Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955 Hands-On

Increased frequencies and higher system bandwidth help get the Pentium EE 955 within striking distance of the Athlon 64 X2.

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By James Yu

Design: Collin Oguro

The wonderful thing about video cards and processors is that technological advancements come quickly and the consumer benefits almost immediately from each advance. Constant developments in video cards mean that you'll be able to get a $200 video card today that performs just as well as a $400 card did a year ago. And if you still wanted to spend $400, you can find a card today that's almost twice as powerful as one available for that same price last year.

Intel and AMD aren't as aggressive with the price slashing, but both manufacturers have been diligent about steadily increasing processor performance. The CPU companies have consistently released new architectures and increased clock speeds (for the most part) year after year--both shipped their first dual-core desktop processors this year. We previewed the dual-core Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 about six months ago, but now Intel is preparing to release an updated version, the Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 955.

The new Pentium Processor EE 955 processor is a dual-core CPU much like the 840 version. The 955 features Hyper-Threading on each core and it can handle up to four processing threads at the same time. Most games still don't have multithreading support, but we should see more come 2006. The biggest benefit that multicore processing gives us right now is in multitasking, or running several different applications at the same time. That means you can play 3D games while encoding videos in the background with minimal performance loss in both categories.

Intel is using an advanced 65nm manufacturing process for this new chip, which allows for higher clock speeds, increased complexity, and lower power consumption. The processor frequency has also increased from 3.2GHz to 3.46GHz, and each core on the Pentium Processor EE 955 now has a 2MB cache for a total of 4MB, compared to just 1MB for each core on the 840. Front-side bus speed also gets a nice boost, going from 800MHz to 1066MHz. However, the new Pentium will require a new motherboard based on the Intel 975X Express chipset. The Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 955 is scheduled to ship January 16, 2006, and chips will retail for $999.

Raven released a new 1.05 beta patch for Quake 4 just in time for our processor testing. The patch enables SMP, symmetric multiprocessor processing, which lets the game use multiple processing cores instead of only a single core, as most games currently do. We saw a 30-percent increase in frame rate performance in Quake 4 when we enabled SMP. The Pentium Processor EE 955 outperformed the 840 and was only a hair behind the Athlon 64 X2 4800+. The Pentium also came out ahead by two seconds in our Windows Media Encoder 9 multithreading-enabled test. The Athlon 64 regains its lead in our single-threaded Quake 4, 3DMark05, and PSP Video 9 application tests, but the Pentium does win the 3DMark05 CPU race.

Increased frequencies and higher system bandwidth help get the Pentium Processor EE 955 within striking distance of the Athlon 64 X2, but the $999 price is a bit high, and asking for a complete system overhaul by requiring a new motherboard doesn't make it the most attractive upgrade candidate. The Pentium Processor EE 955 is still a powerful chip and its multithreaded software performance shows us that the dual-core CPU competition will be much more interesting once we see more applications that can use both cores.

Processors: Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 955 3.46GHz, Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 3.2GHz, Pentium D 820 2.8GHz, Athlon 64 X2 4800+ 2.4GHz.

Motherboards: Intel D975XBX, Intel D955XBK, Asus A8N SLI Deluxe.

Test Systems: 1GB Corsair XMS DDR2 RAM, 1GB Corsair XMS DDR RAM, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional.

Graphics Cards: Radeon X1800 XT (Quake 4 ), GeForce 7800 GTX (All Other Tests)

Graphics Driver: Catalyst 5.12, ForceWare 81.95.

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