As we wait for next-generation chips from AMD and Intel to hit the market, it's worth looking back down the steep mountain we've climbed in terms of performance per watt and transistor count. The folks at Phoronix dug deep into their hardware closets in celebration of the site's 11th birthday, and they cobbled together some systems based on Intel's Northwood and Prescott silicon: a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 "C" (SL6WT) and a 2.4GHz Celeron D 320, respectively. (We reviewed similar chips back in 2004—how time flies.) Phoronix then ran an extensive suite of benchmarks to see how the chips stack up to modern hardware.
We won't spoil all the results here, but it's fun to highlight a couple. For example, Intel's $140 N2820 NUC, based on a lowly dual-core Bay Trail CPU running at 2.13GHz base and 2.39GHz boost clocks, is about three times faster than the Prescott Celeron with x264 encoding—and about twice the speed of the Northwood chip. Our favorite budget CPU, the $70 Pentium G3258, is about eight times quicker than Northwood, while the beastly Core i7-5960X is about 34 times faster.
That's face-melting enough on its own, but the chasm in the power expended to get there is pretty astounding. The Northwood Pentium 4 system sucks down about 118W while running the x264 benchmark, while the Celeron N2820 needs about 10W. Even accounting for the NUC's smaller PSU, we've come a long way indeed.