Dual Core Intel Pentium EE

Naturally a new processor requires a new chipset, so the 955X steps in to replace the 925X, while 945P takes over from 915P, but other than dual core support it’s steady as she goes with support for DDR2 and PCI Express. The Southbridge is ICH7R. Intel also decided that the new processor needed a new name, and this is where it gets tricky.

Pentium 4 is dead, and in its place we get two flavours of dual core processor for the desktop. The king of the heap is Pentium Extreme Edition which has dual cores with Hyper-Threading so one physical processor appears as four virtual processors. This will inevitably be the US $999 part that looks good on paper but doesn’t get bought so Intel came up with the bright idea of a dual core part called Pentium D that doesn’t have Hyper-Threading. It runs on the same 800MHz FSB and has the same cache but it appears as two virtual processors, just like the current Prescott. No doubt Pentium Extreme Edition will move to a 1066MHz FSB, which will allow Intel to enable HT in Pentium D but for now it all looks like a bit of a marketing nightmare.

It is quite clear that Intel appreciates its predicament as it sent us a complete white box, rather than a regular press kit of processor and motherboard, along with a stack of documentation six inches thick, while insisting that we should recognise that this is pre-production kit that is intended to give us a flavour for Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840, rather than being a rock solid retail ready setup.

From the outside the PC looks quite conventional, and if you peer through the window in the side of the case you can’t see anything out of the ordinary either. The motherboard is an Intel 955XBK with 955X Northbridge and ICH7R Southbridge, integrated Pro/1000 PM Ethernet, and High Definition Audio as well as a Sil3114A RAID controller. There’s 1GB of dual channel DDR2 667MHz (PC5300) memory running 5-5-5-15 timings, a 160GB Seagate 7200.7 hard drive, a Plextor PX-716A DVD writer, Sapphire Radeon X850 graphics card and an Enermax EPS 12V 550W power supply.

Intel advised us that the BIOS was incomplete and did not support SATA II but other than that it was good to go and as the processor was unlocked we might fancy overclocking it to see what we could get out of Pentium Extreme Edition. Sadly, this was not the case. The BIOS was unusual as it didn’t display POST information and there were no options to adjust either the FSB or clock multiplier. We also found that it wouldn’t recognise our Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 760 when we tried to do some back-to-back comparisons to see what effect the 955X chipset had on performance.

However, we could enable and disable Hyper-Threading, so we could turn the processor into a Pentium D at will, but that was about it. We got mildly excited when we found an option in the BIOS labelled ‘Trusted Platform Module’ so we asked Intel if it was introducing TCP (Trusted Computing Platform) but no. It seems that Trusted Platform Module has been appearing on workstation motherboards for the last two years and is a hardened chip that can’t be read by x-ray, so it can be used to store an encryption key to keep the hard drive secure. We’ve not seen this feature on a desktop motherboard before.

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