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    Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 Review
    By Vince Freeman :  December 27, 2005

    Introduction

    The current high-end desktop market is quickly turning into a dual core-only proposition, and as far as new releases are concerned, single core models are definitely on the endangered species list. The reasons for this shift are very clear, as dual core processing not only allows exceptional multithreaded performance, but also seamless multi-tasking and the ability to perform a high-end task (gaming), while another (encoding video) runs in the background. The clock speeds are also high enough that even demanding single-threaded games run extremely well on a dual core processor.

    Add to that the fact that high-end video cards take the brunt of the killer game requirements, and that some (like Quake 4) have retail patches in the works that will enable multithreading and jack up dual core performance quite nicely, and you have a pretty amiable environment for dual core CPUs. Into this market strides the Pentium Extreme Edition 955, sitting atop the Intel desktop line and sporting a 3.46 GHz core speed, an improved 2MB core architecture, and a whopping 1066 MHz bus speed. If looks could kill, they probably will, but we're going to see if the Pentium EE 955 matches up in real world usage.

    The Pentium Extreme Edition 955 Processor

    Intel has two very different dual core lines, with the Pentium Extreme Edition offering HT-enabled, quad-threaded performance, while the Pentium D is more of a standard dual core offering. The Pentium EE 955 follows this basic strategy, and includes both dual core and Hyper-Threading for a total of four logical processors, but also features some noted core improvements as well. The most obvious is a shift away from the 90nm Smithfield core onto the more refined and powerful 65nm Presler. The move to a 65nm process gives Intel a potential advantage against AMD, not only in terms of potential clock speed increases and lower relative thermals and voltages, but also greater production efficiencies.

    In terms of basics, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 is clocked at 3.45 GHz and runs on the 1066 MHz processor bus, while requiring a core voltage of 1.2V to 1.33V. These factors improve on the existing Pentium EE 840 in some very important areas, and will supply both higher CPU performance, and greater memory and system bandwidth, but with lower power consumption. The processor features the standard LGA775 package, and includes EM64T 64-bit capability and Execute Disable Bit functionality to limit malicious "buffer overflow" attacks. Intel has also added Intel Virtualization Technology to the Pentium EE 955, which allows the platform to run multiple operating systems concurrently in their own "environment".

    When the original dual core Smithfield core was released, we were disappointed that Intel had not utilized the latest Prescott 2M core technology, and used a dual Prescott 1M architecture instead. The new 65nm Presler corrects this, and features dual Cedar Mill 2MB (Prescott 2M at 65nm) execution cores, for a total of 4MB of L2 cache per processor. This will translate into higher performance compared to existing Pentium EE or Pentium D dual core processors, even without any other core speed or architectural improvements. The larger L2 cache also brings with it some challenges, such as a larger core with more transistors, and potentially greater heat production.

    The Intel 975X Express Platform

    It seems that with most new core and processor releases, Intel also follows this up with a new platform release as well. The i925XE was the Intel performance king before Intel rolled out the i955X for their dual core lineup, and the i975X replaces it for the 65nm Presler. The Intel 975X Express platform consists of the 975X memory controller hub and the ICH7R I/O controller hub, and brings a host of new and old features to the table.

    One of the new ones, at least for Intel, is the option of dual PCI Express graphics ports (1xPCIe x16 or 2xPCIe x8), and the ability to run them concurrently in a SLI-like configuration. All the standard features are present, such as 800/1066 MHz bus speeds, support for Pentium EE, Pentium D and Pentium 4 LGA775 processors, PAT-like Memory Pipeline Technology (MPT) for accelerated memory performance, PCI Express graphics and peripherals, PCI peripherals, Gigabit LAN, High Definition Audio, SATA 3gbps with RAID 0, 1, 5 & 10, and a dual-channel DDR-2 533/667 memory architecture.

    The Intel D975XBX Motherboard

    The Intel D975XBX motherboard was supplied with the reference kit, and it is a surprisingly well-equipped, and dare we say it, almost enthusiast-oriented product. While working with it, we found some interesting FSB, voltage, DDR2-800 and CPU multiplier that were out of the ordinary for a standard Intel board, and even proceeded to lock the system a few times by pushing the BIOS options to the limit. We can honestly say that's never happened in the past, simply because the range was not present.

    In terms of physical design, the CPU socket and cooling format is unchanged, and current 4-prong LGA775 socket coolers can be used without issue. The motherboard itself has three PCI Express x16 slots, and does support dual graphics technology using identical cards from ATI and NVIDIA, and with the proper drivers. Once the second card is added, the PCI Express planes automatically adjust from a single PCIe x16, to a dual PCIe x8 configuration. This is similar to CrossFire and SLI, but as of the review date, we have been unable to confirm this using NVIDIA cards. Since the official product release is still a few weeks off, we expect drivers and support announcements in the near future.


  • Page 1 The Pentium EE 955 Processor & i975X Platform
    Page 2 Performance and Test Systems
    Page 3 PCMark04 Pro Performance
    Page 4 PCMark05 Pro Performance
    Page 5 SANDRA 2005, ScienceMark 2 & CINEBENCH 2003 Performance
    Page 6 MPEG-1/2, DivX and WME Encoding Performance
    Page 7 Quake 3, UT 2003 & UT 2004 Performance
    Page 8 DOOM 3, FarCry and Half-Life 2 Performance
    Page 9 3DMark 2005, AquaMark 3 & Halo Performance
    Page 10 Quake 4, Painkiller and CoR Performance
    Page 11 Benchmark Analysis, Overclocking, Value and Conclusion


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