Itâ€™s not very often that Intel falls behind in the processor technology stakes, but thatâ€™s exactly what has happened recently. When AMD launched its Athlon 64 range of CPUs it grabbed the accolade of having the most advanced x86 processor.
Of course Intel will probably argue this point stating that 64bit processing on the desktop is unnecessary at present. There is some truth in that, but a bit of future proofing never hurt anyone.
But Intel was never going to let AMD have all the limelight to itself, and on the eve of the launch of the Athlon 64 Intel announced a new high powered version of the Pentium 4 called the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition.
To make things even more interesting, Intel has said that the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is for serious gaming performance, much like the AMD Athlon 64 FX-51. So, after years of trying to convince the world that you needed the fastest processor to run your office applications and Internet browsers, both Intel and AMD are admitting that itâ€™s games that demand the cutting edge components.
Unlike the Athlon 64 FX-51, the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition is not based on a completely new core, so it can quite happily drop into any of the current crop of Pentium 4 motherboards. Intel claims that this is a major advantage over its competitor since there is no need to use a costly new motherboard or expensive ECC memory, although cost really isnâ€™t something that the Extreme Edition has on its side.
So, what is it that makes the Extreme Edition so different from a standard 3.2GHz P4? Well the most obvious difference is the huge helping of cache that Intel has added to the Extreme Edition. Just like a standard Pentium 4 CPU, the Extreme Edition has 512KB of Level 2 cache, but it also has a mammoth 2MB of Level 3 cache.
Intel is well aware of the performance advantage that increasing the full-speed on-die cache can bring. Back in the mid nineties when Cyrix chips were beating the original Intel Pentium on both price and performance, Intel released the Pentium MMX. No one really took advantage of the MMX instructions, but it was the fact that the MMX chip had twice the amount of Level 1 cache that made it so much faster. Although it has to be mentioned that the MMX Pentium chips didnâ€™t cost more than the out-going standard Pentiums.
Intel has made the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition its flagship CPU, which is why this initial chip is running at 3.2GHz; the current peak of Pentium 4 frequency. But donâ€™t expect to pick up a cheap 3.2GHz Extreme Edition when the Pentium 4 top frequency moves on. Just like AMD with the Athlon 64 FX-51, Intel has decided that the Extreme Edition will only ever be available at the top clock frequency.
So, is Intel aiming the Extreme Edition at the same hardcore gaming market that AMD is ear marking for the FX-51? Well, not quite. At a recent meeting with Intel I was informed that the Extreme Edition isnâ€™t aimed at hardcore gamers, itâ€™s aimed at elite gamers. I was understandably confused by that statement and asked for clarification of what an elite gamer was. The response was that an elite gamer is someone who actually makes their living from playing games.