For a little while there, it seemed as if both Intel and AMD were taking a bit of a break with their processor releases. Then along comes AMD throwing us a curve with the unexpected release of the Athlon XP 2600+. This release was surprising not only for the timing, but due to AMD finally ratcheting up their core speeds, instead of the usual 66 MHz increments we're used to. The ink is barely dry on that product review, and we've got another extremely fast processor to cover: the Pentium 4-2.8 GHz.
Intel is actually announcing several new processors today, but the flagship model is the new 2.8 GHz Pentium 4. This is an important number, since although AMD continues to refute it, many consumers associate the Athlon XP model numbers with the equivalent Pentium 4 clock speed. It's actually a pretty fair comparison, and the Athlon XP 2600+ is not only an extremely fast CPU, but it is also slightly higher on the "consumer mindset" scale, than the 2.53 GHz Pentium 4. That was then and this is now, and Intel has once again blown off the clock speed doors with a jump to a full 2.8 GHz.
Along with the Pentium 4-2.8 GHz powerhouse, Intel has also announced a Pentium 4-2.66 GHz which also runs on the 533 MHz fronts-side bus, along with two new models using the older 400 MHz FSB. The Pentium 4-2.6 and 2.5 GHz models are a nice jump from the present Pentium 4-2.4 GHz 400 MHz CPU. Intel is notorious for orphaning platforms as soon as the newest motherboards are available, but this time the chip giant is giving current owners a viable upgrade path. We had assumed the days of new 400 MHz Pentium 4 releases were well behind us, but Intel has proven us wrong and made an excellent move to improve consumer relations.
The upgrade segment is a growing part of the overall market, and this was an area where AMD definitely had the upper hand. Only time will tell whether this is a long-term Intel strategy, but the introduction of these new processors is great news for owners of older 400 MHz platforms, and the Pentium 4-2.8 and 2.66 GHz are prime targets for the high-end, new computer buyer. Intel not only keeps the pressure on AMD by releasing newer, faster processors, but the company has exhibited very astute business sense of late. No matter if it is the Pentium 4-1.6A wooing the overclocking crowd, or the Pentium 4-2.6 or demonstrating that the i845 400 MHz platform still has legs, Intel is firing on all cylinders.
Other than the increased core speed, the four new Pentium 4 processors are quite similar to previous models. Each has a 0.13-micron core, 512K of L2 cache, SSE2 support, and depending on the processor, runs on either a 400 or 533 MHz front-side bus. The first design shift is in the core voltage, and while previous Pentium 4 Northwood models sported a 1.5V default, the new Pentium 4-2.5 GHz to 2.8 GHz processors increase this to 1.525V. This higher voltage is likely to support the higher core speeds, and also to provide additional headroom for upcoming models.
Intel has also moved to a new Pentium 4 Northwood core revision. The last revision was B0, which is featured in processors up to 2.53 GHz. These newer Pentium 4 processors use the new C1 core, which along with the 1.525V core voltage, also have a higher thermal spec as well. There is no information on older Pentium 4 models taking advantage of the C1 core, but this is likely to happen in the near future. Due to these new requirements, a BIOS update will likely be needed so that the Pentium 4-2.5 to 2.8 processors are properly recognized and the correct voltage is set.
With AMD launching the Athlon XP 2600+ scant days before Intel released the Pentium 4-2.8 GHz, we now have a pretty good battle looming. The Athlon XP 2600+ was able to surpass the Pentium 4-2.53 GHz in a good percentage of the benchmark tests, but now that Intel has jacked on another 266 MHz on top, it may be a one-sided slugfest. We also don't favor either the Intel strategy of ever-increasing core speeds, or the AMD goal of providing an incredibly high per-MHz performance rate. At the end of the day, only pure speed matters, and how each company gets there is of little consequence. On that note, we're going to be moving directly into the benchmarking section, and putting both Intel and AMD processors to the test.