So the burning question is how this dual core technology performs. As youâ€™ll see from our â€˜How We Testedâ€™ page we did some fairly quick and dirty tests as we only had the weekend to evaluate the system, so we felt it most beneficial to compare Pentium Extreme Edition with a dual Xeon workstation which runs the same 3.2GHz clock speed but on a 533MHz FSB, and also against a 3.4GHz Pentium 4 EE Gallatin.
Intel included documentation about tests we could run using sixteen different applications, and in each case the emphasis was on multimedia coding, which is understandable as this puts the emphasis on processing power. We ran Sysmark 2002 on each platform (SYSmark 2004 would have taken too long) and then ran three of the suggested applications, and perhaps the biggest surprise is that Pentium D (i.e. Hyper-Threading disabled) only loses out to Pentium Extreme Edition 840 in movie encoding. No doubt other applications will show a similar effect but we would suggest that the vast majority of users will see no benefit from four virtual processors.
Probably the least surprising result from our tests is that Pentium Extreme Edition 840 behaves very much like our dual Xeons, and thatâ€™s despite the fact that it uses the older 875P chipset and a slower FSB. Of course both configurations have four virtual processors but the similarities are startling.
All that said, even though the average PC user is unlikely to be running many multi-threaded applications, if they are running several applications concurrently, a dual-core chip should make a big difference. This ties in well with Intelâ€™s push towards the digital home, where a single PC will be performing multiple tasks around the home simultaneously. The idea is that one person could be watching a high definition movie, while someone else could be playing Half-Life 2, without any degradation in performance â€“ something that simply isnâ€™t possible with a single core CPU system.
To get an idea of how good the Pentium Extreme Edition is at multitasking we started by playing Doom3 on High Quality settings and as we expected the Radeon X850 handled it flawlessly. We quit the game and started a full system scan running in Norton AV which bumped CPU usage up to 75% or so and then went back into Doom3. Although it took a while longer to start up, game play was completely smooth and the fact that Norton was running was completely undetectable. Once again we quit Doom3 and with Norton still running we set iTunes to encoding two albums of MP3s to AAC format. We opened Doom3 up with both Norton and iTunes running in the background and the game play continued to be superb. Itâ€™s as though the Pentium Extreme Edition allocates virtual processors to each task, and it provided us with a computing experience that we have never had before. Very, very impressive, so just remember, the benchmarks donâ€™t give the full story.
So, would we buy a brand new Pentium Extreme Edition? Probably not, but thatâ€™s the answer we give with most new technology. We said it about SATA, PCI Express, DDR memory and DDR2 memory, and now weâ€™re saying it about dual core processors â€“ ultimately, the price premium for the Pentium Extreme Edition will be too high, and the lack of Hyper Threading in the Pentium D is a disappointment. That said, dual and multi-core processors are definitely the way forward, and as more applications appear that take advantage of multi-threading weâ€™ll see some big jumps in performance. As is always the case, early adopters are going to pay a high price for small gains, but as Intel rolls out dual-core chips across all its platforms, software developers will be forced to code applications with multi-thread support. In the meantime though, anyone whoâ€™s doing a significant amount of multi-tasking should see a significant performance boost right now.