Today Intel is introducing their new Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.46GHz CPU and 925XE Express Chipset. Now don't go running off and taking a hammer to your shiny new DDR-II modules and PCI Express cards, as this product launch is not a revolution, but an evolution in their product line. What does that mean for the rest of us? That's the question we're going to try to answer today.
The Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.46GHz
Just like the launch this past June, the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.46GHz will be a LGA775 processor package. As before, no pins are built into the CPU as these have been moved to the motherboard. In case you're wondering, yes, current Pentium 4 LGA775 coolers will be physically compatible with the new CPU. Motherboard support on the otherhand is a bit more complicated, which we will get into shortly.
||- Intel NetBurst Micro architecture
|Front Side Bus
||- 1066MHz (266MHz)
||- 512K L2,
- 2MB L3
||- Intel HyperThreading
- Streaming SIMD Extensions 2 (SSE2)
|Clock Speed at Launch
The main feature of the new P4 EE 3.46GHz platform is official support for 1066MHz FSB. The latest Extreme Edition only provides a 60MHz improvement over the previous 3.4GHz EE, and despite the faster FSB, don't expect to see a night and day difference just yet. While the previous Extreme Edition was set at 17x200 (3.4GHz), the new chip will be set at 13x266 (3.46GHz).
As with the P4 EE 3.4GHz CPU, there will be 2MB of L3 cache built into the chip and Hyper-Threading Technology. The large L3 cache is unique to the Extreme Edition and outside of the new FSB, this is the only item that differentiates this CPU from the non-EE Prescotts.
Anything else? How about the heat?
Outside of the faster FSB, there really isn't anything exciting going on with the new Pentium 4 Extreme Edition that we have not already seen before. While we've already mentioned heatsink compatibility, the new P4 EE 3.46GHz is expected to put out 110.7W and run at 66°C with their stock cooling under full load.
What's happening with the non-Extreme Edition? How much will this new chip cost?
While the Extreme Edition is moving to 1066MHz FSB with today's launch, the non-EE Prescott will be sitting firm at 800MHz FSB for the time being. According to Intel, we may see new Prescotts at 1066FSB at a later (undetermined) date. We do not have official pricing information, but the new P4 EE s expected to cost $999 in lots of 1000.
The Intel 925XE Express Chipset
A new CPU is pretty useless without a supporting chipset, and along with the new processor, Intel will be releasing the 925XE chipset. Think of it as an Alderwood on steroids, as the feature set is similar to the Alderwood 925X with some additional features.
||- LGA775 Processor
|Front Side Bus
||- Dual Channel DDR2 400
- Dual Channel DDR2 533
||- PCI Express x16
- PCI Express x1
||- Intel Matrix Storage Array
- PATA 100
- SATA 150
||Intel High Definition Audio
What did they change with the 925XE?
The first addition is of course support for 1066MHz FSB, where the FSB clock is set to 266MHz on the 925XE. It's no secret that high performance DDR-II ram is limited somewhat with an 800FSB CPU. When the 925X was launched a few months ago, the CPU interface ran at 200MHz (quad pumped to 800MHz), while the memory interface keyed in at Dual Channel 400MHz. Faster memory was supported (up to 533MHz by Intel standards... most performance boards have higher options) via adjusted CPU ratios, but for the best overall performance, you'll typically want 1:1. By moving the 925XE up to 1066MHz, this will allow 1:1 with DDR-II 533MHz.
There is also a revised Memory Controller Hub which will officially support DDR-II 533 CL3. While timings tend to be less of a factor at higher clock speeds, lower settings still improve performance, and given the target market of the new 925XE platform, Intel is pulling no punches.
Other than those changes, the 925XE is identical to the 925X in every way, including DDR-II support (up to 533MHz CL3), x16 PCI Express, ICH6 (and ICH6R), and HD audio. Actual onboard peripheral support will vary by manufacturer, but it's likely any board based on the 925XE will have all the bells and whistles. For more information on these features, please refer to our 925X overview.
What if I don't want the 925XE? What are my options?
While Intel's official BIOS updates will cover the 925 family, only the 925XE will support the P4 EE 3.46GHz. Running the new BIOS updates on an older 925X board will still update the microcode and various system level fixes, but will not add support for the new processors. Yup, you read that right... current Alderwood (and Grantsdale) boards will not work with the P4 EE 3.46GHz. There will also be no updated versions of the Grantsdale (915P/G) to support the new CPU, as Intel is targeting high end workstations and enthusiasts with this product launch.
So we have established that the P4 EE 3.46GHz will not work in current 915/925 motherboards, but how about the other way around? Well, good news for those of you who have invested in LGA775 CPUs as the 925XE will indeed support 800FSB CPUs, albeit at 800FSB. It's a guess right now, but given some of the problems of reaching high frequencies on some 915/925 boards, the 925XE should have a bit more overclocking headroom if that is the route you choose.
Ok, cut the B.S. Is this new setup going to be a lot faster than what they already released?
Unfortunently, we do not have engineering samples at this time, but you should have no problems finding performance evaluations from a number of sites this afternoon. As any experienced overclocker can tell you, an increased FSB can give a nice performance boost, and with the new 925XE and 3.46GHz EE, this seems to be the case.
Based on some results we've seen, memory bandwidth is around 19% better with the 925XE over the 925X in memory tests, which is quite significant. Application tests (stressing the CPU more) are less impressive, scoring on average, 1% to 5% better than the 3,4GHz EE. For gaming, the average looks to be in the 5% range.
While the P4 EE 3.46GHz and 925XE pushes the bar higher on the Pentium 4 platform, we can't help but feel a little unenthused about the latest launch. For one thing, entry into this platform is hardly going to be cheap, which is the case for jumping into the high end for any platform, AMD or Intel, but this launch does leave a slightly bitter taste in our mouths.
Forget about buying the CPU first, and holding off on the motherboard till later, as the CPU will be an expensive paperweight without the supporting chipset. If the processor is in your upgrade plans, it makes more sense to pick up the motherboard first, as your current 800FSB LGA775 processor will work with the new chipset. Luckily, if you've already invested in the 915/925 platform, you probably already have DDR-II ram and a PCI Express video card, so you won't have to start completely from scratch.
The increased FSB appears to make the most difference when it comes to memory bandwidth tests. Application and games do show an improvement, but to a much lesser effect. Put it this way, if you already own a fast Prescott setup, regardless if it's an Extreme Edition or not, we do not feel that the 3.46GHz Extreme Edition brings enough to the table to warrant a platform change. The 925XE we'll have to keep an eye on, as it may have the potential to be quite overclocker friendly for 800MHz FSB CPUs.
That being said, the P4 EE 3.46GHz and 925XE combination is faster than their previous Extreme Edition and 925X combo. Whether the additional $1200 for the CPU and motherboard are worth the investment is something entirely up to you.
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