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The competition
This new Pentium III faces some formidable competition, especially on the desktop, where it's got to square off with a couple of newer, sexier designs: the Athlon and Pentium 4. In order to test the new PIII's mettle, we threw it into the ring with the latest and greatest, including a 1.4GHz Athlon and a 1.8GHz Pentium 4. To be fair, we also tested against a 1.2GHz Athlon and against the P4 at 1.4 and 1.6GHz.

Before you count the PIII out, however, keep a couple of things in mind. First and foremost, remember this:

Clock speed ain't everything.

If it were, the Pentium 4 1.8GHz would be the undisputed winner. Everybody else would just have to pack up and go home. But the Pentium 4's deeply pipelined design can't deliver the same performance, clock for clock, that the Athlon or Pentium III can. In fact, in our previous tests, the 1.7GHz Pentium 4 ran neck-and-neck with the 1.2GHz Athlon. Now that doesn't make the Pentium 4 a bad design. It's just that the P4 executes fewer instructions per clock (IPC) than the other chips here. The Athlon and PIII, by contrast, are pretty evenly matched clock for clock.

On top of all that, the PIII 1.2GHz is the only chip here made on a 0.13-micron process. The other two are both 0.18-micron chips. The new PIII is smaller, runs cooler, and requires less power.

From left to right: Pentium 4, Pentium III, and Athlon

From left to right: Pentium 4, Pentium III, and Athlon

However, the newer processor designs here do have compelling advantages. To better understand the differences between these different CPUs and their platforms, I suggest you read our reviews of the Pentium III Coppermine, AMD 760 chipset with DDR SDRAM, and the Pentium 4. These newer processors aren't just more advanced designs; they sit in more advanced platforms. They ride on much faster front-side busses, from 266MHz for the Athlon to 400MHz for the P4. And they use faster memory—2.1GB/s DDR SDRAM for the Athlon, and exotic 3.2GB/s RDRAM for the Pentium 4. The Pentium III's pokey 133MHz bus and 1.06GB/s memory seems almost quaint anymore.

So it won't be easy for the new PIII. Still, the proof's in the pudding, so let's get on to the benchmarks.