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P4: How fast is it?

The $64,000 question

How long is a piece of string? What everyone wants to know is what kind of speed benefit can be expected from Intel's new flagchip.

We've had a vanilla P4 system on test for a while now and the answer varies depending on what you want the box to do. If you only run office applications, you don't need to pay the extra for a P4. If you need 3D graphics, then you probably do.

Intel's official figures for the P4 show a SPECint2000 score of 544 and a SPECfp2000 of 562. A trawl of Web sites shows that a P4 1.4GHz and P4 1.5GHz perform 36 per cent and 41 per cent better respectively than a 1.2GHz Athlon on SPECfp2000. Compared with a 1GHz Pentium III, they're 72 per cent and 79 per cent better.

We compared our P4 with our reference PIII 1GHz system and also explored the difference moving from 256MB to 512MB of RDRAM made, thanks to our chums at Kingston Technology. We didn't try any other memory configurations because firstly the Vancouver PIII mobo only has two RIMM slots, and secondly because we only had 128MB and 256MB RIMMs and the dual-channel Rambus D850GB needs RIMMs to be inserted in pairs.

Pentium 4 system spec

P4 1.4GHz
256Mb PC800 RDRAM
Intel D850GB mobo
Windows ME Build 4.90.3000
64Mb Nvidia Geforce 2 GTS graphics V6.31 drivers
Direct X 8

Pentium III system spec

PIII 1GHz (Slot 1)
256Mb PC800 RDRAM
Intel VC820 mobo
Windows ME Build 4.90.3000
64Mb Nvidia Geforce 2 GTS graphics V6.31 drivers
Direct X 8

3Dmark 2000 1.1

PIII 256Mb 6775 3Dmarks
PIII 512Mb 6939 3Dmarks
P4 256Mb 8866 3Dmarks
P4 512Mb 8915 3dmarks

An additional 2000 3Dmarks would appear to be reason enough for the hardcore gamer to choose the P4 over the PIII.

SiSoft Sandra

A pinch of salt required here, as Sandra doesn't correctly identify the P4, reporting it as a 1.6GHz, 375MHz FSB part. The tests do however reinforce the widely-held belief that, with that pesky deep pipeline, P4 has a tough time competing with slower PIII and Athlon parts.

But the synthetic memory benchmark shows the capabilities of a fast dual-channel Rambus system. The Athlon figures included are Sandra's reference figures for an Athlon 1GHz, KT133, 128MB PC133 SDRAM

P4 1.5GHz: CPU: 2866 MIPS, FPU: 882 MFLOPS
Athlon 1GHz: CPU: 3111 MIPS, FPU: 1395 MFLOPS

PIII 1GHz: CPU/Mem: 321 MB/s, FPU/Mem: 416 MB/s
P4 1.5GHz: ALU/Mem: 1311 MB/s, FPU/Mem: 1340 MB/s
Athlon 1GHz: ALU/Mem: 434 MB/s, FPU/Mem: 521 MB/s

WinBench 99

More unimpressive numbers here, showing the PIII outperforming its faster sibling in floating point.

PIII: 85.3
P4: 90.9

PIII: 5280
P4: 5150

SETI at Home

A good rule of thumb measure of overall speed. We averaged out the most recent eight work units using Version 3 of the GUI client, set to blank screen. We discarded the highest and lowest work unit times. The 1GHz PIII averaged five hours, three minutes and the P4 three hours, 45 minutes. Yes, we know they weren't identical work units, but the difference is still pretty significant.

The bottom line

A veritable curate's egg of a processor, with phenomenal (synthetic) memory and 3D performance, balanced with disappointing raw processor speed (at current clock speeds).

But overall, the graphics performance alone is enough to make buying one worthwhile - but wait until Q1 next year when faster P4s (1.7 and perhaps 2GHz) will appear, and price cuts will start to nibble into the P4s current price premium. ®

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