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Intel's Pentium 4 2.53GHz and 850E chipset

— 12:00 AM on May 6, 2002

THEY'VE BEEN GOING BACK AND FORTH for months. These high-end processor comparisons we do have been a brutal back-and-forth battle between Intel and AMD for x86 performance supremacy. Intel took the lead briefly at 2GHz, then AMD introduced the Athlon XP and pulled back in front. The Pentium 4 "Northwood" hit the scene at 2.2GHz with a larger, 512K cache, and AMD countered on the same day with the Athlon XP 2000+.

The result? A tie.

It's been like this for months now, and I'm running out of ways to say, "Yeah, they're pretty much tied, except sometimes one is much faster than the other, depending on what you want to do." Last time out, we had more of the same at 2.4GHz versus 2100+.

Today, however, is different. While AMD struggles to deliver its first 0.13-micron version of the Athlon to the world, Intel is unleashing a new breed of Pentium 4 chips along with a new chipset to support them. These new processors will talk to the new chipset over a 533MHz front-side bus, which is, as we say in the industry, "really frickin' fast."

Also frickin' fast is the newest high-end Pentium 4, which clocks in at 2.53GHz. So has Intel finally found the magic formula for defeating AMD's finest? We're about to find out.

The new chips
Intel is introducing three new Pentium 4 chips capable of running on a 533MHz bus. They're clocked at 2.26GHz, 2.4GHz, and 2.53GHz. Because there's already a 2.4GHz version of the Pentium 4 out there that runs on a 400MHz bus, the new chip at that speed will be designated "2.40B". There's really nothing new about these processors except their clock multipliers. They are Pentium 4 Northwood chips, and not much else is changed.

The Pentium 4 2.53GHz. Yep, it's a Pentium 4.

The new chipsets
Similarly, the new 850E chipset is very much like its predecessor, the 850 chipset. The big difference is that there "E" on the end of the name, which denotes "enhanced" or "extra bus speed" or maybe "extra nifty," because the 850E supports a 533MHz front-side bus.

Moving from 400MHz to 533MHz increases peak bus bandwidth from 3.2GB/s to 4.2GB/s. To keep the processor fed on the other side of that bus, the 850E supports dual channels of PC800 RDRAM, which are good for up to 3.2GB/s. Although Intel claims the 850E isn't yet officially validated for it, the 850E can also support two channels of PC1066 RDRAM, which should peak out at 4.2GB/s. Unfortunately, we weren't able to obtain any PC1066 memory for testing just yet.

The 850E MCH chip is, like the 850 and the 845, paired with Intel's ICH2 system I/O chip (generally known in these parts as a south bridge chip). It offers support for ATA-100 disk drives and most of the other usual suspects.

Intel's 850E memory controller hub

A block diagram of the 850E chipset (Source: Intel)

According to this report at DigiTimes, Intel has a couple more chipsets up its sleeve in the coming weeks, including the 845E, 845G, and 845GL. The 845E is—you guessed it—a version of the 845 chipset with support for a 533MHz bus. The 845G is basically an 845E with integrated graphics, while the 845GL is the same thing with no external AGP slot. Of course, Intel doesn't tend to comment on unreleased products, so we'll have to wait and see whether DigiTimes is 100% accurate. Since both 845E and 845G boards are starting to show up at online vendors, I expect we'll know soon.

Also showing up at online vendors are the new Pentium 4-based Celerons, which are reportedly Willamette chips with 128K of L2 cache. With the move to a 533MHz bus for the Pentium 4, Intel now has room in its lineup for this racy new Celeron. These Celerons will no doubt be paired up with the 845GL chipset and sold by the boatload in corporate desktop systems.