Intel debuted its Pentium Extreme Edition 965 CPU this morning ($999 in lots of 1,000, the only pricing Intel will provide), timing the announcement to coincide with this week's Game Developers Conference. With a clock speed boost to 3.73GHz, up from the 3.46GHz, this new high-end, dual-core CPU might help Intel gain ground on AMD's segment-leading for the dollars and the respect of gamers and other performance enthusiasts.
Upside: Intel has suffered a run of losses on chip performance testing since the debut of its dual-core Pentium D chips last year. And while AMD's design with an integrated memory controller is still more efficient than Intel's--in which, accessing memory requires the added step of pushing data across the system bus--it appears that Intel has made some inroads for raw performance.
In our multitasking test, the Pentium Extreme Edition 965 completed a simultaneous virus scan and DivX video-file encode in 269 seconds, or 4 minutes, 29 seconds. That's a notable jump compared to the Pentium Extreme Edition 955 chip, which took 312 seconds, or 5 minutes, 12 seconds to complete the same test. AMD traditionally hammered Intel on that simple multitasking test, but now the Athlon 64 FX-60 maintains a mere 3-second lead.
Downside: We always appreciate more processing power, but considering what you need to do to build a system with the Pentium Extreme Edition 965 chip, we're not sure it's worth it. For one, it requires a motherboard with Intel's 975X chipset, which starts at $200. You can find Athlon 64 FX-60-compatible motherboards for half that. Further, Intel recommends a 600-watt power supply for the Extreme Edition 965. We've seen that requirement apply to high-end, dual-graphics card setups, and we expect that power requirements are only going to get higher for high-end graphics and gaming systems. This is the first time, however, we've seen a minimum power-supply recommendation applied simply because of a CPU. For the record, we tested with a 550-watt power-supply unit, so the 600-watt supply is only a recommendation; but either way, it's apparent that Intel is driving this chip hard, to the point where it might require extra aggravation and expense to upgrade your system.
Outlook: We give Intel credit for making apparent strides back toward the top of the CPU benchmarking pile, but it might be too late for this generation of Pentiums to reclaim the good graces of the performance set. The good news for Intel, though, is that it's almost over. Its next-generation Conroe chips are due out this summer, and although the previews around the Web have been very preliminary, the early buzz is that Intel may have a hot new chip on its hands. AMD is not far behind, of course; its new M2 chipset is set to debut this summer as well. We'll have a better idea about the complete performance picture of Intel's new Pentium Extreme Edition 965 when we can review it in a handful of PCs. Intel expects vendors will start selling systems with the new chip after April 1.
AMD test bed:
Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard; Nvidia Nforce4 SLI chipset; Crucial 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (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 7800 GTX (PCIe); WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; Windows XP Professional SP2; Antec 550w power supply