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Review: Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz Prescott, 3.4GHz Northwood and 3.4GHz Northwood Extreme Edition

by Tarinder Sandhu on 1 February 2004, 00:00

Tags: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)

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Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz Prescott, 3.4GHz Northwood, and 3.4GHz Northwood Extreme Edition

The enthusiast may be under the false impression that Intel really, really cares about having the fastest consumer-level CPUs. Intel's near-$30-billion turnover in 2003 dwarfs its arch-rival's, AMD's, by a factor of close to 10, and Intel has an x86 CPU market share in excess of 80%. That's an enviable position to be in. 2003 also saw an unstinting rise in technological stocks. Intel, naturally, gained back some of the market capitalisation that it lost, like everyone else for that matter, when the frenzied stock bubble burst in 2001. In short, Intel is doing good.

You wouldn't think the above facts were true if a company's evaluation was strictly based on the the performance of its top-of-the-line processors. AMD's new 32- and 64-bit processors, which go under the names of Opteron, FX-5x and Athlon 64 Model 3xxx, respectively, are all similar in design and performance. The naming structure reflects the market in which each family of processors is to operate. Whatever the name, it's hard to get away from the fact that the Athlon 64 is an altogether impressive CPU. Clever engineering, forward thinking, and excellent 32-bit performance has put AMD, in many commentators' eyes, comfortably at the top of the consumer CPU tree. The impressive Pentium 4 3.2GHz Northwood CPU doesn't look so formidable now. In fact, when considering the Athlon 64 FX-51 / Model 3200+ and Model 3400+'s performance in the enthusiast sphere of gaming, the venerable Northwood is beginning to look, dare we say it, slow. Slow, it must be noted, is a wholly comparative term.

Intel attempted to redress some of the glaring performance imbalance by launching a special, souped-up Northwood CPU that carried an extra 2MB (lots of transistors, baby) of Level 3 cache. The Extreme Edition, or Expensive Edition as it was later jokingly referred to, used an expensive production method to increase performance. Extreme Editions, by their very nature, will never be within the reach of most enthusiasts' wallets. We observed that AMD had made a significant performance and prestige leap with the Athlon 64 / Opteron's inception. We also said that Intel would rise to the challenge with the much-vaunted Pentium 4 Prescott CPU, which, as you may know, is the Northwood's replacement. Conjecture was rife that it would provide the sorts of performance gains witnessed in the transition between the doomed Willamette and incumbent Northwood. Mr. Northwood, though, is going to go out without a bang. Intel mentioned that it intended on carrying the high-performance line first started by the 3.2GHz Extreme Edition CPU. True to its word there's a 3.4GHz Northwood-based Extreme Edition with a suitably pain-inducing price tag and extra productivity oomph provided by all those millions of on-chip transistors which make up 2MB of L3 cache.

So three new CPUs from Intel today, including a regular, if you can call it that, Northwood 3.4GHz processor. The Extreme Edition is a known quantity. We reviewed the 3.2GHz version here. The 3.4GHz model is going to be fast, that much we can surmise. Will it or wont it be able to top the Athlon 64 Model 3400+ in the majority of benchmarks ?. That, really, is the most fundamental question we'll attempt to answer. It's aimed at a select, deep-pocketed market. That market just wants to know if it is the fastest thing since, um, the Athlon 64 3400+. The Intel Pentium 4 Prescott CPU, on the other hand, is an unknown. It has to be better and faster than the lesser Northwood, right ?. Read on and find out.