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Intel Pentium Extreme Edition dual-core CPU

Intel's fastest desktop - times two?

Intel advised us that the BIOS was incomplete and didn't support Serial ATA II but other than that it was good to go and as the processor was unlocked we might fancy overclocking it. Sadly, this was not the case. The BIOS was unusual as it didn't display POST information and there were no options to adjust either the FSB or clock multiplier. We also found that it wouldn't recognise our P4 EE 760 when we tried to do some back-to-back comparisons to see what effect the 955X chipset had on performance.

Intel Pentium Extreme Edition BIOSHowever, we could enable and disable Hyper-Threading, so we could turn the processor into a Pentium D at will, but that was about it. We got mildly excited when we found an option in the BIOS labelled 'Trusted Platform Module'. We asked Intel if it was introducing a TCP (Trusted Computing Platform), but no. TPM has been appearing on workstation motherboards for the last two years and is a hardened chip that can't be read by x-ray, so it can be used to store an encryption key to keep the hard drive secure. We've not seen this feature on a desktop motherboard before.

So how did this dual-core technology perform? We did some fairly quick and dirty tests as we only had a very short time to evaluate the system, so we felt it most beneficial to compare PEE with a dual-Xeon workstation which runs the same 3.2GHz clock speed but on a 533MHz FSB, and also against a 3.4GHz P4 EE.

Intel included documentation about tests we could run using sixteen different applications, and in each case the emphasis was on multimedia coding, which is understandable as this puts the emphasis on processing power. We ran SysMark 2002 on each platform (SYSmark 2004 would have taken too long) and then ran three of the suggested applications, and perhaps the biggest surprise is that Pentium D (ie. with Hyper-Threading disabled) only loses out to PEE 840 in movie encoding. No doubt other applications will show a similar effect but we would suggest that the vast majority of users will see no benefit from the higher-end chip.

Probably the least surprising result from our tests is that the PEE 840 behaves very much like our dual Xeons, despite the fact the latter uses the older 875P chipset and a slower FSB. Both configurations have four virtual processors, of course, but the similarities are startling.

That said, the average PC user should see a big performance gain when they run a dual-core processor. This ties in well with Intel's concept of the digital home, where a single PC will be performing multiple tasks for multiple users simultaneously. Imagine one person watching an HD movie while someone else plays Half-Life 2, without any degradation in performance.

Next page: Verdict

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