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New Intel Platforms

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Leicester Square seems to have almost karmic significance for me at the moment and in a few hours I’ll be visiting it for the third time in only two weeks. This time it isn’t to see Star Wars: Episode III but is instead to attend a launch of Intel’s latest technology.

If it were a film though, it would probably be called Two Processors and a Chipset. The stars of this little show are Intel’s latest Pentium 4 – the 670, taking the range up to a heady 3.8GHz. Joining this in Intel’s quest for Galactic domination is the launch of a new chip, the Pentium D. Signalling the arrival of dual-core technology for the consumer this is a great leap forward. The Pentium D is launching in three flavours – the 820, the 830 and the 840 running at 2.8, 3.0 and 3.2GHz respectively. Accompanying the new processor is a new chipset to put it in – the 945 Express available with and without the ‘new and improved’ integrated graphics – 945G with, and 945P, without.

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In a sense we’ve already taken a sneek peek at Pentium D here, when Leo got up close and personal with the Pentium Extreme Edition (EE). As Leo pointed out, essentially the only difference between the EE and the Pentium D is that the latter doesn’t feature Hyper Threading, so at launch consumers will have to make do with two cores, instead of the two real and two virtual ones that those extreme gamer types who apparently line up to buy Extreme Edition CPUs will enjoy. Leo was able to turn off Hyper-Threading on the 955X Express chipset motherboard, thus turning the EE into a Pentium D. However, his chip was running at 3.2GHz, while our sample is the baby of the pack running at a mere 2.8Ghz.

Intel has decided in its wisdom to pitch the processors at two camps - the Pentium 4 for the ‘digital office and the Pentium D for the ‘digital home’. The thinking behind this is that while dual core is the way to go for the home, business users will for now, gain more benefit from the higher clock speeds achievable with the single core. So it seems as if there’s still a little more life left in regular Pentium 4.

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The standard Pentium 4 is the culmination of Intel’s long search for raising clock speeds as the path to performance and as a marketing tool with which to hammer AMD over the head. However, high clock speeds require the use of long data pipelines, thereby increasing the power requirements – which was one of the reasons why the Pentium 4 ‘Prescott’ was such a power hog with a Thermal Design Power (TDP) over 100 Watts.

But Intel, along with the rest of the industry has realised that clock speed was no longer way to go. AMD dropped using clock speeds to denote the performance of its chips some time ago and Intel followed suit. Then Intel introduced dual-core on its latest Extreme Editon processor and AMD quickly followed with dual-core Opteron. Meanwhile, Sony has been making big noises about the parallelism of the Cell processor architecture used in its forthcoming PlayStation 3, while the Xbox 360 features no less than a three CPU cores. These are running at 3.2GHz with 2MB of Level 2 cache. These might sounds suspiciously like Intel’s Pentium D but are, in fact, PowerPC chips manufactured by IBM. So not Intel at all then. Intel and AMD's rouadmaps also include moving eventually from dual-core to multi-core. So clearly the single core chip days are numbered.

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