Earlier this year, Intel unleashed their Pentium Extreme Edition 840 as the first in a series of dual core processors. On the surface, the Dual Core Pentium looked like their current generation LGA775 processors, but underneath the heatspreader laid two CPU cores (codenamed Smithfield) that are connected to each other by an 800MHz Front Side Bus.
Fast forward to the end of 2005, and Intel is having a little of a clear-out. Today we will be seeing a brand new processor and a reintroduction of their latest chipset.
The Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955
First up is the Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955. We personally think the name may be a bit confusing for some people as they have a chipset which shares the same number.
The Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 is a dual core processor clocked at 3.46GHz built on the 65nm fab process. This is a small 260MHz bump from their Extreme Edition 840 that can be attributed to the bump in FSB. Previous dual core CPUs ran at 800FSB, but the newest is now riding a 1066FSB, erm, bus. So, while the small clock speed increase may not seem like much, the faster FSB should yield an improvement, especially in memory intensive applications.
The L2 caches is made up of 2MB per core, bringing a total of 4MB to the CPU. This is essentially a doubling of the cache introduced with the EE 840 and should positively affect business application performance.
Naturally, Intel's other CPU technologies such as Execute Disable Bit and Intel Extended Memory 64 Technology (EM64T) are present.
Intel's Extended Memory 64 Technology was introduced with their 6xx series, and has been a staple of their CPU lineup since. There are two potential benefits to EM64T, provided you have the OS and software in place; a faster computer and more addressable memory.
Computing instructions are done in binary format (zero and one), and for 32-bit environments, each bit is capable of one binary instruction each clock cycle. Therefore, for previous Intel desktop processors, for each clock cycle, they were capable of 32 binary instructions. A 64-bit processor doubles that, so provided the environment is optimized for 64-bit computing, PCs should be much faster.
One of the greatest limitations of 32-bit processors is that they are only capable of addressing up to 4 GB of memory. In theory, a 64-bit CPU can process up to 16 exabytes of ram.
Intel's Execute Disable Bit is another mainstay reappearing with the EE 955. Previous CPUs with this technology were the Itanium processor in 2001 (for servers), the Intel Pentium 4 570J last year, and the 6xx series earlier this year.
How XD Bit works is certain memory pages are protected from buffer-overflow attacks. For most Intel desktop CPUs, the x86 architecture have no means of protection to malicious code writing themselves to these memory pages and executing. By enabling this in the BIOS and OS now, you can effectively shut the door on the code from taking over these memory pages.
If you're getting pretty bored at this point, Intel does have one new card to add to the game and that is their Virtualization Technology. This is actually a pretty cool feature that will allow users to run multiple operating systems and/or applications in independent partitions or environments.
Intel has made no mention of it in their documents, but it's probably a good bet that Enhanced SpeedStep (EIST) is not present on the Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955. Extreme Edition processors have historically never had this feature, so it's unlikely to change anytime soon.
The Intel 975X Express Chipset
The Intel 975X Express Chipset is Intel's latest desktop chipset being reintroduced to us today. We say reintroduced since the chipset itself has been a less kept secret than the processor and some boards have been made available in limited quantities for a few weeks.
Many of their previous features are here such as Intel HD Audio, Matrix Storage Technology, DDR2 support and PCI Express. One of the items you'll hear a lot of is their PCI Express configuration flexibility. We've seen Intel based motherboards with dual PEG slots before, but this time around they are going on record as to stating that their slots can run as bi-8 or x16. This is a bit behind the curve now as NVIDIA has had their SLI running on bi-16 for a few months, but Intel based boards with that technology aren't readily available. In theory, SLI should now work on Intel boards, and we have it on good authority that CrossFire works well on the 975X.
Another key improvement to the Intel PCI Express chipset platform is the Intel Memory Pipeline Technology. The Intel MPT is an enhanced controller that improves memory pipelining to enable the memory channel to be better utilized. In addition to this, Intel's Flex Memory Technology will allow users to outfit their boards with different memory sizes, yet still enable dual channel mode.
We're expecting to take a closer look with production hardware shortly, but that is pretty much the gist of what Intel is offering today. Are we excited? Better yet, should you be excited? That all depends on how loyal you are to Intel and how badly you need to upgrade.
We do not have benchmarks to share with you yet, other than those numbers above provided by Intel, but it's safe to say we will see improvements with the Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 and Intel 975X when compared to the Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 840 and single core 3.73EE (in dual core enabled benchmarks).
However, we can expect the same trends as before in that single threaded benchmarks, which is a more realistic scenario as most of today's apps are still single threaded, will see smaller improvements and the Extreme Edition 3.73GHz should still rule the roost for Intel here. We also do not expect a positive showing for Intel with sites using AMD X2 processors (actually, we know this for a fact since we've been discussing this with another site).
The Intel 975X should be a solid performer, and the new features should be enough that we can expect some really nice boards based on the chipset to make itself present this coming year.
To be completely honest, our write-up today is a bit short. Obviously, waiting for a CPU doesn't help, but the press information we obtained simply did not provide much information. In our opinion, it wasn't because Intel was withholding anything but more likely there isn't much to talk about today. What we will be getting today is a little bump but nothing revolutionary.
For those of you following Intel closely these past 18 months, there has not been all that much for enthusiasts to get terribly excited about. Seems that Intel felt quite the same way as their last few launches have fallen on Sundays. At least it isn't Sunday today, but it looks like enthusiasts will still need to wait until there's really something to have them standup and take notice.
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