Intel catches up with its 64-bit competitors
By Matt Elliott
February 20, 2005
Intel today introduced a new family of Pentium 4 chips, the 600 series, and also added another member that's clocked at 3.73GHz to its high-end Pentium 4 Extreme Edition line. You can expect to see these new chips later this month in a wide range of desktops--mainstream and performance PCs for both home and business use. (We'll bring you full reviews of these systems soon.) The new chips underscore the fact that today's new processors are about added features and not a simple increase in raw clock speed. Take a look, for example, at the 600 series:
|Processor ||Clock speed ||Processor ||Clock speed |
|Pentium 4 660 ||3.6GHz ||Pentium 4 560 ||3.6GHz |
|Pentium 4 650 ||3.4GHz ||Pentium 4 550 ||3.4GHz |
|Pentium 4 640 ||3.2GHz ||Pentium 4 540 ||3.2GHz |
|Pentium 4 630 ||3.0GHz ||Pentium 4 530 ||3.0GHz |
These four new chips are clocked at the same speed as their 500-series equivalents. So, what's changed? For starters the new 600 parts have twice the amount of L2 cache that the previous generation had. The Pentium 4 600 series boasts 2MB of L2 cache to the 500 series' 1MB allotment, which allows the chips to quickly access more frequently used data, improving overall performance.
The 64-bit question
More significantly, the Pentium 4 600 chips and the 3.73GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition bring Intel up to speed with competitors AMD and Apple, both of which introduced 64-bit desktop processors in 2003. Intel brought 64-bit support to its Xeon server chips, but until now, the company has let its desktop CPUs linger in 32-bit mode. (To be fair, nobody is running 64-bit apps on the desktop today, and Microsoft has been dragging its feet with a 64-bit version of Windows, though the company has stated
that its 64-bit OS--available now as a Release Candidate
--will be released in the first half of this year.)
With the new chips, you'll be able to run the 64-bit applications of tomorrow and go beyond the current 4GB memory maximum of 32-bit PCs. PCs will be more powerful because they'll be able to carry more memory in addition to using more-advanced CPUs. And with demanding, more sophisticated 64-bit apps on the horizon, this additional horsepower is sure to be put to use. Dubbed Extended Memory 64-bit Technology (EM64T), the IA-32 extension closely resembles the AMD 64-bit architecture. Chips with EM64T will be able to run today's 32-bit operating systems and apps, and when 64-bit software begins to emerge, you'll have a platform that will be able to make the leap.
Keep it cool, keep it safe
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With the new Pentium 4 600-series chip, Intel finally follows competitors AMD and Apple into the world of 64-bit computing. These chips will also run cooler than last year's Prescott-core Pentium 4 chips, and they could make your PC less susceptible to viruses.
We've seen vendors employ some creative solutions to keep Intel processors cool, from Sony's donut-inspired Media Center
to a water-cooled gaming PC
from Cyberpower. Intel has added to the Pentium 4 600 chips a version of its SpeedStep technology, which provides longer battery life for Intel laptops and keeps heat down, too. Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology (EIST) will power down the processor when you aren't using every last megahertz to keep the chip from generating needless heat. EIST is not featured on the high-end 3.73GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, since its owners will likely want to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of it.
Both the Pentium 600 chips and the new Extreme Edition CPU provide added security. When Windows XP SP2
was released last year, it included a security feature call Data Execution Prevention (DEP) that protects PCs against some viruses that exploit buffer overflows. Trouble was, only newer AMD and a handful of Intel's Itanium server chips supported the DEP feature, leaving your PC open to worms such as MS Blaster and Sasser. The Intel chips announced today include an Execute Disable Bit, which will let you enable DEP, adding another layer of protection to your PC.
The fine print
The chips Intel announced today are built on the 90-nanometer process that was first introduced to the desktop with the Prescott-core Pentium 4 chip released a year ago. Like the Prescott chips, the 600-series processors have an 800MHz bus and are compatible with Socket 775 (LGA775) motherboards. The number of transistors has increased from 125 with Prescott to 169 million on both the Pentium 4 600 chips and the 3.73GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. The new P4 EE chip also features a faster 1,066MHz bus that was introduced last year on the 3.46GHz P4 EE.
Looking ahead, Intel's next move
for high-end desktop processors is expected to occur in the coming months, with the launch of its first dual-core processors.