Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955

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December 26, 2005 6:01 PM PST / Updated: December 26, 2005 6:01 PM PST

Intel Pentium Processor 955 Extreme Edition

Today, Intel announced its new Pentium Processor 955 Extreme Edition processor, formerly code-named Presler. This chip, which goes on sale on January 16, is the first from Intel's second generation of dual-core consumer desktop CPUs, and it features a smaller physical size, a different L2 cache structure, and a faster 1,066MHz frontside bus. The new processor also requires the new Intel 975X Express motherboard chipset, which Intel also announced today.

Upside: With the reduced size, thanks to a 65-nanometer manufacturing process, this second-generation dual-core chip will hopefully make cooling and noise reduction easier for system builders. (The last generation of Intel chips was manufactured using a 90-nanometer process.) Aside from supporting the Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 955 processor, the 975X Express chipset is exciting because it's Intel's first with support for two PCI Express graphics card slots. It's great for gamers because it means they can double up on graphics cards.

The Extreme Edition 955 chip has a clock speed of 3.46GHz per physical core, up from 3.2GHz on the Extreme Edition 840. The new chip also has a new L2 cache design. Rather than sharing a single L2 cluster, each core now has its own dedicated 2MB chunk, which should improve overall performance.

Our early testing shows some performance gains, too. On our SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation test and on our video-encoding and image-editing tests, the Extreme Edition 955 chip posted the fastest times we've seen from a single chip so far. Also of particular interest is the DivX 6.1 encoding test, which showcases the newly released video software coded specifically to take advantage of multicore processors. On that test, Intel's new chip was 10 percent faster than AMD's Athlon 64 X2 4800+ chip. There's more to the story with that application, however.

Application performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
BAPCo SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating  
BAPCo SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating  

DivX 6.1 tests (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Multitasking--McAfee VirusScan and DivX 6.1 encoding  
DivX 6.1 encoding  

Downside: Although it shows some promise, we had hoped to see more initial performance gains from the Extreme Edition 955 chip. It certainly exhibits some improvement compared to Intel's older Pentium D dual-core chips, but AMD's Athlon 64 X2 CPUs still hold a clear advantage over all of Intel's chips--young and old, alike--on our gaming and MP3-encoding benchmarks. We were also surprised by the results of our multitasking test. We ran a McAfee virus scan concurrently with a DivX 6.1 video encode, and AMD beat Intel's new chip by 4 percent. Intel's counter is that its dual-core chips will shine with heavier workloads. And while it's perhaps not uncommon for your PC to have five or six major applications open at one time, rarely will they all perform different tasks simultaneously.

Regardless of workload, the price differential is still impossible to ignore. The Extreme Edition 955 will cost $1,000 when it hits the stores. That's about $200 more than the older and, in some cases, faster AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ chip.

We're happy to see that Intel's new 975X Express chipset lets you run two graphics cards, but we're frustrated for two reasons. The first is that while each PCI Express slot runs at full bandwidth when there's only one card installed, when you have two cards, the bandwidth spans across both slots. So instead of two cards running at full x16 PCI Express, they both run at x8. Nvidia has a high-end Nforce 4 board that will do dual x16. Why can't Intel?

The second source of irritation is that the 975X Express chipset currently supports only ATI's CrossFire technology, not Nvidia's SLI. The reason depends on whom you ask. Intel told us it submitted 975X boards to Nvidia for SLI certification; Nvidia maintained that it hadn't received them at the time of this writing. He said, she said aside, all we really know is that it's too bad your PC and component purchasing options are now more confusing because these two vendors haven't found a way to work together.

CPU Limited Custom Half-Life 2 Demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Half-Life 2; 1,024x768; no AA no AF  

Multimedia tests (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sorenson Squeeze 4.0  
Apple iTunes 4.7.1.30  
Adobe Photoshop CS  

Outlook: We're disappointed with some of the initial test results from Intel's Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 955 chip, but the early returns don't tell the whole story. The gaming tests especially need revisiting because multithreaded games that take advantage of multiple processing cores are only now starting to hit the market. We're also curious to see the non-Extreme Edition 900-series dual-core Pentiums, due out later this year. We're heartened by the performance gains we did see, however, and hope that reduced power requirements across the Pentium 900 series help make it easier for the system builders to come up with leaner, meaner desktop designs.

AMD test bed
Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI chipset; Crucial 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (PCIe); WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; Windows XP Professional SP2; Antec 550w power supply

Intel test bed
Intel 975X Express chipset motherboard; Intel 975X Express chipset; Crucial 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (PCIe); WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; Windows XP Professional SP2; Antec 550w power supply

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Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955

Part Number: BX80553955
MSRP: $1,299.00 Low Price: $202.53 See all prices
About The Author

Rich Brown is an executive editor for CNET Reviews. He has worked as a technology journalist since 1994.