2.8GHz, the Empire strikes back ?
I don't know about you, but I'd wager that up until a month ago, Intel's desktop CPU engineers were taking it rather easy, content in the notion that theirs was the performance processor. The Pentium 4, in its Northwood form, had arguably taken a decisive performance lead over its arch-rival, the Athlon XP. Whilst the Athlon toiled away at 1.8GHz (XP2200), the 2.53GHz Northwood sat relatively unchallenged atop of the performance tree. Coupled with PC1066 RDRAM, or high-quality DDR capable of running at 166MHz+, the 2.53GHz's benchmarks usually eclipsed AMD's finest with comparative ease. It appeared, to the casual observer at least, that there could only be one winner in the race that was started back when the Athlon first debuted in 1999.
With the promise of sky-high Pentium 4 MHz clocks later this year, the short-term future seemed rosy enough. It appeared as if AMD would be forced to play their hand and release the Barton variant (Athlon XP with 512kb of on-board L2 cache) to combat the rampant P4. After all, it required freon-based cooling to nudge the much-vaunted XP2200 0.13u Thoroughbred CPU to much over 2GHz with any kind of stability.
Had Chimpzilla conceded the current fight to Chipzilla, perhaps to fight back with the Clawhammer, not a bit of it. It appears is if the XP2200 Thoroughbred was simply a meek substitute for the real Thoroughbred processor, the one that appeared in the middle of last week. Put simply, a few general modifications, including the adding of another metal layer (up to 9 from 8), has allowed for internal resistance to be decreased. Electromagnetic interference has been further reduced by adding decoupling capacitors, and general speed paths have been further optimised for high-speed usage. The bottom line is that a processor once doomed to kick the bucket at below 2GHz is now simply ticking over at previously unimaginable speeds. Indeed, the test XP2600 here at Hexus managed to hit 2.3GHz without batting an eyelid. There's life in the old boy yet.
Intel, on the other hand, currently face no real headroom dilemma with their Northwood processor. Things have been going so well on the P4 front that clock speeds have been increased rather too easily. Debuting at 2GHz at the start of this year, Intel feel that releasing a 2.8GHz P4 in the middle of the same year is no big deal, such are the current Northwood yields. Those with a cynical outlook on the CPU industry may view Intel's newest Pentium 4 announcement as a means of deflecting the limelight from AMD's latest and greatest. After all, the release date of the 2.8GHz Northwood has been brought forward by a couple of weeks. I, however, see this as simply benefiting the end-user as early introduction for newer processors usually translates to an imminent lowering of current CPU prices.
The 2.8GHz Pentium 4 Northwood is here to play. Let's have a quick look at it and its specifications before we embark on our usual benchmarking run.