 478 motherboard is definitely the one to go for. The socket 478 CPU's are readily available at most of the online retailers that I looked at. If I was after making the fastest Computer I could right now then I would probably think about a P4 and with the right motherboard overclock it to around 2.4Ghz, but as I don't have that amount of money spare I'll stick with my Athlon for now. One things for sure the next incarnation of the P4 "Northwood" should be something worth waiting for, already seen running at 3.5Ghz with a larger cache and the possibility of a 133MHz FSB which would mean even greater memory performance with the memory bus running at 533Mhz.