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Features

- PC Buyer's Guide for Entry-Level Gaming -- January 2012
- Build Your Own Gaming PC Guide -- Nov. 2011
- July Entry-Level Gaming PC Guide
- PC Buyer's Guide for Gaming Enthusiasts
- SharkyExtreme.com: Interview with Microsoft's Dan Odell

Buyer's Guides

- PC Buyer's Guide for Entry-Level Gaming -- January 2012
- Build Your Own Gaming PC Guide -- Nov. 2011
- February High-end Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
- November Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide
- September Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide

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  • It is truly amazing how quickly the processor landscape changes. Just as AMD reaches a new GHz high, Intel follows this up with a newer, faster processor, and vice versa. This no-holds barred competition between the two CPU giants has yielded exceptional price points for high-performance gaming PCs, as well as offering unprecedented CPU power for virtually all buying levels.

    With the release of the Pentium 4-1.8 GHz processor, Intel has once again raised the bar even higher, though like AMD's latest offerings, the speed increments seem to be slowing down. The previous Intel Pentium 4-1.7 GHz release heralded a large 200 MHz increase from the previous 1.5 GHz model. With the Pentium 4-1.8 GHz, the jump is a bit more sedate 100 MHz. This matches up with the MAD Athlon 1.33 GHz or 1.4 GHz transition, and it looks as if the current 0.18-micron process is nearing the end of the line for the Pentium 4.

    In looking over the speeds of the Intel Pentium 4 and AMD Athlon, it may seem as if Intel has the definite edge in terms of raw clock speed. This is true for both CPU core speed and in terms of general perception, but the comparison goes a bit deeper. The Pentium 4 is designed with future requirements and SSE2-enhanced applications in mind, and until then, Intel is simply ramping up the clock speed to compensate. The Athlon is more suited to today's demanding applications and simply does more with less, though if these SSE2-enhanced programs turn from a trickle into a deluge, then the Intel advantage will likely become quite clear.

    In many ways, the Intel Pentium 4 is much like NVIDIA's GeForce3 video card, as it has the power and design for tomorrow's applications and more than enough juice for current PC programs. The question is whether you need this potential technology today, or would it be better to wait a bit for the bandwidth-hogging, SSE-enhanced games and applications to start showing up? Plus, but that time, there may be even faster and less expensive processors on the market. There is no easy answer to this, as you could literally wait indefinitely on "the next big thing", just as hardened gamers will also admit that there are definitely good and bad times to buy brand new equipment.

    The obvious angle right now is that the Pentium 4-1.8 GHz continues the support of the Socket 423 platform. This CPU format is getting a bit long in the tooth and is due to be replaced with the Socket 478 design within a very short period of time. This means different things to different people, and if you aren't looking to upgrade (though the Pentium 4-2.0 GHz should be present in Socket 423) then it really matters little if you buy now or wait for the inevitable Socket 478 release. On the other hand, if a long and stable upgrade path is more your style, then think long and hard before jumping at a Socket 423 system.





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